For that point in your life when you can only read Woolf or Proust
September 18, 2023 9:26 AM   Subscribe

So let’s summarize things as they stood at the beginning of this summer. I turned sixty-five, had an estimated ten or fifteen years left to live, two volumes to find, and half of volume two still to read in this grubby edition that I couldn’t stand the sight of. Author Geoff Dyer on his search to find a very particular edition of Virginia Woolf's diaries.
posted by tofu_crouton (11 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I have been reading diaries and journals for about a year now, starting off with Virginia Woolf: A Writer's Diary. That volume is edited by Leonard to focus on her work, so it deliberately omits anything regarding her domestic life and relationships. It felt frustrating to see a life edited to be so single-minded. I have been eyeing the new £150 set that Dyer mentions, but I haven't yet become crazed enough to stomach the cost.

He describes reading heavily edited selections and then wishing you didn't, and then reading the full version and seeing why it was edited. That was my experience with Damion Searls' edition of Thoreau's journals. I was enjoying them so much that I thought I should dip into the full text, but I quickly learned to be grateful for the work that Searls put into his curation. Similarly, I found the new Kafka translation by Ross Benjamin to be edifying, but less entertaining than the previous, more heavily edited versions. The new version preserves partial drafts of stories, which is interesting if you are doing a scholarly comparison but discombobulating if you are expecting to read a set of diary entries.
posted by tofu_crouton at 9:35 AM on September 18 [4 favorites]

Text of this post giving me an unwelcome memento mori at the end of a long day.
posted by earthstarvoyager at 10:13 AM on September 18 [1 favorite]

I have been looking for a set of Camus' notebooks in french/english parallel text. I'm not sure if these even exist. A notebook that I found both revealing and distant is The Daybooks Of Edward Weston. Certainly worth a library visit.
posted by MonsieurPEB at 11:56 AM on September 18 [1 favorite]

Clearly, I had to read all five volumes which meant that I had to find the remaining four.
It is possible, as you don’t need me to tell you, to buy almost any book on the internet, however long it’s been out of print. But doing that robs life of one of the things that gives it purpose.
The waiting and thwarting are part of the undertaking, enhancing the eventual achievement. Hence the joy of that unforgettable day, October 8, 2018. I was shopping on Golborne Road, on the way to buy sea bass from the fishmonger—and there it was: volume five (1936–1941), in very good condition, outside a junk shop, for a pound. If that’s not a moment of (budget) being I don’t know what is.
I couldn’t have volumes one, two, and five in the old Penguins and three and four in the new edition. This was not just me being obsessive. No one in their right mind could have countenanced the ungainliness and asymmetry of that.
I spent quite a bit of time transferring my old annotations from the first Penguin volume to the new pages of this edition
whoa dude that's a little extreme
posted by Gerald Bostock at 11:59 AM on September 18 [19 favorites]

whoa dude that's a little extreme

When you find your forever copy, you need to make it a home.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:07 PM on September 18 [4 favorites]

there’s no denying the elegance of the objects, each of which has a stylish black-and-white photo on the cover board
I would deny it, actually. If it's elegance you're looking for, the 5-volume Hogarth Press edition is the only edition of Woolf's diaries you want or need; I mean, it'll cost you, but it's just so far above the others that there isn't any competition. Whereas the design of the new Granta edition strikes me as striving too hard after style to actually be stylish.
posted by verstegan at 12:57 PM on September 18 [2 favorites]

I couldn’t have volumes one, two, and five in the old Penguins and three and four in the new edition.

I get that. When I first tried to read Proust, I didn't commit beyond buying the first volume in the Modern Library paperback. I didn't like it. A couple of years later, after reading some more about Proust, I tried again, and liked it. So I needed the others, but in the interim the Modern Library had changed the format of the paperbacks, and I didn't (still don't) like the new ones. (It's the same text, but the physical books are taller and thinner, the covers are less evocative, and the way the spines combine to a whole image of a shirt collar is a little gimmicky.) So yes, I did roam around many used bookstores in town hoping that I might find the rest of the old version, before I finally gave in and bought the whole new edition box set. (And then I still held onto that old copy of "Swann's Way" until this past spring when moving apartments forced me to pare down the books a bit and I had to admit there wasn't much reason keeping two copies of the same book anymore.)
posted by dnash at 1:41 PM on September 18 [2 favorites]

While I was reading the Aubrey-Maturin series I became aware that Patrick O'Brian had written some nonfiction books, including a biography of Sir Joseph Banks, the naturalist and president of the Royal Society who makes a cameo appearance in a few of the novels. I considered just buying it on abebooks but like Geoff Dyer I thought that wouldn't be any fun so I just kept an eye out for it. Last month when I was in Edinburgh I happened to walk into one of those shops with towering piles of used books everywhere and saw that there was an entire Maritime History section near the front and thought aha, I bet I'll find it here. And it took a half an hour of digging but find it I did, along with a 1960s biography of Thomas Browne by Joan Bennett, who I discovered also wrote a book on the life and letters of Virginia Woolf, which brings this comment back around to being vaguely on topic
posted by theodolite at 1:45 PM on September 18 [10 favorites]

I picked up a few volumes of Proust (cheap used paperbacks), decided I liked it, decided I didn't want to lug all that around, so got the whole thing as ebooks and ditched the physical volumes.

posted by bfields at 3:27 PM on September 18 [1 favorite]

I think Proust would forgive you, but the act of swiping reformatting text won’t give you the same sense-memory as turning a new page.

The best way to read Proust, I think, is in a group of 4-6 people who can manage to read 10 pages/day and meet every 2-3 weeks to compare notes. The extra eyes are a godsend.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:19 PM on September 18 [1 favorite]


Nope - I bought the first volume as a paperback and then the rest as ebooks because I just couldn't be bothered carrying all of them around.

Although GenjiandProust is right that you lose the sensation of turning the page, you gain the ability to be shocked when you reach the last page. The famous final sentence genuinely took me by surprise and I just sat there, stunned, for about 15 minutes.
posted by YoungStencil at 9:06 AM on September 19 [1 favorite]

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