A week or so ago I picked up Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables and started reading. It’s been sitting on my “100 Greatest Books” shelf for a few months now, having been one of my monthly arrivals from The Easton Press, another of those incredibly lovely, wonderfully built books that makes up a very handsome and slowly expanding collection. The kind of book that is a pleasure to read just because it lies so firmly and pleasantly in your hands or on your lap. The texture of the cover, the flexibility of the binding, the sound the page makes as you turn it, the gold leaf, the font, the unique little illustrative prints... Oh, I seem to have wandered. Sorry.
At any rate, I actually started reading Les Miserables a week or so ago. I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting when I picked it up. It’s huge, so I suppose I was expecting a lot to be going on in the story. But there really isn’t, at least at this point. The entire first section is an exploration of the character “Monsignor Welcome”. I know from the film that Monsignor is a pivotal, but fairly minor character, and in the film we are rushed through getting to know him in favor of moving the story along. It’s kind of a shame, really, that our collective attention span has become so retarded that we can’t spend more than 10 minutes getting to know such an interesting and unique gentleman. But it is not just modern film that is guilty of browsing through characters, it is modern novels as well. Generally we get to know characters as much through their actions as through the author’s descriptions of them. Characters are dumped into the plot fairly rapidly without really knowing who they are until the end of the novel. I hadn’t really considered before the possibility of spending several days of reading time to get to know a character before any “action” takes place, and I sort of like it.
This is not a book that rushes itself. It is a book that takes the reader through a slow, pleasant stroll. It is a book to be read by candlelight at the end of each day, read aloud to loved ones after “retiring” from the day’s activities, sitting by the fireside with the snow falling outside. It is a “read through the winter” kind of book. A “having an affair with” kind of book. I imagine it will take me quite a while to finish it, if I finish it. If I can find enough quiet, meandering, still and lovely hours in my life to allow a proper reading. Imagine a world and a life in which we all were “at leisure” to indulge in such a book each day of our lives. Ahhhhh.