On Reading Proust

Ioanna Kohler talks to Justice Stephen Breyer
Claude Monet, Coquelicots (1873)
From Ioanna Kohler (New York Review of Books):
Ioanna Kohler: In the preface to his translation of John Ruskin’s Sesame and Lilies, Proust talks about the importance of the memories associated with reading, the circumstances and setting in which we read a particular book. When and in what setting did you read À la recherche du temps perdu?

Stephen Breyer: I read the Recherche when I was working as a legal intern at an American law firm in Paris. I was trying to learn French, so I read all seven volumes in French. Every night I drew up vocabulary index cards with lists of the new words that I’d learned from Proust. But luckily I found that the lists became shorter and shorter as I made my way deeper into the book! In any case, it was with Proust’s work that I first began to read authors in the original French. And that was something I continued with other French authors.

Ioanna Kohler: By starting with Proust, you certainly didn’t begin with the easiest author!

Stephen Breyer: Perhaps not, but in that period of my life, I had plenty of time and I could afford to devote myself to that challenging text. I had no final exams to study for, no particular pressure at all. And for that matter, once I reached the end of the Recherche, I immediately reread it. Which is something that happens, I believe, to many readers. In Time Regained, it becomes clear that everything you’ve read up to this point constitutes the inner journey of a man who aspires to become a writer and finally finds his subject, his material: himself and the whole of his life, during which he was convinced that he had lost, or wasted, his time. At that point, you feel the urge to reread the book in order to better understand this inner journey. [Read More]
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