This Everest of Literature

June 11, 2013 | By Steve Wasserman
Portrait of Steve Wasserman by Don Bachardy, Santa Monica, California, May 22, 2003

Steve Wasserman, former editor of the Los Angeles Times Book Review, served as editorial director of Times Books and publisher of Hill & Wang, an imprint of Farrar, Straus & Giroux. He is a past partner of the Kneerim & Williams Literary Agency and is currently editor at large for Yale University Press.

I confess: For more than forty years, I’ve had this Everest of literature on my shelves, but all previous attempts to conquer its summit had defeated me. I consoled myself, foolishly, by thinking that somehow I knew, by a kind of cultural osmosis, what Proust was all about.  Then, eighteen months ago, inspired by my son’s having read Swann’s Way, in the Lydia Davis translation, I renewed my effort. Four months, 3,000 pages, and 1.3 million words later, I planted my flag atop Mt. Marcel. What a view! To say that I was transported by the actual experience doesn’t begin to describe this justly renown masterpiece. Imagine if Vermeer had written instead of painted his precious canvases.  You are in the presence of an artist whose very sentences give life to his governing aesthetic and insight: Like telescopes capable of being looked through simultaneously on both ends, they make distant objects appear close up, and those that are near to appear far away.  The unexamined life is famously said not to be worth living.  But what if the examined life too falls short?

Air France is a proud sponsor of 2013: A Year with Proust, a year long festival organized by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy.

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