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In 2010 Clive James was diagnosed with terminal leukemia. Deciding that "if you don't know the exact moment when the lights will go out, you might as well read until they do," James moved his library to his house in Cambridge, where he would "live, read, and perhaps even write". James is the award-winning author of dozens of works of literary criticism, poetry, and history, and this volume contains his reflections on what may well be his last reading list.
A look at some of James' old favorites as well as some of his recent discoveries, this book also offers a revealing look at the author himself, sharing his evocative musings on literature and family and on living and dying.
As thoughtful and erudite as the works of Alberto Manguel, and as moving and inspiring as Randy Pausch's The Last Lecture and Will Schwalbe's The End of Your Life Book Club, this valediction to James' lifelong engagement with the written word is a captivating valentine from one of the great literary minds of our time.
From the Author:
Virginia Woolf wrote that reading is “a pursuit which devours a great deal of time, and is yet apt to leave behind it nothing very substantial.” Do you agree?
Luckily for me, I am not threatened by the kind of illness that eventually led Virginia Woolf into the river. I'm just tired. Being that, I find that reading is more rewarding than ever. If I read something I've read before, I'm refreshed by being able to bring to it a new angle based on experience. And if I read something new, I do so with a new hunger, and, as far as I can tell, a whole new clarity. Only just lately I have been going right through Empson's poems again, and finding them as brilliant as they are elusive; and I have been reading Browning's The Ring and the Book seriously for the first time right through, and have found it to be a wonderful mixture of genius and willful obliquity. I only wish I had enough time left to recite it aloud: when you try that, even for just a single page, you find that its weird faults are impossible to smooth over. So my critical urge is still active.
How has your response to books changed as your life has progressed?
My response to books has improved throughout my life, until now, finally, I am fit to be a proper student. There ought to be a university for the old and sick, where, unless you're on your last legs, you aren't allowed into the library. I have this vision of nonagenerians taking their first crack at, say, Pope's Homer. Actually I'm about to read that one again, but I'm far too young.
"Clive James, brilliant to the (near) end, turns his readings and re-readings of everyone and everything from Hemingway and Conrad to Patrick O'Brian and Game of Thrones into sharp, funny meditations on—among much else—class, beauty, mimicry, memory, manhood, death (other people's), and life (his own). Long may his dazzling, long farewell continue."—Salman Rushdie
"Clive James's inevitable humor, sanity, erudition, enthusiasm, and crystal keenness are everywhere evident in Latest Readings, but perhaps its greatest grace is the opportunity it gives to feel as if you're spending time in his company, listening and learning for at least a little while longer. If its mini essays (and some not so mini) seem to float from James's mind into yours, it is only because a lifetime of reading, thinking, feeling, and formulating has gone into them, registering the pure, responsive authority of a writer with nothing left to prove but so much left to say."—James Walcott
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