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Latest Readings

After I fell ill in early 2010 I surprised myself by getting the urge to read more books than ever. But I didn't have a reading programme. I just wanted to read all the good books I had never read before, and also read again some of the books that I knew were good but had forgotten why. This plan, or non-plan, was much aided by the existence of Hugh Hardinge's famous bookstall in the Market Square of Cambridge. From my house to the stall wasn't even a mile by but in my condition it was a slow walk, and the walk back was even slower because I was carrying bags full of books. Even paperbacks weigh something: a full twelve-volume set of Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time, for example, proved to weigh as much as the beautiful 1936 buckram-bound edition of Boswell's Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides. Being a critic by nature as well as by profession, I had a hankering to write about what I was reading, so when Ben Schwarz of Yale University Press got in touch to ask what I had been reading lately and whether I could care to write a short book about it, I knew just how to answer. Ben had been literary editor at the Atlantic Monthly, where he had published some of my longer pieces in the days when I still had strength. I trusted him completely, so I wrote the book, not expecting so slight a thing to do great business. In blessed fact, it has done quite well: perhaps because it gets back to the original thrill of reading. It's been more than 70 years now, but I still feel the rush. I have appended some of the reviews the book received in the UK, Ireland, the US, Australia and New Zealand. The only point I would add to what the critics have said is that I wasn't really trying to cover the waterfront, but it was kind of people to assume, from its style, that my book might have a greater scope of intention than it actually has.

Yale University Press hardback, 2015
To my doctors and nurses
at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, UK
cras mihi


MY THANKS TO Prue Shaw, David Free, Claerwen James, and Deirdre Serjeantson for reading the manuscript. The last two I hold responsible for getting me hooked on Patrick O’Brian. Thinking I already knew something, I was always reminded that there was more to know when I conversed with Michael Tanner over coffee after one of our many chance encounters at Hugh’s bookstall in the Market Square of Cambridge. Finally I should thank Hugh himself, a quiet man who patiently listened when I extolled the virtues of Flann O’Brien. Meanwhile, Hugh was quietly assessing whether I had enough strength to take a vast book of Modigliani’s drawings home by taxi, or whether he should deliver it himself at the end of the day.

Jacket blurb

“In these farewell marginal notes to a life of bookishness, enthusiasm and playful dissent, Clive James disdains to go gentle or regretfully into Dylan Thomas’s good night. He retains his energetic piquancy as he makes one more round of the garden of literary delights. The comparison of one old favourite to a Cord automobile is a signature flourish entirely, typically his own. We shall miss him, but that rare tone of voice will stay with us.”
Frederick Raphael

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’s 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 amd family, and on living and dying. As thoughtful and erudite as the works of Alberto Mangual, 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’s lifelong engagement with the written word is a captivating valentine from one of the great literary minds of our time.

Clive James is an Australian memoirist, poet, translator, critic, and broadcaster. He has written motre than thirty books of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, including Cultural Amnesia, Unreliable Memoirs, and Fame in the 20th Century.

[ — Yale's spellings and Oxford commas reproduced sic ]

Praise for Latest Readings

“As a reader and writer confronting death, Clive James has all the creative energy and charm of a man discovering life. These thoughtful essays are immensely appealing, their tone is beautifully judged. Cleverly, he rereads in order to measure the past. With this and his recent poetry, he could outlive us all.”
Ian McEwan

“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 Wolcott

“Clive James is perhaps the most original and distinctive literary-critical voice of the last half-century.”
Martin Amis

“If there is such a thing as a reader of genius, then Clive James is it.”
John Banville, New York Review of Books

Reviews of Latest Readings:

Michael Dirda, The Washington Post
Rosemary Goring, The Herald (Scotland)
Mark Colvin, ABC Radio
Craig Morgan Teicher, NPR
Éilís Ní Dhuibhne, The Irish Times
Publishers Weekly (USA)
Matthew Kassel, New York Observer
Tim Adams, The Guardian
FT Review
James Kidd, Independent
Hans Rollmann, Popmatters (Chicago)
Robert Fulford, National Post (Canada)
Peter Craven, The Sydney Morning Herald
The Australian
Mini Kapoor, The Hindu
William Leith, Evening Standard