How To Live, or, A Life of Montaigne, by Sarah Bakewell, as published (and, to be fully transparent, provided to me by) Other Press: Hey! Good book, this!
I started this book sometime last year, but since I just finished it this week, I’m freeing it up from the forgiveness of things I meant to and did not write about last year, in order to go ahead and mention in this year, as a book that I have read and, really, quite enjoyed. I read it fairly gradually, this being the latest book I’ve saved for reading over lunch at the day job, ten pages here, twenty there. For whatever reason, I don’t read entire books worth of non-fiction as much as I might like, or might recognize that I perhaps ought to as a human being in search of some sort of general well-rounded humanity-ness, or perhaps, just because, well, there’s a lot of it out there, and I would frequently hardly know where to start. I guess I can safely say at this point though that, should my non-fiction lunch-hour reading-practice continue for the foreseeable future, I can, at the least, point at Bakewell’s book, and nod, and say, “More like that, please.”
Bakewell brings a light touch and an engaging voice to the surprisingly complex tale of Montaigne, a guy who, for all his words about himself (which I have not read, having no experience with the Essays before reading Bakewell’s book, this being, really, my introduction to the idea of Montaigne as being someone or something I might like to know more about), really did not have anything near the last word about himself. Through her book, Bakewell writes out the essential thread of the story of Montaigne’s life, weaving in, as it applies to the various answers to the titular question, the reactions and readings of those who follow Montaigne in history, up through the editing and translation wars that bring his life’s story up into our contemporary world. She related his writing and his life to the French and European world in which he was immersed and also draws in classical and other historical reference points to give his work a rich and intriguing context.
But, like I said: a light touch and an engaging voice. No doubt that this could all be bone-dry reading, but in a bit over three hundred pages I feel it safe to say Bakewell advanced my knowledge of the subject without coming close to boring me to tears (as, I understand it, many works of historical explication might be likely to do). I looked forward to reading this book every day; it is likely I will read more of Bakewell’s work in the future.
That being said, I’ll end with a question: while I’ve got some books of essays lined up for further lunch time reading, I’m curious what works of nonfiction (creative nonfiction, essays, histories, otherwise) others out there might see fit to recommend? (This is the kind of question that will, or at least, will likely, or at least, might, could, possibly, affect my actual life, sometime in the next year or so. At the least, it did, the last time I ended with a similar question, from which suggestions I did, in fact, sometime soon after, read You Were Wrong, by Matthew Sharpe, a book I did devour and did like quite a bit; I still need to read Jamestown. And I will be reading Sam Lipsyte’s Home Land, eventually. So.)