Synopses & Reviews
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 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’s lifelong engagement with the written word is a captivating valentine from one of the great literary minds of our time.
"Do not read this book in public. You will risk severe internal injuries from trying to suppress your laughter. . . . What's worse, you can't put it down once started. Its addictive powers stun all normal decent resistance within seconds. Not to be missed." Sunday Times
"A collection of beautifully thought-out, piquant essays, some only a few pages, that survey what [James] has been reading with the clock ticking. The results are entirely free of self-pity, and emanate vitality and invention . . . James relishes the limited reading time he has and makes no bones about it, providing sparkling commentary on his old favorites and new discoveries."—Publishers Weekly
"A box of bonbons for devoted readers"—Booklist
‘With James, one hopes fervently that the finale is only just beginning.’—Evening Standard.
‘The author delivers a sign-off of substance… The unadulterated love of literature proves infectious and a little humbling.’—James Kidd, the Independent.
‘The literary judgements in Latest Readings are as a sound as ever… [James’s] credo: ‘The critic should write to say not ‘look how much I’ve read’ but ‘look at this, it’s wonderful’. I submit: reader, look at this book, it’s wonderful.’—Philip Collins, the Times.
“This book possesses an undercurrent of brave, unsentimental reflection; the author is intermittently philosophical and, in the face of death, funny.”—Thomas Swick, Weekly Standard
"[James] suggests that a critic 'should write to say, not 'look how much I've read,' but 'look at this, it's wonderful.' ' I can think of no better advice to give for James's new book, as well as Manning's Balkan Trilogy. Look at these, they're wonderful."—Robert Gray, Shelf Awareness
A best-selling classic around the world, Clive James's hilarious memoir has long been unavailable in the United States.
Before James Frey famously fabricated his memoir, Clive James wrote a refreshingly candid book that made no claims to be accurate, precise, or entirely truthful, only to entertain. In an exercise of literary exorcism, James set out to put his childhood in Australia behind him by rendering it as part novel, part memoir. Now, nearly thirty years after it first came out in England, is again available to American readers and sure to attract a whole new generation that has, through his essays and poetry, come to love James's inimitable voice.
An esteemed literary critic shares his final musings on books, his children, and his own impending death
About 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