Friday 29 January 2010

Read a Lot, Forget Most of What You Read, and Be Slow-witted

I rarely read new books - don't think I read a single one last year - but when Sarah Bakewell's How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer turned up out of the blue at NigeCorp HQ, I jumped on it. The title really should be How to Live? as it's a question - the question - but no doubt the publishers were hoping the book would sell a few more for having a self-help title. A self-help manual is of course the last thing How to Live is. It's a throughly enjoyable and engrossing tour of Montaigne's life and essays, fittingly light-footed, curious and digressive, and, like its subject, chary of answers and certainty. (It's also a handsomely produced volume.) The title of this post is the title of one of the chapters (one of the attempts at an answer), which explores Montaigne's reading, and his claims to extreme forgetfulness and slow wits. It is consoling to think that reading a lot, forgetting most of it and being slow-witted might add up to a good way of living. Maybe, as my memory becomes ever more sieve-like and my wits ever slower, I am making a virtue out of necessity here - or is there something in it? Do forgetfulness and slow wits (and, of course, extensive reading) save us from worse things? Probably they do.


  1. Nige, we seem to have a lot in common – except that you’ve obviously read a lot more than me… I’m still waiting for your definitive reading list, by the way.

    I heard Sarah Bakewell interviewed the other day on Radio 4 (forgive me if I’m wrong, due to occasional memory failure). I’d very much like to read her book, if only I could find the time. In one of my many incarnations, I'm studying philosophy and literature - and Montaigne is already at the top of my reading list (and not just Sarah’s account either).

    Meantime, being a Babycham mat entrepreneur-cum-digital dogsbody, blogger, housekeeper, cook, social secretary, information and exercise junkie, plus general troubleshooter for banks, utility companies and the less capable (aka aged parents, depressed/ inebriated friends and compatriots) etc etc, there’s hardly time left to even think about all the stuff that’s stacking up in my head – which probably explains why some things simply get forgotten. I’ve scribbled down a reminder to read this book somewhere… hopefully I’ll find the time, before worse things take over.

  2. Sarah was being interviewed by Angie Hobbs on Forum, BBC Worldservice (Late night Radio 4). He sounds like the original blogger. Did you know he coined the word essay, from the French for 'to try'

  3. Nige, I wonder whether you'd consider putting a search bar on your blog (there's a gadget that I've just discovered myself)? I was wondering whether you'd read White Tiger - I've just finished it - and what you thought of it. I'm sure I'd be interested to read your thoughts on other writers and books too.

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  5. Strewth, let's make every book sound like a self-help book. "Wuthering Heights: How to Get a Boyfriend", "Moby Dick: Follow Your Dream".