Firstly, a big “thank you” to AG for obtaining this book for me.
For those that don’t know, Clive James was diagnosed with Leukaemia in 2010 and is terminally ill. This, no doubt, has given rise to his recent philosophy of, “if you don’t know the exact moment when the lights will go out, you might as well read until they do.” What a wonderful sentiment and even more so because he’s prepared to share his readings with us.
And so in this small volume, Clive James shares his latest readings. This is a book all about books written by others. Sounds rather dry, perhaps boring even, doesn’t it?
Except it’s not.
What it’s like is having Clive James in front of you as he shares his thoughts on books previously read and now re-read, as well as a few more recent discoveries. He shares where he gets many of his books from and even tries to explain the irrational impulses that cause him to buy copious amounts of books; despite the fact that he’s already had to dispose of half of his library due to a lack of room. I guess many of us can relate to that.
Whilst I’m a voracious reader, I can’t claim to have read most of the books that Mr James refers to, so I have to take his views at face value. However, as only Clive James can, he drifts off topic offering a loosely related opinion from life here and a nugget of experience there: such as his developing a thrombosis on the Queen Mary II whilst crossing the Atlantic to New York. You really don’t know what will crop up or where: I learned many things that have nothing directly to do with the books under discussion.
The other thing that shines through is his wit and wicked sense of humour. It’s always there, often pithy and cutting, just as he used to be on TV. Who can forget the Bee Gees walking out on him in the mid 90s after being on the wrong end of his wit and biting sarcasm?
The book is only a small one yet it took me an inordinately long time to read it. As I sit here writing this review, I now realise that it took me so long because I didn’t want my time with it to end. I wanted to savour every last little drop of entertainment from it for as long as I could. I was like a kid sucking my favourite fruit pastille very slowly, in order to make it last as long as possible.
This is not a book for everyone; many will simply not see the point of it. But, for those that do, they’ll return to it several times over, because there’ll be something new found with every future read.
Four anchors for an entertaining and enlightening read.