Latest Readings by Clive James
In recent years, I’ve somehow lost touch with Clive James and his work; back in the 1980s he was ubiquitous and I used to enjoy his pithy TV appearances. I also had several of his books, “Unreliable Memoirs” definitely and I think some collections of his TV criticism. Alas, they disappeared at some point down the decades, and I hadn’t kept up with James’ career trajectory. So it was a surprise when I heard he’d translated Dante; then he appeared as part of a fascinating pair of BBC documentaries called “Rebels of Oz” (which I watched in the main for Robert Hughes, I confess). Alas, I learned from this of his illness and also that he was a poet himself.
James is still with us, thankfully, and still writing, and recent reviews of his book “Latest Readings” (mainly from Annabel and Simon) made me very keen to reconnect with him. Let’s face it, we book bloggers love a book about books, and this one is a treat, charting Clive’s joyous relishing of reading during his twilight years. On the face of it, you might think that whilst coping with a terminal illness, books might be the last thing on your mind. However, for James books are a comfort and an obsession and he finds himself discovering and rediscovering volume after volume of treasures, with “Latest Readings” recording his thoughts and feelings about those books.
Needless to say, it’s a truly inspiring read. Some authors James writes about are ones I share his enthusiasm for, with his love of Larkin and his championing of Olivia Manning; others are writers I’m never likely to read, such as Patrick O’Brian. Regardless of this, it’s fascinating to read his views on them, and he always has something valid to offer; even when you don’t agree with someone’s tastes in books, it’s still interesting to hear what the think, and sometimes there’ll be that burst of recognition when he starts talking about something you love and you have that moment of connection. He’s also a witty commentator and I was reminded how much I always enjoyed his works and found myself wishing I’d kept on track with his more recent career.
LR ends up being something of a diary, as James very calmly and matter-of-factly intersperses his comments on the books with bulletins from his daily life, dealing with his illness. He seems sanguine about things, happy just to enjoy his remaining time and spend his days experiencing other lives and others worlds through the wonderful medium of print.
“Latest Readings” was as good as the reviews had me expecting it would be, and I’m moved to seek out more of James’ recent writings. In particular, I’ve had a look at some of his poetry collections and they seem the kind of verse that would definitely appeal to me. Books about books are a great thing, particularly if the author’s tastes inersect with your own, and this is recommended to anyone who loves reading about other’s people’s reading adventures!