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March 10, 2007

Apologia Pro Vita Sua

John Leonard (once my editor at The Nation, now simply a friend) just won the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Book Critics Circle.

An excerpt from his acceptance speech:

At an average of five books a week, not counting all those sighed at and nibbled on before they go to the Strand, I will read 13,000. Then I'm dead. Thirteen thousand in a lifetime, about as many as there are new ones published every MONTH in this country.

It's not enough, and yet rich to excess. The books we love, love us back. In gratitude, we should promise not to cheat on them -- not to pretend we're better than they are; not to use them as target practice, agit-prop, trampolines, photo ops or stalking horses; not to sell out scruple to that scratch-and-sniff info-tainment racket in which we posture in front of experience instead of engaging it, and fidget in our cynical opportunism for an angle, a spin, or a take, instead of consulting compass points of principle, and strike attitudes like matches, to admire our wiseguy profiles in the mirrors of the slicks. We are reading for our lives, not performing like seals for some fresh fish.

Well, by contrast, I only get through three or four a week....But words to live by, otherwise. The full text is here.

Posted by smclemee at March 10, 2007 1:45 PM

COMMENTS

Leonard's generous and eclectic monthly review in Harpers is one of the primary reason Harpers is on of the best magazines now publishing. Thanks for this.

Posted by: bdr at March 11, 2007 4:25 PM

I dunno, striking attitudes like matches sounds pretty good.

Then again, I'm doing well if I get through five a month.

Posted by: zbs at March 12, 2007 10:42 AM