Recommended Reading

My nominations for the most recent NBCC Good Reads list have now been posted at Critical Mass. My longer review (for Bookforum) of the title by Richard Sennett was reprinted at the Powell's website. An earlier piece on Victor Serge is here.

In the interest of accuracy, I should make clear that the photo at Critical Mass was taken before the gray hair started taking over (in particular, the beard). My days as a sad young literary man are well behind me.

As a matter of fact, I sometimes carry around a piece of paper containing an extract from an essay by James Baldwin, written in his mid-forties:

"Though we would like to live without regrets, and sometimes proudly insist that we have none, this is not really possible, if only because we are mortal. When more time stretches behind than stretches before one, some assessments, however reluctantly and incompletely, begin to be made. Between what one wishes to become and what one has become there is a momentous gap, which will now never be closed. And this gap seems to operate as one's final margin, one's last opportunity, for creation. And between the self as it is and the self as one sees it, there is also a distance even harder to gauge. Some of us are compelled, around the middle of our lives, to make a study of this baffling geography, less in the hope of conquering these distances than in the determination that the distance shall not become any greater."

I must have gone over this passage a hundred times now. No maps available for navigating through "this baffling geography," alas. But it's good to have one's location so precisely identified.
May 6, 2008 1:25 PM | | Comments (1)

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The prose in that Baldwin extract, in its comma-delineated dance of advance and retreat, reminds me very much of the very English diffidence of Anthony Powell's prose style--a similarity I would not have imagined. It's a passage to remember, certainly.

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