Monday, April 12, 2010

Essay: "Of Books." Michel de Montaigne

Review: Montaigne is a critic of the books he reads, writing judgments of individual authors and their books after he has read them. Much of the essay is taken up with his judgments of individual books and authors. But he also discusses how he reads.

“…I try to give knowledge not of things, but of myself.”

“And if I am a man of some reading, I am a man of no retentiveness.”

“I seek in books only to give myself pleasure by honest amusement; or if I study, I seek only the learning that treats of the knowledge of myself and instructs me in how to die well and live well.”

“If I encounter difficulties in reading, I do not gnaw my nails over them; I leave them there, after making one or two attacks on them…. What I do not see at the first attack, I see less by persisting.”

“If this book wearies me, I take up another; and I apply myself to it only at the moments when the boredom of doing nothing begins to grip me.”

“Most of Aesop’s Fables have many meanings and interpretations.”

“I want a man to begin with the conclusion.”

“In general, I ask for books that make use of learning, not those that build it up.”

“To compensate a little for the treachery and weakness of my memory, so extreme that it has happened to me more than once to pick up again, as … unknown to me, books which I had read carefully a few years before and scribbled over with my notes, I have adopted the habit for some time now of adding at the end of each book (I mean of those that I intend to use only once) the time I finished reading it and the judgment I have derived of it as a whole, so that this may represent to me at least the sense and general idea I had conceived of the author in reading it.”

The Art of the Personal Essay. Ed. Phillip Lopate. New York: Anchor Books. A Division of Random House, Inc. 1995.

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