The first random book from my library was a young adult fantasy. This next is a collection of essays on "necessary memories from history and the arts". Not something one might expect to find in my collection, but something I'm glad I bought. Oddly enough, I ordered it after seeing the author hawk the book on The Daily Show.
Cultural Amnesia by Clive James is a collection of essays on interesting and important people - at least, those interesting and important to Clive James. He's a noted essayist, and this seems to be something he wrote partially for himself, but also as frank advice and warning to the rest of us.
The subjects run the gamut from Tony Curtis and Dick Cavett to Edward Gibbon and Thomas Mann to Adolf Hitler and John Keats. Not necessarily all nice people, or even successful people - but they are all interesting and important in one way or another.
As someone of my generation reading the thoughts of a man who was in college when jazz and Duke Ellington first came around, it's a bit of a brow-raiser to me to see how astonishingly vehement James is about the evils of communism. Still, it's instructive. And interesting.
The best thing I got out of this book, though, is a reading list. Thomas Mann, William Hazlitt (from whom I shamelessly stole the title of my first, as yet unpublished novel), Marcel Proust, Ernesto Sabato - I came away from this book with an intense envy of anyone who had a classical education, who can read and write several different languages, who studied deeply and has an immense wealth of history to draw from while writing. I'm thirty-five years old, and I want that so badly, it hurts. I wish I'd been a Classics major, and an English lit major, and a languages major - I feel like I'm so far behind I'll be playing catch up for the rest of my life.
And as long as I keep trying to catch up, cursing and weeping though I may be, I'm sure Clive James would be extremely pleased by my reaction.