Terry Kelly

The Kid from Kog­a­rth Grows Up

The London Magazine - - FRONT PAGE -

Latest Read­ings, Clive James, Yale Univer­sity Press, 2015, 192pp, £12.99 (hard­cover)

When Aus­tralian poly­math Clive James was di­ag­nosed with ter­mi­nal leukaemia in 2010, he could have been for­given for bring­ing down the cur­tain on a long and glit­ter­ing literary ca­reer. In­stead, his un­wanted con­tract with the Grim Reaper sparked a highly pro­lific sec­ond cre­ative life. New vol­umes of verse, literary crit­i­cism, a trans­la­tion of Dante’s Di­vine Com­edy and a po­etry hand­book have ap­peared with al­most in­de­cent haste since his di­ag­no­sis, forc­ing James to make a run­ning joke of his un­de­liv­ered demise. The shadow of mor­tal­ity has spurred James on to con­tinue light­ing up the page, in­clud­ing this year’s ac­claimed death-haunted col­lec­tion, Sen­tenced To Life. The new­est in­stal­ment in this un­ex­pected au­tum­nal harvest is Latest Read­ings, a hymn to the plea­sures, pas­sions and ob­ses­sions of read­ing and col­lect­ing books. But just as im­por­tantly, James the bib­lio­phile con­nects a love of read­ing with the larger is­sues of life it­self, not­ing how ‘Be­ing book crazy is an as­pect of love, and there­fore scarcely ra­tio­nal at all’.

Latest Read­ings — the ti­tle surely pun­ning on med­i­cal as well as literary con­cerns, es­pe­cially as the book is ded­i­cated ‘To my doc­tors and nurses at Ad­den­brooke’s Hos­pi­tal, Cam­bridge, UK’ — rarely reads like a vale­dic­tory book. Rather, it is a typ­i­cally Jame­sian col­lec­tion, light on its feet, var­i­ous and eru­dite, and packed with his trade­mark epi­gram­matic literary skills. A late love let­ter to favourite books and au­thors, old and re­cently dis­cov­ered, it is also partly a homage to Hugh’s book­stall in Cam­bridge, where the ail­ing James still trun­dles to re­plen­ish his al­ready over­stuffed shelves. But de­vo­tion to literature has been the guid­ing prin­ci­ple of a writer born in 1939 in Kog­a­rah, sub­ur­ban Syd­ney, later im­mor­tal­is­ing his early life in the best­selling Un­re­li­able Mem­oirs (1980.) Ar­riv­ing in Eng­land in the early 1960s, James ini­tially en­dured the life of the pen­ni­less poet, be­fore his in­tel­lec­tual life blos­somed at Cam­bridge Univer­sity, where he took a sec­ond

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