Book Club: Montaigne As Your Mentor

Many readers are getting psyched about our latest Book Club selection, Sarah Bakewell’s How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer. My full intro to the book selection is here. Buy the book through this link to support the Dish. One reader:

Just a note to say that I am delighted that your third book club discussion will be bookclub-beagle-trabout Montaigne. If you haven’t read it, Mark Lillia’s very positive review of Bakewell is worth checking out. She misses Montaigne’s implied critique of Christianity, he argues. And M’s worldview leaves no space for transcendence, or our inescapable attraction to it.

To me, Montaigne cures us of that desire, though only temporarily. In that sense he is a proto-liberal: a skeptic, of course, and a thinker who put stability in politics before truth. I’ve been a lurker until now, but I look forward to a discussion about Montaigne on the Dish. How the ethos Montaigne recommends is challenged today by religion and by unworldly politics would be a great focus. And also the parallels and differences between The Essays and blogging.

That’s exactly why I chose this. It’s not just about life; it’s about politics, ideology, and fanaticism. Montaigne’s disposition is what we lack so much today – and need to reclaim. Another reader exclaims:

Woo Hoo! Montaigne next!

Why did I pick up How To Live last year at my public library? Probably because I saw it mentioned on the Dish or on Maria 513f2INPtgLPopova’s website. I renewed it several times so I could take it with me on vacation … to France. I greatly enjoyed the format, mixing Montaigne’s biography with Sarah Bakewell’s commentary. And I learned so much about Montaigne’s life, his essays and 16th century French history to boot.

I live in the USA, but I am originally from the Bordeaux area of France, and I go home pretty much every year to visit family. So last summer, my one objective was to visit Montaigne’s estate, as it is less than an hour’s drive from my parents’ house. It felt like a pilgrimage. Walking up the stairs of the tower, standing in Montaigne’s library, looking up to decipher the inscriptions on the ceiling. Better than a trip to Lourdes!

I also used several sections of How To Live when I taught a survey of French literature to my Advanced French class this past school year.  And the book is once again on my coffee table, so I can reread it this summer (along with my digital copy of Les Essais). So a big thank you (or should I say “mille mercis”!) to you, Andrew and the Dish, for introducing me to this wonderful book and for making me want to rediscover Montaigne’s essays. I am looking forward to reading what other book club participants will think about it.

Another nerds out even more:

You recommend the Frame translation of the essays, and I understand that translation is widely regarded as the most faithful in English. But I wonder if you’re aware that the New York Review of Books just a few months ago published selections from the 1603 Florio translation.

It’s titled Shakespeare’s Montaigne because Florio’s was apparently the translation Shakespeare read and was inspired by. Nothing against the Frame translation, but reading Florio’s translation has been for me like discovering the masterful poetry of the KJV bible after only reading the bland NIV.

Some groveling fan mail sentiment incoming: Founding member here and I’ve been reading you – pretty much every post – since late 2007. I’ve only written in once or twice, and you published the view from my window several years ago. Pardon the morbidity, but I often measure how strongly a feel about the people in my life by how I would feel if I lost them. When I think about how it would affect me if you were to die or stop writing, well, only the loss of a handful of immediate family members would be more devastating. I follow the output of other public figures as closely – a few songwriters and novelists –  and feel I know them through their work. But I guess there is less artifice, more of your unfiltered self in what you do. The only other writer that even comes close in that respect is, in fact, Montaigne. So it doesn’t surprise me that you view him as a major influence.

Again, I really look forward to the July book club discussions.

Another primes the discussion further:

Not sure if you caught this on PBS several years ago, but they did a cool series on philosophers and the idea of happiness, and this was the portion they did on Montaigne: