Thursday, January 6, 2011

Sarah Bakewell

Sarah Bakewell was a curator of early printed books at the Wellcome Library before becoming a full-time writer, publishing her highly acclaimed biographies The Smart and The English Dane. She lives in London, where she teaches creative writing at City University and catalogues rare book collections for the National Trust.

From a Q & A about her new book, How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer:

What would Montaigne think of the custom of making new year resolutions? Would he believe in the idea that we will live better next year than we did this year?

Montaigne was aware that he was always changing – he hardly recognized or understood the things he had done last year, or even five minutes ago, let alone the things he was likely to do in the future. So he was inclined to a sort of puzzled self-acceptance. Even if some past actions no longer made sense, he was prepared to believe that they had seemed right when he did them. He would have accepted any future variations or failings in the same way. So no, I can’t imagine him making resolutions. And if he did, I suspect he wouldn’t keep them.

– If Montaigne were to make any resolutions of his own, what might they be?

Despite his dislike of forcing himself into pre-decided patterns, he was always struggling to improve his “judgment”, that is, to respond to pragmatic situations in subtler, better-informed ways. So I think he would want to continue to do that – perhaps to keep learning from experience.

– Montaigne lived and wrote in the 1500s but his voice is so surprisingly modern. Do you think he would have fit into contemporary society? What would he have liked best today? What would he have liked least?

He would have been...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Sarah Bakewell's website.

The Page 99 Test: How to Live.

--Marshal Zeringue