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Clive James. Yale Univ., $25 (192p) ISBN 978-0-300-21319-5

James, an Australian-born literary critic and almost legendary London public intellectual, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2010. He has since crafted a collection of beautifully thought-out, piquant essays, some only a few pages, that survey what he has been reading with the clock ticking. The results are entirely free of self-pity, and emanate vitality and invention. In a James essay, Anthony Powell and season four of Game of Thrones appear on the same page. He calls V.S. Naipaul the “Kemal Ataturk of the Indian subcontinent,” a “modernizing force embattled against his own background” whose “language itself is the imperial inheritance that matters.” In one short essay he observes that in regard to 20th-century political history, Joseph Conrad “had underestimated the power of the irrational to organize itself into a state.” For American readers, his reflections on Ernest Hemingway will stand out, as he ponders the author’s bombast and tragic physical decline. “It was ungallant of him, and it wasn’t brave,” James writes of Hemingway’s suicide. James relishes the limited reading time he has and makes no bones about it, providing sparkling commentary on his old favorites and new discoveries. [em](Aug.) [/em]
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