Here are some pages from my diary earlier this year after my friend Alan Jacobs sent me an advance copy of his just-published book, Breaking Bread With The Dead.
The title comes from W.H. Auden’s “Some Reflections on the Arts,” which begins:
Every genuine work of art exhibits two qualities, Nowness—an art-historian can assign at least an approximate date to its making—and Permanence—it remains on hand in the world long after its maker and his society have ceased to exist.
* * *
This means that, in the history of Art, unlike the history of Science, though there are periods of flowering and sterility, there is no such thing as Progress, only Change. Shakespeare does not supersede Aeschylus or Mozart Moteverdi, in the way that the Copernican picture of the Cosmos, for example, superseded the Ptolemaic.
* * *
Consequently, one of the greatest blessings conferred on our lives by the Arts is that they are our chief means of breaking bread with the dead, and I think that, without communication with the dead, a fully human life is not possible.
I remember being at lunch with Alan and encouraging him to write this book, not for his own good, but for mine, as really I wanted to read it. (Alan’s ideas and writing had a big impact on my last book, Keep Going. See my previous posts on reading old books and stealing old stuff.)
In my blurb, I called the book “a beautiful case for reading old books as a way to cultivate personal depth in shallow times.” Breaking Bread With The Dead winds up the wonderful trilogy of his books which began with The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction and continued with How To Think.
Happy pub day, Alan!