One of the pleasures of reviewing a book is reading it slowly, paying attention to the rhythms and its author’s intentions, impulses, and indulgences. Reading is always a conversation between writer and reader. A major collection like Life: Selected writings takes this experience to a new level. This is not just a conversation between a writer now and a reader now, but a writer then, his choices now, the sum of those choices as arrayed in a substantial blue volume, and the reader with a ‘long now’ to luxuriate in the exchange.
This is a wonderful summer book: it can be tasted in short, self-contained moments or read as a large, luminous whole exposing the historical concerns of a polymath over nearly thirty years. More than a memoir, it captures snapshots of the intellectual musings of a feisty, funny writer – sometimes angry, sometimes lost in wonder. Almost like a diary, the essays have a subtext revealing what else is happening in Flannery’s life and times: ‘Ground Zero’, for example, an essay that describes the geological and biological genesis of North America sixty-five million years ago, carries the date 2001.