Book Review: A Place to Read
Author: Michael Cohen
Rating: 5.0 / 5.0
Length: 9 hrs 15 min
Keywords: Essay, Life, Writing, Literature
On the one hand, it felt like I was reading my own life in that there are so many shared interests. On the other hand, it is rare that one reads someone for whom the craft of writing seems to come so naturally. That is the hard work of passion made visible, of course, and a gift to those fortunate enough to read it. I have not read many essay collections; this one will have me coming back for more.
Cohen, in the middle of his seventh decade as he wrote this, is a retired professor of literature. It shows. That he is writing from his own life and experiences, its joys and sometime pain, makes it even more compelling despite its late-afternoon-conversation-in-the-corner-of-the-parlor atmosphere.
Our shared touchpoints are many. Flying, Arizona, reading, writing, fountain pens, notebooks, astronomy, love of mysteries, and on and on. With each subject we learn not just of his interest but a bit of the history of the topic and its importance to him. I am a fan of fountain pens and have a small collection, but I learned from Michael Cohen how they came to be so popular through the ages and still today. His exposition on notebooks is much the same, an abbreviated history of an everyday “thing,” which now seems to have a life.
What always fascinates me about good writers is how easily they make routine moments seem important. It is a simple moment and then suddenly, as it seemingly sneaks up on you, there is a poignant realization or life lesson you instantly connect with. This volume is full of them.
Near the end he spends a fair amount of time relating with other writers, notably Proust and Montaigne. He compares his mastery of his craft as unfavorably to theirs as I do mine to his or anyone else who is actually a writer.
A friend recommended this book to me. He too is a writer, along with his many other pursuits. He is also a fan of essay literature. Thanks to his prompting and Cohen’s mastery, I am now as well.