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When I Am Playing with My Cat, How Do I Know That She Is Not Playing with Me?: Montaigne and Being in Touch with Life Paperback – April 17, 2012
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover," illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Learn more
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. With deceptive casualness, Frampton, assistant editor of the London Review of Books, renders a rigorous history of ideas in this engaging account of the life and the work of Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592). After enduring in short succession the deaths of his daughter; father; best friend; and brother, "killed absurdly, tragically, by the blow from a tennis ball," Montaigne retreated to his tower library, intending to write and prepare himself for his own death. Out of this dismal exercise came Les Essais, his eccentric and invaluable essays on his milieu, philosophy, and preoccupations. Frampton tucks a good deal of biography into his tour of the evolution of the essays and the events that inspired them—but his extraordinary achievement is in conveying—and inviting the reader to commune with—Montaigne's unique sensibility and his take on death, sex, travel, friendship, kidney stones, the human thumb, and above all, "the power of the ordinary and the unremarkable, the value of the here-and-now." This scholarly romp through the Renaissance is a jewel. (Mar.)
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“Excellent. . . . Frampton excels is in his sharply intelligent and sharply phrased insights. . . . An elegant work.”
—The Washington Post
“Winning. . . . Perceptive. . . . Frampton tells the story of how history, culture, and personal genius conspired to create a new literary genre—and a literary master for the ages.”
—The Christian Science Monitor
“An inventive exploration. . . . [This book] attests to the enduring fascination of Montaigne’s pieces: The sensibility behind them is at once centuries old and curiously modern.”
“There can be no better introduction to Montaigne.”
—The Washington Times
“Although they were first published more than four centuries ago, Montaigne’s essays can seem as topical as the morning newspaper. As more than one admirer has discovered, Montaigne’s essential gift—the art of conversation rendered on the page—is a timeless one.”
—The Christian Science Monitor
“Montaigne’s essays delight in human sensuality, uniqueness, even unpredictability. Though [his] early essays were about war, the later essays are playful, uninhibited, and in parts painfully intimate (sexual dysfunction; the passing of kidney stones, etc.). Frampton, in his lighthearted book, explores the shift in Montaigne’s thinking. . . . [He] shows how Montaigne’s later essays are full of fascination and observation and how he approaches practical issues—his health, his political obligations, his role as a winemaker—with an enviable equanimity.”
—Los Angeles Times
“Frampton offers a celebration of perhaps the most enjoyable and yet profound of all Renaissance writers, whose essays went on to have a huge impact on figures as diverse as Shakespeare, Emerson and Orson Welles, and whose thoughts, even today, offer a guide and unprecedented insight into the simple matter of being alive.”
—The Washington Times
“Scholarly, but not pedantic, this is a book to be savored over time. As with Montaigne’s essays, it is one which can be opened and read at any point without interrupting its flow. . . . Frampton’s extensive knowledge of literary history is evident.”
—The Post and Courier
“With deceptive casualness, Frampton renders a rigorous history of ideas in this engaging account of the life and the work of Michel de Montaigne. . . . His extraordinary achievement is in conveying—and inviting the reader to commune with—Montaigne’s unique sensibility and his take on death, sex, travel, friendship, kidney stones, the human thumb, and above all, ‘the power of the ordinary and the unremarkable, the value of the here-and-now.’ . . . This scholarly romp through the Renaissance is a jewel.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“The skeptical and humane French nobleman has always had his admirers, and Frampton’s learned, subtle, and engaging book shows why.”
“Ingenious. . . . Passionately written and full to bursting with digressions and anecdotes, Frampton’s book does an excellent job of bringing Montaigne and his historical context to life. It is this vivid evocation of the time that emerges as the book’s greatest strength. We see how the philosopher’s celebration of daily life . . . went against not only the dominant philosophical currents of the day but also the violent upheavals of 16th-century France. What comes through the strongest is an inspiring sense of the philosopher’s remarkable independence of thought and enduring relevance.”
—The Sunday Times (London)
“In Montaigne’s intense self-absorption, Frampton discerns the rich literary fruit of a stunning midlife volte-face. . . . Recognizing the twenty-first century’s own need for advocates of life-affirming tolerance, readers will embrace this insightful portrait.”
—Booklist (starred review)
“One of the best books I have read on Montaigne. . . . Frampton argues that to read Montaigne is ‘to touch base with oneself’ and to learn how to act within our capacities, to accept and even to savour them. . . . He demonstrates that the more Montaigne observed ordinary life, the more remarkable he found it, and the more he felt impelled to plunge back into its mess. . . . Four centuries on, Montaigne still speaks to us.”
—Nicholas Shakespeare, The Daily Telegraph (London)
“Frampton’s book stands as a work in its own right and should encourage anyone unfamiliar with Montaigne to read the original.”
—The Oxford Times
“When I Am Playing With My Cat sends us back to the Essays with both a deepened understanding and a deepened appreciation of the work of this real-life man for all seasons.”
—The Washington Independent Review of Books
Top customer reviews
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Frampton's books is well written and he connects with readers, inviting us to engage with him in reading the book. I had a sense of actually sitting down with Frampton as he talks to me about Montaigne, sharing stories, insights, and the findings of his scholarship.
I often pick the book up and read a few pages and continue the imaginary conversation that I have been having with Frampton . . . and with Montaigne, who has been one of my literary companions for many years.
Also, it has one of the best titles of any book I have ever read!
A book's title should give the reader a sense of what the book is going to be about. From the title "When I Am Playing with My Cat, How Do I Know She Is Not Playing with Me? Montaigne and Being in Touch with Life", I anticipated a book focusing on Montaigne's insights into everyday life. Words on the flyleaf talking of Montaigne "finding an antidote to death in the most unlikely places---the touch of a hand, the smell of his doublet, the playfulness of his cat, and the flavor of his wine" and calling him a writer "whose thoughts, even today, offer a guide and unprecedented insight into the simple matter of being alive," strengthened my feeling. In addition, every one of several articles I read about the book mentioned that Montaigne wrote about the human thumb, as a striking example of his interest in the simple things; I rather naturally thought the thumb essay would be discussed at some length. In truth, "Of Thumbs" is cited only once.
"When I Am Playing with my Cat" is a series of essays, most of which could be read by themselves, and each of which is about a subject of interest to Montaigne. However, rather than focusing narrowly on Montaigne's writings, they provide an intellectual history about Montaigne's influences and the events and thinkers that he, in turn, influenced. We learn Montaigne's thoughts through numerous quotes and citations from the essays, but we also learn about the thinking of people like Epictetus, Cicero, Descartes, and even on to Emerson and Orson Welles. This is not entirely inappropriate, since Montaigne himself cited other thinkers extensively, and Frampton is merely continuing the practice. Frampton does a good job of describing Montaigne's life and the era in which he lived and how these experiences and events shaped his beliefs. The late 16th century was an exciting time as medieval Christianity gradually lost its pervasive influence and the age of science began to flower, and Montaigne's thoughts show his progressive spirit.
The subjects of Frampton's essays/chapters are very diverse, including war, friendship, death, sex, and other themes big and small. The title essay is one of the best, and it is typical of the way Frampton puts Montaigne in a broader context. He traces attitudes towards humans and animals from the caves of Lascaux to the medieval belief in Man's divinely ordained pre-eminence in nature's hierarchy to the humanist perspective as shown by Pico della Mirandola and Erasmus to Montaigne's unconventional , for his time, inquisitiveness about the capabilities of other animals. Montaigne believed that perhaps animals seem inferior to us in part because we just don't understand them and, further, that animals can give us insights into ourselves. Much of what he says on this subject seems very modern, and one feels a sense of intellectual kinship across the centuries.
One of the great pleasures of "When I Am Playing with my Cat" is Frampton's style. Sentences like "Springing from the flanks of the Puy de Sancy in the mountains of Auvergne, the Drodogne curls intestinally through the broad belly of France" make the poetry of the writing as enjoyable as the content.
I was somewhat reluctant to write a review of this book because of my unfulfilled expectations, but when I noticed that no one else has reviewed it I decided to weigh in to encourage others to give it a try. I do not think you will be disappointed.