Friday, September 17, 2021

My hero / Michel de Montaigne by Yiyun Li

Michel de Montaigne

My hero: 

Michel de Montaigne

 by Yiyun Li

He looked at everything with curiosity, and tried to make sense of everything he studied – for the benefit of his readers, says Yiyun Li

Saturday 13 November 2010


othing comforts me more than the thought of living an unobserved life, and for at least an hour a day I achieve that, reading Montaigne's essays. It's good to know that in this Montaigne-land, which I discovered when I turned 30 and haven't abandoned since, I am a nobody. There are other nobodies, but one does not have to exchange pleasantries or small talk with them, nor does one have to worry about who owns what – in Montaigne-land, everyone owns each brick, each tree, every bird. Try as you might, you cannot possibly be in other people's way.

What a writer Montaigne was (and what a chatterbox)! Un-plagued by worries of being selfconscious, sentimental or inappropriate, he looked at everything with curiosity, and tried to make sense of everything he studied – for the benefit of his readers, but above all for himself. Nothing better can be said of Montaigne than the words of these two eminent nobodies: "It seemed to me as if I had myself written the book, in some former life, so sincerely it spoke to my thought and experience" (Emerson); "It is not in Montaigne but in myself, that I find all that I see in him" (Pascal).

I read Montaigne in the late afternoons, before picking up my children and cooking dinner for the family. Sometimes I sigh because he has found better words than I have for something I've been pondering; sometimes I laugh at him, as he can be too silly, or too wordy. But the laughter is directed at myself, as his folly is my own too. In a book dedicated to communicating one man's thoughts to the world, a fortunate reader like me can live as a hermit yet never be far from the real world – from the intense experience of living in that world.


001 My hero / Oscar Wilde by Michael Holroyd
002 My hero / Harley Granville-Barker by Richard Eyre
003 My hero / Edward Goldsmith by Zac Goldsmith
004 My hero / Fridtjof Nansen by Sara Wheeler 
005 My hero / Mother Mercedes Lawler IBVM by Antonia Fraser

007 My hero / Ernest Shepard by Richard Holmes
008 My hero / JG Ballard by Will Self
009 My hero / Alan Ross by William Boyd
010 My hero / Ben the labrador by John Banville

011 My hero / Vicent van Gogh by Margaret Drabble
012 My hero / Franz Marek by Eric Hobsbawm


017 My hero / Jack Yeats by Colm Tóibín
018 My hero / Francisco Goya by Diana Athill
019 My hero / Max Stafford-Clark by Sebastian Barry
020 My hero / Arthur Holmes by Richard Fortey

036 My hero / Robert Lowell by Jonathan Raban
037 My hero / Beryl Bainbridge by Michael Holroyd
038 My hero / Charles Schulz by Jenny Colgan
039 My hero / Oliver Knussen by Adam Foulds
040 My hero / Annie Proulx by Alan Warner

041 My hero / David Lynch by Paul Murray
042 My hero / Edwin Morgan by Robert Crawford
043 My hero / Anne Lister by Emma Donoghue
044 My hero / Jane Helen Harrinson by Mary Beard
045 My hero / Edmund Burke by David Marquand
046 My hero / Shelagh Deleaney by Jeanette Winterson
047 My hero / Christopher Marlowe by Val McDermid
048 My hero / Gwen John by Anne Enright
049 My hero / Michael Mayne by Susan Hill
050 My hero / Stanley Spencer by Howard Jacobson

051 My hero / William Beveridge by Will Hutton
052 My hero / Jean McConville by Amanda Foreman
053 My hero / Alexander Pushkin by Elaine Feinstein
058 My hero / Cy Twombly by Edmund de Waal

079 My hero / Gene Wolfe by Neil Gaiman
087 My hero / Alberto Moravia by John Burnside
096 My hero / Isaac Babel by AD Miller
097 Lucian Freud by Esi Edugyan
100 Thomas Tranströmer by Robin Robertson
102 My hero / David Hockney by Susan Hill


190 My hero / Iris Murdoch by Charlotte Mendelson
194 My hero / René Descartes by James Kelman
199 My hero / Albert Camus by Geoff Dyer


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