Books: Book of a Lifetime ; Essays Michel De Montaigne
McIlvanney, William, The Independent (London, England)
Sometimes the discovery of a great book has the impact of an event, so that you remember the time and place of its happening. In this case, 17 years ago, I was holed up in a Glasgow hotel, fighting against the clock to finish a working-class musical for BBC2. My head had seized up and I escaped into Byres Road and went into a bookshop, looking for anything that might thaw my thoughts. I bought a book I had been vaguely intending to read for years: the Essays of Montaigne, translated by the amazing JM Cohen, who also translated Don Quixote.
Back in the hotel, I started to read. The effect was pretty much instantaneous. I found myself in the presence of an awesomely humane intelligence. If I had been inside an old Hollywood film, the hotel room would have been bathed in light emanating from the pages. I suppose finding a book like this is a bit like falling in love. You wonder where this person's been all your life.
Here was a man sitting in his tower not made of ivory, with some books and the accrued experience of an interesting life, trying to work out what it all means. …