Gift of Age: Reading With Almost Perfect Clarity


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I am 75 now – and one of the great gifts is that I can read almost perfectly. I can finally read Virginia Woolf and go silent at her gift. I can read Hemingway and know precisely what is good and what is bunk.

I can read almost perfectly. I can walk into Proust and be more pleased in a moment than had I won a thousand awards. I can hear a pop song, “Midnight Train to Georgia,” and tell my son, it must have been wonderful to write the lyrics — “I would rather live in his world than live without him in mine.”

I can see what is written, as a piece, and know, feel, in a moment, if it is actual. I have written to the art critic Peter Schjeldahl, of The New Yorker, when he has written a line that is remarkable. I know that he knows when he has done such. I do not know if he imagines that anyone else knows.

I do not know how long this gift will stay, it is so obviously clear, at the moment, I imagine that when it clouds over, I would know. But probably, I will not know.

Reading well does not always go well. I tried some books I had always loved, and they fell away. Startled, I picked up a very beat-up copy of The Odyssey, pages falling out, wondering if it might itself lay still. It was an old friend and wonderfully it is still a true friend. and by the time Eurykleia is about to say the name Odysseus, I was in tears. No one reads The Odyssey, but they just might, now.

I can read anything. And see it clearly. My night driving has become poor but my reading has never had this full clarity. I flinch when I read the Sunday New York Times book section — they are clearly poorer and well short of editors and money for such, and the articles that were once something are now more often a brochure of sorts. I love that Robert Gottlieb reviews Harold Bloom’s new book, The Bright Book of Life, and hauls up its faults and even makes a few faults of his own. Out we are coming, from this long, perverse length of medievalism, 50 years and change, and out we shall be. We are coming out.

It was its own pandemic, this tortured country piercing itself, and it shall ever have that demon, but I believe that it is over. We are out. It took this newest, cruelest virus to finally end our medieval era.

We can read. We can have schools. We can educate. We can help. We can grow. We can feed and care. We can be the land, with other lands, that quietly begins the process to say yes. I have, finally, time for Proust and now can read perfectly. A gift and a choice.

Peter Miller
Peter Miller
Peter Miller runs the Peter Miller Design Bookshop, in Pioneer Square, in the alley between First Avenue and Alaska Way. He is there, every day. He has written three books, Lunch at the Shop, Five Ways to Cook, and How to Wash the Dishes. A fourth book, Shopkeeping, A Manual, will be published in Spring 2024, by Princeton Architectural Press.


  1. Finally, an upside of aging! I need all of those I can get.
    I too find that read with more clarity as I get older, but also with less patience. I don’t have time to waste on badly written crap. Which reminds me of a reading system devised by Nancy Pearl that I find useful. You subtract your age from 100 and that tells you how many pages you are required to read before giving up on a book and moving on to something better. So Peter needs to ready only 25 pages, Roger only 16, and I have to slog through 31 before throwing the book at the wall. And someone who is 100 has permission to judge a book by its cover. I can’t wait.


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