Bakewell distills Montaigne's philosophy of life to this succinct statement: "The trick is to maintain a kind of naïve amazement at each instant of experience."
Oh, she has more than that. She has her twenty answers from Montaigne to the question "How To Live": Pay attention. Question everything. Be convivial. Live temperately. Be ordinary and imperfect. Don't fear death. And so on.
But I'll settle for the naïve amazement.
Nearly fifty years ago, as a young prof, I had a short column in the college newspaper called "Under a Skeptical Star." I took the title from a quote of the Scots poet/scholar William MacNeile Dixon: "If there be a skeptical star I was born under it, yet I have lived all my days in complete astonishment." Even then, I suppose, although I didn't know it, I was a disciple of Montaigne.
Skepticism and astonishment. Doubt everything. Marvel at everything. Go through life drop-jawed. Pay attention to things that seem ostensibly insignificant. Run like hell from anyone who wants to sell you the meaning of life.
Make no mistake: I'm not selling the meaning of life here. I speak for myself alone. I have my hands full managing my own life without trying to proselytize others. If I thought I knew the meaning of life, I hope I would have the good sense to doubt it.
(Doubt everything? Surely we need some firm footing to stand on. More on Monday.)