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On not reading Henry James

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Quotations From Henry James, selected by Louis S. Auchincloss. Charlottesville, Va.: The University Press of Virginia, 167 pp. Limited edition. Slip case. $30. My confession: I have read very few novels by Henry James through. It took me several years to finish ``The Golden Bowl''; my paperback copy was swollen with bath water by the time we were finished. I have not finished ``The Wings of the Dove''; I have a nice new Oxford paperback with a gorgeous Bronzino on the cover and a new Bodley Head cloth, but little intention of actually reading ``The Wings of the Dove.''

To read Henry James is to savor something exquisitely rich. So I like my James in morsels. Which is why it takes me forever to finish a book. So Louis Auchincloss provides a perfect solution to my problem, for I really must read a little James now and then, slowly. James reminds me like no other writer that it's the feeling that counts.

The compiler of this volume is a most distinguished man. Partner in the New York law firm Hawkins, Delafield, and Wood, he is president of the Museum of the City of New York and a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters. He has published more than 30 books; his 27th novel, ``Honorable Men,'' will be available soon from Houghton Mifflin. Mr. Auchincloss has chosen passages from the novels, essays, and letters to compile his book of touchstones out of Henry James. And he seems to sympathize w ith me about reading -- or not reading -- James. He says in his introduction, ``I have found in a lifetime of reading James that my appreciation of parts of his books is at times almost as great as my appreciaiton of the whole.''

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