In this new collection of essays, Henry draws on his 40-year career as an award-winning novelist, memoirist, editor, and teacher, as well as on the works of classical and contemporary literature that have served him as “equipment for living.” He develops a lexicon of 22 abstract terms, including Weather, Time, Handshakes, Privilege, and Empathy. He sifts the layered meanings of each term through research, wit, personal stories, literary quotations, and free association. His inspirations are Stephen Dedalus’s stream of consciousness and Hamlet’s soliloquies, as both in turn are inspired by Montaigne’s essays. Some terms suggest collective wisdom. Some invoke discoveries. Some reveal outmoded agendas and biases, or promise new ones. The adventure is in how, rather than in what, to think; and Henry’s terms of choice are salient to our culture and times, where too often they serve to prevent rather than to challenge original thinking.
In contrasting styles and voices, Henry presents a mid-life rancher's protest against aging, a factory foreman's flight from grief, King Kong's seduction by Beauty, a writer's death-defying bungee jump, a police chief's humiliation, and a Philadelphia executive's breakdown during World War II. De Casibus is the lyrical motif.