Readings: Essays and Literary Entertainments

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Readings
Literary Entertainments
Michael Dirda

The best of the column, "Readings," fromWashington Post Book World, by Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Dirda.

Since 1993Washington Post Book World has published a monthly column by Michael Dirda called "Readings." Personal, erudite, serious, and sometimes playful, these columns cover a variety of subjects: classics in translation, intellectual history, children’s books, fantasy and crime fiction, American and European literature, poetry, innovative writing, the joys of collecting first editions, rediscovering neglected novels, ghost stories, teaching writing, and the challenges of parenthood and life in general. Dirda is a writer’s reader and a reader’s writer. He is an impeccable guide to good reading from the light—he loves P. G. Wodehouse—to scholarly esoterica. His columns are always worth a pause, always worth reading, always worth coming back to. Readings presents his most memorable essays, including "The Crime of His Life" (a youthful caper), "Bookman’s Saturday" (the scheming of a book collector), "Weekend with Wodehouse," "Mr. Wright" (an exemplary high school teacher), "Listening to My Father," "Turning Fifty," and "Millennial Readings." This is a book to keep on your bedside for ending the day with pleasurable reading.

Michael Dirda is a writer and senior editor forWashington Post Book World. For three years he was a board member of the National Book Critics Circle. His essays and reviews have appeared in numerous publications. In 1993 Dirda received the Pulitzer Prize for Distinguished Criticism.

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"Pleasures of a book reviewer: To open a new book tentatively, with indifference even, and to find oneself yet again in thrall—to a writer’s prose, to a thriller’s plot, to a thinker’s mind. Let the whole wide world crumble, so long as I can read another page. And then another after that. And then a hundred more."

"Book collecting is often a form of hero worship—or heroine worship (no one bows lower than I before the genius of Angela Carter, Colette and Agatha Christie, to mention only three high Cs). After a while, though, one yearns for more than first editions and scholarly sets of an author’s complete works. Enthusiasm spreads, insidiously, into what one may call supplementary areas."

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Review:

If you have never happened upon Michael's Dirda's "Readings" column in the Washington Post Book World, yours is a sorry fate indeed. One never knows what one will find there, except that it will come filtered through the witty, unpretentious, voracious, book-besotted being that is Michael Dirda. In one column, Dirda introduces Guy Davenport, "the best literary essayist since Randall Jarrell and Cyril Connolly"; just as ardently, he reports elsewhere on a weekend convention of the P.G. Wodehouse Society. Another column finds Dirda spatting with his spouse over the preferred fate of his children's outgrown books (she says get rid of them; he hides them in the garage). Yet another column--several, actually--find him fondling and justifying the purchase of some first edition or another. Dirda writes about books he has (sort of) stolen, teachers who mattered, and an early 11th century Japanese novel (Murasaki Shikubu's The Tale of Genji). He even discusses his secret desire not to read so many books. "I sometimes think that a passion for omnivorous reading has seduced me into a lifetime of one-night stands," he says, "while the less promiscuous have managed to find a single true and more fulfilling love." For our sake, Mr. Dirda, keep up those love affairs--that passion is contagious. Those many Dirda enthusiasms, presented here in a collection of 46 "Readings" columns, will ignite fires aplenty in the curious reader's mind. --Jane Steinberg

About the Author:

Michael Dirda is a writer and senior editor for the Washington Post Book World. For three years he was a board member of the National Book Critics Circle. His essays and reviews have appeared in numerous publications. In 1993 Dirda received the Pulitzer Prize for Distinguished Criticism.

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