Readings
Intimate, humorous, and insightful, Readings is a collection of classic essays and reviews by Michael Dirda, book critic of the Washington Post and winner of the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for criticism. From a first reading of Beckett and Faulkner at the feet of an inspirational high-school English teacher to a meeting of the P. G. Wodehouse Society, from an obsession with Nabokov's Lolita to the discovery of the Japanese epic The Tale of Genji, these essays chronicle a lifetime of literary enjoyment.

Readings Details

TitleReadings
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseOct 17th, 2003
PublisherW. W. Norton Company
ISBN-139780393324891
Rating
GenreWriting, Essays, Books About Books, Nonfiction, Criticism, Literary Criticism, Literature, Language

Readings Review

  • Upik
    January 1, 1970
    When I was a green college student in Indonesia, I attended a talk by a well-known Indonesian economics professor, an Ivy-League graduate, an ex-activist. Impressed by his credentials, I asked him about good books to read, books that liberate the mind and break the claustrophobic, one-sided liberal economics we read in class. (Mind you, this was during Suharto's "golden" period). To my chagrin, he sneered at me, and with a look of derision barked, "Anda kan mahasiswa! Harusnya anda tahu buku-buk When I was a green college student in Indonesia, I attended a talk by a well-known Indonesian economics professor, an Ivy-League graduate, an ex-activist. Impressed by his credentials, I asked him about good books to read, books that liberate the mind and break the claustrophobic, one-sided liberal economics we read in class. (Mind you, this was during Suharto's "golden" period). To my chagrin, he sneered at me, and with a look of derision barked, "Anda kan mahasiswa! Harusnya anda tahu buku-buku apa yang harus anda baca!" (You are a college student, you should by now know what book to read!). So much about revering an ex-activist. And what is more depressing is that I used to believe him! Michael Dirda's "Readings: Essays and Literary Entertainments" proved him wrong. This is a book that gently guides you to what books to read and why. And since Dirda is a voracious reader, he can direct you to less-known -obscure even- but wonderful books that cater to your inclinations and leanings no matter what they are, and no matter who you are. In my case, I have been wondering about Western Canon that I should read (Harold Bloom's book is on my shelf, but his style of writing is a bit of a put off. At least for right now). He recommends Iliad, St. Augustine's Confession, Dante's Inferno, and a lot of Shakespeare arguing that they provide the basic plots and structure much imitated by later writers. On a lighter side, I found P.G. Wodehouse's Bertie and Jeeves adventure through him (well, my significant half mentioned that earlier, too). He even listed 100 titles for those in search of hilarity (and of course, Wodehouse is first on the list)."Readings" consists of forty-six chapters taken from Dirda's weekly column in The Washington Post. Each chapter addresses various themes and topics ranging from romantic scholarship to his laments on required summer reading for high school students in Washington DC. This book is unique in that in each chapter, Dirda offers a list of readings as an alternative to best-sellers list which less literate people like myself tend to consult when picking a book to read. I have already dedicated a pocket notebook to jot down some of his suggestions. As a result, I am reading Right-Ho, Jeeves at the moment (He suggested five Wodehouses). Dirda writes well. His essays are crisp, clean, witty, and sympathetic without being too instructive. Looking back at the "barking professor", I learn from Dirda: You can be an authority without having to bark at a timid, young college student.
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  • Paul Secor
    January 1, 1970
    I've been rereading some of these essays (they are actually newspaper columns, but they read like well crafted essays) recently. Some of them jumped out at me and almost demanded to be reread. Among them:"The Learning Channels" - a remembrance of his alma mater, Oberlin College. It was fascinating to read about the various courses and the professors who taught them, but it made me realize that if I had ever been admitted to Oberlin, I would have lasted exactly two days - one day to understand ho I've been rereading some of these essays (they are actually newspaper columns, but they read like well crafted essays) recently. Some of them jumped out at me and almost demanded to be reread. Among them:"The Learning Channels" - a remembrance of his alma mater, Oberlin College. It was fascinating to read about the various courses and the professors who taught them, but it made me realize that if I had ever been admitted to Oberlin, I would have lasted exactly two days - one day to understand how much things there were over my head, and another day to pack up and get out of town."Commencement Advice" - Not a formal commencement speech, but good thoughts about life and ways to live it well, whether you're a graduate or not. "Guy Davenport" - a tribute to and appreciation of the finest literary essayist of our time."Excursion" - to New Orleans, for things literary and otherwise."Bookman's Saturday" - Finding a way to visit a local book fair in between family commitments and, once the fair is visited and books are bought, finding a way to get the books into the house without his wife realizing what he bought. (Though, obviously, she can find out by simply reading his column for that week.) Reading about his obsessions over collecting first and rare editions made me feel grateful that I lightened my life by leaving that world behind a while ago."Weekend with Wodehouse" - a visit to the biannual convention of the P.G. Wodehouse Society. "When angels in heaven want a book to read, they buy a paperback of The Code of the Woosters, then lean back into a cloudbank and sigh with pleasure over sentences like these:'Years before, and romantic as most boys are, his lordship had sometimes regretted that the Emsworths, though an ancient clan, did not possess a Family Curse. How little he had suspected that he was about to become the father of it.'""Bookish Fantasies" - secret daydreams of book lovers (and writers): "...and you alone truly understand my work: Count me your greatest fan. Sincerely, J. D. Salinger. P.S Why don't you come up for a visit? The foliage around here is glorious in the fall...""Darling, It's a beautiful Saturday morning. The sky is blue, the birds are twittering. Why don't you take off and spend the day visiting dusty secondhand bookstores...""With your permission, the Library of America would be honored to gather your literary journalism of the past twenty years. We envision a volume of approximately 1000 pages. Happily, Mr. Joseph Epstein has volunteered to compile and introduce the selection...""Dad, I just want to thank you for staying on my case about reading. I really love books now and can't thank you enough, especially considering all the grief I used to give you and Mom..."Readings is a book I find myself returning to again and again.Michael Dirda's enthusiasm for books and, more importantly, reading is infectious.
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  • Emily
    January 1, 1970
    Growing up in a suburb of Washington DC, the Washington Post was an integral part of my childhood, especially the three pages of comics in the back of the Style section. As I got older, I appreciated how great it was, to have a daily serious newspaper and "the funnies" at once (this is partly why, despite living in NYC for almost 20 years, I have never warmed to the New York Times, which seemed self-consciously pompous by comparison). In the 1990s, I had moved to the city to work in publishing, Growing up in a suburb of Washington DC, the Washington Post was an integral part of my childhood, especially the three pages of comics in the back of the Style section. As I got older, I appreciated how great it was, to have a daily serious newspaper and "the funnies" at once (this is partly why, despite living in NYC for almost 20 years, I have never warmed to the New York Times, which seemed self-consciously pompous by comparison). In the 1990s, I had moved to the city to work in publishing, but went back to DC often to visit my parents (and my childhood home, with its swimming pool). Having no car, I traveled by Amtrak. The four hour train ride back to New York was among the best parts of those weekends, because I would have with me a thick stack of Washington Post Book Worlds, which my father thoughtfully left in my bedroom each Sunday, in a growing pile, in anticipation of my next visit. There was something very cozy about those train rides, and the orgy-like pleasure of a huge number of book reviews to dip into at once. My favorite part of the Book World was easily Michael Dirda's column on the reading life. Discursive, personal, sometimes funny, sometimes wistful, but always filled with an infectious love of reading and books. Often very obscure ones -- reading his essays made me feel as though I was part of an exclusive club. Sometimes they were just a tiny shade too personal; every now and then in the later columns, I felt more aware than I wanted to be of hints of a mid-life crisis. He sometimes seemed to be fed up with parenting, marriage, and the grind of book reviewing (hard to be sympathetic there, how many book reviewers have won a Pulitzer for their work), teaching, for him, being the road not taken. Still, he was a very good companion on those rides. I sometimes even felt as though he were occupying the seat next to me (our conversations were very witty).Today, my father, the house with my bedroom where the Book Worlds were stacked, and The Washington Post Book World itself, they are all gone, but somehow all still very real. The memories of the train rides and the bookish wallowing in newsprint have a vitality that is not quite matched by the actual physical presence of the hardback with the collected columns on my shelf.
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  • Scott
    January 1, 1970
    I checked Dirda's essays from the library at 8:00 pm, started reading them at 9:00, and didn't close the book again until 5:40 the next morning just as the sun was coming up out of the ocean. The essays are so short, it's easy to convince yourself to read just one more. And they're hilarious, and sentimental, and nostalgic, and informative, and preachy, and ego-centric, and most of all enthusiastic about reading and books and book collecting and writing and drawing pleasure from the printed word I checked Dirda's essays from the library at 8:00 pm, started reading them at 9:00, and didn't close the book again until 5:40 the next morning just as the sun was coming up out of the ocean. The essays are so short, it's easy to convince yourself to read just one more. And they're hilarious, and sentimental, and nostalgic, and informative, and preachy, and ego-centric, and most of all enthusiastic about reading and books and book collecting and writing and drawing pleasure from the printed word.My two favorite essays were "Comedy Tonight," little more than a bare list of 100 funny novels written during the 20th century, almost none of which I've read, or even heard of. And "The One and the Many," which questions why we read and what it means to have read a book. But really almost all of the essays are a mine of useful recommendations. I filled five pages of my little moleskin notebook with authors and titles to research and read.If you're feeling a little weary of your current reads or blasé about reading in general, dip into this lighthearted but rewarding anthology and recharge your batteries.
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  • Keith
    January 1, 1970
    Michael Dirda is the Pulitzer Prize winning book critic of The Washington Post. For years I have enjoyed my occasional encounters with his always perceptive reviews. Only recently did I discover that he has published four books of essays from the Post. Readings is the first of these, originally published in 1999, and it is a delightful expedition through Dirda's experience of reading and of teaching literature. Through all of these it is crystal clear that beyond being a critic and reviewer Dird Michael Dirda is the Pulitzer Prize winning book critic of The Washington Post. For years I have enjoyed my occasional encounters with his always perceptive reviews. Only recently did I discover that he has published four books of essays from the Post. Readings is the first of these, originally published in 1999, and it is a delightful expedition through Dirda's experience of reading and of teaching literature. Through all of these it is crystal clear that beyond being a critic and reviewer Dirda is a bookman and I can think of no higher compliment. A bookman is one who finding himself away from home and with a leisurely moment heads to the nearest bookstore. A bookman who decides to get fit immediately heads to the public library and checks out a boatload of fitness books. A bookman's first love is books and often it is not a specific love of one good book or even one type of book but rather a eclectic and erotic love for all books. Dirda's essays bear this out. If he goes to a literary conference or has a sabbatical we are always informed of his book buying adventures. When he is in Florida and having just turned 50 spends a week without books - falling into that seedy tropical ennui so familiar to readers of Conrad and Greene - it is both poignant and hilarious when he finally returns to the world of books. The books he promotes in these pages are wondrously eclectic, from the classics, to forgotten gems of past centuries, to mysteries and science-fiction, The whole spectrum of the written word.The final essay in the book, "Millenial Readings," addresses the approach of the 21st century, Dirda is prescient in his awareness of how things might change but he has confidence that art and literature will survive the digital tsunami. He has a different and again a poignant sense of regret about something else:More and more I sense that focused reading, the valuing of the kind of scholarship achieved only through years spent in libraries, is no longer central to our culture. We absorb information , often in bit and pieces and sound bites; but the slow, steady interaction with a book, while seated quietly in a chair, the passion for story that good novels generate in a reader, what has been called the pleasure of the text --this entire approach to learning seems increasingly, to use a pop phrase, "at risk." Similarly, even a basic knowledge of history, classical mythology, and the world's literatures now strikes many people as charmingly antiquarian. Or irrelevant. Or just sort of cute. That's a quote from thirteen years ago. Where are we now?
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  • David
    January 1, 1970
    I read this in parallel with two other books of pieces by literary critics: Joseph Epstein's "In a Cardboard Belt" and Maureen Corrigan's "Leave me Alone I'm Reading". Of the three, Dirda's book is hands-down my favorite. Epstein is far too heavy on vitriol, with little compensating wit, and his style has a pompous, 'I'm smarter than you', aspect to it that is downright unattractive. Corrigan's book has charms of its own, but doesn't manage near as many laugh-out-loud moments as I found while re I read this in parallel with two other books of pieces by literary critics: Joseph Epstein's "In a Cardboard Belt" and Maureen Corrigan's "Leave me Alone I'm Reading". Of the three, Dirda's book is hands-down my favorite. Epstein is far too heavy on vitriol, with little compensating wit, and his style has a pompous, 'I'm smarter than you', aspect to it that is downright unattractive. Corrigan's book has charms of its own, but doesn't manage near as many laugh-out-loud moments as I found while reading Dirda's pieces.There are so many terrific pieces in this collection. In no particular order, ten of the forty-six that really tickled my fancy:Weekend with Wodehouse. (the biannual convention of the P.G. Wodehouse society)Mr Wright. (tribute to his high-school English teacher)Commencement Advice.Four Novels and a Memoir. (a devastating sendup of several bestselling genres)Bookish Fantasies.Comedy Tonight. (a list of 100 amusing comic novels)Sez Who? (Different experiences while browsing for books)Excursion. (a weekend in New Orleans) Talismans.Vacation Reading. Mememormee. (Why he's not a fan of memoirs)There are another ten that could just as easily have made the list. What I enjoyed about Dirda's essays are his infectious enthusiasm for books and reading, which comes through in every piece, his wit and humor, as well as a certain generosity of spirit (conspicuously absent, for instance, in Epstein's book). EVen his brilliant takedown of the various bestseller genres is obviously done with affection. This book has left me eager to seek out more of Dirda's work. Recommended for all fans of books and reading.
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  • Margaret
    January 1, 1970
    Michael Dirda is a writer and senior editor for The Washington Post Book World; this is a collection of his essays and reflections on books, criticism, and book collecting. In the preface, he urges his readers to go slowly, not to "rush through these essays all at once," but as soon as I read the first few, I knew it would be a struggle not to devour the whole book in one sitting. (I managed to ration it out to three or four evenings.) I haven't actually read most of the books Dirda writes about Michael Dirda is a writer and senior editor for The Washington Post Book World; this is a collection of his essays and reflections on books, criticism, and book collecting. In the preface, he urges his readers to go slowly, not to "rush through these essays all at once," but as soon as I read the first few, I knew it would be a struggle not to devour the whole book in one sitting. (I managed to ration it out to three or four evenings.) I haven't actually read most of the books Dirda writes about, by authors from Nabokov to Jack Vance, but his thoughts are so engaging that it didn't matter, and in fact, I had to restrain myself from writing down every single book he mentions and adding them all to my to-be-read list. If you're a devoted reader, you'll love this book; I came out of it feeling as though I'd made a new friend, one just as crazy about books as I am.
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  • Bruce
    January 1, 1970
    Why had I never heard of Michael Dirda until I heard him being interviewed on NPR three months ago? As a result of listening to him, I asked for one of his books for Christmas; my wife gave me five, the first of which, Readings - Essays and Literary Entertainments, I just finished. And how entertaining it was! Dirda, writer and editor for Washington Post Book World, is well read, urbane, witty, and iconoclastic, taking on in this book a host of subjects in almost fifty essays, nearly every essay Why had I never heard of Michael Dirda until I heard him being interviewed on NPR three months ago? As a result of listening to him, I asked for one of his books for Christmas; my wife gave me five, the first of which, Readings - Essays and Literary Entertainments, I just finished. And how entertaining it was! Dirda, writer and editor for Washington Post Book World, is well read, urbane, witty, and iconoclastic, taking on in this book a host of subjects in almost fifty essays, nearly every essay leading me to expand my “must-read” book list. A skillful writer himself, Dirda’s enthusiasm for books and reading is infectious. On to book #2!
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  • Tim
    January 1, 1970
    Dirda's book begins with a short essay on a childhood encounter with Clifton Fadiman's Lifetime Reading Plan, a guide to 100 great books, where Fadiman "inspired, exhorted, enticed..." the reader to attend to serious books. Dirda's book does some of the same, but not for long. Yes, there is a chapter on Romantic scholarship and memoirs, talk of Nabokov and Flaubert, but there are also chapters on science fiction, crime novels, chidren books, a Wodehouse convention, and his list of 100 great come Dirda's book begins with a short essay on a childhood encounter with Clifton Fadiman's Lifetime Reading Plan, a guide to 100 great books, where Fadiman "inspired, exhorted, enticed..." the reader to attend to serious books. Dirda's book does some of the same, but not for long. Yes, there is a chapter on Romantic scholarship and memoirs, talk of Nabokov and Flaubert, but there are also chapters on science fiction, crime novels, chidren books, a Wodehouse convention, and his list of 100 great comedic novels (Wodehouse at the top). He also ventures away from books, to give insight into his life as a reader and book acquirer. I relate, though not on the first edition, pricier end of things. Still I understand the sense of the hunt that comes upon entering a used bookstore or a book sale, as well as the need to sneak books into the house past a spouse. Overall, this book of short chapters taken from Dirda's newspaper writing is perfect for reading before bed. It gives you glimpses of Dirda's character and good humor, insights into entire genre's you might never have ventured into, as well as lists of more books to read. One can never have enough of those.
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  • George Siehl
    January 1, 1970
    Most who truly enjoy books and reading will find items in this collection that resonate. Author Michael Dirda was a senior editor for Book World, the weekly book review section of the Washington Post. Included here are reprints of the literary essays he wrote monthly under the heading "Readings." The columns embrace humor, serious literary commentary, interactions with other producers or lovers of literature, and bits of autobiography.Dirda is an articulate, and literate, commentator on books an Most who truly enjoy books and reading will find items in this collection that resonate. Author Michael Dirda was a senior editor for Book World, the weekly book review section of the Washington Post. Included here are reprints of the literary essays he wrote monthly under the heading "Readings." The columns embrace humor, serious literary commentary, interactions with other producers or lovers of literature, and bits of autobiography.Dirda is an articulate, and literate, commentator on books and the people to whom they matter. This book, or any of his others, makes not only great reading, but a fine gift to reading friends and family. Dirda suggests reading the book one column or so at a time. The advice is sound, as it makes the pleasure last longer. This book is highly recommended, but with a warning: almost any book he writes about seems to cry out to be added to your list of must-reads. I have seldom been disappointed with his recommendations; Wodehouse I found to be a taste I had not acquired, and Terry Pratchett's first Discworld novel, The Color of Magic, I was too obtuse to savor. Fortunately, reading another in the series convinced me Dirda was right on this author. I have cherished Discworld, and Pratchett, ever since; Dirda even longer.
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  • David Allen
    January 1, 1970
    Dirda is better read than you are, but he's so matter-of-fact about his reading that I found myself jotting down titles rather than cursing him -- although now and then I did roll my eyes. While occasionally precious, he's funny too, such as his essay about how little he can remember about books he loves, and his vision of good reading embraces Hound of the Baskervilles as much as Hamlet.
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  • Sandra
    January 1, 1970
    After a lifetime of reading (and I am quite old) I pick up Michael Dirda's Readings and feel that I have never read anything at all. What a great gift he is to one who wants to know what to read next, but what an even greater gift to someone who wants to know why to read at all.
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  • Lynn Green
    January 1, 1970
    Very enjoyable reading. Michael Dirda took me into his world, confirmed my own obsession with reading, and stimulated my own appetite for unknown authors.
  • Chris
    January 1, 1970
    I enjoyed many of these bookish essays. However, there were several that went over my head. A more erudite reader may get the references that I couldn't. That being said, I will seek out more of Dirda's writing.
  • James
    January 1, 1970
    How many book recommendations can one fit into a slim book of only 216 pages? I don't know for sure, but while I did not count them I believe that Michael Dirda may have the record with this book. It is a collection of his essays for the Washington Post from 1993 through 1999 that he delightfully calls "literary entertainments". I say delightfully because that is the emotion I experienced reading the essays. I would catalog the literary references but that is beyond the limits of my own reviewin How many book recommendations can one fit into a slim book of only 216 pages? I don't know for sure, but while I did not count them I believe that Michael Dirda may have the record with this book. It is a collection of his essays for the Washington Post from 1993 through 1999 that he delightfully calls "literary entertainments". I say delightfully because that is the emotion I experienced reading the essays. I would catalog the literary references but that is beyond the limits of my own reviewing skills. You can obtain an idea of the breadth of the essays when the first two essays include references to Clifton Fadiman's Lifetime Reading Plan and one of my favorite fantasy novels, The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton. All this and more is blended into two very personal essays about the author's reading life and habits with comparisons of reading Paul Auster, Evelyn Waugh, Charles Williams, and Felix Salten -- all of which are in an essay purportedly about an obscure work of supernatural fiction called I Am Jonathan Scrivener by Claude Houghton. The result of the forty-six essays, which may be read in any order and at any speed, is a great introduction to a wonderful essayist and a reference compendium that is guaranteed to expand your reading horizon.
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  • Stacey
    January 1, 1970
    He is a lovely writer, but he is so old-school and canonical in his literary tastes that I found myself wishing that he were a less Euro-centric and more adventurous reader. Reading this book did make me want to read some PG Wodehouse, but other than that, few of his book recommendations were compelling to me (he does not seem to read many women, many non-British or American writers, or many people of color).
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  • jen8998
    January 1, 1970
    I blame Michael Dirda for my latest flurry of book purchasing. He writes so enthusiastically about books he's enjoyed that my list of books to read becomes longer and longer with each page. I also enjoyed his take on common dilemmas plaguing the bibliophile. For instance, he answers the essential question of how many books to take on vacation. The answer: a minimum of six chosen from varying categories in order to match your every mood or intellectual fancy.
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  • Brian
    January 1, 1970
    "The most effective weapon of any man is to have reduced his share of histrionics to a minimum."pg 75This will be a read for the bibliophile who would be desirous of getting inside scoop on one of many reading lists of an addicted reader, a Pulitzer prize writing author, book reviewer for Washington Post and NY Times and all around compulsive lover of all things to be read.
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  • Alvaro Zinos-Amaro
    January 1, 1970
    "The really great tragedy of life is that we are linear beings in a hypertext world, and we only get to play the game once." But as Dirda proceeds to point out, books augment us, opening up the world to us, and opening us up as well. And books about books, like Dirda's, do so with special refractory power.
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  • Josh Boggs
    January 1, 1970
    Readers should keep a notepad at hand, lest Dirda's many diverse, strange, and enticing recommendations be forgotten. The travails and pleasures of a "bookman" will be familiar to some and inspiring to many, but certainly amusing to most. Take the author's advice and don't read this collection in order. Instead, treat it as a port of embarkation for various literary adventures.
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  • Graychin
    January 1, 1970
    Pleasantly diverting, and it will certainly add some new titles to your wish list. But take Dirda’s introductory advice and don’t read the book all the way through. Dirda’s little bookish essays are best in small doses.
  • Rose
    January 1, 1970
    Conversational and engaging, Mr Dirda always has a new take on an old favourite or will lead you to a book you may never have heard of. (My thanks for the info on M.R. James' only novel). A collection of his Washington Post columns from 1993 to 1999.
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  • Kelly
    January 1, 1970
    Some great writing, some interesting ideas, some intriguing books. Some relaxed stories (about his family and his outings), others rather more literary. Many books I wouldn't read as we obviously have some very different tastes. Enjoyed but probably won't continue with any of his other works.
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  • Christine
    January 1, 1970
    I really enjoyed the essays, I have read and reread some of them multiple times. This book is a source for inspiration and opened my horizons for reading even further. Like Dirda I like lists with books and books about books are right up my alley.
  • David
    January 1, 1970
    The best and most well read book critic currently working. Dirda has greatly expanded my Amazon wish-list - his essays are full of recommendations for books that are so amazing you can't believe you've never heard of them.
  • Ramesh Prabhu
    January 1, 1970
    How I know I am not alone in my fetish for books-1 -- http://bit.ly/Fetish1 (The Reading Room)
  • Whitney
    January 1, 1970
    "Through books we can augment our inherently limited selves, explore that achy solitude we all carry around within us."
  • Martha
    January 1, 1970
    Excellent essays on books, literature, book collecting, etc. Clear sharp writer, true lover of books, wide range.
  • Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
    January 1, 1970
    One of those books that I’ve had to copy long passages from, whole chapters even. Don’t miss Vacation Reading, Talismans, and One More Modest Proposal.
  • Steve Gross
    January 1, 1970
    Book reviewer who seems to like everything, not just "literature".
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