Friday, April 15, 2011

Readings: Essays & Literary Entertainments
Readings: Essays & Literary 

"It's hard to think of another writer who loves books so passionately, who has such broad tastes and impeccably high standards--and who writes about literature with such intelligence, generosity and enthusiasm." Francine Prose

“Every man who knows how to read has it in his power to magnify himself, to multiply the ways in which he exists, to make his life full, significant and interesting”  Aldous Huxley 

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. 

Readings by Michael Dirda. Indiana University Press, Bloomington. 2000


parrish lantern said...

not read this but the author sounds as tho he ploughs a similar furrow as alberto Manguel & George steiner, both great writers, so this appeals.

James said...

He is closer to Manguel than Steiner (Steiner is more erudite than most of the authors I have ever read added together). I would put George Steiner in a class with Simon Schama, Harold Bloom and Susan Sontag, for comparison.
I admire Michael Dirda's ability to share the joy of reading, whether the authors he's reading are Edgar Rice Burroughs and Arthur Conan Doyle or Umberto Eco and Salman Rushdie. The breadth and depth of his reading seems limitless. And, yes, that reminds me a bit of Alberto Manguel.