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Book by Book

Notes on Reading and Life


Michael Dirda (View Bio)
Hardcover: Henry Holt & Co., 2006.

Book by Book

"As warm and stimulating as a library to which one returns again and again." — Chicago Tribune (“Editor’s Choice”)

"Dirda reigns as one of the premiere book critics in the United States... a man whose reading tastes run unfathomably wide and deep." — Marjorie Kehe, Christian Science Monitor

"Once we’re finished reading all those books our teachers required us to read, where do we turn for counsel on reading and life? Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Dirda affectionately offers up this bouquet of thoughts and quotations from novels, poems, and essays as a guide to discovering the meaning of our experiences. Dirda’s thoughtful little meditations conduct us through all aspects of life from work, leisure, and love to art, spiritual matters, and death and grief. He imagines the ideal guest room library filled with ‘familiar, cozy, browsable, and soothing’ books, ranging from the mysteries of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and G.K. Chesterton to the humor of P.G. Wodehouse and James Thurber and the maxims of François de La Rochefoucauld. In the section on love, Dirda provides a minicourse on the subject in the Western world…. Finally, Dirda sums up the value of a life lived book by book: ‘The beauty of words, the sound and fall of sentences, a writer’s distinctive voice rising from the page—these, in the end, provide the greatest and most lasting pleasures of a reading life.’ A lovingly crafted volume, this is recommended for all libraries." — Henry L. Carrington, Jr., Library Journal

"Michael Dirda’s brilliant BOOK BY BOOK attempts something different. In this slim volume, Pulitzer Prize-winner Dirda offers an insight into his own ‘inner life’ as a reader, not through explanation, but through sharing his reading collection….Dirda is a hospitable guide. He makes suggestions for what to put in a guest bedroom bookshelf, shares the quotations that he keeps around his desk, and reminds us that flossing our teeth is just as important as reading. ('The young, especially, can hardly imagine the expense, pain, and trouble of dental care in later life.') He would surely concur with Emerson that there ‘are books which rank in our lives with parents and lovers and passionate experiences.’ But this is also a book about the things that books can’t do. 'There’s more to life than reading,' he points out…. One is grateful that Michael Dirda recognizes this." — Sophie Ratcliffe, Times Literary Supplement

"Pulitzer-winning critic Dirda writes a guide to reading and its life lessons ranging widely and pithily through the universal themes of learning, school, work, love, childhood and spiritual guidance. Dirda's message is simple: if reading is to be life enhancing, we need to focus our attention on books that are rewarding. Dirda encourages readers to forge a subjective and intimate relationship with books. He urges readers to spend less time on brand-name authors and more time discovering the books that truly excite them, paying attention to works from the past, including the classics. With humor and pragmatism, Dirda sets forth advice for building a hypothetical guest-room library: ‘Ideally items should be family, cozy, browsable, above all soothing’ (and include a Jane Austen novel). Throughout are eclectic snippets of writing gleaned from a lifetime's reading; Dirda draws on a notebook in which he has recorded striking quotations and passages, and his volume has the agreeable feeling of a commonplace book. Highly cultured yet never pretentious, Dirda's survey convincingly demonstrates what a wealth of life lessons—moral, emotional and aesthetic—a good library can contain. For those who enjoy books about reading, and for all those seeking to encourage others to read, Dirda's brief yet suggestive book will inspire. " — Publishers Weekly

"For any readaholic, the true tests of a book like this are three, and Dirda passes them all with flying colors. They are, that some of your favorite books and authors are included (wow! Howard Moss, Karen Joy Fowler and Georgette Heyer are all here); that when the last page is turned you find that you’ve compiled a huge list of books that you must read immediately because the author has made them sound so interesting (my list is long); and that you’d like to continue the conversation about books with the author." — Nancy Pearl, The Washington Post

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