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Essays and Literary Entertainments


Michael Dirda (View Bio)
Hardcover: Indiana University Press, 2000; Paperback: W. W. Norton & Co., 2003.


"They say that the book, even the plain ability to read great books, is threatened now; then comes along Michael Dirda, to prove that a life lived with books, in reading and caring for them and causing others to love them, is still possible and pleasurable for anyone, even in Our Times. We need this man and are fortunate to have him." — John Crowley

"The first thing I turn to when the huge packet of The Washington Post arrives on Sunday morning is Michael Dirda's 'Readings.' I am certain (and have never been disappointed yet) that I am going to be surprised, entertained, informed, and intrigued by his autobiographical reminiscences, which are enlivened by a self-deprecating wit, by his fascinating and occasionally hilarious accounts of the search for bibliographical treasures in second-hand bookshops and by his reflections on books that I have never read but now realize I must, and insights into books I know but now wish to re-read. The great French critic Sainte-Beuve published his essays under the title 'Causeries du Lundi — Monday chats — because they appeared in the newspaper on Monday; Michael's (among the heroes he lists Montaigne, Stendhal and Colette) should be called 'Causeries du Dimanche'" — Bernard Knox

"Michael Dirda's love of reading is a highly contagious virus. One cannot be immunized against it; one cannot be cured; one can only be grateful to catch it." — Anne Fadiman

"Michael Dirda's appetite for literature is omnivorous to the point of seeming almost acquisitive, yet it always shines with something like radiance of delight. While knowingly and even learnedly discriminating, it embraces, in the spirit of ardent championship: children's literature and adventure stories, science fiction as well as serious fiction, philosophy, history,...in short, The Works. His essays shimmer with the immediacy of his encounters as a reader, which are almost always ones of meditated and vivifying joy. He is not only a pleasure to read, but a reliable guide into unfamiliar or neglected terrain, a prompter of re-examination, or a sherpa of discovery." — Anthony Hecht

"Michael Dirda may be as close to the ideal as we are likely to get. He is a rational, decent man, a careful reader, a lover of books, widely read, intelligent, himself a good writerly hand at lucid prose, a champion of books, a man whose house is packed with tomes from attic to basement, a man who respects and appreciates children's books as well as those for adults, understands how much grownups can enjoy a child's book, a responsible, level-headed human being with a sense of humor and a sense of honor. One of his strengths is the ability to link ideas and obscure books, only possible when one has read so widely and deeply, to follow chains and trains of thought through thickets of works and half a dozen books. Fortunate is the reader to whom Dirda extends his hand." — Annie Proulx

"Michael Dirda loves books....his literary taste is wide as Solomon's in wives — and as wise. Best of all, his love is catching. No other critic is so apt to make you sit down and actually start reading that trilogy that's grown invisible on your bookshelf." — Thomas M. Disch

"Michael Dirda is a superb literary essayist, and his READINGS should provide deep delight for discerning readers. He understands that the purpose of reading is to give us the blessing of more life." — Harold Bloom

"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. Michael Dirda is a cultural treasure." — Francine Prose

"In these brief essays Michael Dirda...writes about his passionate entanglement with books — as a voracious and wide-ranging reader, as a proselytizer who is almost childlike in his enthusiasms, as an obsessive hunter frequenting used-book shops and library sales, and as a generous and subtle critic....[H]e clearly sees his mission as one of enticing as many as he can to read — and love — the literary classics and serious works of history and biography. His obvious relish of books allows him to exhort without sounding self-important and without making reading difficult works seem like taking medicine. Dirda's greatest service...is leading his readers to unjustly neglected or forgotten titles.... This book [succeeds] thanks to Dirda's earnestness and charming old-fashionedness." — The Atlantic Monthly

"For some time now, the best book critic in America has been Michael Dirda of The Washington Post. His essays make one want to jump up and read the books and authors he writes about; they are like haloes of insight and information." — Michael M. Thomas, New York Observer

"A delightful compendium of Dirda's most memorable Washington Post Book World essays revels in seven years' worth of bibliophilic passion....For any book lover who — despite Kirkus's best efforts — doesn't know what to read next, Dirda will provide a lovely and genial guide." — Kirkus Reviews

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