Classics for pleasure

Michael Dirda

Book - 2007

In these delightful essays, Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Dirda introduces nearly ninety of the world's most entertaining books.

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2nd Floor 809/Dirda Due Dec 26, 2023
Orlando : Harcourt c2007.
Main Author
Michael Dirda (-)
1st ed
Physical Description
x, 341 p. ; 24 cm
Includes index.
  • Love's Mysteries
Review by Booklist Review

The book critic for the Washington Post offers a wealth of personal takes on works of fiction, poetry, drama, and other nonfiction prose that have come to be regarded as classics and thus, he fears, are generally thought of as  difficult, esoteric, and a little boring. It is Dirda's conviction that great books speak to us of our own very real feelings and failings, of our all-too-human daydreams and confusions, and to broadcast that sentiment widely, he supplies energetic, even exciting, 3-page essays on approximately 90 authors. He arranges his selections into nontraditional categories, from Playful Imagination ( the realm of every sort of laughter wit, irony, repartee, satire, gallows humor, imaginative exuberance, the fanciful and the surreal ) to Heroes of Their Time ( the heroes range from a slayer of monsters to striking coal miners, from Persia's greatest champion to the dirt-poor of Depression-era America ). Provides true inspiration to shut off HBO and start reading.--Hooper, Brad Copyright 2007 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

In this casually brilliant collection of "great book" recommendations, Dirda, a Pulitzer Prize-winning critic for the Washington Post Book World, discusses titles ranging from well-known favorites such as Sherlock Holmes and Beowulf to more obscure writers such as Jaroslav Hasek and John Masefield. Dirda is a charming and exceedingly well-read host, erudite without slipping into pretension. He is more generous and less canonical than Harold Bloom, to whose work Dirda owes a debt in style and substance. The book creates a pleasurable but somewhat maddening sensation in the committed reader, who will be tempted to read most of Dirda's selections based on his brief summations. The complete works of Christopher Marlowe are summed up in five eventful pages, and Dirda makes Edward Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire sound so essential over the course of three pages that one forgets it would take the better part of a year to actually read. Dirda's greatest accomplishment, however, is rescuing many formerly illustrious masters from the dustbin of our culture's pitifully short memory: James Agee, G.K. Chesterton and Ernst Junger are just three who benefit from their inclusion in this indispensable volume. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

From the Washington Post Book World's Pulitzer Prize-winning book critic: fun books from Icelandic sagas to Dracula. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

Just when you think you've read a few books, here comes a Pulitzer Prize-winning book critic with jaunty evidence that you haven't read Jack--not to mention Jill, Jacques and many others. Sorted into 11 categories ("Love's Mysteries," "Lives of Consequence," etc.), this latest entry in Dirda's inspiring lit-crit series (Book by Book: Notes on Reading and Life, 2006, etc.) offers a little bit of everything--from John Aubrey to Zola, from books we've all read, or claimed to (Robinson Crusoe, Frankenstein), to writers of whom honest folks will admit they've heard little, if anything (William Roughead, Sheridan Le Fanu). Dirda employs approximately the same approach to each of the 90-some writers he includes: sketchy biographical material (he offers more for those with troubled or troubling lives, e.g., Ezra Pound), a bit of summary (generally swift and felicitous enough to engage), some sort of encomium. The biographical bonbons are sometimes luscious, as in his wonderful note about how the hand of the dying Henry James moved as if writing across the spread on his deathbed, and Dirda's humor and wit are evident throughout: Walter de la Mare's Memoirs of a Midget, for instance, is "one of the best novels that Henry James never wrote." He also pauses periodically to deliver schoolmasterish warnings about paying more attention to so-and-so and is especially convincing with his tribute to Willa Cather (less so with Zora Neale Hurston). Politics are generally absent, though Dirda can't resist including a paragraph from Utopia of eerie relevance to the current military situation in the Middle East. The superlatives become a little shopworn after 300 pages, but perhaps English is simply inadequate to provide sufficient words to praise this many terrific writers and wonderful works of literature. Tasty samples from a most eclectic and inviting bibliophilic menu. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Playful ImaginationsIn the immortal words of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: Tragedy tomorrow, comedy tonight! Some of the writers in this category whisper, What fools these mortals be! while others, perhaps wiser, merely smile and say instead, What lovable fools these mortals be! Here is the realm of every sort of laughterwit, irony, repartee, satire, gallows humor, imaginative exuberance, the fanciful and the surreal. The resulting literary vaudeville show ranges from skits about the outrageous nightlife of the gods to the antic oafishness of a bumbling clown to the manic wordplay of S. J. Perelman. A good time is had by all.LUCIAN (c. 115200 b.c.)The True History; Lucius, or The Ass; Dialogues of the Dead; EssaysSpeak of the ancient Greeks, and one immediately thinks of noble philosophers, tragic dramatists, mournful choruses and a fair amount of rape, incest, madness, sacrifice, and blood. No matter what these serious-minded folk undertake, they almost never seem to be doing it just for fun. Aristophanes is the most obvious exception to this generalization. His plays satirize philosophy, sex, waranything. The philosopher Diogenesthe one who went searching in vain for an honest manalso possessed a playful spirit and a dry wit. When he observed a beggar drink from the palm of his hand, the philosopher threw away his cup; when Alexander the Great stood over him and offered to grant any wish, Diogeneswho had been working on his tansimply asked the master of the world to stop blocking the suns rays. Arguably the most amusing of all the Greeks, though, is the writer history knows as Lucian. (In fact, there may have been both a Lucian and a Pseudo-Lucian, but scholars have suspected this only in modern times.) The True History takes us on the kind of journey we associate with Odysseus or Jason and the Argonauts and turns it into the adventures of a Greek Baron Munchausen. Lucius, or The Ass is a picaresque and sometimes bawdy tale about a young man transformed into a donkey by witchcraft. It climaxes with a sex-crazed matron wondering what the beast would be like in bed; the next morning Luciuss owner decides he wants to sell tickets for a follow-up performance. Lucians numerous dialoguesalmost brief playletsread as if written by a Greek Bernard Shaw. In the Dialogues of the Dead, the characters complain about the boring society of Hades. Charon grouses that his boat is too small and, whats more, it leaks; Hannibal and Alexander argue over who was the better general; Socrates assures us that he really did know nothing and wasnt being at all ironic; and Tiresias is asked to describe, in detail, his transformation from woman to man. In the Dialogues of the Heterae old whores discuss sex, passion, jealousy, and money with younger women new to the game, while in the Dialogues of the Gods Jupiter, like a tired executive, patiently explains Ganymedes new duties as cup-bearer, though the young shepherd cannot quite grasp Excerpted from Classics for Pleasure by Michael Dirda All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.