Book by Book, by Michael Dirda

Book by Book, by Michael Dirda

So, I love books about books.  And in this one Pulitzer prize-winning critic Michael Dirda provides glimpses of and comments on his own commonplace book.  This eclectic collection contains delightful thoughts, lists, and book recommendations.  I can’t do better than Dirda’s own words, so here are my favorite passages:

On discussing books with philistines:

“Quote a verse from the Bible or a line from William Wordsworth, mention the date of a battle or a character out of Charles Dickens, and expect to be regarded with a mixture of awe and suspicion.  Erudition makes people feel uneasy; at worst it can seem vaguely undemocratic.  Better to talk about last night’s episode of the latest sitcom, something we can all enjoy equally.”

On guest room libraries:

“Now the essential quality of a proper guest-room book is that it must avoid all the normal requirements of a ‘good read.’  Nothing too demanding or white-knuckled suspenseful.  Ideally, items should be familiar, cozy, browsable, above all soothing . . . .”

On pride and prejudice:

“One of the reasons we should read widely is to avoid falling into the more obvious rifts of prejudice and paranoia. . . . Books, by their very nature and variety, help us grow in empathy for others, in tolerance and awareness.  But they should increase our skepticism as well as our humanity, for all good readers know how easy it is to misread.  What counts is to stay receptive and open, to reserve judgment and try to foresee consequences, to avoid the facile conclusion and be ready to change one’s mind.  No matter how sure you may be of a course of action, no matter how committed to any belief, remember Oliver Cromwell’s plaintive entreaty: ‘I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.'”

On rereading:

“Once we know the plot and its surprises, we can appreciate a book’s artistry without the usual confusion and sap flow of emotion, content to follow the action with tenderness and interest, all passion spent.  Rather than surrender to the story or the characters – as a good first reader ought – we can now look at how the book works, and instead of swooning over it like a besotted lover begin to appreciate its intricacy and craftmanship.  Surprisingly, such dissection doesn’t murder the experience.  Just the opposite: Only then does a work of art fully live.”

Read it.  Slowly, savoringly.  Or devour it.  But, by all means, mark your favorite passages and read it again.

Book by Book, by Michael Dirda [rating:5]

Other reviews:
Things Mean A Lot
Of Books and Bicycles