Browsings – Michael Dirda (2015)

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A glorious and exuberant tour of a life steeped in books, Michael Dirda’s Browsings is a balm for the literary soul. Enough of such hyperbole, I say. But this was a good book, and Dirda is like having a very literate friend who seems to have read just about everything. Any time you read some Dirda, your TBR list is going to lengthen with books and authors who you didn’t even know existed.

Michael Dirda is a Pulitzer Prize winning book review columnist who has written for a lot of elite pubs (including WaPo and NYT). He has a Ph.D. in comparative literature (including Mediaeval poetry) and yet writes in an inclusive yet scholarly manner. Not having an enormous background in Mediaeval poetry (and similar), I must own up to not being familiar with about half of the titles that he writes about, but he writes about these books in such an accessible way that you don’t mind. I think this is quite an achievement – that someone with such an academic background can make poets of the Middle Ages seem appealing is not for the faint-hearted.

“None of us, of course, will ever read all the books we’d like, but we can still make a stab at it. Why deny yourself all that pleasure? So look around tonight or this weekend, see what catches your fancy on the bookshelf, at the library, or in the bookstore; maybe try something a little unusual, a little different, and then don’t stop. Do it again, with a new book or an old author the following week. Go on – be bold, be insatiable, be restlessly unashamedly promiscuous…”

This book is a collection of a year’s worth of book review columns that Dirda had put together for The American Scholar, and ranges across every kind of book there is. Having a Ph.D. from Cornell, Dirda has taught literature at the university level, including one about the “Boy’s Own” kind of adventure books from 1860-1930, a few of which look appealing. (To see the type of books that he suggests for interested readers, see my review of The 39 Steps by John Buchan [1915] here.)

I may be going overboard in my gushing his praise, but I loved this read and I think you may as well. Don’t be put off if you’re not well grounded in long-forgotten esoteric titles – this will be happy hunting ground for you, I promise. Enjoy!

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