Browsings – Michael Dirda (2015)


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!

Happy New Year to everyone!

new-yearsWith the holidays being more and more over, and with my break from work coming to an end, it’s time to start thinking about resuming normal life and all those routines. However, my break’s not over just yet, so I thought I’d chat a bit about what exactly I’ve been doing to fill those two holiday weeks.

First, it’s been a fabulous time. We haven’t done anything that sounds very spectacular, but we have been having a lovely down-time to just “be”, and that’s been invaluable. You’d think that with all that time off, I would have filled it with reading, but I was much more drawn in to doing anything BUT reading, and so that is what I did in the end. Just bumbled around and caught up and slept in and went out to see old and new friends.

And in between, there was a book here and there, and a professional massage or two, and putting the Christmas tree up (and taking it down), and all those little things in between that make life fun.

This area of the Texas Panhandle where I live is (in)famous for its extreme weather throughout the year, and as part of that, we’ve just had a huge ice storm followed by some snow (and now freezing rain) which has considerably slowed down the world where we are (in a good way), and so since I’m not overflowing with recent books-read reviews, I thought I’d just chit-chat…

Flannel sheets... Snuggly bliss.

Flannel sheets… Snuggly bliss.

With this big cold front coming through, it’s been the ideal time to put flannel sheets on the bed. (I know – who would think old-fashioned flannel sheets would merit some blog post space? But they do.) It’s not too often that we get the chance to put flannels on the bed, and so when we do, it’s always a treat and even more so when it’s very cold outside. (Really cold weather runs about 1 week/year on average here in our area, so it’s a pretty big thing for us to have cold temps that last more than a day. Aaah. Those little things in life, right?) So sleeping and reading in bed has been a favorite choice this week as it’s such a snuggly warm and soft cocoon in which to be… What bliss.

christmas sock with gift and sweets _pvAlong with the cold and the flannels, I’ve managed to hit some of the after-Christmas sales and picked up 90% of the contents for the kids’ stockings for next Christmas. (I don’t mean to brag, but merely to say that I help out the Salvation Army each year with their kid Christmas stockings which they distribute to kids who may not have much holiday spirit in their homes. The more I can save, the better their Christmas stockings and the more kids that I can help. It’s such a fun project, but it’s very under-publicized here and I wish more people knew about it.) Along with my office friends, we handed over seven VERY stuffed stockings this year – such fun for us and such fun for the kids to open (I hope)!

Since I haven’t been reading that much during the break, how have I filled my time? Watching movies for some of it. I watched a version of Wharton’s House of Mirth (which is considerably darker and more depressing than my read of the book was), and then a BBC film adaptation of The Duchess about Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, which was really intriguing and now I wonder how much was true. True or not, she seemed to be a fascinating character of the time.

The Duchess movie poster

I listened to the podcast, Serial, which started off great but then peetered out somewhat. (However, millions of people may disagree with me on this, but it might be because I happen to be married to a homicide detective and so I’m more familiar with this type of situation and hear lots of stories from DH.) Still good though. While doing some house projects (well, one), I listened to a wide selection of podcasts from TED, and during coffee breaks, I caught up with some of my magazine reading.

So, although my break sounds a little quiet, it was super fun and had a great mix of seeing lots of friends and catching up with solitude. It has really recharged me, and I’m hoping to jump back into the books and work as the year progresses. No new year resolutions for me, really. I just try to view each day as a fresh start and go on from there. (Don’t I sound like a person who’s perfect? I’m not really…)

The only big reading goal that I have is to stay the course of reading good books and keep choosing more titles from the TBR pile. 🙂

Credit: ?. (If anyone knows, I’m happy to give that. Just shoot me an email or comment. I know someone did it out there!)

Credit: ?. (If anyone knows, I’m happy to give that. Just shoot me an email or comment. I know someone did it out there!)