From Publishers Weekly
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.)
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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 laughterwit, 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