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30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting essays; will make you buy more books . . ., May 13, 2001
By 
Mike Christie (Cold Spring Harbor, NY, USA) - See all my reviews
At age 13, Michael Dirda chanced upon Clifton Fadiman's "The Lifetime Reading Plan", a collection of short essays about a hundred great books. These days, Fadiman is regarded as middlebrow, says Dirda, but "for a young boy [it] did precisely what it intended: it made classics sound as exciting as Tarzan or Fu Manchu." Thus began a lifelong infatuation with reading and books.
"Readings" collects forty-odd essays about a book fanatic's life, all taken from the "Washington Post Book World." Dirda is a fine critic, with thoughtful and perceptive comments scattered throughout this collection. But I say book fanatic, rather than critic or reviewer or even reader, because these essays are not about literature. They *are* literature; they're reminiscences and ruminations about things bookish.
I'm a book collector, like Dirda, and I find him wonderful: precise, witty and entertaining -- but I wonder how many others, who don't suffer from book addiction, will really understand this book. If you've ever lusted to get every book by an author; or to get a first edition of your favourite book; or to collect a full set of books of some special kind (like those fifties Ace double paperbacks, with an upside down book in the back -- cool!) then you'll understand Dirda perfectly. If you don't know what I'm talking about, you may not.
However, James Herriot once said that enthusiasts are endearing but fanatics are irresistible, and I think most people will find Dirda a delightful fanatic. He is funny when he relates a diary of his Saturday (including sneaking off to a book fair and picking up several good finds), or a list of writer's secret fantasies (J.D. Salinger loves your work and invites you to visit!); he's argumentative when he asserts that Homer, Plato, Ovid and Dante are better assignments as high school reading than Kingsolver, Styron, Dorris and Tan; and he's always informative. Everything sounds so interesting when he writes about it. He makes you want to read it all -- Wodehouse, Shakespeare, even the erotic novel he found lying in a puddle at age 14.
His anecdotes are good, but readers will also find his habit of lists invaluable. I started to make notes of books I'd like to read as I went through this collection, but soon gave up -- every other essay provides a list. It's easier just to bring this book to the bookstore to refer to as you browse. One essay lists a hundred recommended comic novels; another gives the essential Wodehouse; another recommends twenty-odd children's books; and there are more: vacation reading, genre bests, an alphabet list. Between the lists and the offhand recommendations you are likely to find yourself a lot poorer when you've finished the book.
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30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Smart bites & bright lights, October 17, 2000
By A Customer
A bright, funny, thought-provoking collection of the best writings of the best critic of writing in America today (and one of the best writers from THE WASHINGTON POST). Organized like a good CD of rock/country/jazz anthems, Dirda's 15 minute essays range from growing up to growing old, and loving books the whole way. Unlike many critics, Dirda is no snob, and he loves books that thrilled us all at all ages, from Rex Stout to Stendhal. He's funny, self-deprecating. This book can serve as a timeless road map when you're looking for something good to read, and if you never get farther than its pages, you'll still have a great trip. If you're not luck enough to live in the D.C. metro area, now you're lucky enough to have this book to buy; if you do live in whining distance of the Capital dome, now you can buy this book and have all those Dirda clippings you cut out but can't find.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a dangerous book, February 28, 2003
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If you carry around a list of books you must find, if you've ever hidden new (or used) books from someone who thought money could be better spent (!) on food or electricity, if you've ever fantasized about meeting your favorite authors .... you will have found a kindred spirit in Michael Dirda, book lover and essayist, who has collected 46 of his Washington Post Book World articles here for you.
Wide-ranging but never overextended, Dirda impresses me not only for his erudite commentary but because he manages to rattle off titles and lists and names without ever seeming patronizing; he discusses a multitude of literary concepts without ever being condescending; and he relates a remarkable and far-reaching knowledge without ever sounding arrogant.
Dirda is knowledgeable and funny, intelligent and affectionate, as he considers Wodehouse, maxims, criminally-bad retention, Chesterton, Irish and French novelists, children's books, vacation reading, comedic novels, Beerbohm, Oulipo, the Internet, death, genre reading, Benson's Lucia, private clubs, teachers, autobiographies and getting in shape. And he reveals some interesting information about pre-presidential Jimmy Carter!
If you love books, you will thoroughly enjoy these observations. But beware! When you are finished you will have drawn up a LONG list of books that you did not know existed but which you cannot now live without.
Stimulating. Thought-provoking. Fun. All learning should be so enjoyable!
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Passion For Books And Literature, January 4, 2004
By 
W. C HALL (Newport, OR USA) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
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This review is from: Readings: Essays and Literary Entertainments (Paperback)
The writings of Michael Dirda are a wonderful gift to anyone who loves books and literature. "Readings" is a collection of his columns from the Washington Post's "Book World" section. The contents are as varied as a well-stocked library. His learning, his wit and his breadth of his interests make this book equally inviting.

Within these covers you'll find an appreciation of P.G. Wodehouse, an excursion into the literary world of New Orleans, the story of his guest membership in New York's Yale Club (and its wonderfully inviting library), a discussion of Japanese literature, ruminations on turning 50, the pleasures of book-shopping...and I haven't begun to exhaust the variety. Read this volume and understand why Francine Prose calls Dirda "a cultural treasure" and why Annie Proulx says he may "be as close to the ideal critic as we are likely to get."

One cautionary word to readers of Dirda's delightful memoir published last year, "An Open Book": as he notes there, he adapted some of the autobiographical pieces from this book for that memoir. But the overall amount of overlap is small. And a second cautionary note to all: be warned that your "must read" list is likely to grow even longer once you've immersed yourself in Dirda's enthusiasms. If you cherish fine writing in its many forms, you should love this book.--William C. Hall
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a book for the incurable reader, September 17, 2002
Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Michael Dirda is one of the main reasons I read the Washington Post Book World every Sunday. In his book, "Readings: Essays and Literary Entertainments," Dirda assembles forty-six of his best essays (all of his Book World editorial columns are good) to delight the reader who, like him, is an incurable book aficionado.
Although the idea of reading a book about reading books may sound a bit redundant, Dirda's exciting, humorous, wide-ranging, and engaging narrative will not lose the reader's attention. He is a scholarly bibliophile in every sense of the term, minus any pretension. His love of books is infectious, and there is no escaping Dirda's charm and wit. The chapters "The Crime of His Life," "Listening to My Father," "Mr. Wright," "Commencement Advice," "Clubland," "Turning 50," and "Bookman's Saturday" are especially good.

For the reader who finds himself (or herself) swamped with reading wish-lists, tirelessly hunting for a first edition, obsessing over collecting all of a particular author's works, finding unparalleled solace in the library, and generally spending more time reading than doing anything else, this is the book for you. I have seen Mr. Dirda speak about this book on C-SPAN2's "Book TV" and on open university's "The Writing Life," and he is just as enthusiastic about reading in person as he is on paper. I highly recommend this book to everyone who loves to read.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars wide-ranging romp through reading, January 30, 2004
This review is from: Readings: Essays and Literary Entertainments (Paperback)
A collection of his columns from the Washington Post's Book World, Dirda's book is a fun hodgepodge of short, readable essays on a variety of book-related topics. While many of them, as one would expect, are discussions of books themselves, Dirda also spins off into other areas, such as fond memories of a favorite English teacher, childhood trips to the library, the joy of book shopping, etc., which makes this collection more varied, more personal, and in the end more interesting than a simple "review" style collection. That's not to say the reviews aren't worth it--they are intelligent, concise, and witty and the sheer variety of books discussed in terms of style, tone, genre, enhances their interest. Dirda not only holds your interest, he piques it as well, so keep a pen handy as you read so you can jot down the titles of books you're going to want to pick up after Dirda finishes telling you about his experiences with them. One word of caution--if you've read his memoir An Open Book, some of these pieces will sound familiar as they have been incorporated with some changes in the memoir. If you haven't yet read the memoir, don't let that turn you off from doing so. It's certainly worth its own read, reworked and in a more full context the familiar columns won't seem as repetitive as you'd think, and if you want, you can always just skim through those sections.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pleasure in books, January 2, 2004
Dirda is a critic and editor at the Washington Post, notable for his erudition, his enthusiasm, and his wide-ranging reading--not just in respectable, "literary" fiction but in mystery and science fiction as well. It's common to make a distinction between "reviews" (ephemeral, plot-focused, intended to attract or warn off readers) and "criticism" (intellectual, in-depth, insightful, aimed at people already familiar with the works in question)--but Dirda's columns often blur this distinction in the most welcome way.
Readings collects these columns, including pastiches of Wodehouse and Pepys, appreciations of comic masterpieces, articles on soft-core porn, hard-boiled thrillers, science fiction, fantasy, forgotten classics and not-quite-classics, The Tale of Genji, the obsession of bookcollecting, and much more. Reading the book felt like making a new friend: Dirda offers a delightful mix of appreciations on books I know and books I always meant to try and books I'd never even heard of. Above all, he manages to convey the heady *pleasure* of reading--that we do this, really, heretically, hedonistically, not for our greater good but because it's just plain fun.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Follow the reader., June 27, 2004
By 
zzz "gzini" (Buffalo, NY United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Readings: Essays and Literary Entertainments (Paperback)
Reading about how literature has shaped Michael Dirda's life is somewhat entertaining, I suppose. But reading the books he discusses is an incredible experience. If for no other reason, buy this book because it will turn you on to so, so many more. I never would have discovered Maugham's Ashenden, Wodehouse, Lawrence's trek across Arabia, Vidal's Washington, or Kipling's Kim. Treat Readings like a directory of great literature and follow Dirda.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Booklover's Listmaker, February 5, 2005
This is a wonderful book of short essays by Michael Dirda, book reviewer for the Washington Post. Dirda appears to have read everything ever written, from literary fiction to science fiction to history to books that are just plain funny.

One of the things I particularly like about him is his enthusiasm for all kinds of books and his love for making truly eclectic lists (e.g., the "100 funniest books ever written", but with no more than one book per author; otherwise he said the list would be little but books by P. G. Wodehouse). He is also an aficionado of lost treasures (e.g., "The Autobiography of Augustus Carp, Esq.," at once one the most humorous books ever written and devastating account of true hypocrite--a man who would give Pecksniff a run for his money--or "Ashenden," Somerset Maugham's interconnected stories of a British secret agent in WWI--and the inspiration for other writers in the spy genre). He's also big on the Lucia series by E. F. Benson, which are hilarious representations of the battles for social supremacy in small town Britain--they are comedies of manners that compare well to Jane Austen's incomparable novels. No one is as good as Austen, but Benson is very, very good.

Dirda has also re-introduced me to science fiction (in particular Jack Vance).

This is an entertaining and highly varied set of essays with one central theme--the love of reading good books.

I'm a life-long book lover and reader. To my wife's chagrin, Dirda has reinforced all of my antisocial tendencies. He's given me the names of a pile of new treasures to read. I loved the book and I appreciate Dirda's infectious love for books. Read it.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Contagious enthusiasm for books and reading., April 24, 2008
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This review is from: Readings: Essays and Literary Entertainments (Paperback)
I read this in parallel with two other books of pieces by literary critics: Joseph Epstein's "In a Cardboard Belt" and Maureen Corrigan's "Leave me Alone, I'm Reading". Of the three, Dirda's book is hands-down my favorite. (Epstein's essays were kind of mean-spirited and Corrigan's book, though good, is nowhere near as funny as this one.)

There are so many terrific pieces in this collection. In no particular order, ten of the forty-six that really tickled my fancy:

Weekend with Wodehouse. (the biannual convention of the P.G. Wodehouse society)
Mr Wright. (tribute to his high-school English teacher)
Commencement Advice.
Four Novels and a Memoir. (a devastating sendup of several bestselling genres)
Bookish Fantasies.
Comedy Tonight. (a list of 100 amusing comic novels)
Sez Who? (Different experiences while browsing for books)
Excursion. (a weekend in New Orleans)
Talismans.
Vacation Reading.
Mememormee. (Why he's not a fan of memoirs)

There are another ten that could just as easily have made the list. What I enjoyed about Dirda's essays are his infectious enthusiasm for books and reading, which comes through in every piece, his wit and humor, as well as a certain generosity of spirit. EVen his brilliant takedown of the various bestseller genres is obviously done with affection.

This book has left me eager to seek out more of Dirda's work, as well as many of the books he mentions in these essays.

Recommended for all fans of books and reading.
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Readings: Essays and Literary Entertainments
Readings: Essays and Literary Entertainments by Michael Dirda (Paperback - October 17, 2003)
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