It feels a little odd to discuss a book by a critic who writes essays about reviewing books. It reminds me of those old cartoons about a TV scene inside an identical TV scene inside another identical TV scene. I don't really need to review a book by Michael Dirda. But, I do want to call attention to a book about books since I'm addicted to them. Browsings is subtitled "A Year of Reading, Collecting, and Living with Books".
Between February 2012 and February 2013, Dirda contributed a weekly essay to The American Scholar. The essays are collected here, and most of them deal with the author's love of books, or, as he says, it gives "Some sense of a year in the life of an especially bookish literary journalist". For those of us who are passionate about books, it's as if we're meeting a new friend with similar interests. He discusses authors he loves, books he's collected, and presents lists, whether they're his favorite books to give as gifts or Christmas readings. He acknowledges what bloggers and those who share our books know. "I read a lot and enjoy writing about the books and authors that interest me." But, Michael Dirda is widely read with wide interests, and he discusses everything from science fiction to literature of the nineteenth century to Sherlock Holmes. There are comments about music, and used bookstores.
Dirda cautions readers to do exactly what the title suggests, browse through the book. Don't read it straight through, but dip in and sample the essays. If you love books, the adventures of discovery, you might want to sample Browsings. And, if you still love physical books, you'll be drawn to an author who writes the following paragraph. "Despite the rising popularity of the downloadable e-text, I still care about physical books, gravitate to handsome editions and pretty dust jackets, and enjoy seeing rows of hardcovers on my shelves. Many people simply read fiction for pleasure and nonfiction for information. I often do myself. But I also think of some books as my friends and I like to have them around. They brighten my life." To that, I say, amen, Michael Dirda. Amen.
I appreciate Michael Dirda's Browsings for all the discussion of books, collecting, and bookstores. But, there were a few comments that I appreciated for personal reasons. Dirda is from Lorain, Ohio, half an hour from my hometown. He went to Oberlin College, where I spent time doing research when I was in high school. And, he mentioned two people I hadn't thought of for quite a while. Kathleen Ann Goonan is a science fiction writer, who once appeared at the Lee County Reading Festival when I was Authors' Chair of the festival. And, he dedicated the book to a few people, including Clifton Fadiman. Clifton Fadiman was an intellectual, author, critic, and editor for Book of the Month Club, among other things. And, I met him when I was the library manager on Captiva Island. Mr. Fadiman dropped in one day, and said he had too many review copies and could he give some to the library. Of course I said yes, and he and his son brought boxes to the library. I couldn't imagine having too many books, which is ironic considering how many I now receive weekly. I can't imagine how many Clifton Fadiman received.
Browsings: A Year of Reading, Collecting, and Living with Books by Michael Dirda. Pegasus Books. 2015. ISBN 9781605988443 (hardcover), 246p.
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