Michael Dirda’s “Classics for Pleasure” is not a book that I would expect that I would read, but there it was, sitting before me, and so I read it. And now I can recommend it to you.
Dirda, long time book reviewer and editor for the Washington Post, has written a number of books about other books. This is one of them – where he discusses a number of “classics” (or books that he thinks are classics, or should be) and talks a little about each. About 90 books are referenced, most of which I have not read, and some of which I have not even heard of. Dirda, on the other hand, seems to have read everything, and seems to remember everything about everything that he has read. And, as one reviewer puts it, Dirda has the ability to discuss any book and make you think that you have to put it next on your list.
Dirda’s chapter are dedicated to authors, not to single books, giving him a chance to have a broader reach. He divides his authors between eleven categories – authors with “playful imaginations” (Lucian, Diderot, Peacock, Beerbohm, Hasek, Compton-Burnett, Perelman, Calvino and Gorey), Heroes (Beowulf, Ferdowski, Icelandic Sagas, Marlowe, Zola, Junger and Agee), Love (Sappho, Arthurian Romances, de La Fayette, Kierkegaard, Meredith, Cavafy, Heyer, Akhmatova, du Maurier), Wisdom (Lao Tse, Heraclitus, Cicero, Erasmus, Spinoza, Samuel Johnson), and so forth.
You obviously don’t have to read this book cover to cover, you can dip and choose. But I read it through, as well might you. And then you’ll want to keep it on a shelf near your desk, so you can refer to it when it’s time to read a new book.
Dirda has just published a new book, called “Browsings”, more personal, and drawn from essays previously published. One of the things he asks in this book is to wonder why he never seems to read what other people are reading at the time. I resemble that remark.