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Browsings: A Year of Reading, Collecting,…
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Browsings: A Year of Reading, Collecting, and Living with Books

by Michael Dirda

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The essays in Browsings are eclectic and seemingly random…from Mr. Dirda's sad musings of his mother’s nursing home to the loss of cursive penmanship – but the connective tissue is books, reading books, collecting books, finding books, talking about books and writing about books.

He has a love of older books – eschews bestsellers and feasts his eyes (and his wallet) on the vibrant dust-jackets of the 1940’s and 50’s. There’s a divine essay dedicated to the golden age of detective novels. Mr. Dirda, in another excerpt, reflects upon the bookshelves, favorite notebooks and writing implements of various great authors — what reader can’t resist picturing Colette writing with a beloved Parker fountain pen?

After reading an article about millionaire author and Law & Order producer David Wolf, who owns a home in Montecito, California — “where God would live if he had the money.” –he ponders excessive wealth and Tolstoy’s lament – “how much (land) does a man need?” Mr. Dirda reflects on his own excess — books:

"It’s certainly not as though I need any more books. Just yesterday I was up in the attic creating neat stacks of those I would like to read Right Now."

Of course the author speaks fluent French and taught English in Marseille. He tells of a hunch-backed dwarf who cut hair in a garage, where one had to climb down into a pit so he could circle around and cut the hair. I don’t do the tale justice, you must read it for yourself.

I just love this guy, he’s a charming, quirky book nerd. How could I not fall for a guy who dreams of traveling around North America in a van visiting secondhand bookstores.
After finishing the final essay, and in addition to the wildly optimistic new list of books I must want to read, I jotted down some quotes from Browsings – you bibliophiles out there will relate:

I also think of some books as my friends and I like to have them around. They brighten my life.

The world of books is bigger than the current best-seller list.

Books don’t furnish a room. A personal library is a reflection of who you are and who you want to be, of what you value and what you desire, of how much you know and how much more you’d like to know.

What fun it was to spend time with Mr. Dirda -- a witty, engaging and off-the-charts-smart booklover whose reading covers a surprisingly wide breadth of interest and expertise.

Look for his other books which include Book by Book, Classics for Pleasure, and Readings.
See all my bookreviews at http://www.bookbarmy.com ( )
  BookBarmy | Apr 13, 2017 |
During 2012, noted book reviewer Michael Dirda wrote a weekly series of essays for the online version of "The American Scholar" called "Browsings," which this collection gathers together in their entirety. To someone such as I, who has been reading Dirda for years in the "Washington Post" and listening to him hold forth at the science fiction convention "Capclave," there aren't a lot of surprises here. There's the variegated literary interests. The swooning over the joys of bargain hunting. The wistful desire for a little more time to accomplish all that must be done. One thing that was different is that there were times when the man expressed some unalloyed disgust with the course of American society and some depression as the darkness gathers in American society and his own personal life. ( )
  Shrike58 | Dec 3, 2016 |
It is risky to review a reviewer. Michael Dirda reviews books, about one a week, for various prestigious media. I review two books a week here. He dwells on stories; he can’t get enough sci-fi, mysteries and period (1870-1930) fiction. I review nonfiction. I started writing reviews because I couldn’t possibly remember the high and low points of books. He seems to remember incredible amounts. He has thousands of books. I force myself to keep just 500.

So I could and did learn a lot from Browsings.

Michaell Dirda is totally consumed by the book world. He is a member of every author and genre club you can name, and numerous others you never dreamed existed. He haunts used bookstores and rarely leaves empty-handed. He loves adding new editions of books he already has. He attends conferences, speaks on panels and teaches. And networks. And it’s all pleasure. Luckily, he actually makes a living out of it.

Browsings is a collection of blog entries that cover one year in the life of a bookman. While this might at first seem boring, it is not. It is very personal, very broad, but also very intense. He lightens the load with what he calls ironic deflation, in which he gently mocks that straw man Michael Dirda, from having too much of an authoritative approach. It works well, taking a pause on the otherwise relentless ascent into the importance of authors unknown.

Often, he just lists book and authors we should check out. He can’t seem to write without paraphrasing some other author. Very often. He has such a wealth of allusions, he seems to just assume readers will recognize them with a knowing smile. Smile maybe, but recognize, not so much. It is a fairytale life, which is most appropriate for a lover of stories.

What I learned that applied directly to me was that “You can’t just read and write all day, much as I’d like to” or as he quotes from Te Tao Ching: “Know when to stop.”

David Wineberg ( )
1 vote DavidWineberg | Nov 24, 2016 |
I first encountered Michael Dirda about twenty-five years ago in the guise of a little 67-page guide he penned for The Book of the Month Club (when I actually believed BOMC books to be collectable) titled Caring for Your Books. The book answered so many of my questions about the proper handling of, and caring for, books that I still sometimes refer to it to this day. Michael Dirda was someone I wanted to read more of – and over the years I have managed to do so.

Browsings: A year of Reading, Collecting, and Living with Books, is a collection of weekly pieces Dirda wrote for the American Scholar. (Believe it or not, the columns can all still be accessed on the American Scholar website for those who wish to sample them.) What is perhaps best about the Browsings collection is that the columns are personable enough to serve as both an introduction to Michael Dirda’s writing for those unfamiliar with him and as a chance for those already familiar with Dirda’s work simply to catch up with him.

It is obvious from the start that Michael Dirda is an impassioned booklover, a man who could not imagine his life without it being fully immersed in the world of books, writers, critics, publishers, and bookstores. Books are his life and he does not apologize for it. Because the columns are of a more informal nature and tone than one would expect from a book dedicated to the topic, Browsings reads much like a conversation with the author. But don’t let that informal tone fool you for a minute because, in addition to revealing interesting tidbits about his personal life, Dirda covers a lot of material that his fellow booklovers will find instructive and informative. Be warned from the beginning, however, that the book does not include a formal listing of all the books and authors referenced in the weekly columns; readers interested in that information should keep a pencil in hand while reading Browsings.

The columns cover a wide spectrum of book-related topics, but as Dirda himself recommends in his introduction, it is probably best that they be read in groups of three or four at a time, and in the order in which they were written (and presented here). This is how Dirda’s readers in the American Scholar experienced them, and by reading the pieces this way, the references to the previous week’s work should not seem out of place or overly repetitive. Each reader of the book will have his own favorite column or columns, of course, depending upon his particular interests. Among my favorites, are the columns on topics such as spring book sales, memorable books from one’s childhood, Dirda’s preference for reading books written before he was born, seasonal reading, books as gifts, libraries without books, and whether or not older writers should ever retire.

Oh…and I got a laugh or two from Dirda’s obviously heartfelt contempt for anything and everything to do with e-books and the devices used to read and store them.

Browsings is fun. ( )
  SamSattler | Oct 14, 2016 |
An interesting assortment of essays by Michael Dirda. It was a little different than what I expected. I was looking more for a book about browsing for books. However, many of the essays are loosely related to particular books, if at all. All very interesting in their own right, just not what I was looking for. ( )
  jms001 | Sep 10, 2016 |
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To the memory of Clifton Fadiman, Randall Jarrell, Cyril Connolly, and Robert Phelps
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