Near the end of this collection of short essays, Dirda says that his goal with the original weekly columns was “to entice people to try unexpected books, old books, neglected books, genre books, upsetting books, downright strange books.”
Dirda is a book reviewer–a professional book nerd–and his infectious passion for all things bookish is on full display here. It’s hard not to get caught up in the joy of his love for books, though search me for why anyone would try to resist.
His voice in these essays is kind and witty, his boyish enthusiasm rattling off each page like any kid geeking out about a new obsession. Some of the casual chattiness comes off as a bit contrived, but never distractingly so. Dirda is the essayist that Nora Ephron wanted to be.
My only complaint is that two of the essays are random political rants. That’s jarring enough, but the tone of both is oddly extreme (banning private schools and making public school the single universal option, for example–how is that not fascistic?). Like the great Woody Allen film Midnight in Paris, which I saw again this week, there just has to be the token dig at conservatives (though an earlier essay in Dirda’s collection is explicitly compassionate towards us).
Also, as much as I likewise love used bookstores, I wish he wrote more about libraries.
Still, overall, this book was a great pleasure. I found myself tracking the titles and authors he dropped–especially the ones that came up repeatedly–to add to my own to-read list. Realistically, though, I knew I couldn’t add many of the dozens (hundreds?) that he gushed about–my to-read list (yes, it’s an actual list) has over 60 titles on it now, which will take me years to get through.
Oh, who am I kidding? I couldn’t resist starting with at least one, so I put The Stars My Destination on hold at my library. Looking it up now, I see that it’s already in. I’ll pick it up later today.
So thanks, Mr. Dirda, for this. Your celebration has successfully enticed at least one reader to crack open a new volume and dive in.