BROWSINGS

A YEAR OF READING, COLLECTING, AND LIVING WITH BOOKS

Dirda's comradely essays are unfailingly informative and amusing, punctuated with poignant asides on the aging artist and...

Author and literary journalist Dirda (On Conan Doyle: Or, The Whole Art of Storytelling, 2011, etc.) presents a collection of light, conversational essays drawn from a year of writing on books and book collecting for the American Scholar.

A weekly book columnist for the Washington Post and a regular contributor to numerous periodicals, the Pulitzer Prize recipient champions actual books as opposed to digital texts, for they are not mere home decor but a physical presence: reflections of who one is, “of what you value and what you desire, of how much you know and how much more you'd like to know.” The author is happiest when enveloped by books, at home or in the many bookstores he trawls for hidden treasures. Browsings is as much about living with books, about serendipitous discovery, as about the boundless pleasures of reading. Dirda is, and encourages us to be, unabashedly promiscuous about books, exploring the realm of letters within and beyond our comfort zones, recognizing that this domain is greater than the bestseller lists, cultivating a taste for the quirky and arcane, and embracing the obscure as readily as the renowned. Though a literary polymath, the author disavows an analytical mind or the appellation “critic” (despite much evidence to the contrary), insisting, “I’m a bookman, an appreciator, a cheerleader for the old, the neglected, the marginalized, and the forgotten.” He does his best to exhume the buried tome, owning a particular bent (of late) toward the period 1865 to 1935, which gave birth to most of our modern genres. His antiquarian penchants extend not only to Victorian and Edwardian popular fiction, but to illustrative quotes from authors in all eras.

Dirda's comradely essays are unfailingly informative and amusing, punctuated with poignant asides on the aging artist and paeans to great literary scholars. His almost single-minded passion, the exhilaration of a life in literature, glows on every page.

Pub Date: Aug. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-60598-844-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Pegasus

Review Posted Online: May 12, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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NUTCRACKER

This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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TO THE ONE I LOVE THE BEST

EPISODES FROM THE LIFE OF LADY MENDL (ELSIE DE WOLFE)

An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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