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.