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Book by Book: Notes on Reading and Life

3.8 of 5 stars 3.80  ·  rating details  ·  490 ratings  ·  75 reviews
A Pulitzer Prize–winning critic’s often surprising meditation on those places where life and books intersect and what might be learned from both

Once out of school, most of us read for pleasure.Yet there is another equally important, though often overlooked, reason that we read: to learn how to live. Though books have always been understood as life-teachers, the exact way i
ebook, 192 pages
Published April 1st 2007 by Henry Holt and Co. (first published September 5th 2000)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,632)
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Diana Higgins
I loved this book. It's a fusion between Dirda's commonplace book and one of those "Booklust" type of books. I own Booklust, but am very impatient with it. I have a hard time getting past one of the very first lists of books, where all of the authors are named "Alice."

I'm supposed to read a bunch of books whose sole connection is that they were written by an Alice? I just don't get that. In fact, it pisses me off. I've got at least 200 unread books on my shelf all clamoring for my attention; I
Read, then no one can resist revisiting the book again and again. A wonderful source of inspiration by Michael Dirda who’s not only succeeded in compiling a huge list of great authors together with their great quotes in one small book but also in showing the readers how the power of the written words could make your life more interesting and more richer by understanding the wit and wisdom from it. Big book doesn’t have to be big, no? There are also some tips and advice on how to encourage kids t ...more
So, I love books about books. And in this one Pulitzer prize-winning critic Michael Dirda provides glimpses of and comments on his own commonplace book. This eclectic collection contains delightful thoughts, lists, and book recommendations. I can’t do better than Dirda’s own words, so here are my favorite passages:

On discussing books with philistines:

“Quote a verse from the Bible or a line from William Wordsworth, mention the date of a battle or a character out of Charles Dickens, and expect to
Rarely have I marked up any book as much as I did Michael Dirda’s little work, Book by Book – Notes on Reading and Life. Written in 2005, this small collection of reflections on life’s stages and circumstances provides Dirda with the opportunity to intersperse quotations from a wide range of writings, many known to me, more previously unknown, with his own comments, experiences, and observations from a life lived immersed in literature. Yes, there are many suggestions for further reading, some o ...more
Nov 23, 2009 C. rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Michael Dirda: he can read it to himself and bask in the knowledge of his own genius
Read the first few pages of this. Was struck by how pointless it seemed; how dull; how his essays on potentially interesting topics such as the value of education seemed to meander in circles around nothing in particular, before finishing by not coming to a conclusion; how pages and pages were just lists of admittedly-interesting quotes by people who are presumably more intelligent than the author; how lists of quotes are always boring, no matter how interesting they are; how didactic the tone w ...more
Shallowreader VaVeros
There were many enjoyable aspects to this book about the joys of books. Highlighting the need for idleness "the pleasure of doing nothing", daydreaming to bring creativity, the beauty of rereading to enjoy the artistry of the writing and the role of teachers bringing to the classroom a love of literature all are highlights in this book. However, I found the book heavily skewed towards male writers and rather conservative in the ideas and readings it suggested..

The Chapter "The Books of Love" le
Sasha Martinez
Michael Dirda writes in Book by Book: Notes on Reading and Life—“The rapport between a reader and his or her book is almost like that between lovers. The relationship grows, envelops a life, lays out new prospects and ways of seeing oneself and the future, is filled with moments of joy and sorrow; when it’s over, even its memory enriches as few experiences can. But just as we cannot physically afford to fall in love too many times, suffer its gantlet of emotions too often and still remain whole, ...more

For the most part, this is a bullshit book comprised of stuffy suggestions, fluffy witticisms, and philosophy-lite. I don't agree with the majority of his "must read" classics, nor do I respect his narrow taste in music. If you want to read interesting literary and historical quotes, then pick up a copy of Oxford's or Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. If you want to grasp something from literature then simply read, think, and discuss with friends. There's no need to read a book about it. This was
Roger DeBlanck
Dirda has compiled a splendid hodgepodge of quotations, mini-essays, and reflections that revel over his love of books. He demonstrates his passionate commitment to knowledge and learning, which, he points out, serve as the basis for developing the essential human qualities of tolerance, understanding, and decency. Dirda investigates the role books play in shaping human lives and communicating our deepest desires and inquires about the fate of the world and our unique experiences. He shows humil ...more
Howard Cincotta
Book by Book is Washington Post critic Michael Dirda’s self-described “commonplace book” about reading and thinking about how books can enrich, and yes, help guide our lives.

Many of Dirda’s observations about the lessons that the great writers teach us are indeed “common,” and in some cases, almost quaint in our hyper-social media, desperate mobile-app world. But they are enriched by the wealth of quotations cited and books listed, making this the perfect nightstand book to pick up and dip into
You can best think of this book as a crash course in navigating your local library, or maybe that's an understatement. Dirda name-drops figures from Aristotle to Nietzsche to to W.E.B. DuBois to Dr. Seuss. The product is a collection of quotes and time-tested wisdom on auto-didacticism, work and leisure, love, "matters of the spirit," music and lots more. To top it all off, there is "A Selective and Idiosyncratic Who's Who" towards the end for info on any of the several hundred writers quoted in ...more
This had gems of wisdom, but was not easy to wade through for me. I did like the section on a guest room library and the children's book section.
Feb 19, 2010 Wayne rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: book lovers...with reservations!
Recommended to Wayne by: Australia Dirada is unknown
Shelves: americana
As Rossini said of Wagner's music: "Has some wonderful moments, it's just that you have to listen to so much in between before they come along!"
I really DO enjoy Dirada's moments.
It's the air of elitism and self-satisfaction I find hard to take and which make me suspect this fellow's sincerity.

I had NEVER heard of this chap until I came across his book, reduced from $30 to $15 (should have been a warning!!!) in one of Sydney's bookophile stores.
Initially thought I was onto a winner.
I could forg
Book by Book is at once substantive and light, suitable for perusal when in need of some thoughtful, yet easily absorbed, tidbits, and still capable of holding up under the attention of a slower, more contemplative reader. The ten chapters are assembled loosely around themes including life philosophy, education, work, recreation, romance, friendship, music, poetry, literature, spirituality, and death; each section contains a number of entertaining or provoking quotations, interspersed with short ...more
This is not a "Dummy's Guide to Becoming Erudite." "Book by Book" is a goulash of recommendations, opinions, quotations and other gems of literary, visual and musical arts Michael Dirda has compiled or written. From the outset of this easy-reading book, it's clear Dirda invested a lot of time and thought in preparing this broad compendium of his favorites. Organized into thematic chapters with quotations, lists, mini-essays and thumb-nails on various topics, it's "news you can use" if you're loo ...more
Apr 07, 2007 Andi rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: book lovers
This week I finished Book by Book: Notes on Reading and Life by Washington Post reviewer Michael Dirda, and I’ve never felt less well-read and more well-read in my life. I finished this commonplace books that’s full of quotes and reflections, and I thought - I get most of that; most of those ideas make great sense to me - and then I thought - I haven’t read 90% of the books he mentioned in there; I’m so behind. That paradox seems like a good thing for me, humility and confidence balled up in one ...more
For some writers, blogs serve as contemporary versions of commonplace books. The classic is Auden's A Certain World which was the first commonplace book that I discovered almost forty years ago. It was a very personal anthology that included adages, short excerpts, poems, and more. Auden organized it alphabetically by categories with his own comments included in some, always brief, as a record of his own thoughts.
My favorite commonplace book is Michael Dirda's own contribution, Book By Book. It
I can recommend this book as something to be nibbled at from time to time, not blasted through as I was compelled to do; it's much too rich for that.

Michael Dirda, a long-time book reviewer and Pulitzer Prize-winner for criticism, has built a small book filled with big ideas. Each chapter addresses a topic, such as "Learning," or "Work and Leisure," featuring some discussion by Dirda himself, who frequently cites the Great Minds as reference points. The chapter may also include a selection of qu
Doug Clark
I finished reading Michael Dirda's 2006 book, Book by Book: Notes on Reading and Life. This is a very short book composed of his reflections about our stages of life, along with quotes others have made in regards to these stages and book recommendations covering the various stages. The book is divided into 10 chapters covering such topics as The Pleasure of Learning, Work and Leisure, The Books of Love, Living in the World, Sights and Sound, The Internal Library, Matters of the Spirit and Last T ...more
Apr 14, 2009 Leslie rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those who love books and reading
I enjoyed reading this book about books and reading, but it isn't really the kind of book a person (even one who passionately loves books) can sit down and read quickly from cover to cover. It is more of a reference one can refer to from time to time on various topics related to reading. The author refers to a wide range of writers, philosophers, etc. on topics such as life, love, spirituality.... I found it useful to be able to read in one book a collection of the thoughts and views on such top ...more
Shonna Froebel
This book by noted, and Pulitzer-Prize winning, critic Dirda is a gem. I think that I shall have to get my own personal copy since I've had to return this one to the library. Dirda talks about how books enrich our lives, at work and at home, through good and bad. He includes works for children, basic library lists for those interested in art and music, and books that should be part on one's "interior library" for use when needed. I especially liked the list of books to include in one's guest roo ...more
I've been impressed by Dirda's Washington Post book reviews so I thought I'd give this book a try. There's some compelling quotations in here along with several intruiguing book and author recommendations, but that's about it. Dirda strings these nuggets together with generalizations about what we should read and how we should live. He's coming from a very traditional, western canon, White male Christian perspective, although he does make the occassional reference to writers and works outside of ...more
Meh. I guess I was expecting delightful bookish essays like Anne Fadiman's so I could not enjoy this dull collection of quotes and tangents.
There were some sections of this that I loved, and other sections that I wasn't interested in at all. I particularly enjoyed the section called "The Children's Hour" in his chapter on reading in the home. In that section he gives thirteen common sense suggestions to parents on encouraging their kids to read more. He suggests things like reading aloud to your children, letting them see you read, filling your house with print, and encouraging any reading interest - no matter how frivolous or unaca ...more
Julie M
May 22, 2008 Julie M rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: classics lovers, wannabe Engl majors
Recommended to Julie by: Half Price Bookstore
I really had to concentrate and felt like a halfwit when reading this critic's lists -- SOOOO many books that I shoulda/woulda/coulda read! It will be a great reference as I continue my quest to knock off a few "classics" in 2008 and beyond. Also got me interested in reading/re-reading some children's and YA books. Dirda isn't condescending, really, but he's very widely read (duh, a Ph.D. in comp. lit. and a Pulitzer Prize winner for critique). I laughed with many of his comparisons and suggesti ...more
Jul 09, 2014 April marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Criticized in Pleasures of Reading.
Beverly Hollandbeck
Books about books is one of my favorite categories of books. I like to read what learned people have written about books I've read. However, this book doesn't do that. This is a combination self-help book, Bartlett's Quotations, and reading lists. A better title would have been "Things books can teach you."
This is one of those books that make me feel like a reading slug. While I have read many of the books and writers he talks about, I am still way behind. Makes me want to quit my job and just read. Well, I have wanted to do that for the past 40 years, but this book makes me aware of how short our lives are.

You could safely take this book as a lifetime reading plan. Oryou could go to Brad Craft's Good Reads page for the same thing - he's who alerted meto this book.
Annie Garvey
I found this book fascinating, especially the idea of the commonplace book. I have been writing down quotes and other interesting writings in notebooks for years. I am now trying to record my gleanings in Access databases.

The mark of a good book is when you have to put it down because the writing is so moving or so lovely or so right on. It took me a long time to read this book because I loved it so.

I based my master's thesis on this book. I got an "A."
Jan 09, 2008 Chazzle rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: adventurers willing to consider "new" authors
I really liked this book. Partly a collection of reading recommendations (much like Nancy Pearl's Book Lust), partly a commonplace book (i.e., a collection of some of the author's favorite quotations), and partly a guide to life, art, and love, the book dazzles at times.

My only quibble with the book were passages dealing with fainter interests, such as books about painters or musical composers.

Still, highly recommended. Treat yourself.
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Michael Dirda (born 1948), a Fulbright Fellowship recipient, is a Pulitzer Prize–winning book critic for the Washington Post.

Two collections of Dirda's literary journalism have been published: Readings: Essays and Literary Entertainments (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000; ISBN 0-253-33824-7) and Bound to Please (New York: W. W. Norton, 2005; ISBN 0-393-05757-7). He has also written Book
More about Michael Dirda...
Classics for Pleasure Bound to Please: An Extraordinary One-Volume Literary Education An Open Book: Coming of Age in the Heartland Readings: Essays and Literary Entertainments On Conan Doyle

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