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Book by Book: Notes on Reading and Life

3.81  ·  Rating Details  ·  683 Ratings  ·  87 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
ebook, 192 pages
Published April 1st 2007 by Henry Holt and Co. (first published May 2nd 2006)
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(showing 1-30 of 2,409)
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Diana Higgins
Apr 06, 2008 Diana Higgins rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 24, 2013 Yana rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: local-library
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
Jan 28, 2009 Jessica rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 23, 2009 C. rated it did not like it  ·  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
Arun Divakar
May 22, 2015 Arun Divakar rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Every one of my thoughts around books on this website attains a concrete form as I spend time musing about the book. The form, content and structure of the review takes shape first in my mind and then on the screen. This book however refused to fall into that rhythm. I did find out the reason for it and it was that I am completely bowled over by Michael Dirda and his writing style. In the space of 170 pages, he gave me a huge bunch of books to be read and fascinated me with the length and breadt ...more
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
Jan 24, 2009 Bruce rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Jul 03, 2007 Nate rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, literary-crit

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
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
Mar 18, 2016 Anne rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When I am not reading books, I am reading book reviews and book lists. I discovered this small, yet powerful book while browsing through my public library. Michael Dirda shares the many ways that books inform our lives and transform us through all of life's stages. There is so much wonderful information here that rather than write down all of the authors and books that he mentions, I need to buy my own copy of this. For any bibliophile, there are so many affirming moments. In The Children's Hou ...more
Jul 17, 2014 Tracy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Apr 11, 2015 Mark rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Michael Dirda is such an amiable companion that I don't really want to say anything bad about this book (but I will just a little). Lovers of reading should enjoy the mix of reading advice, quotations, and descriptions of how we find guides for living from the literature we read. Dirda rightly emphasizes that great literature is conflicted and open-ended rather than didactic and prescriptive. Dirda is a fantastic writer, but he goes a little overboard when he offers advice on living (reminding u ...more
May 28, 2015 Simon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The most enjoyable book I've read this year. A wise and friendly guide to what you've read, what you should have read and what you probably won't get round to reading. On the back cover Nancy Pearl says there are three true test for books like this:
1. That it includes some of your own favourite books and authors (and it does)
2. That when you finish you find you have compiled an enormous list of books you really must read (tick that box!)
3. That you'd like to continue the conversation about books
Roger DeBlanck
Aug 10, 2015 Roger DeBlanck rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Feb 19, 2010 Wayne rated it it was ok  ·  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
Apr 24, 2013 Jay rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 it was amazing  ·  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
Feb 22, 2009 James rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 21, 2009 Gayle rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 06, 2012 Doug Clark rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 12, 2016 Tom rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love reading about books and reading. Here we have a small but very informative collection of the critic, Michael Dirda's, favorite literary quotes, recommended books, and musings on the purpose and benefits of a reading life. This is one of those books where you will come away with a whole new list of authors you will want to investigate.
Apr 14, 2009 Leslie rated it liked it  ·  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
Jan 19, 2014 Shonna Froebel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 28, 2015 Donna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
A nice short book detailing the author's recommended books in a variety of subject areas: art, music, work, leisure. Every time I begin to think I'm a well-read person I discover a book like this that highly recommends titles I've never heard of. I will never complete my "to be read" list.
Jun 14, 2009 Bill rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
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
Feb 14, 2015 Ivan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I marked this as "read" - but the truth is that I keep re-reading it. I set it by the bed and reach out for it periodically and find some new passage that I must highlight, or makes me get out of bed to research the a specific quote or author. This is a superb collection.
May 23, 2015 Orton rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lit
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
Ravi Narayanan
Very good reading list, I believe. I like the first siz chapters and the last one dealing with differnt reading areas - Learning, Work, Leisure, Love, World and philosophy.
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Michael Dirda (born 1948), a Fulbright Fellowship recipient, is a Pulitzer Prize–winning critic. After earning a PhD in comparative literature from Cornell University, the joined the Washington Post in 1978.

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 P
More about Michael Dirda...

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