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Classics for Pleasure

3.86  ·  Rating Details  ·  400 Ratings  ·  66 Reviews
This is not your father’s list of classics. In these delightful essays, Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Dirda introduces nearly ninety of the world’s most entertaining books. Writing with affection as well as authority, Dirda covers masterpieces of fantasy and science fiction, horror and adventure, as well as epics, history, essay, and children’s literature. Organized themat ...more
Hardcover, 341 pages
Published November 5th 2007 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Dec 31, 2008 David rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2008
OK. It's official. Michael Dirda is awesome. He's smart, witty (but not obnoxiously so), extravagantly well-read, and writes lucidly and entertainingly, without condescension. Simply put, he's charming. You couldn't ask for a better Virgil to help you navigate the classics.

The list of classics discussed in this book is not your parent's list. More specifically, it is not Clifton Fadiman's list. In his introduction, Dirda pays homage to Fadiman's "Lifetime Reading Plan", which he stumbled on as
"Real" rating = 3.5 or so

Michael Dirda's Classics for Pleasure is an eminently readable collection of three-to-five-page essays on authors of the lesser known "classics" of Western literature (mostly - Dirda does slip in Laozi (China) and Ferdowsi (Iran)). I'm not about to rush out and find all of the works mentioned in this book but there are some that I am interested in reading. And the ones that I don't feel attracted to? Well, now at least I have an idea of what I'm missing. (Truly, I think
Jason Pettus
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography []. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted here illegally.)

For those who don't know, Michael Dirda is a Pulitzer-winning literary critic, author of several of those "guides to challenging books for those who don't usually like challenging books;" and now we have his latest, 2007's Classics for Pleasure, essentially more of the same, this time picking even mo
Matthew Hunter
Jul 18, 2011 Matthew Hunter rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people who read for enjoyment
I tend toward "serious" reading - alternative histories, current affairs, psychology, spirituality, etc. Recently, I realized that I hardly ever read good literature. Then I discovered a series of books by Michael Dirda, literary critic for the Washington Post.

For those who choose to explore Classics for Pleasure, I challenge you NOT to go running to your local bookstore or library to read the works of these authors. It's impossible, I think. So far, based upon his suggestions, I've picked up th
Jan 05, 2016 Jacob rated it it was ok
I was looking forward to this. When I finally got it from the library I was even more excited to see on the cover that Philip K Dick and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, Cleanness, Patience are featured in it. It started off with witty writing, and I was charmed. For 15 pages.

Then it started to really drag, and even now I wonder if I should have followed the overwhelming instinct to take it back, quietly delete it from my currently-reading shelf, and pretend I had never seen it. After two
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
I was expecting this to be a 10; it barely scraped in at a 7. I could not wait for it to be published; I stopped by the bookstore three times, hoping to find a copy before the official publication date. And then when I actually got the copy and started to read it? You must be kidding me. Who would read these books? The summaries did not even intrigue me. I, who have been known to write down titles recommended by first graders, wrote down a single recommendation from the scores Dirda mentions. Bi ...more
Sep 02, 2015 Ted marked it as maybe
My favorite book-reviewer.

(Didn't know this book existed. I love the new scrolling book suggestion thing on the home page!)
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Aug 23, 2015 Jenny (Reading Envy) rated it really liked it
This one was really more of a skimmer, and one that would be best to have around for reference. I picked it up after reading Browsings: A Year of Reading, Collecting, and Living with Books, and was considering joining a classics book club. I ended up deciding against the book club (it was in person and I wasn't sure I had the time or passion) but deciding to still skim the book for ideas.

I like that Michael Dirda groups books by his own categories. It isn't by era or your typical canon listing,
Jan 26, 2008 Ken rated it it was amazing
Shelves: contemporary
With his concise and personal comments of 2-5 pages on off-the-beaten-trail classics, Michael Dirda will make your to-be-read list even to-be-reader (if that makes any sense). No thanks to him, I have added a few to my agenda for the new year (a labor of love, TBR lists).
Mar 31, 2014 Richard rated it really liked it
These are not your usual classics - no Shakespeare nor Homer. These are the other classics which you might not have heard of or ignored: Lucian, Ivy Compton-Burnett, Thomas Love Peacock, the Icelandic Sagas, M. R. James, Bram Stoker,the list is long, often unexpected (du Maurier for Rebecca, for example), and I believe I marked every book that I have not read as "To read".

Dirda has an easy-going, pleasant style, and he is unabashedly bookish. He clearly loves these books and writes about them i
Mary Stephanos
Mar 25, 2012 Mary Stephanos rated it really liked it
Michael Dirda has the talent for making every book he likes sound like the most compelling read out there. For the most part, we benefit from his passion, though Dirda's rather infectious praise can sometimes lead some readers badly astray. For this collection, he has selected "classics" that may be lesser known than what we all read in high school and college but are just as, and sometimes even more, enjoyable to read. His picks range from Ovid, Beowulf, and the Arthurian romances to Dashiell H ...more
Mar 30, 2009 Lou rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Maybe this one was talked up too much for me, but I really thought this was overrated, and it seems like Dirda might have been elevated to the NPR Smug Cannon (Ira Glass, Malcolm Gladwell, Oliver Sacks, maybe Mark Bittman) in that there's a way they make the reader feel smarter with little effort.

Part of my problems with this might be that I read it straight through, b/c i had it from the library- maybe if i look out for him in small doses in the Post or wherever, it won't be so much to swallow
Nov 24, 2009 Erik rated it really liked it
This book is similar to Dirda's "Bound to Please," a collection of quasi-review/analysis and spoiler-eschewing briefs on major books and writers throughout history. Dirda is enthusiastic and easy to read, striking up interest in books which might otherwise escape notice outside of a college survey of 'old' literature. This book (Like 'Bound to Please') is something of a salty snack. You can reach in just about anywhere and get the same happy tone as Dirda sings the praises of authors you may hav ...more
Jul 05, 2009 Steven rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone who likes to read, but hasn't read "the classics."
Dirda talks about books as if they were good friends — with affection and verve. Each brief introduction highlights the essential qualities of an author's works that make them worth discovering. And that's the best part about this book: Dirda makes you want to read each book. Which is also the worst part of all, because you then have to begin your search anew for time to read and savor the written word.
Douglas Florian
Feb 23, 2013 Douglas Florian rated it it was amazing
This book was given to me by my editor, and although I had low expectations for a book about books, I was pleasantly surprised. Dirda kept me intrigued about almost every author he explored, and I especially enjoyed reading about E.T.A. Hoffman, S. J. Perelman,Calvino, Nesbit, Masefield, Pope, and Auden. A true pleasure, that's also enjoyable for a second reading.
Aug 09, 2015 Mariel marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Jules Verne
H. Rider Haggard
H.G. Wells
G. K. Chesterton
Agatha Christie
Julie Davis
Jul 03, 2015 Julie Davis rated it it was amazing
When it comes to reading about books, Michael Dirda tops my list. This is a consistently enjoyable series of essays which contained some of my favorite "classics" such as Georgette Heyer and H.P. Lovecraft. As is usual with Mr. Dirda's essays, I came away with a list of books to try.
Aug 01, 2015 Snake_Danger rated it really liked it
A guide for readers to jump off the beaten track just a little — these are mostly authors who have been forgotten or passed over in the canon. I browsed through at my leisure and took notes on quite a few authors I had never heard of but was interested in getting to know. Most of his picks are also based on being approachable or relevant still today; not exactly easy reading but nothing absolutely brutal either. In short little essays he really does a marvelous job “selling” an author and also u ...more
Dec 13, 2014 Hope rated it liked it
Dirda is a Pulitzer prize winning book critic who writes for the Washington Post, and while I agree with him that many great books are overlooked, I disagreed with his definition of a classic. Often the “pleasure” in his chosen titles was directly related to their bawdiness. One reviewer at Amazon summed it up well: “Too many of Dirda’s picks seem to assume an inexhaustible taste for the macabre, decadence, vulgarity, sexual perversion, and/or cynicism, despair and psychosis”

However, since I’m e
Jan 30, 2009 Gayle rated it it was amazing
Michael Dirda is not only a Pulitzer-Prize-winning literary critic, but is becoming my personal guru for book recommendations. Not that he is aware of this, of course. But I have a special place in my heart for a (a) literary (b) man who can, in print, refer to Georgette Heyer as "as witty as any writer of the past century, as accomplished as P. G. Wodehouse in working out complex plots, and as accurate as a professional historian in getting her background details right." Dirda is not only disce ...more
...Anyways, Classics for Pleasure is a great source if you’re seeking recommendations of what classics to read. Dirda gives you the gist of the work without giving away too much. And he leaves you wanting more.

Sometimes he seems to lead you right up to the climax and stops, advising you to read the story and experience it for yourself. It’s a bit maddening and makes you want to hop on Amazon or Barnes & Noble and quickly download the e-book.

Hence, his review of She by H. Rider Haggard still
Aug 24, 2013 Mona rated it liked it
Michael Dirda writes, "Classics are classics not because they are educational, but because people have found them worth reading, generation after generation, century after century. More than anything else, great books speak to us of our own very real feelings and failings, of our all-too-human daydreams and confusions."

Dirda's aim is to convince us that classics can be as entertaining, thoughtful, and accessible as contemporary literary fiction, genre fiction, and nonfiction. Dirda received a P
Oct 21, 2012 Joan rated it it was amazing
This is the second time I've read Dirda's wonderful paean to the pleasures of reading, less a high-school lit harangue and more a long, enjoyable afternoon discussion with a good friend. Dirda blows the bell curve for "well-read" but he wears his erudition lightly; these essays stress the best reason for reading the classics--not to tick off a checkbox on your Intellectual's Guild entry exam but because they are rewarding far in excess of the effort expended. He's also not a snob; some of his ch ...more
Apr 05, 2016 Annabelle rated it really liked it
A gem of a book from Bron! Penned by a Pulitzer winner, coupled with the C word--I would have found the book daunting if I had seen this myself. But reading it was, as promised, all pleasure. If anything, here's another book that makes one realize just how much is yet to be gleaned, mined and read out there. Starting with Edward Gibbon's History of the Fall and Decline of the Roman Empire. Six volumes of it. I first saw this hefty book lugged around by a guest at Antulang, it was during the holy ...more
Apr 18, 2016 Cheryl rated it really liked it
I'll do WAY better at Jeopardy now! I fell more & more in love, each synopsis transporting you just like any good book does. Yes, Dirda is an entertaining, passionate writer in his own right; in fact, this book should be in his final section "Encyclopedic Visions."
Jun 28, 2015 Rose rated it it was amazing
The wide range of authors covered along with Mr. Dirda's ability to show what makes each one woth reading, is wonderful. It is also fun to see authors like E. Nesbit and H.P. Lovecraft given the same attention as more expected ones.
Jan 08, 2016 Parnell rated it really liked it
Quick read, I was more interested in the actual list but the notes and description of each author were detailed and clearly showed Michael's span of reading and attention to detail when taking notes. I liked that about this book.
Jan 21, 2015 Megan rated it liked it
I love books about books. It's not the standard "here are the classics you should read," but rather a list of books the author has enjoyed from across the genres - most of them were totally new to me.
Jan 17, 2011 Tim rated it really liked it
I like this book less than Dirda's other similar books, Bound to Please and Readings. The chapters in this book were never newspaper reviews, but were written especially for the book. I found them a little leaner in content than his reviews and also thought that he did not wear his knowledge quite as lightly (plus facts were garbled in a couple places that I recognized, including the entry on Beowulf) . His recommendations also seemed less consistently solid and not always living up to the level ...more
Benjamin Zapata
Dec 05, 2012 Benjamin Zapata rated it really liked it
An entertaining and wonderful journey through nearly ninety of the world's most awesome books. In these delightful essays, Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Dirda points us to new authors,less familiar classics,and major genre titles too often excluded from the canon. Each chapter comes alive with fascinating stories,surprises and wit, about the writers and their books. "It is hard to think of another writer who loves books so passionately, who has such broad tastes and impeccably high standards-and ...more
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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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