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Classics for Pleasure

3.87 of 5 stars 3.87  ·  rating details  ·  339 ratings  ·  54 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
Paperback, 352 pages
Published November 10th 2008 by Mariner Books (first published November 5th 2007)
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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
Matthew Hunter
Jul 18, 2011 Matthew Hunter rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
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
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).
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
I felt that Michael Dirda, author of CLASSICS FOR PLEASURE did a fairly good job. He gave enough information without bogging you down with too many facts and gave enough of the plot for each book without giving away too much of the story. He was also good at picking some of the lesser known works as well a variety of works one might be interest to pick up and read someday. One thing I wish he had done was explain why those books are classics and why they should be read. It was a great read for s ...more
Todd N
I saw this book on other people's reading list, so I went to the library and brought it home to read. Lots of interesting book recommendations from a personal point of view. Books are grouped into themes like "encyclopedic visions" and "heroes." I calibrated his recommendations by reading a few essays about books I had read, and it turns out that I could trust him. As a result, my wish list has about seven new books added to it.

Get a copy from your library and leaf through it on a free afternoon
A great book to dip into, with short essays on a myriad of thinkers and authors, e.g. Kierkergaard, Italo Calvino (a great favorite of mine since using his Invisible Cities for a presentation I did for the conference on Portuguese-speaking Women), reasmus who turns out to be a fun loving guy despite one's expectations from that period and the fabulous Anna akhmatova. Dirda just picks up on some aspect of the author and gives you a little taste. No committment, really.
Barbara Roden
No matter how well read you are, you'll come away from this book with a list of titles that you feel you simply must read, immediately, so engagingly does Michael Dirda write about them. It's also refreshing to see someone stepping outside the list of 'established classics' so thoroughly, including authors such as Agatha Christie, Georgette Heyer, Sheridan Le Fanu, and M. R. James alongside more canonical names.
Interesting collection of suggested readings. Many of the books you would traditionally consider classics (The Odyssey, The Great Gatsby, etc.) are missing from the list. Instead, the author mentions many "classics" I had never heard of before. A better title from this book might have been "Lesser Known Classics I think you will Enjoy". From this book, I received great ideas of books to add to my To Read list.
I've always thought of the classics as boring and stuffy books to which I would not relate and would not enjoy. I would hardly pick one up to read for leisure and would only purchase them to add to my bookshelves to show off to friends. My views changed after reading Michael Dirda's Classics for Pleasure. See more on my blog.
Dirda has compiled a list of books titles other than those of Clifton Fadiman's "Lifetime Reading Plan'

Each section has a witty title.
Love's Mysteries for books on classic romance where he lists Sappho, Georgette Heyer, Cavafy and Anna Akhmatova. Impressive!

His writing is crisp, lively and engaging.
This is an excellent resource for those wanting to reach beyond basic classical literature.
This is really excellent; Dirda makes every book he mentions sounds fascinating and wonderful. I wanted to dig up and reread all the books I have that he mentions, and run right out and buy everything I didn't have. I think I will have to get my own copy of this (I borrowed it from the library), just to have it to refer to in the future.
It took me ages to read this because I was using it as a fill-in between other books. There were a lot of interesting books discussed here that I had either never read, or forgotten about. Dirda's brief, but enthusiastic, essays on each writer's work give a good sense of what you would be getting into and why you should.
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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...
Book by Book: Notes on Reading and Life 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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