Michael Dirda is a writer and senior editor for The Washington Post Book World; this is a collection of his essays and reflections on books, criticism...moreMichael Dirda is a writer and senior editor for The Washington Post Book World; this is a collection of his essays and reflections on books, criticism, and book collecting. In the preface, he urges his readers to go slowly, not to "rush through these essays all at once," but as soon as I read the first few, I knew it would be a struggle not to devour the whole book in one sitting. (I managed to ration it out to three or four evenings.) I haven't actually read most of the books Dirda writes about, by authors from Nabokov to Jack Vance, but his thoughts are so engaging that it didn't matter, and in fact, I had to restrain myself from writing down every single book he mentions and adding them all to my to-be-read list. If you're a devoted reader, you'll love this book; I came out of it feeling as though I'd made a new friend, one just as crazy about books as I am. (less)
Sometimes, a book comes along which just fits with your frame of mind. I think this is the case for me with On Rereading. I often feel as though I hav...moreSometimes, a book comes along which just fits with your frame of mind. I think this is the case for me with On Rereading. I often feel as though I have an obligation to read rather than reread, that it's somehow more virtuous to read something new to me than to revisit a book I'm already acquainted with. This is partly the result of knowing exactly how many unread books I own (296 right now, thank you very much), and partly a general feeling of so many books, so little time -- how can I justify spending time rereading?
Spacks acknowledges this feeling and shares it: what Roger Angell calls the "sweet dab of guilt attached to rereading" (her quote). So she embarks on a deliberate process of rereading, as an experiment, to see if she can figure out what is the good of rereading: what can rereading supply which first readings can't? In the course of her year-long experiment, she revisits childhood favorites, books she teaches, guilty pleasures, books she ought to like, and books she loves and has reread many times. (The Austen chapter is particularly good and one I will have to return to next time I reread Emma and Pride and Prejudice.)
In the end, she suggests that the best metaphor for rereading is that of a palimpsest, originally writing material reused so that many layers are visible. Each time you reread, you add something new and obscure something old, but bits and pieces of every layer are always accessible. Rereading, she concludes, gives the reader a richer, fuller experience, allowing new interpretations along with the joy of revisiting your past self and earlier thoughts.
I had been hoping to convince myself to spend more time rereading this year, to revisit both books I've read many times and books I've only read once. I couldn't have found a better argument than Spacks provides here.(less)
Okay, I'll admit that I'm a fool for books about books and reading. Still, I really loved this one and found the author a kindred spirit. Buzbee weave...moreOkay, I'll admit that I'm a fool for books about books and reading. Still, I really loved this one and found the author a kindred spirit. Buzbee weaves together anecdotes from his past as a bookstore clerk, sales rep, and general book lover with the history of bookstores themselves and produces a beautiful, fascinating book, full of the joy of reading.
I'm especially intrigued by his notion that the future of independent bookstores may depend on specialization, since owning a small specialty bookstore has long been a pipe dream of mine. (Now if I could only decide what I would specialize in....) (less)
I feel so much better about my book collecting habits after reading this, because I am much less crazy than some of these people. Really, though, it's...moreI feel so much better about my book collecting habits after reading this, because I am much less crazy than some of these people. Really, though, it's a completely absorbing book, packed with marvelous collections, passionate (often too passionate) collectors, and interesting tidbits about books and booklovers, from ancient days to the present. I especially loved the examination of a Gutenberg Bible owned by collector William Scheide, who shows it to Basbanes and goes over it in tiny, fascinating detail. And I had no idea that there's a manuscript museum in Tacoma, but now I really want to go there.(less)
Nafisi is a professor of English literature who resigned from her position in a Tehran university as a protest against increasingly repressive policie...moreNafisi is a professor of English literature who resigned from her position in a Tehran university as a protest against increasingly repressive policies. Then she gathered together seven of her female students into a reading group, meeting regularly to read and discuss classics of Western literature, including Austen, James, Fitzgerald, and Nabokov, intending to "consider...how these great works of imagination could help us in our present trapped situation as women." The result is a skillful mixture of social commentary, memoir, and literary criticism.
Nafisi weaves back and forth among the strands of her university life, the events of Iran's cultural revolution, and the lives and thoughts of the students in the book group. A particularly compelling section presents a mock trial at the university in which Nafisi defends The Great Gatsby against accusations of Western decadence and irrelevance. I've read a number of reviews on Amazon accusing Nafisi of not presenting the whole picture, but really, it's a memoir, not a history, and for me at least, it succeeded quite well as that. (less)
A History of Reading is a wide-ranging collection of ruminations on the history of reading. Expecting it to be organized chronologically, I was initia...moreA History of Reading is a wide-ranging collection of ruminations on the history of reading. Expecting it to be organized chronologically, I was initially taken aback by the more thematic organization, but I soon grew to appreciate it; it turned the book into a lovely bedside book, which I happily dipped into a chapter or two at a time.
Manguel speaks eruditely yet engagingly of topics from the making of books from clay tablets to CD-ROMs to the creators, readers, translators, and even thieves and burners of books. Anyone who is a passionate reader will recognize Manguel as kin and appreciate his wide-ranging journey through the history of reading. (less)