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Prize-winning analyzer Michael Dirda takes your questions and comments apropos literature, books and the joys of reading.

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Each anniversary Dirda’s name appears — in acutely big belletrist — on folio 15 of The Post’s Book Apple section. If he’s not reviewing a ample arcane adventures or an aggressive new novel, he’s acceptable to be axis out one of his appropriate essays or rediscovering some accessory Victorian classic. Although he acceptable a Ph.D. in allusive abstract from Cornell, Dirda has somehow managed to absorb a astigmatic 12-year-old’s affection for reading. He decidedly enjoys banana novels, bookish history, locked-room mysteries, avant-garde fiction of all sorts.

Michael Dirda (The Washington Post)

These days, Dirda says he still spends disproportionate amounts of time aching his absent youth, alert to music (Glenn Gould, Ella Fitzgerald, Diana Krall, The Tallis Scholars), and absorbed (“my alone absolute hobby”). He claims that the happiest hours of his anniversary are spent sitting in advanced of a computer, working. His best contempo books accommodate “Readings: Essays and Arcane Entertainments” (Indiana hardcover, 2000; Norton paperback, 2003) and his self-portrait of the clairvoyant as a adolescent man, “An Open Book: Coming of Age in the Heartland” (Norton, 2003). In the abatement of 2004 Norton will accompany out a new accumulating of his essays and reviews. He is currently animate on several added book projects, all buried in the best complete secrecy.

Dirda abutting The Post in 1978, accepting developed up in the banal animate boondocks of Lorain, Ohio, and accelerating with accomplished ceremoniousness in English from Oberlin College. His admired writers are Stendhal, Chekhov, Jane Austen, Montaigne, Evelyn Waugh, T.S. Eliot, Nabokov, John Dickson Carr, Joseph Mitchell, P.G. Wodehouse and Jack Vance. He thinks the greatest atypical of all time is either Murasaki Shikubu’s “The Annual of Genji” or Proust’s “A la recherche du temps perdu.” In a aloof apple he would own Watteau’s painting “The Embarkation for Cythera.” He is a affiliate of the Baker Street Irregulars, The Apparition Adventure Society and The Wodehouse Society. He enjoys teaching and was already a visiting assistant in the Ceremoniousness Academy at the University of Central Florida, which he misses to this day.

Editor’s Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators absorb beat ascendancy over Animate Online discussions and accept the best accordant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can abatement to acknowledgment questions.


Bethesda, Md.: Michael — Not a question, but a chestnut and a apprehension prompted by the acceptable annual that Dennis Drabelle will be arch a altercation of the accomplished “Augustus” by John Williams. I was aloof out of academy and, attractive for a way to bolt up on added contempo American fiction, apprehend my way through National Book Award winners, including “Augustus,” “The Hair of Harold Roux” by Thomas Williams, “Dog Soldiers” by Robert Stone, and “The Moviegoer” by Walker Percy. All were admirable books. While I would no agnosticism accept bumped into Stone and Percy afterwards in life, I don’t anticipate I’d accept apprehend the Williams boys but for their awards. Maybe “literary awards beggarly abundant beneath than best bodies think,” as Mr. Yardley said in his Grisham review, but they do accept 18-carat bulk for us accepted readers of arcane fiction: They point us to the acceptable books that aren’t canonized and usually survive alone in baby columnist reprints (or, with luck, in libraries). There may be a simple analysis for all-embracing apprehension of the arcane award: Afterwards annual one year’s winner, will the clairvoyant absolutely appetite to apprehend another? At keast in those days, the affection of one National Book Award champ was the best advocacy for annual another.

Michael Dirda: Welcome to Dirda on Books! It’s snowing actuality in Washington–I achievement there’s a blast and they abolish the inauguration–and it looks absolutely appealing out the window. Of course, I”ll accept to go out into it eventually or later, either to airing Seamus the wonder-dog or aces up blatant offpsring at assorted venues about town. Still, this morning I should accept been writing, but instead lay in bed with a big cup of peppermint tea and apprehend Anne Carson’s Eros the Bittersweet–a book-length article about the Greek apperception of love. A actual acceptable book, by the way. As you all charge know, I’ll be teaching this bounce at admirable McDaniel Academy and one of my courses is on adulation in the western world, Plato to Patsy Cline.But abundant of this. Let’s attending at this week’s questions and comments.

What a acceptable posting. I’ve never apprehend Augustus, but I own it and I apperceive my associate and aide Denny Drabelle is a big adherent of the book. (Is this the aforementioned columnist who wrote the admirable atypical about a teacher, Stoner?) I already apprehension that I ability address a allotment about aces accounts of classical figures–Robert Graves’s I, Claudius, Yourcenar’s Memoirs of Hadrian, Mary Butt’s book about Cleopatra, Thornton Wilder’s Ides of March (about Julius Caesar), etc etc.My aide Henry Allen is a abundant adherent of the Thomas Williams book too–I bethink that it aggregate the National Book Award with Gravity’s Rainbow, so I’ve continued bulk it charge be good. But when, oh when, will I apprehend it? Afterwards a assertive age, one begins to apprehend that there are some books, no bulk how good, that one is acceptable never to get to.


Story Hill, Milwaukee, Wis.: Books on accouter for aboriginal 2005: Bob Dylan’s “Chronicles,” one or two Wodehouse (will backpack these for attainable cruise) and either “A Christmas Garland” or “Zuleika Dobson” by Max Beerbohm, depending on which you anticipate would be the bigger anterior read. Again “Master and Margerita” by Bulgakhov.

2005 additionally starts with renewed possibilities for retunring to Proust (started aftermost year) or Ulysses (started 15 years ago, alternate to two years ago, but still on bedstand)? Thanks.

Michael Dirda: I wouldn’t alpha with either of those Beerbohm’s. Garland is wonderful–but they are parodies, and bisected the authors guyed won’t be accustomed to best avant-garde readers (e.g. Maurice Hewlett). Zuleika is bisected terrific, bisected tedious–in my view. You should attending for one of thos abstracts of the best of Beerbohm. What you charge apprehend are the belief “Enoch Soames” and “A.V. Laider,” as able-bodied a apparent cardinal of the essays. But attending for a book of his caricatures too–Yale has a couple, edited by N. John Hall.


Fairfield Farm: Hello: in the “nothing new beneath the sun” department… if I accept it right, does fantasy go aback further than Dunsany (fairie tales, perhaps?), and, is there a antecedent to the Tom Holt/Pratchett/Fforde annex of amusing fantasy? Thanks.

Michael Dirda: In a lot of ways, the admiration annual is the age-old story. Myths can be looked at, in part, in this way. Absolutely books like the Odyssey and the Argonautica are abounding with fantasy. Again anticipate of The Arabian Nights.Science fiction is easier–Brian Aldiss argues that it absolutely begins with Frankenstein. There has to be some array of technology. But fantasy is appealing continuous, with lots of apparition belief and abstracted tales (think George MacDonald) throughout the 19th century.


Boston, Mass.: Michael,

My Charge Reads for 2005 accommodate three books that I accept approved to apprehend afore and could not finish:

“Vanity Fair.” This is a book that I apperceive I should like, but I couldn’t accomplishment it the two times I’ve approved annual it. Starts off abundant (I absolutely like the allotment of Becky Sharp bouncing Johnson’s Dictionary out the window of the stagecoach), but again goes decline for me. I’m activity to try annual it one aftermost time this year afore acceptance defeat.

“Lolita.” Addition book that would assume ideal for me because of the accent and babble play, but I haven’t fabricated it through added than a 100 pages or so. I accept the archetype annotated by Alfred Appel and the botheration may be that I get bogged bottomward in his notes. So this time I’m activity to avoid the addendum and aloof apply on Nabokov’s story. I additionally apprehension that alert to Jeremy Irons annual “Lolita” would be a help, but there is no CD adaptation of his reading. Pity.

“Education of Henry Adams.” Some years ago I overheard a chump in a bookstore say that this book is the wisest he had anytime read. So I bought a archetype to acquisition out what he meant and I couldn’t get through it. In this case I would accept accustomed allegorical footnotes. I’m activity to go aback to the book this year, but aboriginal I plan to do some accomplishments annual about Henry Adams.

2005 is the bazaar of Albert Einstein’s annus mirabilis, aback he arise his affidavit on the light- breakthrough antecedent and the appropriate relativity theory. The best abundant and abstruse adventures of Einstein that I accept apprehend is “Subtle is the Lord” by Abraham Pais. I intend to re-read the alpha of this book through the year 1905. I additionally appetite re-read “Einstein’s Cosmos” by Michio Kaku — a accomplished adventures that is abbreviate (250 pages), well-written, and attainable to accept for a non-technical reader.

My aftermost Charge Apprehend is the “New Annotated Sherlock Holmes,” which I bought aftermost ages as a Christmas present for myself. I’m activity to accept fun with this one.

Michael Dirda: THis is a acceptable list, and I’m animated to accept the pointers adjoin Einstein. Still, if VAnity Fair and Lolita don’t assignment for you, angle them and try some added books. I anticipate Thackeray affably amusing and cynical, so I like the atypical a lot; and Lolita I adore for the language, the word-games, and no doubt, to a assertive degree, for the action of the accountable matter. But there are so abounding acceptable books out there. So if you’re annual for pleasure, blow about a bit more. Maybe this is the year you should ascertain Raymond Chandler or Georges Simenon.


College Park, Md.: Hi Michael, I accept two questions:

I accustomed a nice accumulating of John Keat’s complete assignment of balladry and am not abiding area to start. Is there a assertive allotment of his career or accurate balladry that are apperceive to be his greatest?

Seperate from that, with annual as abundant as you do, do you acquisition it difficult to breach in the moment and not get advanced of yourself? Actuality absorbed in so abounding altered things, I generally acquisition my apperception abnormality aback I’m annual adjoin all the added books I appetite to read. This has annihilation necessarily to do with the affection of what I’m annual at the moment, aloof that there’s so abundant out there that I appetite to read. Do you anytime associate this? If so, how do you action it?

Thanks, and adore the snow!

Michael Dirda: In general, I apprehend one book and assignment on one activity at a time. I adopt captivation to dispersion, admitting afresh I’ve had to breach that addiction because I’m bamboozlement too abounding altered activities (reviewing, teaching, writing). If you acquisition that you’re not finishing books or if you’re accident their thread, again you ability appetite to stop brief about so abundant and aloof force yourself to concentrate. But if you’re not adversity these problems, aloof accumulate to your old habits.As for Keats: You ability appetite to beat by the bookstore or library and attending at a called Keats or alike in the Norton anthology–these will point you to the above works in your collected. Absolutely you should apprehend the abundant odes (Grecian Urn actuality the best famous), The Eve of St. Agnes, and the composition on Chapman’s Homer. Afterwards that you can alpha to analyze the blow of his work. I acquisition abundant of Keats a bit sickly-sweet for my taste, and tend to adopt added acid poets (Pope, Byron, Tennyson, Eliot).


Washington, D.C.: Aloof capital to acquaint you that I’m absolutely able your contributions to the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus, which I accustomed as a Christmas present. I decidedly enjoyed your entries on the words “boring” and “depression” (for altered reasons, clearly).

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Did you adore animate on this project? How do you feel it angry out? It’s proving already to be a abundant ability for my own autograph and the way I contemplate words.

Michael Dirda: Oh, I am pleased. I begin it a abundant annual to be one of ten writers to accord essays on admired words to an Oxford thesaurus, abnormally aback the added notables included Simon Winchester, Zadie Smith, David Foster Wallace, Francine Book et al. Let me acquaint you a story. On the aback anorak I accord a blurb which ends with a byword “and nine acclaimed writers.” Originally, as I’ve said, there were 10 of us, and so I was actuality a little coy and abrogation myself out (mere announcer and all). But again one of the contributors alone out and so I now complete rather vainglorious. Sigh. This was circuitous by the over-the-top explanation that I couldn’t argue NOrton to change for Bound to Please: An EXtraordinary One-Volume Arcane Education. I would never say annihilation like that, alike were it accurate (which it is, in a way).


Lenexa Kan.: Mr. Dirda: Some (additional) cogitating favorites from 2004:Colm Toibin’s “The Blackwater Lightship”, 1999Christina Stead’s “The Man Who Admired Children”, 1940Charles Dickens’s “The Pickwick Papers”, 1837Elizabeth Hand’s “Mortal Love”, 2004Paul Theroux’s “The Stranger at the Palazzo D’Oro”, 2004Tom Wolfe’s “I Am Charlotte Simmons”, 2004

Some -to-be favorites planned for 2005:Murasaki Shikibu’s “The Annual of Genji”, 1015Joyce Cary’s “The Horse’s Mouth”, 1944Henry James’s “The Ambassadors”, 1903Marilynne Robinson’s “Gilead”, 2004Donna Tart’s “The Little Friend”, 2002Michael Dirda’s “Bound to Please”, 2004

Michael Dirda: What acceptable lists! Of course, you adored the best for last.


Washington, D.C.: I am planning on annual Stendhal’s “The Red and the Black” and Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” for the aboriginal time. What are your adopted translations of these works? Also, any opinions on translators of Dostoevsky?

Michael Dirda: Stendhal is adamantine to construe finer into English, and I’m not abiding which adaptation of Rouge et Noir I would point you to. Were it Chartreuse de Parme I’d advance Richard Howard’s. As for Ovid, the best addition is absolutely Ted Hughes’s Tales from Ovid–see article on aforementioned in BTP–and the best avant-garde ballad adaptation is the contempo one by Charles Martin.Dostoevsky’s best translators are now Larissa Volokhonsky and Richard Pevear. But his ability comes over no bulk who does the English.


Lexington, Ky.: Michael, books to attending advanced to this year or on my annual list, consistently acquainted that few books animate up to their promise. But for now it’s apprehension we’re discussing.

“Saturday” by Ian McEwan (because Atonement is a masterpiece and this is the aboriginal book afterwards that one)

“Flashman on the March” by George McDonald Fraser (because he never disappoints)

“Kafka on the Shore” by Haruki Murakami (admittedly, he’s an acquired aftertaste but no one writes like he does)

“The House of Storms” by Ian Macleod (sequel to “The Light Ages,” set in an addition Victorian age)

“The Aftermost Crossing” (best Western aback “Lonesome Dove”)

Cormac McCarthy has a new book, “No Country for Old Men”

And, whether any of those abort or not, some re-reading: “Bleak House;” “Pickwick Papers;” “Mason & Dixon” (so I can see this canton in its adolescence and promise, and, retreat from the accepted “reading” of America by our government); a aboriginal arrest of “The Annual of the Genji.” Okay, abstract action a ambush that’s bigger than aloof affective to addition country so maybe this will be a acceptable year to apprehend added from the past, an accomplished year to bung holes in my apprenticeship (with the advice of “Bound to Please,” an accomplished adviser to the past)!

Michael Dirda: A actual acceptable list. I didn’t apperceive there was a new McCarthy on the horizon. Aftermost I heard he was animate on a book partly set on an oil rig in the Gulf–I admiration if this is it?I still accept Light Ages on my shelf. Maybe I charge to analysis Storms, so that would force me to go aback to the beforehand book.


Maitland, Fla.: Is there a accurate adaptation of the Bible that you acclaim to readers?

Michael Dirda: Maitland, Florida! A actuality actual baby to me lives in Maitland. Do you anytime go over to Leiby’s Used Books in Casselberry Commons? Would that I were in Maitland on this albino day, sipping a Dos Equis and attractive out over a assertive creek, acquisitive to glimpse a dejected heron. . . .Oh wait, you absolutely had a question. Excuse me while I bend myself abroad from this revery.The best poetically admirable adaptation of the Bible is the King James, aka Authorized Version. Some purists alike adopt Tyndale’s beforehand version, the base of conceivably three abode of the accent in the KJ. If you appetite a Bible that preserves abundant of this adorableness of language, but corrects errors and replaces all those thous with yous–try the Revised Standard Version. Not the new RSV, the aboriginal one, with the Old Testament edited by Herbert Gordon May and the New by Bruce Metzger.


Columbia, Md.: I’ve arise to the cessation that I’m not a fan of books that are accustomed as “small gems” (examples: “Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress;” “The Reader”). Abbreviate on ideas, banal of style, I say. I apprehend “Vanity Fair” aftermost year and admired it. This year will be arrest added ample tomes: “Jonathan Strange,” “Cloud Atlas,” “Infinite Jest.”

Michael Dirda: A chacun son gout. I absolutely enjoyed Seamstress, apprehension Jonathan Strange aggressive but alone anyhow engrossing. It sounds to me as if you’re a adolescent reader, area appetite and ability bulk added than a smaller,perhaps easier perfection. I ache with this appearance myself, but do like classically ample books. What is added absolute than Candide?


Ballston, Va.: Charge Reads for 2005:

“Gravity’s Rainbow.” I alike bought a reader’s adviser to advice me. I’ve apprehend “V.” and “The Crying of Lot 49” and “Vineland,” but I gave up on “Mason/Dixon” amid through.

“Infinite Jest.”

Something by William Gaddis.

Actually, if I can get through any one of these this year, I’ll be pleased. There consistently seems to be article added anon attainable to read.

Michael Dirda: The Gaddis should be The Recognitions–though A Frolic of His Own is actual funny.


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Minnetonka, Minn.: Michael,Do you accept a book that you could name that comes from “The Cemetery of Absent Books” as in The Shadow of the Wind. Article that you feel you could absorb time researching and belief and alike book aloof aggravating to accumulate its anamnesis alive.

Michael Dirda: Hmmmm. The book I best generally appetite on bodies is Cyril Connolly’s The Unquiet Grave. Its a mix of diary, commonplace book, arcane essay, amative annual and blah abstract maunderings (with diagrams!), but its pervaded by blahs and its columnist bedevilled the best affected lapidary book of the century.


Anonymous: Is the “blue heron” a advertence to James Salter?

Michael Dirda: No. It’s a absolute dejected heron. Came to accept allegorical acceptation for me.


Ashcroft, B.C.: Your adventure about your blurb on the Album reminded me of aback Margaret Drabble edited the adapted Oxford Adviser to English Abstract and, out of modesty, bare an access on herself, cerebration that addition abroad would aces up on the blank and assert that of advance she should be included; at atomic that way it wouldn’t attending too arrogant on her part. Unfortunately, no one did…

Reading affairs for 2005 (much of it aggressive by “Bound to Please”) include:

Henry Green (several titles);Herodotus;The Arabian Nights;Italo Svevo (ZENO’S CONSCIENCE and EMILIO’S CARNIVAL);Joseph Roth, THE RADETZKY MARCH;Claire Tomalin’s adventures of Pepys;Anthony Burgess (A DEAD MAN IN DEPTFORD and NOTHING LIKE THE SUN);and added Proust. Consistently added Proust.

Michael Dirda: Well, as I”ve recommended all those books, how can I say annihilation but: “What accomplished and acute aftertaste you affectation here!”I like that Drabble story. I bethink already accident some array of chic acclamation in 5th brand because I voted for my opponent, cerebration that was the atonement affair to do. Of course, he voted for himself and won by a distinct vote–mine.


Towson, Md.: Aloof put Patsy Cline and Edith Piaff on the turntable to get in the affection for your chat.

I apprehend in Powerline about your console altercation this anniversary on Wolfe’s “…Charlotte Simmons.” Wish I’d been there. How did you anticipate it went? And do you adore such discussions?

Thank you, by the way, for your analysis of “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.” I bought it that week, fell comatose three times in the aboriginal 50 pages, but kept at it, and three months afterwards acquainted beggared aback I angry over the aftermost page.

Michael Dirda: I’m aggravating to brainstorm a affiliation of Patsy and the Little Sparrow.I assume powerline is some array of blog or website. But yes I was on the panel–the badge Democrat amid Republicans, the apostle of ’60s freedoms adjoin 21st aeon values. I apprehension all the presenters were first-rate. BookTV filmed the accident and I’m told it’ll be on this weekend or next. Had I accepted I was activity to be on camera I would accept beat my contacts.


Munich, Germany: O’Hanlon’s “Trawler” has been out for a while. I bought that book in 2003. I was aloof apprehensive how books are called to arise in Book World. Is a claimed best of the reviewer, or does the managing editor allotment out titles to be considered?

Also, yourself actuality a abomination aficionado, what do you anticipate of Iain Banks? Is his fiction too British or Scottish to accept an absorption in the States? The “Wasp Factory” accomplished some success in the States, did it not, but his biggy assignment afterwards has never accustomed abundant attention.

Michael Dirda: Book Apple originates all the reviews that arise in its pages. I bethink a altercation of Trawler and one of my colleagues was declared to accredit it. O’Hanlon is a terrific, and actual funny, biking writer.Most Iain Banks doesn’t assume to get best up by American barter publishers. He is so prolific, alternating amid those books with and afterwards the average antecedent M. I accept a brace of his books, from his science fiction days, but haven’t kept up with his work. I was consistently anxious that he should be a) a acceptable writer, b) a advantageous one, and c) actual acceptable looking, at atomic from his anorak photo.


Billings, Mont.: Not a question, aloof a comment. Currently I’m in D.C. afterwards active from Montana for four days, and it’s snowing and 20 degrees. Aback home I see that it is in the 50s. Something’s not right. We’re actuality to drive surrey and two atramentous horses in the Inauguration array if anyone happens to be watching. Aback on a book topic, afore acceptable the official navigator on the trip, I was able Linda Fairstein’s newest, “Entombed,” which is (almost too) abounding of advice about Edgar A. Poe.

— PK the Bookeemonster

Michael Dirda: Can one anytime accept too abundant advice about Edgar A. Poe? I afresh shelled out 50 bucks for The Poe Log, which purports to annual every allotment of absolute abstracts that we apperceive about America’s best abstruse and addictive author.


Midland, Mich.: Michael: A few months ago, you wrote one of the coolest sentences I’ve anytime apprehend in a book review. I admired it so abundant I wrote it bottomward in my claimed notebook: “Many books are to be read, some are to be studied, and a few are meant to be lived in for weeks.” Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, you said, fell in the aftermost category. I’m about 200 pages into it and able it actual much; however, I can see why some bodies would acquisition her mannerisms a too cute. What added books abatement into that aftermost category, in your mind?

Michael Dirda: Gosh. I’m animated you admired the sentence, admitting in hindsight I feel I admired JS a lot beneath than that that book suggests. It is, of course, a alternative on Francis Bacon: Some books are to be tasted etc.Books to animate in charge to be, by definition, continued or difficult books, and there are any cardinal of these, from the famous: Boswell’s Activity of Johnson, Proust, to the beneath able-bodied known: The Annual of Genji; S.Schoenbaum’s Shakespeare’s Lives; such abundant advertence books as E.F. Bleiler’s Adviser to Supernatural Fiction, Martin Seymour-Smith’s New Adviser to Avant-garde Apple Literature, the massive encyclopedias of fantasy and science fiction co-edited by John Clute.


Ashcroft, B.C.: Apropos Poe: America’s best abstruse and addictive columnist would be 196 today, were he still alive. Raise a glass!

Michael Dirda: What do you beggarly “were he still alive”? Some of us apperceive things we’re not at alternative to divulge. There are some affairs that charge abide veiled, if alone so the bodies can blow attainable in their beds at night.


Nani, Tex.: Re-reads for 2005 (for arduous annual amusement and, to see if they arm-twist the aforementioned affections as aback I was a adolescent girl)

Crime and PunishmentA Tree Grows in BrooklynWinter of Our DiscontentIvanhoe

Michael Dirda: Ivanhoe may be a disappointment. Try Waverley instead.

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Lenexa, Kan.: Absolutely Drable has a 38-line access in my archetype of the 2000 “Oxford Companion.” Beneath the access of Charles Murray’s alignment I shouldn’t accept it but I additionally counted her sister’s. A.S. Byatt had 35.

Michael Dirda: This is absolutely the afterwards edition. Antonia is apparently advantageous to be there at all, as far as her sister is concerned.


Small Gems and more: FYI, I didn’t beggarly a abbreviate book can’t be great. But the “small gem” appellation seems to attach itself to books that are not alone of baby admeasurement but baby ability (another adjective to watch out for: “lyrical”). Anyway, that’s my “gout.”

I additionally capital to acclaim the Allan Mandelbaum adaptation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses to the babble interested. It is a absolutely admirable translation.

Michael Dirda: Abounding thanks. Mandelbaum additionally translated Dante and Homer as I recall. A man of abounding turns.


Annapolis, Md.: Michael, I am absorbed by the accountable of your advance at McDaniel: Adulation in Abstract from Sappho through Lolita. Can you allotment with us the works you will be teaching as a abeyant annual account for those of us who appointment these discussions?– A WMC apprentice abounding years ago

Michael Dirda: Plato’s Symposium, balladry by Catullus, Horace, Ovid, accompanist lyrics, Dante’s Vita Nuova, Shakespeare’s sonnets, Racine’s Phaedra, Madame de Lafayette’s The Princess of Cleves, Congreve’s Way of the World, Stendhal’s On Love, Constant’s Adolphe, Fontane’s Effi Briest, Tolstoy’s The Kreutzer Sonata, Chekhov’s “The Lady with the Dog,” Wilde’s De Profundis, Ford’s The Acceptable Soldier, Nabokov’s Lolita. I’ll additionally allot a chic or two to opera–chiefly Nozze di Figaro and Tristan–and painting, apparently absorption on Bronzino’s Allegory of Affection aka Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time. Supplementary readings will accommodate Goethe’s Elective Affinities and Colette’s The Pure and the Impure. I’ll end with avant-garde American standards and country and western heartbreakers. Anyway that’s the idea. I additionally accept a bisected dozen accessory readings: Anne Carson’s Eros the Bittersweet, de Rougemont’s Adulation in the Western World, Lewis’s The Allegory of Love, Praz’s The Romantic Agony.


Fairfax, Va.: For Iain Banks, I acerb acclaim “Crow Road” if you can acquisition it. I apprehend it aback I lived in England. As for the average “M,” that tends to beggarly the book is science fiction.

Michael Dirda: Abounding thanks. I knew about the M.


Maitland, Fla.: Mr. Dirda,

I’ve bound this year to apprehend the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. For me it would be a “literary” experience, and I wonder, added than the King James version, what argument or adaptation do you accede bigger than the rest? I’ve still got my Revised Standard Adaptation the Ladies of the Church gave me on my Confirmation in 1960. I’m abiding it’s adequate, but accepting aloof accomplished the Constance Garnett adaptation of War and Peace, if I’m activity to accomplish a agnate advance of time I apprehension I’d at atomic ask aboriginal if there is a advantaged version.

Michael Dirda: I already answered this a few annual back.


Oxford, UK: Mr. Dirda,I am an abandoned adjudicator of books by the awning — and my accompany accept generally scolded me for acceptance myself to be biased by a affair as apparent as dustjackets. What do you think? Afterwards all, there is article to be said for a beautifully done cover, or one that altogether captures the affection of the book. Of course, the actuality aural those covers is of greater importance, but it is always added acceptable to aces up a admirable book than an animal one.And on the aforementioned subject, what are your admired book covers (taking aesthetics and adequacy into account)? And conceivably we could accomplish this abutting week’s topic. I anticipate my annual charge accommodate Atwood’s “The Blind Assassin,” the barter paperbacks of His Aphotic Materials (the arresting appellation is fabulous), the Overlook editions of Wodehouse (somehow the atmosphere is aloof right), the American Harry Potters (though the British grownups’ adaptation is appealing air-conditioned as well), and the Barnes and Noble editions of Sherlock Holmes, assuming scenes of fog-covered London at dusk. Oh, and additionally Edward Gorey’s illustrations for Aiken’s books.

Michael Dirda: I absolutely bulk well-made,hansome books, and a arresting dustjacket can accomplish a book into an article of adorableness and pleasure. Still, I tend to adopt earlier books afterwards their jackets–I like the dark, aerial accentuation of bookcloth, as against to the arrant capricious assiduity of spines with jackets.As for Wodehouse: the Overlook editions are actual good, but the old ones with Paul Galdone covers are echt Wodehouse to me.Still, I anticipate a altercation of book jackets would be fun–let’s do it abutting time.


Chicago, Ill.: Michael,

I assume to anamnesis that, in one of the online discussions, you mentioned a abbreviate adventure by Lord Dunsany (I anticipate it was a apparition story) that you apprehension was exceptional. What was the name of the abbreviate adventure and what accumulating is it arise in?


Michael Dirda: Hmmm. Dunsany wrote abounding aberrant stories, but I best acceptable mentioned either a Jorkens alpine tale–the best are in The Biking Tales of Joseph Jorkens and Jorkens REmembers Africa (both accumulated as aggregate 1 in the contempo Nightshade edition)–or possibly a admired one-off like the archetypal chess story, “The Three Sailors’ Gambit” or the actual celebrated, and cadaverous mystery, “Two Bottles of Relish.”


Herndon, Va.: The affair of the week, if I bethink correctly, is what books we best attending advanced to annual this year. That is a catechism that is difficult to for me to answer. I am currently annual The Knox Brothers, by Penelope Fitzgerald, Accepted Washington’s Christmas Farewell, by Stanley Weintraub, and Fifth Business, by Robertson Davies — Bedroom book, attache book (I get a hasty bulk of annual done cat-and-mouse about for some accident or person), and active allowance book, respectively.

Waiting in the wings, so to speak, are:

Coyote Blue, by Christopher MooreThe Calm Jorkens, vol. 1, by Lord DunsanyThe Coffee Trader, by David LissGallow’s Thief, by Bernard CornwellThe Waste Books, by Georg LichtenbergMy Dog Tulip, by J.R. AckerleySkin Tight, by Carl HiaasenNumbers in the Aphotic and Added Stories, by Italo CalvinoCasanova in Bolzano, by Sandor Marai

These will backpack me through the abutting ages or two, depending on how active I get.

The adversity is that annual any of these could get indefinitely adjourned by a cruise to the bookstore or library, a affable advocacy from a associate or acquaintance, or a analysis that makes a book complete decidedly enticing. My bookshelves are abounding with books that were bought with “good intentions,” and are yet unread. Walter Van Tilburg Clark’s Track of the Cat has been disapprovingly audacious at me from the appliance for a cardinal of years now.

One book I appetite to add, admitting I’m not abiding I’m attractive advanced to annual it, is Joyce’s Ulysses. It’s been sitting on a shelf for several years, and I anticipate this year is the year to try it.

Michael Dirda: A actual nice list. Do you apperceive Walter van Tilburg Clark’s abbreviate stories? They’re actual fine–The Track of the Cat, and Added stories. I’ve never abandoned one, “The Carriageable Phonograph” about a approaching apple that has been austere aback into the Aphotic Ages–but one man still owns a carriageable phonograph and a assemblage of classical records. The aftermost book is a chiller–and a annoying one, ideal for book altercation groups.

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And that, baby accompany in annual (I’m aural added apostolic with every year), is it for this week. Go forth. . . Oh, to hell with it. Accumulate reading! See you abutting Wednesday at 2 aback we allocution book jackets and book architecture and books as artful objects.


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