Friday, November 09, 2007

Classics for Pleasure

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 discerning, but an original thinker and brave.

This quote was lifted from his most recent book, Classics For Pleasure, which posits the premise that one can read classics for entertainment rather than drudgery or course requirements. His list focuses on the less obvious because, as he points out in his introduction, "Who will argue against the merits of Shakespeare's plays or Dickens's novels? It seemed more useful--and fun--to point readers to new authors and less obvious classics."

These classics are grouped by genre: "playful imaginations," heroes, romance, "everyday magic," horror, adventure, and more. Thanks to Dirda's persuasive arguments, Ivy Compton-Burnett is high on my reading stack, and I am even pondering Beowulf, debating the merits of translators--entertaining Seamus Heaney or precise Michael Alexander? Perhaps even Frankenstein or Dracula, though horror is not my genre of choice. But certainly G. K. Chesterton, S. J. Perelman, and Max Beerbohm.

And I can revisit Georgette Heyer with my head held high. Thank you, Michael Dirda.


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