Michael Dirda

Quotes
Quote Topics Cited
A job should bring enough for a worker and family to live on, but after that, self-realization, the exercise of one's gifts and talents, is what truly matters. Families, Children & Parenting
A personal library is a reflection of who you are and who you want to be, of what you value and what you desire, of how much you know and how much more you'd like to know.
A reviewer's lot is not always an easy one. I can remember flogging myself to finish Harold Brodkey's 'The Runaway Soul' despite the novel's consummate, unmitigated tedium.
Adventurous reading allows one to escape a little from the provincialities of one's home culture and the blinders of one's narrow self.
Any man's death diminishes us, but when an artist passes away, we lose not just an island but an entire archipelago. Death
At 17, I traveled to Mexico in a lemon yellow Mustang and saved money by bunking down in cheap, cockroach-infested flophouses. In my early 20s, I went on to thumb rides through Europe, readily sleeping in train stations, my backpack as a pillow. Once I even hunkered down for a night on a sidewalk grate - for warmth - in Paris. Money, Coins & Minting
At any given moment, I've always assumed that nearly everyone around me was smarter than I was, more naturally gifted, quicker-witted, and probably capable of understanding Heidegger and Derrida.
At the age of 14, I ran away from home for four days and hitchhiked around western Pennsylvania and southern Ohio.
Back in the 1950s and '60s, J. M. Barrie's 'Peter Pan' - starring Mary Martin and Cyril Ritchard - was regularly aired on network television during the Christmas season. I must have seen it four or five times and remember, in particular, Ritchard's gloriously camp interpretation of Captain Hook.
Basically, I think that most people either make too much money or not enough money. The jobs that are essential and important pay too little, and those that are essentially managerial pay far too much. Money, Coins & Minting
Because of Kipling, I've sometimes wondered about keeping a mongoose about the house. But given the cobra population in Silver Spring, Maryland - zero, when last I checked - we hardly need a Rikki-Tikki-Tavi.
Books can be a source of solace, but I see them mainly as a source of pleasure, personal as well as esthetic.
Books don't only furnish a room: they also make the best holiday gifts.
Born in 1910, Wilfrid Thesiger spent his childhood in Ethiopia, or Abyssinia, as it was then called, where his father was an important and much-admired British official.
Carl Barks was born in Merrill, Oregon, in 1901, grew up in a farming family, and eventually held a number of blue-collar jobs. He knew what it was to be poor and to work hard for a living. Families, Children & Parenting ;Work, Workers & The Labor Force
Close friends, or those in my pay, sometimes call me a literary polymath, while others say that I'm just a shallow dilettante, superficial and breezy, with a faux-naif style.
Critics for established venues are vetted by editors; they usually demonstrate a certain objectivity; and they come with known backgrounds and specialized knowledge. Education, Learning, Knowledge & Training
Deep in my cortex, the year is divided into reading seasons. The period from mid-October to Christmas, for instance, is 'ghost story' time, while Jane Austen and P. G. Wodehouse pretty much own April and May. Time
Digital texts are all well and good, but books on shelves are a presence in your life. As such, they become a part of your day-to-day existence, reminding you, chastising you, calling to you. Plus, book collecting is, hands down, the greatest pastime in the world. Life
Every summer, I regret that I didn't become a college teacher. Such a sweet life! With all that vacation time! You'll never get me to believe that being a tenured professor at a good college is anything but Heaven on earth. Education, Learning, Knowledge & Training ;Life ;Time
Fiction is a house with many stately mansions, but also one in which it is wise, at least sometimes, to swing from the chandeliers.
For even the ordinary well-read person, the French Enlightenment is largely restricted to the three big-name philosophes: Diderot, Rousseau, Voltaire.
For me, the two weeks between Christmas and Twelfth Night have come to be reserved for desultory reading. The pressure of the holiday is over, the weather outside is frightful, there are lots of leftovers to munch on, vacation hours are being used up.
For those of us with an inward turn of mind, which is another name for melancholy introspection, the beginning of a new year inevitably leads to thoughts about both the future and the past. Future
For years, I meant to read 'Arabian Sands', Wilfred Thesiger's account of two punishing camel journeys during the late 1940s across Southern Arabia's Empty Quarter. Now that I have, I can sheepishly join the chorus of those who revere the book as one of the half dozen greatest works of modern English travel writing. Travel
From the late 19th to the early 20th century, the December issue of almost any general-interest magazine regularly featured a holiday horror or two.
Halloween isn't the only time for ghosts and ghost stories. In Victorian Britain, spooky winter's tales were part of the Christmas season, often told after dinner, over port or coffee. Time
I am something of an aficionado of thrift stores. In my youth, I regularly searched their shelves for old books.
I didn't work for any newspapers in college, never worked for any newspaper before 'The Washington Post'. Work, Workers & The Labor Force
I do think digital media encourages speed-reading, which can be fine if one is simply seeking information. But a serious novel or work of history or volume of poetry is an experience one should savor, take time over. Time ;Work, Workers & The Labor Force
I don't like gross monetary inequities. I firmly believe that the wrong people and the wrong professions are being rewarded, and rewarded absurdly, and that the hardest work the obscenely rich do is ensuring that they preserve their privileges, status symbols, and bloated bank accounts. Work, Workers & The Labor Force
I don't think of myself as a critic at all. I'm a reviewer and essayist. I mainly hope to share with others my pleasure in the books and authors I write about, though sometimes I do need to cavil and point out shortcomings. Hope
I find that the Amazon comments often are exceptionally shrewd and insightful, so I'm not going to diss them. But you don't really have any guarantees that what you're reading wasn't written out of friendship or spite. Friendship
I haven't read for pleasure in 35 years. I mean, I get a lot of pleasure from what I read... For me, it's gotten so that it doesn't seem as though I've read a book unless I've written about it. It really seems the completion of the reading process.
I long ago ran out of bookshelf space and so, like a museum with its art, simply rotate my books from the boxes to the shelves and back again. Arts, Culture, Entertainment & Lifestyle
I love the look of books published by the firm of Rupert Hart-Davis: They strike me as handsome, elegant, and inviting. I'll pick up almost anything with that imprint, especially if it's in a jacket or priced low. Love, Romance, Marriage & Sex
I once read that in vaudeville, it was often the straight guy who got paid more than the comic because that's the tougher job. He has to set up the jokes in just the right way.
I once read that there are more biographical works about Napoleon Bonaparte than any other man in history. History
I suppose movie theaters are the churches of the modern age, where we gather reverently to worship the tinsel gods of Hollywood.
I think of my own work as part of a decades-long conversation about books and reading with people I will mainly never meet. Work, Workers & The Labor Force
I'm an appreciator. I love all kinds of books, and I want others to love them, too. Love, Romance, Marriage & Sex
I'm nothing if not a literary hedonist.
I'm sometimes willing to put in vast, even inordinate amounts of time if I find a project that interests me. Time
In 1911, Edgar Rice Burroughs, having failed at everything else, decided to write a novel. He was then in his mid-thirties, married with two children, barely supporting his family as the agent for a pencil-sharpener business. Business, Commerce & Finance ;Families, Children & Parenting
In a single lifetime, roughly from 1865 to 1930, one finds the pioneering and patterning works of modern fantasy, science fiction, children's literature and detective fiction, of modern adventure, mystery and romance. Science, Mathematics, Engineering & Technology
In classic noir fiction and film, it is always hot. Fans whirr in sweltering hotel rooms, sweat forms on a stranger's brow, the muggy air stifles - one can hardly breathe. Come nightfall, there is no relief, only the darkness that allows illicit lovers to meet, the trusted to betray, and murderers to act.
In my own case, my folks didn't actually object to comics, as many parents did, but they pretty much felt the things were a waste of time. Time
In my younger days, I used to visit record shops and covet boxed sets of Beethoven symphonies, Wagner operas, Bach cantatas, Mozart piano concertos. Only rarely was I able to find the money for such luxuries. Money, Coins & Minting
In truth, I'm not really a cat person. Seamus, the wonder dog, still deeply mourned by all who knew him, was just about the only pet I've ever really loved. Truth
It is a truth universally acknowledged that M. Dirda is a sucker for anything bookish in the way of artwork. Truth
It's a sad commentary on our time - to use a phrase much favored by my late father - that people increasingly celebrate Christmas Day by going to the movies. Time ;Arts, Culture, Entertainment & Lifestyle
I've always liked an easygoing, colloquial style. I like the kind of reviewer who is essentially a fellow reader, an enthusiast, a fan.
I've been slightly obsessed with paper and notebooks. Among my most precious possessions is a small light-blue, breviary-sized volume - four-and-a-half inches wide, seven inches tall - made by a company called Denbigh.
Late summer is perfect for classic mysteries - think of Raymond Chandler's hot Santa Anas and Agatha Christie's Mediterranean resorts - while big ambitious works of nonfiction are best approached in September and early October, when we still feel energetic and the grass no longer needs to be cut.
Like most people, I find watching the lazy and quiet underwater realm of a big aquarium exceptionally calming.
Literary generations come and go, and each generation passeth away and is heard of no more. In the end, simply the making itself - of poems and stories and essays - delivers the only reward a writer can be sure of. And, perhaps, the only one that matters.
Long ago, I realized that my only talent - aside from the rugged good looks, of course, and the strange power I hold over elderly women - can be reduced to a single word: doggedness. Women ;Power
Many cultures believe that on a certain day - Halloween, the Irish Samhain Eve, Mexico's 'Dia de los Muertos' - the veil between this world and the next is especially thin.
Many people know that Shakespeare's dramatic 'canon' was established in 1623 by the publication of the so-called First Folio. That hefty volume contained thirty-six plays.
Mentoring is the last refuge of the older artist. With luck, disciples will keep one's books in print, one's reputation alive.
Most lyric poetry is about love, whether yearned after, fulfilled, or wistfully regretted; what isn't tends to consist of laments and cris du coeur over this, that, and the other. Love, Romance, Marriage & Sex ;Literature, Writers & Writing
Most scholarly books we read for the information or insight they contain. But some we return to simply for the pleasure of the author's company.
My gift, if that's not too grandiose a term, is one for describing novels, biographies, and works of history in such a way that people want to read them. History
My own particular feline companion answers, or rather doesn't answer, to Cinnamon. One of my kids must have given her the name, even though she's mostly gray and white.
My urge at Christmas time or Hanukkah-time or Kwanzaa-time is that people go to bookstores: that they walk around bookstores and look at the shelves. Go to look for authors that they've loved in the past and see what else those authors have written. Time
My wife tells me I should check out 'Downton Abbey', but I gather that series might be almost too intense for my temperate nature. Nature
Near my desk, I keep a large plastic carton filled with fresh notebooks and stationery of various kinds, sizes, and qualities.
Neither my mom nor my dad ever bought me any comic books. Certainly not for Christmas. I suspect that doing so would have violated the Parents' Code. Families, Children & Parenting
No matter how beautiful the paper, artwork, printing, and binding, I'm seldom drawn to a book unless it's by a writer I care about or on a subject that appeals to me.
None of us, of course, will ever read all the books we'd like, but we can still make a stab at it.
Not all of E. Nesbit's children's books are fantasies, but even the most realistic somehow seem magical. In her holiday world, nobody ever goes to school, though all the kids know their English history, Greek myths, and classic tales of derring-do. History
On any given day, I'm likely to be working at home, hunched over this keyboard, typing Great Thoughts and Beautiful Sentences - or so they seem at the time, like those beautifully flecked and iridescent stones one finds at the seashore that gradually dry into dull gray pebbles. Time
Once upon a time, I sat in my mother's lap as she turned the pages of Golden Books, and I gradually learned to read. Time
People sometimes think that I bring home all these old books because I'm addicted, that I'm no better than a hoarder with a houseful of crumbling newspapers.
People who've read my reviews know my tastes, know how I approach a book, know my background. I can write with believable authority. It doesn't mean I'm always right.
Reading books might itself be a bit weird, but obviously okay, since books were part of school, and doing well in school was clearly a good thing. But comics were more like candy, just flashy wrappers without any nourishment. Cheap thrills.
Sad to say, multi-tasking is beyond me. I read one book at a time all the way through. If I'm reviewing the book, I have to write the review before I start reading any other book. I especially hate it when the phone rings and interrupts my train of thought. Time
Since I make my living as a literary journalist, not a book scout, I spend inordinate amounts of time either reading or writing. Time
Some travelers collect souvenirs, postcards, or bumper stickers; I bring home a pencil from the various places I visit.
Sometimes the very best of all summer books is a blank notebook. Get one big enough, and you can practice sketching the lemon slice in your drink or the hot lifeguard on the beach or the vista down the hill from your cabin.
Summertime, and the reading is easy... Well, maybe not easy, exactly, but July and August are hardly the months to start working your way through the works of Germanic philosophers. Save Hegel, Heidegger, and Husserl for the bleaker days of February.
'The Admirable Crichton' is probably Barrie's most famous work after 'Peter Pan', nearly a pendant to that classic. Fame ;Work, Workers & The Labor Force
The goal of a just society should be to provide satisfying work with a living wage to all its citizens. Society ;Work, Workers & The Labor Force
The only kind of notebook I actively dislike is the steno pad, entirely because of that vertical line down the middle of the page. I presume it has some arcane secretarial use, but to me, it's both ugly and confusing.
The savagery and power of Edith Wharton's ghost stories surprised me. Power
Throughout the European Middle Ages and Renaissance, Latin was the language of learning and international communication. But in the early modern period, it was gradually displaced by French. By the eighteenth century, all the world - or at least all of Europe - aspired to be Parisian. Education, Learning, Knowledge & Training
To an Ohio boy, it represented world-weary Gallic shrugs and Gauloises cigarettes, existentialist thinkers in berets and Catherine Deneuve in nothing at all - French was the language of intellectual power and effortless sex appeal. Power
To my mind, 'Dear Brutus' stands halfway between Shakespeare's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' and Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's 'Into the Woods'. Like them, it is a play about enchantment and disillusion, dreams and reality.
What I enjoy about reviewing and writing for newspapers and periodicals is simply the chance to talk about all kinds of books and lots of them.
When I come to visit my mom - every two or three months - I generally spend five or six hours with her each day. She's always immensely glad to see me, her eldest child, her only son.
When I talk to friends and editors about possible projects, especially about projects that might come with a significant cash advance, they usually suggest a biography. Sometimes I'm tempted, but the prospect of spending years researching and writing about someone else's life offends my vanity. Life
When I was a boy in the late 1950s, the public library refused to stock books by Edgar Rice Burroughs. They were regarded as vulgar, ill-written potboilers.
While Napoleon believed his fortunes to be governed by destiny, his real genius lay in self-control and martial daring coupled with an indomitable will to power. Power
With any luck, Heaven itself will resemble a vast used bookstore, with a really good cafe in one corner, serving dark beer and kielbasa to keep up one's strength while browsing, and all around will be the kind of angels usually found in Victoria's Secret catalogs.
With concerted effort, I can follow written instructions, but don't ask me to simply grasp how to operate a smartphone.
With the possible exception of steampunk aficionados, many reasonable people must view my fascination with Victorian and Edwardian popular fiction - mysteries, fantasy, and adventure - as eccentric or merely antiquarian.
Writers keep writing and publishers publishing - it never grows boring.
Young people looking for adventure fiction now generally turn to fantasy, but for those of a certain age, the spy thriller has long been the escape reading of choice.