Classics for Pleasure. 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 ever eager to increase my knowledge of the Western Canon, I plowed through the book and obtained many mouth-watering tidbits of information.
On Alexander Pope: “Thackery called him the greatest literary artist that England has seen”.
On Henry Rider Haggard’s book: “C.S. Lewis said, ‘What story in the world opens better than She?’”
On Georgette Heyer: “She’s as witty as any writer of the past century, as accomplished as P.G. Wodehouse in working out complex plots, as accurate as a professional historian in getting her background details right…. She composes superb historical novels, laced with comedy, intrigue, delightful characters, and yes, romance. Clear-eyed realism lies behind all of Heyer’s work, no matter how giddy the goings-on beforehand.”
On James Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men: “glorious, lyrical excess”
And, finally, his thoughts on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: “It conveys a wonderful Mozartean lightness and wit, an air of make-believe and festivity, tinged with real darkness. It’s a perfect adult Christmas story.”
And, so, I’ve added to my constantly expanding list of authors/books to explore. Although I did not agree with all of Dirda’s choices, I enjoyed his fine writing and his obvious love of good books.