Episode 127 – The Meandering Reflections of a Literary Sybarite

Virtual Memories Show #127:
Michael Dirda – The Meandering Reflections of a Literary Sybarite

“I enjoy going back to Lorain, Ohio because I’m reminded that the world of Washington and the East Coast literary establishment is a very narrow, special one that’s parochial in its own way. The rest of the world has other concerns: family, job and life in general. Whereas we get all up in arms about very minor things.”

browsingscoverPulitzer Prize-winning book reviewer Michael Dirda rejoins the show to talk about his new collection, Browsings: A Year of Reading, Collecting, and Living with Books (Pegasus Books). We discuss the importance of reading for pleasure, the difference between book-collecting and shopping, the role of the book reviewer (and how it differs from that of the critic), a recent negative review he didn’t want to write, why he doesn’t read reviews of his work, what his mother said when he won the Pulitzer Prize, and more! Give it a listen!

“The books that you don’t grasp immediately, the ones that leave you off-kilter . . . those are often the books that really last, and matter.”

Our first three-time guest also talks about the democratization of book reviewing, the problems of storing books in his basement, what he wants an author to think upon reading his book review of a book, his affinity for Clive James’ work, whether his reviews have a coded autobiographical element to them, how the limitations of the book review form shaped his style, why he disagrees with John Clute’s philosophy on spoilers, and more!

We talk about a lot of books in this episode. Here’s a list of ’em (Note: if I ever go to a Patreon crowdfunding model for the show, this is the first thing that goes subscriber-only):

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! You might like:

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About our Guest

dirdaheadMichael Dirda is a weekly book columnist for The Washington Post, and he received the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for criticism. He is the author of the memoir, An Open Book: Chapters fom a Reader’s Life, and of four previous collections of essays: Readings: Essays and Literary Entertainments, Bound to Please, Book by Book: Notes on Reading and Life, and Classics for Pleasure, in addition to his newest collection, Browsings. His previous book, On Conan Doyle: Or, The Whole Art of Storytelling, received a 2012 Edgar Award for best critical/biographical work of the year. Michael Dirda graduated with Highest Honors in English from Oberlin College and earned a Ph.D. in comparative literature (medieval studies and European romanticism) from Cornell University. He is a contributor to The New York Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, the online Barnes & Noble Review, The American Spectator, and several other periodicals, as well as a frequent lecturer and an occasional college teacher.

Credits: This episode’s music is Ah, Putrefaction by Jaristo, from Hans Zimmer’s film music for Sherlock Holmes. The conversation was recorded at the Boston Marriott Burlington on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Mr. Dirda by me.

Unrequired Reading: Jewel Eye

It’s time for another month’s worth of my tweets from twitter! First the retweets (the ones that begin with RT) and then the marginally more original ones! Remember, you can get these regularly by following groth18!

In honor of July 4th, we’ll start off with a bang!

RT @felixsalmon (Felix Salmon):

 

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RT @radleybalko (Radley Balko) – Letter from Cory Maye

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RT @sharilynj – Read about @marcmaron‘s powerful keynote address, opening up this year’s #JustForLaughs #jfl

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RT @kylevanblerk (Kyle van Blerk) – A bear. Made out of 20,000 zip ties. As you do.

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RT @susanorlean (Susan Orlean) – Wonderful!! “@NewYorkTheaterNiagara Falls lit with colors of rainbow on 1st day of N.Y.’s Marriage Equality

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RT @LettersOfNote – There’s so much to love about this photo of Jimi Hendrix

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RT FishbowlDC – Find out how the bridge of someone’s nose figures into The Atlantic‘s Megan McArdle’s (@asymmetricinfo) interviews.

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I don’t have kids, and that’s why I side with #GayTalese on dropping serious cash on clothes: #notthatIspendTHATmuch

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Because I don’t like kids, that’s why.

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Heartbreaking article about treating vs. screening #DownSyndrome

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Chinese govt. tries to disprove adage that there’s no such thing as bad publicity: #weallcrashedthetrain

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The art of #RickyGervais.

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The #JewishAutonomousRegion sounds like the Off-World Colonies in Bladerunner: #Jewsinspace

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A Bentley SUV? But what if the NBA lockout doesn’t end soon?

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I’m disappointed the Hercules machine isn’t on this list: #pinball (Hercules is over here)

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Beetlejuice in NJ, via @nycscout

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I thought #PillowTie was the best Skymall product ever, but it’s no match for #DribbleBib

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Oh, look! It’s the scariest goddamned thing ever! #dummyland #ventmyrage

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Oliver’s Army is here to stay: #andiwouldratherbeanywhereelsethanheretoday #cromwell

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Timmy, have you even been in a Norwegian prison?

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The Midgard Serpent sleeps below Park Ave.

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Just #FranLebowitz and her awesome car

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@SimonDoonan on getting married to Jonathan Adler.

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A “thoroughly generic bookstore” (as per my 40th bday post) is closing: #bookberries

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Euroleague’s greatest hoopster is from West Memphis. #MarcusBrown

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Freelove: sister of Increase, mother of Wealthy: #nydutch

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“I’m looking for something hipster-y“: http://nyr.kr/p5opGB

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Can you tell us more often in 1 article that there was no internet in 1981, please? #shittywriting #tigerwoods

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Set taser to #KTFO: #zotz

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The #StopMakingSense fashion collection: #thisisnotmybeautifulcoat (does @davidbyrne know about this?)

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To quote #Nirvana, I think I’m dumb.

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(Hilarious) summer fashion trends, courtesy of @simondoonan.

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Leopard goes ape: #donotconfrontangryleopard

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5 major factors in the #Borders collapse: #bookswithoutborders

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Speaking of: Proving that people surrounded by books can still be total retards: #bookswithoutborders

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Bob Colacello, whose #Warhol memoir Holy Terror I enjoyed the heck out of, auctioned off his portrait by AW.

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On escaping and not escaping #Auschwitz

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Interview Your Own Damn Self!” the #Nabokov way: http://bit.ly/nrtMZQ

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Boy, #SeanBean sure does get killed a lot.

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Transocean: the “I didn’t do it” kid of the gulf oil disaster

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#WoodyAllen on Rilke, selling out Hannah & Her Sisters, and that new movie of his

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Lovely photos of writers & their dogs by #JillKrementz (no greyhounds, I notice)

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“Using .NET is like Fred Flintstone building a database”: Why #Myspace went boom

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Why is weed wacky? #potluck

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M(ormon)BA: Mormons are the new Jews? #wedressbetter

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Does the mind rule the body, or does the body rule the Ren? #renandstimpy

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Holocaust theory: #saturdaynightreading

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Busch-basching: http://buswk.co/pJrg9k

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Peter O’Toole on being awesome. #doublephallicname

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Nothing harder than getting laughs from a room full of comedy writers: http://bit.ly/poW20I

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I miss Karen Allen, but I’m still glad I skipped that last #IndianaJones flick.

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A stoic and a zen buddhist walk into a bar…

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Neat profile of @MaerRoshan that i missed till now: #offmyradar #harhar

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#Hitchens, on the Gandhi myth

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Mob scene: #mafiaTV

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Psst! It’s a secret bookstore! #brazenhead

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Pad See Yew Later, Addiction! #ThaiRehab

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Writer procrastination: (I bought a super-cheap PC laptop and deleted everything but @ommwriter) #mustdisablewifi

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Final meal . . . Cajun-style! (via @wadecortez) http://bit.ly/rukM1M

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Signal-to-noise and old-cooterism, by @binarybits: onforb.es/nRWJTq

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Crisis in Swedish Ballet Training: #WhyILoveMonocle

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The next generation of painkillers will come in small nuggets that you heat up in a pipe and inhale. #drugdelivery

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I still think that #CCTV building’s gonna tip over

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I guess it’s a good thing Brooding Persian isn’t on Twitter. #associationsanddisassociations

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Hegemony from column B: http://bit.ly/ott95H #SinoTheTimes

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Chimpanzee that! He’s a photographer! #GoApe #monkeynews

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@SimonDoonan on the Cute & the Savage: #notanewsoapopera

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Sometimes the gorilla gets the banana, and sometimes the banana gets the gorilla. #GoApe

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Nowhere, special: #NoUtopiaWithoutToddRundgren

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Orwell vs. God

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Building the perfect #KingLear: #Shakespeare

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#WinstonGroom on #TrumanCapote: #getyourmindouttathegutter

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I just want to stay ahead of my illiterate dad: http://bit.ly/kuJPUt (okay, here are all the books I’ve read)

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Chess computers are using PEDs?

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High school time capsule, courtesy of #BourgeoisSurrdender

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In this particular instance, I’ll chose NOT to #belikeMike, thank you: http://bit.ly/iYSriE

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The accordion market gets squeezed: #bwahhaha

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John Lindsay: one suave mofo: #mayorofcool

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To end this month’s installment, I offer 1 Lap of Manhattan in 26 minutes (soundtrack set to Underworld, of course):

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