What can I say? I haven’t felt this transformed by a collection of essays since I read Jeffrey Steingarten’s first book, The Man Who Ate Everything. Like Steingarten, Dirda has an infectious enthusiasm for his topic (for Dirda it’s literature, instead of food); an impressive, seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of his subject; and the ability to write naturally, easily, and even humorously. This is not just a bunch of book reviews, it’s a friendly, eclectic, and well-informed tour through a whole world of literature. Above all, the reviews are advertisements for the pleasure of reading, and virtually every one had me adding at least one more title to my reading list. I’m now looking forward to discovering Herodotus (blame my classics-impaired education for that oversight), Baudelaire, Flaubert, Ronald Firbank, Avram Davidson, Randall Jarrell’s essays, and a couple dozen more. God knows when I’ll have the time for all this, but I’m looking forward to them nevertheless.
Dirda wields a tremendous amount of erudition with a light touch, and the result is readable, entertaining, and inspiring. ***** (five stars)