I suppose there are some folks out there who would consider the title of this book an oxymoron. Who reads classics for pleasure? I’m guessing, however, that most readers of this blog are like me—fans of the classics. And I suspect that most readers of this blog would also find some irresistible reading options in Michael Dirda’s collection of essays on sometimes overlooked classic literature.
You won’t find a lot of the usual suspects written up in this book. People already know about Dickens, Hemingway, Austen, and the Brontes. They don’t need Dirda to point the way. Dirda believes that it’s “more useful—and fun—to point readers to new authors and less obvious classics.”
One of the best things about this book is Dirda’s broad approach. He doesn’t confine himself to one era, genre, or style. He also doesn’t expect every book to be profound and meaningful. His interest is in the pleasure we can get from reading, and sometimes we just want to be thrilled or amused, not “educated.” Many of the books he profiles have the potential to both entertain and illuminate (think Frankenstein and The Time Machine), but they don’t have to.
Dirda covers Lucian and Lovecraft, Spinoza and Stoker. There are poets and playwrights, essayists and novelists from a variety of nations and eras. There are some well-known authors whose work is sometimes dismissed as lightweight (Agatha Christie, Georgette Heyer, and Jules Verne); some authors whose names were only vaguely familiar to me (Denis Diderot, Prosper Merimee, and J. K. Huysmans); and some that I’d never heard of before (Jaroslav Hasek and Xavier de Maistre). And there were, of course, lots of ideas for future reading. Here are a few authors I’m planning to explore, based (at least in part) on Dirda’s recommendation:
- Thomas Love Peacock
- Ivy Compton-Burnett
- Georgette Heyer
- Marie Madeleine de la Fayette
- ETA Hoffman
- MR James
- Prosper Merimee
- Italo Calvino
- Frances Hodgson Burnett
- Walter de le Mare
- Jules Verne
- Willa Cather
- H Rider Haggard
Have you read any of these authors? What did you think? Who are some classic authors you think deserve more love than they seem to get?
This book is my fourth 2007 selection for the Countdown challenge.