Classics for Pleasure

Washington Post book critic and Pultizer Prize winner states his intention plainly: he wants to introduce readers to great works of literature that will give them pleasure. And in his aptly titled new book he does so with great gusto and aplomb. That alone separates him from most academic writers, while his sense of "classic" is also a far cry from what you might expect, since Dirda displays a genuine love of so-called genre fiction -- the everyday magic of Frances Hodgson Burnett, the cracked visions of Philip K. Dick, and the creepy forebodings of M. R. James. A self-confessed "passionate reader," as he's demonstrated in a number of previous books as well, Dirda once again surveys an amazing range of literary works: from poets (Pope, Pound, Ovid) to philosophers (Heraclitus, Spinoza, Kierkegaard), with a few playwrights (Marlowe and Webster) thrown in for good measure. Dirda's breadth of vision will humble even the most voracious readers, who are certain to meet some unfamiliar faces in this crowd, which includes Abolqasem Ferdowsi, Marie-Madeleine de La Fayette, and Girolamo Cardano, to name just a few. Better yet, Dirda reminds us of why we treasure the authors we do -- he celebrates the "civilized amusements" of Max Beerbohm, the "heartbreakingly pure voice" of Sappho, and the "grave and august power" of the Beowulf poet. Dirda's generous aesthetic spans writers as different as the genial Erasmus and the misanthropic Louis-Ferdinand C‚line: he admires both the complex prose of Cicero and the clean narratives of Dashiell Hammett. In short, Dirda's a critic of Whitmanic proportions: he contains multitudes. -Thomas DePietro

April 17: "In less than three years, both GM and Chrysler would be bankrupt, and a resurgent Ford would wow Wall Street..."

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

advertisement
Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.