Monday, September 15, 2008

Book by Book

Book by Book:
Notes on Reading and Life

By Michael Dirda
Publisher: Holt Paperbacks
Published on May 2007
ISBN-13: 978-0-8050-8338-5
192 pages

Page 120: In fact, the rapport between a reader and his or her book is almost like that between lovers. The relationship grows, envelops a life, lays out new prospects and ways of seeing oneself and the future, is filled with moments of joy and sorrow; when it's over, even its memory enriches as few experiences can.

Michael Dirda, a Pulitzer-winning critic and longtime columnist for Washington Post Book World shares his love of literature and books in Book by Book. This is an effortless read and it ignites the passion for classics in me. Now, he does not only speak of classic but covers contemporary works as well, ranging from Cicero to Dr. Seuss. I had loads of fun pondering over Dirda's observations and the quotations he lavishes on his readers. Needless to say, my copy of the book is filled with marks and scribblings. After all, he encourages readers to do so and perhaps from our own reflections, we create our own reader's guide as well. Interesting idea, this one.

Life is to be fortified by many friendships. To love, and to be loved, is the greatest happiness of existence. - Sydney Smith

A poet looks at the world as a man looks at a woman. - Wallace Stevens

The above are just some of the many striking quotations that Dirda said "worth carrying around in your head for their insight, solace, and counsel." I share his thoughts.

Why do we read? Mostly for pleasure, yes. But there is also another important reason and that is to learn how to live. When the author wrote the guide, he offers us from his personal reservoir of readings on how to draw meaning from what we read. That is to mean, as readers, we turn to books in the hope to the better understanding of ourselves and better engaging with the meaning of our experiences. Self-exploration. Life, love, work, education, art, the self, death. He points us to the books that house "the knowledge most worth having."

Dirda recommends the works of Homer (The Iliad and The Odyssey), Jane Austen (Pride and Prejudice), Arthur Conan Doyle (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes), Vladimir Nabokov (Pnin and Lolita), Gustave Flaubert (Madame Bovary) and a whole load of other classic goodies. For fans of science fiction and fantasy, he suggests reading Ursula Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness, Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun, Jack Vance's The Dying Earth, or Jonathan Carroll's The Land of Laughs. (Note: I have placed an order through Kinokuniya for all the four established American classics in that particular genre.)

Oscar Wilde once said, if a book isn't worth reading over and over again, it isn't worth reading at all. Dirda agrees with him and stresses the importance of rereading, Which is why classics such as Hamlet and many others are never stale. As Dirda himself articulated: "Major works of the imagination only gradually disclose the various facets of their artistry; only slowly do they reveal the subtleties of their constructions." I am sold with the idea of building a good library filled with such timeless work of art.

Another lovely thing about the book is the list of suggestions to encourage children to read more (p. 74-76). I took the liberty to reproduce the 13 points here (mostly common sense, according to the author):

  1. Read aloud to your children
  2. Read yourself
  3. Fill your house with print
  4. Visit the library and bookstore regularly
  5. Ask older kids to read to your younger siblings
  6. Limit TC, video, and computer time
  7. Encourage any reading interest - no matter how frivolous or unacademic you find it
  8. Don't harp on "good books"
  9. Ask librarians and booksellers for advice
  10. Talk about books with your kids
  11. Encourage kids to write
  12. Take kids to meet writers at libraries and bookstores
  13. Give kids some time with books

There are so much more I would like to share about this book but it is definitely better and more worthwhile for booklovers to check out the small volume themselves. It has made me reevaluate the type of books I read and why I read them. It convicts me that I should pay serious attention to classics. Still, I love my light reading and now what I have to do is to add on some 'heavy-duty' stuff if I'm so inclined. It will be a rewarding journey, I am sure.