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Literary journalist Michael Dirda to present essay collection in Savannah

  • Michael Dirda

Literary journalist Michael Dirda to present essay collection in Savannah

11 Feb 2016

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Literary journalist Michael Dirda is almost as well-traveled as he is well-read, but his Savannah Book Festival appearance marks his first visit to our city. Like many visitors, though, his first impression of Savannah came long ago from “The Book.”

“I’m a friend of John Berendt’s, and I used to talk to him about Savannah. My impressions of the city are partly taken from his book. It certainly seems like a colorful place, and I’m looking forward to seeing it.”

Dirda comes to town to share his own book, "Browsings," a collection of weekly essays he wrote in 2012 and 2013 for The American Scholar. To understand "Browsings," it helps to know a little bit about the author.

Though he is a Pulitzer Prize-winning book critic, Dirda prefers the softer term literary journalist, and in thinking about himself opts for bookman.

“In some way I’m a critic or a reviewer,” he says, “but I think of a bookman as somebody who loves books and whose interest is in sharing that love of books with other people. My reviews tend to be appreciations. They tend to be enthusiastic.”

This is a welcome and refreshing approach to reviewing literature, and it seems to derive naturally from Dirda’s personality.

“I don’t like the kind of Olympian critical voice some people have when they write about books. I love to read, and I want other people to feel that enthusiasm and passion I have, and maybe go check out some of the books I recommend.”

While he has spent the better part of forty years writing about books, "Browsings" is somewhat of a departure. The essays are more personal in nature, crossing over into the realm of memoir more often than not.

“'Browsings' was where I decided I would bring my own self very much to the fore, and see how that worked. People seem to have liked that. I worried that it would be too self-congratulatory, too cutesy. I worked hard to ironically undercut myself.”

Similarly, Dirda balances his erudition with a love of middle and lowbrow literature, with a particular soft spot for swashbuckling. He perfectly sums his taste up in the third chapter of "Browsings," called Armchair Adventures: “Fiction is a house with many stately mansions, but also one in which it is wise, at least sometimes, to swing from the chandeliers.”

It’s this boyish charm, when Dirda’s enthusiasm gets the best of him, that marks many of the best essays in the collection. Part of his success as a journalist is his big heart. That, and the wisdom to know that the hard road is also the happy one.

He reflects, “There’s nothing easier in the world to do than write a vicious, eviscerating review of a book. It’s really, really easy. Writing appreciations that don’t sound sappy, that’s much harder.”

In short, "Browsings" is a book that makes you want to read. Its only flaw might be that you’ll never have time to read all the books Dirda recommends.