Michael Dirda

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About
a Fulbright Fellowship recipient, is a Pulitzer Prize–winning book critic for the Washington Post.

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MichaelDirda279 karma

Of course, anything that encourages people to read more--and, better yet--more widely is all to the good. But your point about "mystique" is an important one. I think e-book readers tend to slightly flatten the reading experience, making all books look roughly alike. I think books should be different in look and feel. Raymond Chandler ought to be read in a cheap paperback with a leggy blonde on the cover; Henry James demands some stately format like the New York Edition. I also like to read first editions, or editions close to when a book first appeared, because this adds what Walter Benjamin called a certain "aura." I also worry that reading on screens invites quick reading, almost scanning, rather than the slow immersion that serious reading requires. But I don't want to make too much of this. People probably complained when the codex first appeared and said "What was wrong with scrolls?"

MichaelDirda278 karma

My copy of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is inscribed: "To Mike, with thanks for getting me the crack cocaine in Boston, Your friend, Hunter." The inscription is genuine. We won't look into what I did for Hunter in Boston.

Edit--Here you go: http://i.imgur.com/VF2W1.jpg

MichaelDirda137 karma

I was nominated three times by the Post before I won. I really wanted the prize to impress my Dad, who rather thought I was a failure because I wasn't making tons of money. Of course, in the way of these things, he died six months before I won. I'd been leaked that I was on the shortlist, and was told I'd won a couple of days before the announcement. But the call for that was still a real kick. My mom believes in the Tao of the universe--when something good happens to you or your family, that means something bad will have to happen to balance it out. And vice versa. So I called her up and told her I'd won the Pulitzer. Long pause on the phone. Then she said, "Well, guess there's no point in going to Bingo tonight." True story.

MichaelDirda125 karma

So Neil sends me an invitation to his 50th birthday party in New Orleans. Alas, I can't go. So I write back that instead I'm sending a smarter, better-looking and younger Michael Dirda in my stead. So my son Mike went down to New Orleans, hung out with Michael Chabon and various science fiction people, and flirted with the daughter of Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain.

MichaelDirda124 karma

Expounding on that: It's not so much that I'm a critic that prevents me from reading for pleasure as that I make my living by writing about books. That means I lurch from one project to the next: A weekly review for The Washington Post, two weekly blogs for the Post and The American Scholar, a monthly column for the online Barnes and Noble Review, regular pieces for the New York Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement, and other journals, and a fair amount of introduction writing. Also this spring I taught a course at the University of Maryland on the modern adventure novel. I also read everything with a pencil in my hand, scribbing marginal comments as I go.

MichaelDirda105 karma

Mothers are always right. I yield my title to you.

MichaelDirda103 karma

Yes

MichaelDirda91 karma

The general rule used to be that B novels made A films, but that A books--because of their reliance on style and, often, interior monologue---didn't work as well on the screen, which is obviiously largely visual and external. A few great books have been made into great movies--Lampedusa's The Leopard, for instance, in the great Viscontin film with Burt Lancaster. The BBC Pride and Prejudice was really pretty good, too. I think the recent BBC Sherlock series has done a terrific job of translating Holmes and Watson to the 21st century.

MichaelDirda90 karma

Hey, it's a big world. I do think the Nobel is useful in reminding Americans that there's a lot of writing in the world that isn't in English. We should read moer widely, look more often at books in translation, and not be overly insular. But I think writers can make universals out of localities--think of Faulkner who only wrote about a small county in Missisiippi. I'd like to see more attention paid to writers like Gene Wolfe, Ursula Le Guin and John Crowley as major AMerican authors and deserving attention from internatiional award committes.

MichaelDirda89 karma

I'm not at all a speed reader--I move my lips while I read. But I am dogged and I do like to read. I even like to write, which probably sounds even more unlikely. And you're right: I don't do a lot that other people do. Very few movies. Almost no television. I try to keep my interactions with computers restricted to writing and emails. Hence, no Facebook or social networking, which I regard as time-sinks. I come from a working class family and as a kid I really wanted to feel at home in the world, and through reading books I gained something of that sense of being educated, even--dread word--cosmopolitan. But mostly I like learning things and books to me are still the primary way of doing that.