Sponsored by the Kensington Park Friends of the Library
Michael Dirda will talk about his new book, “Browsings: A Year of Reading, Collecting, and Living with Books.” In these 50 light, personal essays, Dirda writes about subjects as various as favorite book titles, science fiction conventions, cursive handwriting, scholars
in old age, author’s pets and even Washington’s weeklong Pepco power outage. He welcomes questions from the audience about any aspect of books, collecting and reviewing.
Michael Dirda is a Pulitzer Prize-winning literary journalist and a weekly reviewer for The Washington Post. His previous books include the 2012 Edgar Award-winning “On Conan Doyle,” “Classics for Pleasure” and several other collections of essays, as well as the memoir “An Open Book.”
By Sarah Baker
Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post book critic Michael Dirda has spent over thirty years reviewing, reading, and writing literature. Michael’s On Conan Doyle examined the many successes of the man behind Sherlock Holmes and was awarded the 2012 Edward Award for best critical or biographical work. Dirda will be on hand at the festival on April 24 to talk about his many accomplishments in the literary world, so come ready to ask questions!
Tell us about your writing process. When do you like to write? Where? Do you use a computer or write longhand? What do you advise to deal with writer’s block?
I generally work in the morning, from about 9 until 2, on a computer. Because I try to work on something each week as well as my Thursday review for The Post, I typically write every day, Monday through Friday. I break for a late lunch, then go back to work, though things go more slowly and with less satisfaction as the day goes on. I use a desk in the corner of my bedroom, or the dining room table (which is actually a library table with tablecloth on top of it). I’ve never suffered from writer’s block; it’s not something journalists are prey to. If they are, they usually move onto something different. I occasionally I do feel reader’s weariness, if I need to review a book I don’t much like. Some days I do need to spend long hours in reading, especially since I’m quite slow, moving my lips as I sound out every word.
Why is the book nearly always better than the movie?
The traditional wisdom is that second-rate books can be first-rate movies because great books depend so much on what you might call linguistic richness or thickness. Proust is those long sentences; Joyce is that sea of many voices: No movie can fully duplicate immersion in the linguistic bath of a book.
That said, there are some first-rate books that became excellent movies, eg. Lampedusa’s The Leopard, Walter Tevis’s The Hustler, the original Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy and Brideshead Revisited.
Which non-fiction characters do you find most compelling, and why?
I’ve always been partly in love with Comtesse Sanseverina in Stendhal’s Charterhouse of Parma and Odette de Crecy in Proust. These women might be described as “adventuresses,” but then my favorite male characters are adventurers: Alan Quatermain, Sherlock Holmes, Captain Blood, James Bond. I am very fond of adventure fiction.
What do you think makes a good story?
The manner of its telling. By this I include both the narrator’s voice on the page and the intricacy or neatness of the plot.