Michael Dirda ~ Part Deux

Dirda Reception1

Michael Dirda


I received an email from one of my  legion of  loyal few Book Barmy readers regarding this post on the book of essays entitled Browsings by Michael Dirda.  This reader wondered why, as a declared Anglophile, I had failed to mention his essay called Anglophilia or perhaps I had skipped it?

Well, this sent me scurrying back to the book because I frankly didn’t remember said essay.  After reading it I realized that I must have skipped this one — you see, I did not adhere to Mr. Dirda’s introductory rule of reading his essays in order.

I hung my head in shame, and as penance, last night I again browsed through Browsings (sorry for that phrase, but you knew it was coming, didn’t you?).  I ended up re-reading several of my favorites and finding a passage or two I had fogotten.

The neglected essay Anglophilia was written during Queen Elizabeth’s 60-year jubilee and should be read in its entirety, as it is chocked full of British greatness.  Mr. Dirda admits his secret fantasy of being picked for a knighthood or an OBE.  He feels he may have earned such an honor given his lifetime of dreaming of Harrods Christmas hampers, box seats at the Grand National and pub lunches of shepherds pie.

In real life, his Anglophilia is limited to a Harris Tweed sport coat, a few Turnbull & Asser shirts (picked up at a local thrift shop) and watching Miss Marple mysteries on television.

(I watch them) less to guess the identity of the murderer than to look at the wonderful clothes and the idyllic Costwoldian village of St. Mary Mead.  My wife tells me I should check out Downton Abbey, but I gather that series might be almost too intense for my temperate nature.

Of course, most of Mr. Dirda’s Anglophilia is bookish, and he imagines his very own country house library – (my imagined room is quite the same):

…lined on three walls with mahogany bookshelves, their serried splendor interrupted only by enough space to display, above the fireplace, a pair of crossed swords or sculling oars and perhaps a portrait of some great English worthy.  The fourth wall would, of course, open on to my gardens, designed and kept up by Christopher Lloyd, with the help of Robin Lane Fox…There would definitely be a worn leather Chesterfield sofa, its back covered with a quilt (perhaps a tartan? decisions, decisions) and its corners cushioned with a half-dozen pillows embroidered with scenes from Greek mythology.  Here, I would recline and read my books.

Photographers Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg stay at the historic Greyfield Inn on Cumberland Island, GA

I found a few other passages I must read out loud to you…okay you can read them yourselves.

He ruefully muses about his book buying expenditures:

It’s true that even $5 book purchases do add up.  Yet, what after all is money?  It’s just this abstraction, a number, a piece of green paper.  But a book — a printed volume, not some pixel on a screen — is real.  You can hold it in your hand.  Feel its heft.  Admire the cover.  Realize that you now own a work of art that is 50 or 75 or even 100 years old.  My Beloved Spouse constantly berates me for failing to stew sufficiently about money.  For 30 years I diligently set aside every extra penny to cover the college educations of my three sons.  I paid off my home mortgage long ago.  I even have some kind of mutual fund.  Nonetheless, it’s hard for me to feign even minimal interest in investing or studying the stock market.  What a weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable – okay, make that profitable — way of life it is to think constantly about the bottom line.  Keogh plans, Roths, Schedule C, differed income, capital gains, and rows and rows of little numbers…The heart sinks.

And finally, I’ll leave you with more about his plan to travel around the US visiting second-hand bookstores.

(In addition to stopping at bookstores) …I’d naturally take the time to genuflect at the final resting places of writers I admire. Come lunchtime I would obviously eat in diners and always order pie for dessert, sometimes à la mode.  During the evenings sipping a local beer in some one-night cheap motel, I would examine the purchases of the day and fall asleep reading shabby, half-forgotten novels.

Thinking  I would not need or want to re-read this book, it almost went into the library donation bag.  See what I almost missed?  I stand vindicated in my board hoarding collecting.  I’m giving Browsings its permanent and rightful place on my bookshelves.


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