Sunday, August 30, 2015

Will Michael Dirda Convince Me to Read Science Fiction?

Michael Dirda and Maureen Corrigan (of NPR) are my two favorite book people.

I avoid the word “critic” here because Dirda insists he doesn’t have the sort of mind needed for literary analysis. However, this collection of essays, which appeared originally on The American Scholar’s homepage, shows a real genius for enthusiasm.

Because we have so much in common, he makes me want to read every single book he recommends. For starters, Mike (if I may be so bold) and I have read the correspondence of George Lyttleton and Rupert Hart-Davis. It is, as my favorite “bookman” describes it, “the book chat to end all book chat.” George Lyttleton is an Eton master who complains that no one ever writes to him and Rupert Hart Davis, publisher, biographer of Hugh Walpole and editor of the correspondence of Oscar Wilde, takes up the challenge of keeping his former teacher amused and informed. 6 volumes (collected in 3 paperbacks) later, I was sad to see George die and the correspondence end. (Though I have to say I never figured out what a “test match” was). Mike and I also yearn to hang with the same English writers: Evelyn (Waugh), Cyril (Connolly), Paddy (Leigh-Fermor) and the Mitford sisters.

Oh, and we both love Wonder Books, a used bookstore I’m familiar with because I’m lucky to have an amazingly wonderful cousin who lives in Frederick, MD. Mike buys collectibles and I do not, but the regular stock is fabulous.

Where Mike really shines is in his championing of books that most people haven’t heard of, much less read. He exhorts us all to look further than the best seller list. He loves classic adventure books, weird tales (what most of us would think of as horror fiction) and science fiction. The organizations he belongs to will give you an idea of his taste: The Baker Street Irregulars, North American Jules Verne Society, The Ghost Story Society, The Washington D.C. Panthans (devotees of Edgar Rice Burroughs) and The Lewis Carroll Society. More recently he has been made an honorary member of the Science Fiction Writers of America. He attends meetings of Capital! Capital!, the Washington D.C. Chapter of the P.G. Wodehouse Society and within the last few years has joined Mystery Writers of America.

Mike and I have one decided difference. I now buy more e-books than “real” books. (Sorry, Mike). He has many lovely things to say about the superiority of print over pixels.

“Michael Dirda still buys books,” I said to my husband. “He has boxes of them stored in his basement.”

“How old is he? Does he have people who help him carry them around?”

I do have a “real book” version of Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural edited by Phyllis Cerf Wagner and Herbert Wise. It’s a favorite of Mike’s and it is absolutely wonderful. I recommend “How Love Came to Professor Guildea” by Robert Hichens.

So while reading Browsings I’ve downloaded collections by M.R James, E.F Benson, Lord Dunsany, Margaret Oliphant and a formerly banned novel of lesbian love called Twisted Clay.

Mike is coaxing me to try science fiction, a genre for which I’ve not felt much affinity. A few of my my dearest and most intelligent friends (That’s you, Bill and Suzanne) are avid readers of speculative fiction. A former boss of mine, known for his odd way of communication, once shouted at me, apropos of nothing, “Philip K. Dick! You’d love him.” I now have a Library of America volume of Dick’s novels.

But I’m trying one of Mike’s recommendations first, Bears Discover Fire and Other Stories by Michael Bisson. The first two stories are among the best I’ve read recently.

When I read books about what other people read, I’m looking for a kindred spirit and book recommendations. In Browsings, I found both.

Thanks, Mike!

© 2015 Stephanie Patterson

1 comment:

  1. Mike would make an interesting character in a crime novel. tjstraw