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Classics for Pleasure
By Michael Dirda
Harcourt Books / ISBN: 978-0-15101-251-0
For those who don't know, Michael Dirda is a Pulitzer-winning literary critic, author of several of those "guides to challenging books for those who don't usually like challenging books;" and now we have his latest, 2007's Classics for Pleasure, essentially more of the same, this time picking even more obscure works precisely because they haven't been featured yet in any of his previous books. And as far as that's concerned, I suppose it's fine for what it is, although I always seem to have the same problem with guides like these: they tend to be more valuable to me as simple laundry lists of books I should check out, instead of for the essays explaining why I should be checking them out in the first place. And so as a result, I found only some of the short (three- to five-page) write-ups here interesting, mostly when he looks at titles from antiquity and is merely explaining what exactly is going on in them to begin with; but I found other large sections of the book dull and pretentious to the point of being unreadable, especially when he's trying to convince us to care about this or that highly obscure Victorian poet or modern academic novelist. Also, despite his many exhortations to the contrary, be warned this is a book primarily designed for academes who already have a broad knowledge of literature going into it; Dirda in fact has a bad habit of referencing hundreds upon hundreds of other writers in these essays without giving us even a clue about who they are or how the comparison is apt to begin with, for example like in this throwaway line from his write-up about French author Marie-Madeleine de la Fayette -- "This short book is, in some ways, the novelistic equivalent of a tragedy by Racine, and the agonies felt by the princess are no less acute than those of Titus" (a great observation if you happen to already know who Racine and Titus are, utterly f-cking pointless if you don't). It's one of those books that will immensely appeal to some, and you know already if you're one of those people; if you're not, it can be very easily skipped.
Out of 10: 7.2
By Terry Lamsley
PS Publishing / ISBN: 978-1-90630-157-6
This is one of a whole pile of books I recently received from our friends over at British genre press PS Publishing, and one that took me by surprise: although gorgeously produced in a full-color hardback edition, the story itself is barely over 60 pages long, a rather ho-hum horror tale about a computer nerd who somehow manages to "hack" into the afterlife, with disastrous consequences. As such, then, it's hard to give R.I.P. a traditional review, other than to say that it's fine for what it is, a couple of hours of creepy entertainment for those who are already fans of the genre; but like all the rest of PS's titles, the main reason to purchase this is because it looks exquisite, an attention to visual detail rarely seen in the world of small presses, a fact which has been getting this publisher more and more attention these days. I have three other books by PS now all lined up for future review, each of which look just as great as this one; I look forward now to seeing whether the stories themselves become any more substantial than this little wisp of a tale.
Out of 10: 8.0