Dirda on Books

Michael Dirda
Washington Post Book World Columnist
Wednesday, April 11, 2007; 2:00 PM

Prize-winning critic Michael Dirda took your questions and comments concerning literature, books and the joys of reading.

Each week Michael Dirda's name appears -- in attractively large type -- in The Post's Book World section, where he writes about new novels, neglected classics, fat biographies, European literature, fantasy, science fiction, thrillers, poetry, works of scholarship, the occasional children's book, almost anything under the rubric of "arts and letters." Although he earned a Ph.D. in comparative literature from Cornell, Dirda has somehow managed to retain, well into middle age, a myopic 12-year-old's exuberant passion for reading.

As he has for the past 40 years, Dirda says he still spends inordinate amounts of time mourning his lost youth, listening to music (classical, jazz, oldies, country and western), and daydreaming ("my only real hobby"). He claims that the happiest hours of his week are spent sitting in front of a computer, writing. His most recent books include "Readings: Essays and Literary Entertainments" (Indiana hardcover, 2000; Norton paperback, 2003), his self-portrait of the reader as a young man, "An Open Book" (Norton, 2003) and a collection of his essays and reviews titled "Bound to Please" (Norton, 2005) Last year he brought out "Book by Book: Notes on Reading and Life" (Henry Holt, 2006) and this fall Harcourt will publish "Classics for Pleasure."

Dirda joined The Post in 1978, having grown up in the working-class steel town of Lorain, Ohio and graduated with highest honors in English from Oberlin College. His favorite writers are Stendhal, Chekhov, Jane Austen, Montaigne, Evelyn Waugh, T.S. Eliot, Nabokov, John Dickson Carr, Joseph Mitchell, P.G. Wodehouse and Jack Vance. He thinks the greatest novel of all time is either Murasaki Shikubu's "The Tale of Genji" or Proust's "A la recherche du temps perdu." In a just world he would own Watteau's painting "The Embarkation for Cythera." Dirda is a member of several literary associations, including the Baker Street Irregulars and The Ghost Story Society. Despite a penchant for quiet and solitude, he enjoys giving talks, teaching, and traveling. People tell him that he can be pretty funny for a guy who usually has his nose in a book.

(He also thinks he can be pretty funny at times...)

An archive of his reviews is available here.

An archive of his discussions is available here.

Dirda was online Wednesday, April 11, at 2 p.m.

A transcript follows.


Michael Dirda: Welcome to Dirda on Books -- though sometimes, when the shelves and the boxes around her start to grow precarious, I think the program will soon be Books on Dirda. That said, it's a somewhat uncertain day here in Washington -- warmer after a cold spell, but cloudy, with rain threatening. It is, in short, a perfect day for a hair cut. What could be better than to sit at Natale's barber shop, look while waiting at the latest men's magazines, listen to Natale talk about his garden or Sicily, and eventually lean back in the chair and feel the peculiar restfulness of scissors, smell the fragrance of aftershave and talc, feel a little bit sleepy. . . ?

I've sometimes thought that a good collection could be made of short stories set in barber shops. V.S. Pritchett, Ring Lardner, several others. . . .

But enough of this presumptive bliss. Right now, it's time to look at this week's questions about the world of books and reading.


Chapel Hill, NC (Audio Book Girl): Hi, Michael.

A couple of observations on this dreary afternoon: Fans of the Venetian detective Aurelio Zen should know that his creator, Michael Dibdin, has died. I'm listening to Penelope Liveley's "Moon Tiger." She is a very astute observer, and her writing reflects it. She's pretty prolific; do you especially like anything else?


Michael Dirda: Oh, I'm so sorry to hear about Dibdin. He wrote me one of the nicest letters of my reviewing career to thank me for a piece on his light-hearted mystery "Cosi van Tutte." He was much admired, though occasionally berated for his Sherlock Holmes mystery in which the great detective . . . Well, I shouldn't say.

Penelope Lively is a writer I know mainly as a children's book author. I meant to read "Moon Tiger" when it came out, but didn't.

Isn't it interesting, by the way, how books have their moment? If you don't read a certain title at the time it's "hot," you tend never to bother with it again. For instance, who would read, say, Tom Wolfe's "A Man in Full" now? Some books, of course, possess enough originality that we will go back to them. For instance, I suspect that all of Gore Vidal's generally fine historical novels will gradually fade away, but that a sport like "Myra Breckinridge" might well survive.


Joshua Bell: Since every chat seems to want to bring up Weingarten's article-- which was awesome (sorry those who didn't like it)...

Let me ask -- would you have stopped?

Also, what is the best history of classical music out there? If one wanted to learn more. Is there such a thing?

(I know the point of the article was not to lay judgment on non-classical enthusiasts, but thought I'd ask anyway)

Michael Dirda: For those not in the know: the young virtuoso Joshua Bell played his Strad at a subway entrance in D.C. and most people never really noticed.

I always stop and listen to street musicians, of any sort. Indeed, I only give money to musicians or sidewalk artists -- you don't see chalk art much these days. Those who simply stick out a hand and ask for spare change are ignored by me, largely because of their number.

I think I would have recognized that the playing was superb, but not necessarily that it was someone of world-class caliber.

As for good histories of classical music: Donald Grout's is the longtime academic standard; the four or five volumes in the Penguin History are good. Edward J. Dent's classic book on opera is still classic. I think a lot can be learned from reading the Penguin Guides to Classical Music, the Rough Guide to CM, and various books by people like Jim Svejda, Ted Libby and even Norman Lebrecht (who is very iconoclastic). One of my favorite books on music is B.H. Haggin's "Music for One Who Enjoys Hamlet" (in the original edition that "one" was "Man.") Haggin is wonderfully opinionated and fun to read -- little wonder he was a favorite of Randall Jarrell. You can then go on to his "Listener's Guide to Music." Both books are wildly out of date when it comes to recordings, but still offer shrewd comment. Among contemporaries, one can always read, with pleasure and enlightenment, the program notes of Richard Freed, the reviews of Tim Page, the books of Jack Sullivan, the essays of Robert Craft, the diaries and essays of Ned Rorem.

But the best way to learn about classical music is simply to listen to it. Find a piece or composer you like and build on that. For me, it was "Tristan and Isolde" -- the music was so sexual -- and the simple and beautiful Mozart piano concertos that got me started.

In "Book by Book" I have a few pages about music and musicians.


Oak Park, Ill.: Having just come from the barber shop, and staring at my own precarious pile of boxes, I have a question: when is it okay to finally say "I can let this book go?" We are downsizing, and I've managed to fill up every inch of bookshelf, and will have considerably less available in the new house.

Hope this snow stops soon.

Michael Dirda: Letting books go -- it's not always easy, and I'm not the best follower of my own advice, but I would suggest this:

1) Can I replace the book easily if I decide it was a mistake to let it go?

2) Paperbacks are generally expendable, unless there are personal associations.

3) Why am I keeping this book? Do I plan to reread it? Do I need it for my work?

4) Try to imagine your bookshelves as a kind of self-portrait. The books they contain should be ones that are truly important to you.

Hope this helps. Alternately, I don't suppose the spouse and children are expendable?


Portland, Ore.: Just a comment on "Moon Tiger." It won the Booker back in the '80s. Prize lists of all sorts (National Book Award, Hugo, Edgar) will always provide new readers as they are great reading lists.

Michael Dirda: Yes, this is generally so. Prizes nearly always go to worthy books, though only occasionally to the best books.


Houston: I am completely loving Lafferty's "900 Grandmothers." It's beautifully written fantasy short stories....yet not so fantastical as to be unaccessible to the average reader.

Do you know it?

Michael Dirda: Yes. I'm a great fan of R.A. Lafferty -- in fact, I was on the World Fantasy Awards committee that got him a Lifetime Achievement Award. Isn't it "Slow Tuesday Night" about a speeded up world, where people live entire lifetimes in a day? Or is that the one -- my memory temporarily failing -- about a crowded world where people only get to live one day a week and spend the rest of the time in hibernation? Then a guy from one day of the week falls for a girl from another -- but they can never really meet. If these aren't Lafferty stories, then I need to start writing them.


Houston: Are you familiar with Grossman's "Life And Fate"?

Michael Dirda: No, just Dirda's "Life and Fate." Neither as happy or successful as he would have liked.


Irvine, Calif.: Apropos of opening comments, when I was young and smart in college I developed what I called the "manure pile" (but used the four letter word) theory of literary excellence. The idea was that the lovely flowers of the great literary epochs grew on a bed of published and unpublished rotting detritus of the day -- the more and fresher the manure the better the flowers. Now I'm not so sure. I worry that the flowers are being buried or even stifled in their inception under the overburdening tonnage of literary manure.

Michael Dirda: I'm not quite clear on how this works. Great works do sometimes build on the foundation of lesser works. And in Marxian way enough quantity can become quality: If the science fiction genre produces enough stories, some of them will be masterpieces.

As for today: I know what you mean, but for 200 years or more people have thought that too much was being published. Or perhaps longer: Remember Ecclesiastes -- Of the making of many books, there is no end.


Plano, Tex.: Michael,

Have you read Colleen McCulough's "Rome" series? Before I take on what appears to be a substantial time investment, I wanted to get your take on them.


Michael Dirda: Nope. They look awfully long to me, and there are, what? five or six volumes. I'd rather go back and read Suetonius's "Lives of the Twelve Caesars." Still, I remember that the reviews were always surprisingly positive.


Writing: Michael,

SHOULD writing be a struggle? I know I have a somewhat autobiographical story (along with several others) and it is good and I STILL struggle to get it out. What is wrong with me? I have plenty of time (not working right now with blessing of the husband) and yet I still waste time and avoid doing it.

I get so frustrated because people that are probably borderline mentally challenged finish writing books and actually get them published. If they can do it -- can't we all??

Part of my problem is that I read the greatest books ever written instead of the nonsense that is written today so I tend to have a very high mark to reach.

Is it a real struggle or am I just not writer material??

Michael Dirda: Most writers find it a struggle, of one sort or another, "the awful wrestling with words." As the sportswriter Red Smith used to say, "writing is easy: You just sit down at a typewriter and open a vein."

Just today I received an e-mail from a distinguished English novelist who said, in passing, "the only thing harder than writing is not writing." To be a writer is, in truth, often a question of character. Do you have the discipline, the focus, the persistence to see the job through? Only you can answer such questions. If your story matters to you and you want to share it, you will write.

That said, it can help to have some self-imposed deadlines. Say to yourself: I will just write 1,000 words a day -- no more -- and when I'm done, I can stop. If I'm finished at 10 in the morning, I can go shopping or read a book or do whatever I care to. But if I haven't finished my thousand words, I will sit here until I do.

Flannery O'Connor used to go to her desk every morning and sit there from 9 to 12. She says she didn't have to write if she didn't want to, but she couldn't leave the desk and she couldn't do anything else during that time. So -- she produced some of the greatest American short stories.

Do you have a regular nook or office to work in? You need to clear your space as well as your mind. You might also try outlining your book or just listing ideas or scenes you want to use -- sometimes these sorts of exercise will start the process going.

In my own case, as a journalist, I work against deadline. They help me focus and concentrate. Usually I have projects lined up and so I need to finish one so that I can move on to the next. So use the idea of deadlines, small daily increments, enforced self-discipline and see what happens.


Bell is not even the best: Weingarten's article was fine. He obviously does not listen to very much "classical" music. Bell is okay but serious listeners can rattle off better violinists. My favorite is Anne Sophie Mutter.

So his article will introduce people to "classical" music (that is a general term) and people will go buy one of his CDs because it sounds "pretty" and classical won't really become more relevant, important and popular. Bummer but typical.

Books move along this same path. Someone deems a book a great read ("East of Eden" for instance) and then that book becomes the hot read. Yet better books sit on the shelves at the bookstore and library. Bummer but typical.

Michael Dirda: Good points. But people will always argue about virtuosity, Anne Sophie is a dazzling violinist -- and dazzling to look at too -- but she can be a little bit too flamboyant at times, going for the razzle dazzle over a more quiet mastery.

My all-time favorite violinists include Nathan Milstein, Jascha Heifetz and David Oistrakh. Many others too. But in general I prefer piano music, if I had to choose a solo instrument. Sviatoslav Richter is the god here, and Martha Argerich -- despite what I just said about razzle dazzle -- the goddess.

But this is a huge subject. And I have the records and CDs to prove it.

On the other hand, most recently I've been listening to early Dinah Washington (I also love female jazz vocalists).


Freising, Germany: One of the best reads that I've had in recent times was Annie Proulx's, "The Shipping News."

Can you recommend anything that combines maritime life with, perhaps, tales of whaling and the high seas? I've not yet read "Moby-Dick," and that's high on my list, but what else is worthy of attention?

Michael Dirda: Tales of whaling and the high seas, other than "Moby-Dick"? Hmmm. Let's just imagine you said maritime life. You could try the old nonfiction classic, Thor Heyerdahl's "Kon-Tiki," about crossing the ocean on a raft? Or Richard Henry Dana's "Two Years Before the Mast." Or Jules Verne's "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea." Or that book Ashcroft recommends, "The Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst." Or Jonathan Raban's "Coasting," about sailing around Great Britain. I'm leaving off all the adventure stories by the likes of C.S. Forester, Nordhoff and Hall and Patrick O'Brian.


As the sportswriter Red Smith used to say, "writing is easy: You just sit down at a typewriter and open a vein." : thanks for that memory: I so miss hearing him. Needed a smile on my face today.

Michael Dirda: You're welcome.


Tysons Corner, Va.: Re: Joan Didion's "The Year of Magical Thinking." I had a problem with it.

Call me callous, but every time she made a connection with me in terms of common human trials and emotions, she'd derail the entire affair by commenting matter of factly on her life among the wealthy. Purchasing houses once owned by famous artists, attending glittery parties with literary stars, etc. I know those are the circles in which Didion and her husband ran, but I couldn't help but thinking that her sorrows and suffering were not exactly like everyone else's, given her station in life.

Sorry to say it. I know it reflects poorly on me. But that's more what I'll remember from "The Year of Magical Thinking" than anything else.

Michael Dirda: This isn't an unreasonable comment. There is definitely a privileged rich-girl streak in Didion's work, though her prose style and intelligence usually offer abundant compensations.


So his article will introduce people to "classical" music (that is a general term) and people will go buy one of his CDs because it sounds "pretty" and classical won't really become more relevant, important and popular. Bummer but typical. : this is the same superior attitude that got me frustrated with the Oprah comments last week. These superior types say they want the masses to read better books, but when the masses try to do that, the superior types find a new reason to criticize it. It must not be okay if the masses want to learn about it. They must try to find a way to feel superior to the masses. Do we want more people exposed to good reading and good music, or do we just like saying how superior we are? Seems like the masses are dammed if they do and dammed if they don't.

Michael Dirda: Or even damned for that matter.

Good books, music and art should be available to as wide an audience as possible, and that's probably as much as can be reasonably asked for. If you believe in certain kinds of books, art, music, you can sometimes provide education into their respective merits. But people vary, tastes differ. What we should try to foster is a receptive spirit. Give things a chance, try to understand what others see in them. My wife loves Cezanne, while I merely like him. She works for the National Gallery of Art -- does this mean I should come round to her view? Not necessarily. But I should listen to it, and find out if she is seeing things in his work that I am missing.

"East of Eden" is a good read, but it's not the masterpiece that "The Grapes of Wrath" is, just as "The Grapes of Wrath" isn't the masterpiece that "War and Peace" is. But you may feel differently. A recent book about aesthetic judgment by John Carey largely supports your take on the arts, that we should be more open to the subjective and populist.


Stevens Point, Wisc. (Snowland USA):"Or is that the one--my memory temporarily failing--about a crowded world where people only get to live one day a week and spend the rest of the time in hibernation."

Unsure about the others, but I believe that this one is Philip Jose Farmer's "The Sliced-Crossways Only-on-Tuesday World."

Michael Dirda: Yes, that's it. "Slow Tuesday" is the speeded up tale, and "Sliced Crosswise" is the one-day-a-week tale. For some reason, I've had this same confusion at least two or three times previous with these stories. I wonder why.


Minnetonka, Minn.: Michael,

I liked your idea of bookshelves as a self-portrait. Terry Belanger once wrote a pamphlet called "Lunacy and the Arrangement of Books." The idea being not only what you accumulate or collect but how you shelve them. I almost never leave a used book store without picking up something. I often find that at home I have several books that relate and the challenge is to find space to accommodate. Any further thoughts?

Michael Dirda: One of my endearing or annoying traits is that I can pick up almost any book and find a reason to read it or own it. Having read a lot, I know that Claud Cockburn was Graham Greene's cousin, so shouldn't I buy that copy of "Beat the Devil," the basis of the campy thriller? If I find a book with the ownership name Paul M.A. Linebarger, I know this is the real name of the great science fiction author Cordwainer Smith. And shouldn't I own that old bestseller "The Fifty Minute Hour" -- a collection of psychiatric cases -- because the most famous piece in it is about a young boy with strange visions who has long been thought to be the young Linebarger? And so it goes.

My own library, a somewhat grandiose term, for a house and storage unit full of books, is a reflection of my youthful Faustian desire not to feel provincial, to be able to appreciate the best in human culture. I have an old bumper sticker I value a lot. It reads "You can be a connoisseur and a rebel!" My ideal.


About "East of Eden": I just have to jump in and defend "East of Eden" as a great book. Steinbeck gets a bum wrap because his style is straightforward and easy to understand. That does not make him a lesser writer. "East of Eden" is an important American novel and well-worth a spot near the top of anyone's reading list.

Michael Dirda: Okay.


Bethesda, Md.: Any suggestions regarding where to begin reading the "Jeeves and Wooster" series of short stories and novels? Should I just grab an omnibus and jump in?

Michael Dirda: Yes, just read the stories as they come at you in the omnibus. Mostly they start with the first ones published and go forward in time.

Many people do believe Wodehouse's greatest work can be found in the Blandings Castle stories and novels. And I have a soft spot for the Mulliner tall tales, especially "Strychnine in the Soup," "Honeysuckle Cottage" and the one about detective Adrian Mulliner..


Lafferty: In case other chatters (like me) had never heard of R.A. Lafferty before today, you can read that story you mentioned here.

I just did and now I'm going out to buy one of his books!

Michael Dirda: Thanks.


Palookaville: Michael --

Here's a recommendation for noir-lit lovers: "In a Lonely Place," by Dorothy Hughes, which was the basis for the superb Humphrey Bogart-Gloria Grahame film. It's one of those "mind of a killer" books, sort of like "The Killer Inside Me" or the "Ripley" books, but better than the former and perhaps the equal of the latter (I'm not done with it yet). Do you know it?

Also, many thanks for the recommendation a long time ago for the Jeremy Irons-read audio book of "Lolita." It's quite remarkable. Irons really has had quite a career, having brilliantly played world-class obsessives (Humbert and Swann, as well as the twin brother gynecologists in "Dead Ringers") as well as continental sleaze bags (HH and Klaus von Bulow) and other nasty types (Scar).

Michael Dirda: I know of Hughes's novel, but have never read it. In truth, I'm not even sure I've seen the movie -- if I did, it was as a kid.

Yes, Irons is wonderfully varied and yet ever himself. "Brideshead Revisited" and "Reversal of Fortune" are terrific showcases for him.


Ashcroft, BC (BR): A book that combines life on the high seas with whaling: sounds like you need to read "In the Heat of the Sea" by Nathaniel Philbrick, which tells the true story of the whale ship "Essex", the wrecking of which inspired "Moby-Dick".

Also excellent is "Death on the Ice" by Cassie Brown, about the "Newfoundland" sealing disaster in 1914.

"The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst" is indeed brilliant, and you might also like "Resolute" by Martin Sandler, about the strange final unmanned voyage of one of the ships involved in the search for Franklin, its discovery at sea, and what became of it afterwards (a desk from her timbers graces the Oval Office to this day).

Michael Dirda: Many thanks. Of course, a recent thriller/horror novel involves the Franklin expedition: Dan Simmons's much-admired "The Terror."


Ashcroft, BC (BR): Who was it who said that there are books for the moment, and books for all time? Too bad we so often can't tell the difference until many years after the event.

British humorist Miles Kington has a column in "The Independent" today in which he quotes a friend as saying: "There's a general feeling that people read one book at a time. I don't believe this. So go to your bedside table and honestly tell me what books there are there. All of them. Not the books you would like people to think you were reading. The ones you are really reading. Go to your bedside table and read out the titles." So Kington takes a look and finds he has 10 books on the go, all half-finished, and his friend says that's about par for the course.

So, what's on your own stack of half-finished bedside table books? My own yields Christopher Moore's "Lamb," Edgar Brau's "Casablanca and Other Stories," Guy Vanderhaege's "The Last Crossing," Jeremy Dyson's "What Happens Next," and Haruki Murakami's "Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman."

Michael Dirda: I really do only read one book at a time. I have books scattered around my bedside table, but I don't tend to read them, as sometimes think about reading them. I might read a preface to a reissue of some classic, or possibly an essay or review from a magazine or collection, but I don't sit down and open more than one book to page one and start reading. I like to keep my attention focused, partly because I'm usually going to write something about what I read, and so I like to keep the book in my mind, to mull it over, to keep the pot boiling.

Concomitantly, I very seldom reread books, unless I have to teach them or write again about the same author or love them very much. With such an attitude it hardly makes sense to have a library, but much of mine is full of books I haven't read and want to, or books I have read and will need to refer to again. Of course, when I do reread a book, I'm always surprised at how little I remember and how fine the book really is.


Washington, D.C.: Where is this barber shop of which you speak? My husband is desperately in need, though he won't admit it.

Michael Dirda: Silver Spring.


Lexington: Michael, "Revolutionary Road," by Richard Yates, written in the late 50s is one of the first and still significant looks at the American Dream and suburbia; it's a tragedy of expectations and disappointments and how a marriage is affected. Realistic in tone and style (and thus out of style for the '60s and '70s ) it has never been a favorite of academia. It has been kept in print by being recommended by writers and critics for its poignant look at a modern marriage ruined by unrealistic expectations. It will soon have a movie cover to promote it as well as Sam Mendes (of "American Beauty") is directing Kate and Leonardo. Well, we'll see! It will at least, hopefully, turn more readers to a wonderful book!

Michael Dirda: Many thanks. Who is Kate? Leonardo, I know, is Di Caprio. The closest that comes to my mind is Cate Blanchett.


New York, N.Y.: Just thought I'd let people know that the poll for The Bookseller / Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year is up on thebookseller.com website. The nominees are:

"Tattooed Mountain Women and Spoon Boxes of Daghestan"

"How Green Were the Nazis?"

"D. Di Mascio's Delicious Ice Cream: D. Di Mascio of Coventry - An Ice Cream Company of Repute, with an Interesting and Varied Fleet of Ice Cream Vans"

"The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification"

"Proceedings of the Eighteenth International Seaweed Symposium"

"Better Never To Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence"

Previous winners

- "Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice" (1978)

- "Natural Bust Enlargement with Total Power: How to Increase the other 90 per cent of your Mind to Increase the Size of your Breasts" (1985)

- "Oral Sadism and the Vegetarian Personality" (1986)

- "Lesbian Sadomasochism Safety Manual" (1990)

- "Living with Crazy Buttocks" (2002)

- "Bombproof your Horse" (2004)

Michael Dirda: Are these actual books?


Lenexa, Kan.: A neighbor just returned from a business trip to Monterey -- came back talking about Steinbeck. Turned out, he'd never read "Tortilla Flat," so I picked him up a copy and decided to reread it myself (for the fifth time). I've never been a big rereader of fiction (exceptions: "Tortilla Flat," "On the Road," "Lolita," "Death in Venice," Salinger, and Jean Shepherd come readily to mind). QUESTIONS: What're your feelings about "Tortilla Flat"? What books have you probably reread the most? Thanks again.

Michael Dirda: Books I reread -- hmmmm. Like many people, I enjoy the books of my youth: Sherlock Holmes stories, classic horror fiction (Lovecraft, M.R. James, Blackwood), but also lots of poetry, Ford Madox Ford's "The Good Soldier," Nabokov's "Lolita," Thoreau's "Walden," the works of S.J. Perelman and James Thurber, Shakespeare, Dante, Thomas Browne, Cyril Connolly's "The Unquiet Grave," "Pride and Prejudice."

A lot of the books in the forthcoming "Classics for Pleasure" are books that I've reread off and on throughout my life.


Kate: Kate = Kate Winslett = Mrs. Sam Mendes.

Michael Dirda: Thanks. Cate Blanchett and Kate Winslet -- who could tell them apart? Not I.


Columbia, Mo.: Your introduction mentions that you enjoy listening to country music. Can you recommend non-fiction or fiction that has country music integral to the plot?

Michael Dirda: Hmmm. The first book that comes to mind is Donald Westlake's humorous "Baby, Would I Lie?" There must be others. But mostly I like the fact that so much country music tells little stories of heartbreak. Take Reba McEntire's "Whoever's in New England" -- that may not be the title -- or Lorrie Morgan's "Five Minutes." Wonderful stuff.

And, oops, I see it's almost 3:30 -- time to stop and go have that haircut. Until next next, keep reading!


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