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Dirda on Books
From, 8/10/05

Byline: Michael Dirda

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

Submit your questions and comments before or during today's discussion.

Each week Dirda's name appears -- in unmistakably big letters -- on page 15 of The Post's Book World section. If he's not reviewing a hefty literary biography or an ambitious new novel, he's likely to be turning out one of his idiosyncratic essays or rediscovering some minor Victorian classic. Although he earned a Ph.D. in comparative literature from Cornell, Dirda has somehow managed to retain a myopic 12-year-old's passion for reading. Heparticularly enjoys comic novels, intellectual history, locked-room mysteries, innovative fiction of all sorts.

These days, Dirda says he still spends inordinate amounts of time mourning his lost youth, listening to music (Glenn Gould, Ella Fitzgerald, Diana Krall, The Tallis Scholars), and daydreaming ("my only real hobby"). He claims that the happiest hours of his week are spent sitting in front of a computer, working. His most recent books include "Readings: Essays and Literary Entertainments" (Indiana hardcover, 2000; Norton paperback, 2003) and his self-portrait of the reader as a young man, "An Open Book: Coming of Age in the Heartland" (Norton, 2003). In the fall of 2004 Norton will bring out a new collection of his essays and reviews. He is currently working on several other book projects, all shrouded in themost complete secrecy.

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." He is a member of the Baker Street Irregulars, The Ghost Story Society, and The Wodehouse Society. He enjoys teaching and was once a visiting professor in the Honors College at the University of Central Florida, which he misses to this day.


Michael Dirda: Welcome to Dirda on Books! It's a bright, sunny day here in Washington, without too much humidity for a change. In fact, it's turning into a perfect summer afternoon. Of course, I'm inside busy reading a book--because in a couple of weeks I will be back at the mine-face, looking for literary ore among the shale. Hmmm. That image doesn't really work. How about this one? I'll be back reviewing every week in Book World.

I've been out of sorts lately--restless in spirit, antsy--but also facing a lot of revision on my next book. Sigh.

Okay. Must shake off this grogginess, and become bright and witty, if only for an hour. I can manage that, I think. Remember Roy Scheider in that movie about Bob Fosse--Every morning he gets up, looks in the mirror, drops some Visine in his bleary-eyes, and wanly smiles: "It's showtime!" Well, it's showtime!


Near Union Station, Washington, D.C.: Just wanted to say how much I loved reading your essay in The Hill on your semester teaching at McDaniel College. It was gratifying to hear someone else's first impressions of the campus and Westminster as well (my hometown), and it made me nostalgic about my time there (Hoover Library was a favorite place of mine as well, and one of the things that initially attracted me to the school). And you're really lucky to have gotten unlimited check-outs at the library...some of my friends could've used that! (I'm thinking of the one that somehow racked up over a hundred dollars in late fees.)

PS Did you get to meet Bob Sapora? What a character! He actually took a picture of the whole class on the first day so he'd have a record of who he taught. He also dubbed me an "honorary English major" even though I only audited Chaucer with him during the spring semester of my senior year.

Michael Dirda: Thanks for the kind words. Alas, no, I didn't see Sapora during this spring, though I think we met once before, when I came to McDaniel to give a talk. He was on leave and has now retired.

An honorary English major,eh? That's probably a better fate than being a real English major. Just kidding. Sort of. My middle son has declared English as his prospective major in college, to the despair of his mother who wants him to go into business or law or something lucrative.


Arlington, Va.: In the past you have expressed admiration for the Oxford History of the U.S. series. Will you review the forthcoming volume or do you know anything about it? Thanks

Michael Dirda: I reviewed the volume on 1945 to, I think, 1970, which was first-rate. Several of the others--on colonial history and the Civil War, in particular--have won prizes. I won't be reviewing the next volume, though. But it is a set well worth reading.


Lenexa, Kan.: Mr. Dirda: An overweight friend of mine writing recently in his fanzine made an impassioned plea for "gluttony." It reminded me that once the NYTBR--partly as an antidote at the time to William Bennett's bestsellers on virtue--invited famous writers (Pynchon on Sloth, Updike on Lust, Byatt on Envy...) to defend the Seven Deadly Sins. Which one would you choose to defend given the choice? Thanks much.

Michael Dirda: Yes, I remember those essays. They were, in fact, modeled after an earlier series undertaken by British notables in the early 60s. Cyril Connolly, Waugh and others contributed. I think Connolly chose Sloth, but I don't know.

As for which I'd choose: Lenexa, I just know you want me to answer Lust. You do, don't you? Fess up! Well, I won't rise to that bait. No, instead I would choose the cardinal virtue of . . . prudence.


Alexandria, Va.: I have somehow drifted into books with specialized vocabularies, the latest Harry Potter (quaffle, muggle, inferi, kelpie), and "Word Freak", about high stakes Scrabble (tup, qat, pyknic, spliff). Do you enjoy books where you are introduced to new words? Or do you find that the words can get in the way of the story?

Michael Dirda: Interesting question. In part, I most admire a kind of classic Augustan English--balanced sentences, careful cadences, a tinge of irony or wit: Gibbon, Macaulay, Waugh. But I do like to hear new words, and listen to unexpected rhythms.

So, I like 17th-century writers like Robert Burton and 20th-century ones like Alexander Theroux, both of whom use those words the dictionaries tend to mark as obsolete, archaic or rare. Gene Wolfe in his classic science fiction-fantasy series The Book of the New Sun uses a number of odd and unexpected words, which inital readers thought he'd made up, but they were in fact simply nouns or verbs that had dropped out of common use. I can't think of a really good example, but titles like The Citadel of the Autarch or The Sword of the Lictor gives something of the flavor, though most people will recognize autarch and lictor.

In my own practice I sometimes will drop in an unusual word if I think it's a good one, but do try to make clear from context its meaning. So if I were to write "The autarchs came from Pannonia" I would then say, "Such foreign rulers . . . "

On the other hand, I don't much like words that are made up by one author. I would never use muggle unless I were talking about the Harry Potter world.


Hartford, Conn: Since he was about to have a fatal heart attack it's not an image I want to have for you. I myself ate turkey for lunch and the tryptophan is taking effect. So we could both use a little boost. I bought Little, Big a few days ago and just began to read it last night. You said it was the same typre of book (somewhat) as Helprin's Winter's Tale. Well, I find it remarkably like WT although I haven't gotten very far yet. Is it my imagination or is Helprin's vision really Crowley's vision restated?

Michael Dirda: Well, I'm reading a novel now by Paul Park that is somewhat Crowleyesque, mixed with elements of Rowling, Wolfe and Le Guin. I think Little, Big came first, if it's a question of priority.

ON the other hand, a lot of Latin-American Boom novels possess common magic-realist elements. So I suspect it's simply the genre of American fantasy the two are working in that explains their similiarities.


Washington, DC: Who is the tallest author you have met? And how tall was he (or she)? Not just anyone, but someone we have likely heard of, someone with, er, stature...

Michael Dirda: Probably John Kenneth Galbraith, who was about 6 feet 6 inches.

I understand that the famous--once famous?--Yale scholar-critic W.K. Wimsatt was close to seven feet tall. He was the co-author of a famous essay on the intentional fallacy and co-author of a fat history of literary criticism called, of course, A Short History of LIterary Criticism.


Minnetonka, Minn.: Michael,I know you have an opinion about most book critics and think very highly of many. The New Yorker reviews two new biographies and a book of letters by Edmund Wilson. What is your opinion of Wilson? On a related note will we ever see future book of letters by authors and critics with the loss of letter writing? Do you save email correspndence?

Michael Dirda: If you're going to be a book reviewer in America, Edmund Wilson is likely to be one of your household gods. As it happens, I own all his books, have written about him a half dozen times, and even shelled out plenty for a signed copy of a small press book he did on hard-boiled and California writers called The Boys in the Backroom. He possessed a forceful, clear, and muscular prose style, and always strove to make things as clear as possible. In fact, during his lifetime he was criticized for being more a paraphraser than a true "critic."

I don't save email correspondence--though I have written letters from time to time that are amusing or artful and that I rather regret will probably never be seen by anyone but the recipient. Of course, in some instances, I wouldn't want anyone but the recipient to see them.


Boston, Mass.: I recently read Lucky Jim for the first time, and loved it.What other Kingsley Amis books, if any, should I look for?Other writers with a similar sense of humor?

Michael Dirda: Amis is an uneven writer, and his funniest--and most offensive--book is probably his collected letters. A very hefty volume indeed. His best later book--very enjoyable--is The Old Devils, about carryings-on among a groupl of retired folk in Wales. It won a Booker Prize.

Amis is also very amusing as an essayist: See The Amis Collection.

I also much enjoyed That Uncertain Feeling, about a librarian caught up in an adulterous relationship.


Dodsworth by Sinclair Lewis: is what I'm reading now, and I'm finding it remarkably fresh, particularly in light of the recent political divide along Evangelical lines. Not much has changed in 3 or 4 generations of America, and those who say we've never been so divided ought to read a little literature as well as history. I was in Sauk Centre, Minn (Lewis's boyhood home) a few weeks ago and stopped by the interpretive center. My 16 year old son remarked after looking at the pin-filled map of where visitors had come from that more Russians had stopped in for a visit than Americans. Sad, but true.

And while I go walking I'm listening to Conrad Richter's The Sea of Grass, which my father used to talk about. And it's well worth anyone's time, or at least the first third is anyway since that's where I am.

And,finally,I just finished Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. It should be required reading to get a marriage license, and is a chilling tale for those who don't really think about what could go wrong if things don't turn out exactly as they planned. Hmmm, maybe someone in the White House should have read it.

Michael Dirda: All these are very shrewd comments--and it is gratifying to know that readers do go back to old masters. Richter is pretty much forgotten; Wharton has been kept alive by ardent fans and Merchant-Ivory movies; and Lewis occasionally crops up because of the topicality of books like It Can't Happen Here about how dictatorship takes over America.

As it happens, I was recently talking with my friend Andre Bernard who is a great admirer of Lewis. He mentioned Dodsworth too. Back in high school, in my day, we all had to read Arrowsmith (about a doctor in the making). But the book I most remember is Elmer Gantry about a hypocritical preacher. It ends, unforgettably, with the charlatan shouting to his vast audience, "We shall yet make these United States a moral nation."


Munich, Germany: I'm reading "Waxwings" by Jonathan Raban, and the main character, a professor of English at the University of Washington, voices the opinion that Joseph K of Kafka's "The Trial" is the first cousin to Wodehouse's Bertie Wooster. Furthermore, Kafka and Wodehouse are the lightest and darkest writers in modern lit.

Your thoughts about the connection between Kafka and Wodehouse?

Michael Dirda: Well, I can see the lightest and darkest juxtaposition. But Joseph K. does seem marginally smarter than Bertie Wooster, although neither ever seems to quite understand what's happening around them.


Washington, DC: I read an article the other day about Robert Bolano's novel "2666." I love Latin American literature but I've never read anything by him before. The novel's over 1000 pages long and I was wondering if you had any opinions on it. The review was favorable but I'm still wary...

Michael Dirda: Opnions? A thousand pages is a lot of pages. There's a novel from Canada about to come out that's just as long, or longer, about Sor Juana de la Cruz.

Every novel I've read recently that's been more than 600 pages has seemed unreasonably padded. Still, this could be War and Peace for our time. Why not go to a bookstore, pick up a copy, sit down in a quiet corner and read a few pages? That should tell you whether the book is to your taste.

Which reminds me: In general--and not to cut my own throat--I think readers rely too much on the advice of others, or even go looking for such counsel. Whatever happened to just sampling books at random until one seemed appealing?


Brooklyn, NY: Hello Dirda,Do you have any recommendations for good collections ofshort literary nonfiction? Personal and nonpersonal essaysand articles. There's nothing I like better in a heat wavethan to dip into a group of beautifully written thoughtsand observations..

Michael Dirda: You can hardly go wrong with any of the reporters who've worked for the New Yorker: Janet Flanner, A.J. Liebling, Joseph MItchell, Kenneth Tynan, Edmund Wilson, John Updike et al.

But if you're looking for beautifully written thoughts and observations, you should obviously look for books called Readings, An Open Book, and Bound to Please. Pearls beyond price.


Formerly Takoma Park, Md.: moved to Silver Spring.

Reporting on my mostly used bookbuying adventures in and near Portland, OR this last weekend.

Powells did not disappoint, though much of their used stock is in a warehouse rather than on the shelves these days. Found Donald Harington used and a pile of newer Tom Holt books that are impossible to find elsewhere. Plus a lot of poetry I've been wanting, and some battered John Sladek stuff.

But the big surprise was the quality of used books near the coast town of Depoe Bay. Two good ones in DB itself, and no less than five fabulous ones in the nearby town of Newport/Lincoln. Fine combination of beach reads/genre books and real literary finds.

So get thee to Oregon, bookseeker.

Michael Dirda: Go west, young reader!


Lenexa, Kan.: "Dirda and Lust"--the sun would have gone supernova before such a pairing....

Michael Dirda: Oh, no you're getting back at me. I am merely an acolyte of The White Goddess, and must do as she commands.


Boston, Mass.: One of your colleagues at the Bookworld gave a mixedreview to Paglia's "Break, Blow, Burn." For those of us withlittle to no poetry background, would you approve of thebook as an introduction (the essays apparently explainsome symbolism, word usage, etc.), or is there a better"Understanding Poetry 101" type book?

Michael Dirda: I've only glanced at Paglia's book, but she's a smart cookie and would be fun to read and reliable. I've heard that she's not as original or provocative as she has been in the past, but that might be a good thing. James Fenton has written a little introduction to poetry, as have many of our current poetic eminences. But my advice is simply this: Buy a good anthology of English poetry and just read around in it. When you find a poet you like, buy a copy of his or her collected poems, and read around in that. I also suggest this: Go to a bookstore and pick up new books of poems by living poets, whether you've heard of them or not. Read a page or two and when you find one that clicks, buy the book. As serious readers, we need to support the writers of our time.


Great Falls, Va.: Just an observation: Based on what I'd read on previous chats, I went to a local chain bookstore to purchase Little Big, and they indicated it "was not available," but could order it and would take three weeks. Guess there wasn't any room for it trying to keep the best sellers shelved. Perhaps I'll try the library now or an independent bookstore, or even

Michael Dirda: I think it may be out of print, but you should be able to find it second hand. There have been several different editions.


Nashville, Tenn.: On the seven deadly sins, Oxford University Press is about 5 books into a 7 book series. Again, each sin is taken on by a different author. Works are generally under 200 pages and have been good short reads (They really would have to be. One can't take over 200 pages of, say anger, without something like lust to leaven it. The golden mean applies to vices as well as virtues.) Wendy Wasserstein treats Sloth in the form of a "how to" manual. Others are a little less quirky but enjoyable.

Michael Dirda: I suppose the sin I most have to deal with is acedia, aka, accidie, aka the noon-day demon, aka wanhope, despair, the sickness unto death, the sin against the holy spirit, melancholy, depression.


Why Not Sample?: My dear Dirda,Readers do sample, I see them in bookshops browsing allthe time. We can not browse in a chat, however, and whenit comes to 1,000 page Canadian books or out-of-printKingsley Amis, we the chatters do like to bounce ideas offof you and see what happens. Browsing is fun andwonderful, but I personally would never have picked upcertain ugly-covered books or noticed ones that arestocked in sections I into which rarely venture (ie, Little,Big), unless inspired by someone whose opinion I respect.

Michael Dirda: I will take this as a very generous compliment. And I'm glad that readers to browse. As should be clear, I enjoy these weekly hours as much as anyone and would miss them were they to disappear.


Many of us forget, but most of us don't know: that Sinclair Lewis was the first American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. There is a reason his books last -- they're well written and he had an incisive eye for human behavior. In the last year I've reread Babbit and read Arrowsmith, and after I finish Dodsworth it's on to Cass Timerlane and I'll finish up with re-reading Gantry that I, too, read in high school probably the same year you did. But, alas, my memory is either too full or just not that good, I forget which.

Michael Dirda: Babbitt, I remember, was one of Anthony Burgess's favorite books. He claimed to have read it either a half dozen or a dozen times.

And I have this tickle in the back of my mind that Joyce alludes to it in Finnegans Wake.

Of course, he alludes to all sorts of things in that book about the "abnihilisation of the etym." I've been reading Sheridan Le Fanu--known for his 19th centur ghost stories--and was just reminded that his novel The House by the Churchyard is one of the underlying girders of FW.


Buffalo, NY: I've been tempted to read some of William T. Vollmann's hefty books. Can you recommend where to start?

Michael Dirda: Probably The Rainbow Stories.He's an astonishing writer--not only that his books are so many and so long, but that his sentences are so good too.


Falls Church, Va.: Hi. Would you still recommend reading Gibbon's Decline and Fall as an informative history of the Roman Empire, or is it considered too out-of-date? Is there an edition or abridged version that has notes/footnotes updating the content where necessitated by more recent findings and archaeology? Also, does Gibbon discuss any economic history in his book? Thank you.

Michael Dirda: It's certainly worth reading, though you have to bear in mind Gibbon's anti-christian stance. I can't think of any modern edition that offers updated footnotes. (Gibbon's own footnotes are one of the glories of the book.) If you want a more modern take on Roman history, I'd probably start with the work of Ronald Syme.

Michael Rostovezeff--or something like that--wrote an Economic and Social History of the Roman Empire.

But really you need to poke around the shelves a bit, check bibliographies and you will gradually be led to the good modern books on Rome.


Casa de Oro, Calif: Michael, I softened my landing from Little, Big by takingright off again with Nooteboom's In the Dutch Mountains(a ticket you also recommended). It's great. I should haveknown, with praise from you and A.S. Byatt!

Something puzzled me in Little, Big. Was there anysignificance to the fact that the word "Somehow" wasalways (I think) capitalized?

Michael Dirda: Glad you liked it. I don't remember the capitalization of Somehow, but writers, especially careful writers, always have reasons for what they do. Do you have a theory?


Arlington, Va.: Hello!

I'll be travelling in Greece for about three weeks and I need book recommendations. Fiction with a Greek or Mediteranean focus would be outstanding. Any thoughts?


Michael Dirda: The travel books of Lawrence Durrell (Prospero's Island) and Henry Miller (The Colossus of Maroussi). Nikos Katzantzakis' Zorba the Greek. Edmund Keeley has written novels, translated CAvafy, and authored scholarly studies on modern Greek literature--I'd check him out too.


Silver Spring, Md.: Recommended poetry introductions:

Sound and Sense by Lawrence Perrineanything by John Timpane

The latter uses mostly contemporary examples, the former mostly classical ones. Both give you a leg up on appreciating the many volumes you'll want to read after seeing the samples in either.

Michael Dirda: Gosh, we used Sound and Sense in high school Perrine must have raked in a mint.


Munich, Germany: About 15 or 16 years ago, a colleague of mine described a story about a man, whose neighbor implanted speakers in the wall between their apartments, with which he transmitted a constant barrage of vocal noise into the apartment in order to drive him insane. The man eventually dug into the wall and discovered the speakers.

I can't remember the title or the name of the author of the story with the embedded speakers. It's obviously a modern story.

Any idea which book this could be?

It reminds me of the play, "Gaslight" by Patrick Hamilton, where a woman is convinced by her evil husband that she is insane, in order to get the valuable family jewels.

Michael Dirda: The closest example I can recall is John Cheever's "The Enormous Radio," where a couple can hear the people in their apartment building through their radio.


"An Open Book" is what I want for my birthday: I told my wife. And I got it, too. By John Huston. She didn't understand why I wasn't pleased as punch. But now I can dip into his interesting tale, too, and still look forward to the real An Open Book.

Michael Dirda: Oh yes. And if you'd asked for Readings, you'd have gotten my fellow critic Sven Birkerts collection. As for Bound to Please, I'm sure you'd get all sorts of interesting works with that title.


Fort Lauderdale, Fla.: Regarding the discussion from last week on getting boys to read, be sure to check out, created by children's book author Jon Scieszka (The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Tales, The True Story of the of the 3 Little Pigs, etc). A resource for guys of any age.

Michael Dirda: Yes, I'd forgotten about this web site. I used to review Sciezska's books all the time. The picture books anyway. I never much cared for those time-traveling books for young YAs.


Baltimore, Md.: This question is about scholars grinding axes. I recently read The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde, which unabashedly positions Wilde as a martyr for gay rights, a position I don't dispute. However, the author accepted at face value everything written about Wilde's homoerotic experiences--specifically, he presents substantial quotations from Frank Harris's Life and Confessions of Oscar Wilde. Every other Wilde scholar has pointedly said that nothing in this book can be trusted, as Harris was a notorious fabricator and not a close friend of Wilde's, although they knew one another and had common associates.Have you found, in your readings of biography, history, etc. that authors are increasingly prone to not qualifying "evidence" that supports their case? It seems that way to me. Thanks.

Michael Dirda: Well, anytime you have a position on a writer, it's always tempting to use any evidence that supports your angle. Harris was a self-dramatist and fabricator. But if you read a book called The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde, you can be pretty sure it's going to be sensationalized. Stick with Richard Ellmann.


Whitefish Bay, Wis.: A recent Dirda chatter (perhaps last week) asked for Walker Percy novel recommendations after reading The Moviegoer. Lancelot, which you mentioned, is the most serious (and angriest) and likely most literary of his other novels, but I wanted to throw in a few cents for The Second Coming, a gentler novel but nonetheless full of Percyesque takes on suicide, communication and his usual preoccupations, plus has the benefit of featuring Allie, one of his better-drawn female characters. But I would really urge the chatter to Lost in the Cosmos, Percy's playful critique/deconstruction of self-help books -- full of play and interesting mental experiments. (You can skip or skim the language theory interlude in the middle of the book, although Percy would be disappointed in me for saying that.)And Michael, a shout-out to you: I recently read your Readings: Essays & Literary Entertainments, and enjoyed a quite a bit. It's led me to bite on some other books, including The Avram Davidson Treasury.

Michael Dirda: Many thanks. Good advice. Percy once wrote a truly wonderful essay on New Orleans.


Fairfax, Va.: Mr. Dirda,

A few weeks ago I asked if you had recommendations on a Lovecraft compilation, and you mentioned the Library of America volume.

I got a good deal for the book online, and I've been making my way through it. Very enjoyable.

Thanks for the recommendation and for making yourself available for these chats.

Michael Dirda: Your welcome.


Ken Caryl Valley , Colo.: Mr. Dirda,Posting early with a mish-mash.Best First Line: There are several blogs deicated to this! I liked Lonesome Dove.Famous Folk: Jamie Farr crawling onto a jammed luggage carosel in LAX and handing people their bags, cracking wise ala Klinger the whole time. A 16-story elevator ride in complete silence with a fully uniformed Captain Kangeroo as the only other passenger.Best Book Store: We live near Denver, so Tattered Cover whenever possible. But my wife is from Portland, so it's Powell's today, Powell's tommorrow and Powell's forever. The airport shop is as good as any chain; the seperate specialty stores (travel, science etc) are jewels themselves. The main store is a square block of buildings with passages blasted between them, so the elevations, ceiling heights and decor change from room to room. Nooks and crannies abound. Here's the thing -- they display new and used copies of a volume side by side.Libraries: Worked as a page, ran the used book store and was an aquisitions clerk. NO TIME TO READ. You handle a thousand books a shift and don't get to read.In aquisitions, there was a 6-month backlog of new purchases lined up on carts -- and we couldn't touch them. We also processed the older books being put on reserve. Every classic book you ever wanted to read, and no time. Worst of all -- the patrons. Drunks, druggies, crazies, thieves, vandals, thugs -- and these were the members of the "Friends of the Library".

Michael Dirda: Many thanks. Time is almost done for this week. . .


Arlington, Va.: Hi Michael - love the chats -I went through a "british women writers" whodunit glut this past year, and have devoured the classics in the genre - Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Ellis Peters (the cadfael books - I dont like her others), Sayers and Allingham. When I tried the more contemporary avatars, I find that I have uniformly hated them all (except Robert Barnard - he is ok). Can you recommend a contemporary writer of witty, clever and not overly gory whodunits?

Michael Dirda: Did you try Sarah Caudwell? Only four books, but very witty, very stylish.

And that, friends, is it for this week! I'm sorry that I ran out of steam before I got to all the questions. As it is, I don't think I was quite my sparkling self today. So come back next week and let's do all this again.

Till then, keep reading!


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