In Book by Book, the Washington Post's Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Michael Dirda shows how books not only educate and entertain us but also shine a great light on our lives. Ranging from Dr. Seuss to Dante, he touches on dozens of themes, including love, leisure, families, experience, and morals. Along the way, Dirda relates all kinds of random and wonderful book-related expertise.

One of the longest chapters focuses on what literature tells us about love. Where better to learn about true aching, longing, and desperation than from Gustav Flaubert's Madame Bovary? (For those inclined toward the modern, The Great Gatsby does the trick.) How better to understand passion than by reading the poetry of Lord Byron? Plato's Symposium, of course, offers a gorgeous discussion of the nature of love. Then there are the tales of King Arthur, which bring to life every aspect of love "from raw desire to spiritual transcendence." Fans of the postmodern will enjoy Dirda's recommendations of romantic novels from the last quarter of the 20th century.

Dirda encourages us not to read authors just so we can cross them off a list, but to read what actually stimulates us. Adults should heed this advice not only when it comes to themselves but also for their children—especially today,  when video games consume more and more of many a child's free time. In a chapter on encouraging children to read, Dirda urges parents to foster any reading interest their child has, no matter how silly or uninspiring the topic might be. (This reviewer remembers her parents, including a mother who worked in a children's bookstore, along with many parents at the time, tolerantly cringing all the way through the Babysitters Club and Sweet Valley High series phases.) ...

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