This collection of excellent short essays includes many of the most popular and important pieces by John J. Miller, the respected author, journalist, and academic. From literature to music, from movies to writing, from culture to politics, “Reading Around” shows Miller — the talented director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College — at his peak performance. This best-of book draws from National Review, Wall Street Journal, and other publications and includes pieces on the ancient epics “Gilgamesh” and “Beowulf”; thriller writers Michael Crichton, Daniel Silva, and Brad Thor; science-fiction authors Arthur C. Clarke and Robert A. Heinlein; fantasy novelists J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis; the horror fiction of Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft; movies such as “The Exorcist” and “Red Dawn”; the music of Iron Maiden; the art of Salvador Dali and Frida Kahlo; and much more, including essays on the purpose of libraries, writer’s block, and the conundrum of having a common name. The Chronicle of Higher Education has called Miller “one of the best literary journalists in the country,” and this volume shows why. For anyone who loves and admires excellent writing, “Reading Around” is an enjoyable must.
Eschewing the pseudo-academic pretensions common to modern literary criticism, Miller writes with infectious energy and a boundless sense of wonder and curiosity, with lots of information packed into colorful surges of energetic prose that never flag or devolve into boredom. I daresay this would make a perfect gift for a teenager looking to expand his reading horizons, or for a jaded layman keen to discover some new favorites to add to their bookshelf or e-reader.
This is the kind of tome one can happily dip into at leisure whenever a few minutes of pleasant diversion are sought — but don’t be surprised if it frequently spurs you to head to the library in search of stacks of books both old and new. The best critics make the works they admire shine with a sense of newfound import and consequence, and by that standard Miller’s book is a true standout in a crowded field.