On the 30th of October 2002, Michael Dirda was a featured speaker in the 'Books and Ideas' series at Montgomery College. I wrote down some of the funny things that were said.
Michael Dirda was introduced by two speakers: Dr. Myrna Goldenberg and Mrs. Carolyn Terry. They praised Mr. Dirda highly; Dr. Goldenberg said, in reference to a workshop series a couple years ago, "The one [where people] covered every inch of floor space ... was Michael Dirda's."
The featured speaker began by pointing out that he moved around a bit while he spoke, and he might get out of range of the microphone. "If I move around ... signal wildly if you can't hear me". He then said, "I hope you brought a picnic lunch, because this is my speech", holding up a imposingly thick book. His speech was not on the listed topic; it was on the memoir he had just written and was about to send to the publishers. He read some passages from it, concerning three events in his life. I do not clearly remember all three, but I distinctly recall the story of his disliked 9th grade English teacher. "Ms. Edwards believed in grammar, discipline, and purple dresses." They called her the Purple Cow. In one of the early classes, she was expounding on the importance of grammar, and Michael Dirda said that he didn't see the point in it; he thought that you learned English by reading a lot of books and paying attention to the sentences. This sentiment, though true, annoyed Ms. Edwards severely. He set out that semester planning to aggravate her as much as possible.
When the first book report was due (book reports had to be read aloud to the class, btw) on 'a work of fiction', and Michael Dirda was at last called up, he said "My book report is on," with a dramatic pause, War and Peace. Complete and Unabridged. And he then commenced his report, which clearly showed that he had read the book, and the PC (Purple Cow) was forced to give him an A. A later report on a work of nonfiction, he came out writing about The Communist Manifesto! That landed him in the pricipal's office for sure.
"My cardinal rule was :'Never do the Expected'". When he reviewed Huxley's Brave New World, he went into such detail about the test-tube babies that "Ms. Edwards turned as purple as her dress", and he landed in the pricipal's office again. The pricipal asked him if he wanted to get a D in the class. He didn't much care; "To my eye, a well-placed D or two softened [a mass of] As".
Some other quotes:
At the end, Dr. Goldenberg presented a gift to Mr. Dirda, "Writers drink a lot of coffee, and need pencils, especially with 'Montgomery College" on them."