Reviewers have said this about What is a Book?:
"Thirty-year veteran critic David Kirby, a Florida State University professor, has collected his excellent essays from the past decade and arranged them around four questions: What is a reader? A writer? A critic? A book? . . . Academically rigorous yet emotionally vigorous, these essays hit the right tone to interest general readers as well as specialists. Kirby's well-oxygenated prose ultimately clears our heads for good reading, brightening our understanding of why literature matters."
-Brian J. Buchanan, The Tennessean, January 5, 2003.
"This book is good enough to revive the interest of general readers in books about literature. [Kirby] has gathered 17 essays so clear, relevant, and far-reaching as to address all the major working parts of literature. . . . After a brief general essay on each question, Kirby gives us three or four refreshingly witty, beautifully written, and accessible essays. . . . An important and useful book that is also surprisingly pleasurable and entertaining to read; highly recommended."
-Paul D'Alessandro, Library Journal, November 15, 2002.
"In other hands, such a book might have been tedious. It's anything but. Kirby's writing has flair and humor. He'll remind you of the best English teacher you ever had, if you were lucky enough to have a good one."
-Robert Armstrong, Minneapolis Star Tribune, December 15, 2002.
"A poet, literary critic, and English professor, Kirby is passionate about his calling, yet his devotion to literature inspires as much mirth as intensity. An essayist equally at home in academia as in shopping malls, he's funny and relaxed even when involved in a meticulous dissection of literary theory or poetics. Gifted with a fluid historical sensibility and a quintessentially American open-mindedness, Kirby writes with nimbleness and precision. . . . This altogether enjoyable, enlightening, and reassuringly human collection radiantly celebrates our unceasing love and need for books."
-Donna Seaman, Booklist, November 1, 2002.
"The pieces brought together here . . . are more personal and more contemporary, and even the most scholarly has a connection to Kirby's life. He starts with an account of his trips to a local housing project's community center to read to a group of children. He starts, that is, with the primary pleasures of hearing a book read aloud. This is something of a premise for what follows. His investigations-wherever they lead in literary history or theory-will be founded on a question we already knew how to ask in kindergarten: 'Do you like the book or not?'"
-Jeff Dolven, The Chicago Tribune, July 6, 2003.
"David Kirby, a poet and critic who teaches at Florida State University, has a flair for combining scholarship, earthy wisdom and humor in his work. His impulse is to seek connections between literature, academia, popular culture, and the moral dimension. A passionate, attentive reader with an open and questioning sensibility, Kirby finds himself opposed to what he calls the 'monopoly viewpoint.' All this suits him well for the task of writing, and writing about books."
-Floyd Skloot, Harvard Review, Spring 2003.
"Kirby sees the contemporary world as a museum after a bombing-everything that used to be there is still there, but out of intentional order. Should this scrambling bother us? It doesn't disturb Kirby. Happily, What Is A Book? comes complete as assembled by its author. I read it, laughing and nodding along, in a couple of sittings and came away from it feeling a little brighter than I'd been before."
-G. W. Clift, Kansas City Star, June 22, 2003.