Sunday, April 01, 2012

Coming of Age with Books

An Open Book: Coming of Age in the Heartland
An Open Book:
Coming of Age in the Heartland 

We learned from you so much about so many things
But never what we were; and you made us that.
-- Randall Jarrell

This is both a great book and a challenge to readers based on Michael Dirda's memoir of his reading life and as a source for books to read and reread. Dirda not only shares the typical stories of how friends and family shaped his life, but he shares the impact of reading. This is what I enjoyed the most. When he describes his encounter with Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo as a boy I remembered the same experience that I had discovering that great adventure story. His reading was both wide and deep. He did not discriminate among books with the Green Lantern and Tarzan just as welcome as Raskolnikov and Hamlet.
The result is a book that is not only challenging, but also inspirational. One plus is a listing of books he read in his teen years -- I'm always looking for suggestions for reading even as my own to-read lists already seem to be overflowing.  Whatever your personal experience, and it's likely that it differs from both mine and Dirda's in the details, I am sure that you will find this memoir a delight and one more reason to read the work of Michael Dirda, one of our great literary commentators.

"My taste in reading has continued to develop since those ancient days.  I now find myself suspicious of the overblown, the gaudy, the excessive.  No more tub-thumping.  The art I prefer is cool, controlled and finely milled, witty instead of touching, artful or even artificial rather than realistic." (p 321)  

An Open Book by Michael Dirda.  W. W. Norton & Company, 2003

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