An Open Book: Coming of Age
in the Heartland
by Michael Dirda
"Mine, it now seems, may be the last generation to value the traditional bound book as the engine of education, culture, and personal advancement. . . what follows may often appear a kind of memorial, a monument to a time of softly turned pages, when the young entered libraries hungry for books to devour rather than information to download," - Michael Dirda, An Open Book, p 14.
Michael Dirda is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Washington Post Book World who has written several books in addition to this one; a great book and a challenge to readers based on his memories of his reading life. It is not only an interesting read but also a source for books to read and reread. Dirda shares the typical stories of how friends and family shaped his life; and he shares the impact of his 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. By the time he arrived at Oberlin College he was a veteran reader. Again I could identify with his love affair with the college library. In my own case it was the Memorial Library at the University of Wisconsin, where I would get lost in the stacks and find myself reading for hours. The only downside of this passion was that often the book I was reading was not required for my current courses. Somehow I still graduated with honors. Michael Dirda's adventures with books continually brought back fond memories of different yet not too dissimilar personal experiences.
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 among many positive aspects of this memoir 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 list already seems 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 my favorite literary commentators.
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