Tuesday, December 20, 2016

An Open Book by Michael Dirda

When I read literary critic Michael Dirda's book, Browsings, I discovered he's from northern Ohio, and went to college at Oberlin. Browsings led me to the story of Dirda's youth, An Open Book: Chapters from a Reader's Life. It's a book that resonated with me more than it would many readers since I'm from northern Ohio, spent a little time at the university library at Oberlin,  and, most of all, shared that passion for reading.

"All that kid wants to do is stick his nose in a book," was the complaint of Dirda's father who spent his life working at a mill job. But, his father wanted Michael to go to college, and make the money to get out of the the mill town of Lorain, Ohio. I recognized myself so many times, despite the fact that I was a female, but still pudgy, wearing glasses at a young age. Michael Dirda is nine years older than me, but I recognize the books and stories about his childhood. There's the excitement of the school book club, and the opportunity to order paperbacks. In fourth grade, he ordered Snow Treasure, a book I also ordered and remember with fondness. How many young people my age read those "Childhood of Great Americans" biographies at our public libraries? Michael Dirda read them. City chicken was on the menu for dinner, and there were fireflies in the backyard during the summer.

Dirda's memoir is about his childhood through college years, as he grew as a reader. He read and studied literature, studied under teachers and professors who pushed him. I found his childhood and high school years more interesting, before he became so immersed in the classics. Those classics led him to his career as a literary critic. But, it was his youth and his deep immersion into books that I found fascinating. "To be an indiscriminate reader - as the luckiest young often are - means that the right books are all around you."

Michael Dirda's youth was not mine. I'm not male. I did not grow up in an ethnic, blue-collar neighborhood in the mill town of Lorain. But, I connect with his immersion in books as a child, his feelings of insecurity, even his insecurity that he wasn't in the right place when he was at Oberlin. Michael Dirda studied the classics and languages, while I took a different direction in my love of popular literature. But, it's those books that reflect our own lives that resonate with us. And, Michael Dirda, with his background of reading, his northern Ohio upbringing, brings all that to a memoir that resonates with me, An Open Book.

An Open Book: Chapters from a Reader's Life by Michael Dirda. W.W. Norton & Company, Ltd., 2003. ISBN 9780393326167 (paperback), 335p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I bought the copy of the book.


Jeffrey Meyerson said...

I liked BROWSINGS a lot when I read it last year (I'd also recommend his ON CONAN DOYLE), so I'm sure this would interest me too.

Lesa said...

I'll have to look for ON CONAN DOYLE. Thanks, Jeff!

Miranda James said...

The public library in my hometown had a big set of those "Childhood of Great Americans" books, and I think I probably read every one of them between the ages of 8 and 10. In fact, the first book I ever checked out of the library, the summer I turned 8 and got my library card, was a biography of Abraham Lincoln.