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An Open Book

Coming of Age in the Heartland


Michael Dirda (View Bio)
Hardcover: W. W. Norton & Co., 2003; Paperback: W. W. Norton & Co., 2004.

An Open Book
Winner of the 2004 Ohioana Book Award for nonfiction

"Wonderfully intelligent." — St. Petersburg Times

"There may be 'no frigate like a book,' but to travel from the literary backwater of Lorain, Ohio, to The Washington Post Book World, and from there to win the Pulitzer Prize for criticism would have surprised even Emily Dickinson. Yet this is the journey taken by Michael Dirda. It's also the attraction of his memoir.... One wants to know how he came from there to here. The short answer: he loved books.... But that's only part of this engaging history with its own version of the prodigal son story.... Evocative." — Christian Science Monitor

"The Washington Post Book World's Pulitzer-winning book critic recalls in evocative prose his nerdy youth in Lorain County, Ohio.... [A] marvelous memoir.... The story of the author's life is an account of the myriad books he read, of the social consequences exacted by his nerdiness, of the adults who influenced him, of the young men he befriended, of the young women who he lusted after and pursued, at times clownishly. Virtually every page is crowded with allusions to texts, accounts of how specific writers influenced him, and quotations.... An effervescent yet self-effacing tale of a youngster who viewed a library as an all-you-can-eat buffet — and greedily good." — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Reading is cool, and there's no better proof than Michael Dirda's AN OPEN BOOK." — Washington City Paper

"Quietly dazzling.... Dirda pairs the elements of a traditional memoir — childhood remembrances depicting the path from naive understanding to a more mature perspective — with the books that illuminated that path for him. His journey portrays not a life saved but one expanded, defined, and enriched by books.... Ultimately, this is a love story, full of passion for literature and marked by intellectual vigor." — Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Michael Dirda's memoir — no surprise to me — is so good that I went up to the attic meaning to send him one of my antique Big Little books as a salute to excellence. A great job. I'll be buying AN OPEN BOOK for my children and grandchildren." — Russell Baker

"I'm Ohio-born and about the same age as splendid writer Michael Dirda, and can say with blunt honesty, I wish I'd had his childhood and upbringing, for amongst its myriad riches, it was full of books! AN OPEN BOOK is a heartening, inimitable, vivid memoir by one of our most vital philologists. Michael Dirda is a philosophical soul — a rare, uncynical, celebratory yet illuminatingly critical voice in our literary culture. His father said 'Get your nose out of that book and do something useful!' Well, AN OPEN BOOK is the most useful thing possible: an intimate, dignified portrait of a passionate life in letters." — Howard Norman

"Hilarious...touching.... Dirda is such an extraordinary storyteller that each title and its impact seems to flow and merge with his experience. While grade school gangs and college politics might seem distant realms from the printed page, in the hands of this master they merge with grace and dignity." — South Coast Beacon

"Here, in AN OPEN BOOK, is the show and tell of a wonderful American story, everything coming together in the immemorial dance of literature and memory, of history and gossip, and of the deeply felt, bittersweet story (his own) of young life. Read it and rejoice." — George Garrett

"Growing up working in a working-class home in the steel town of Lorain, Ohio, Michael Dirda, earnest and unathletic, developed a love of words early on and seems never to have come across a book he didn't want to read. As he describes his enthusiasms...in AN OPEN BOOK, he also gives the impression of remembering every book and magazine he ever opened.... He is less interested in conjuring the details of his childhood than in delving into the development of his lively mind.... That only seems appropriate, though, in an autobiography Dirda himself calls 'the unrelenting progress of a Horatio Alger hero.'" — The New York Times Book Review

"Dirda's account of growing up [in Lorain, OH] is filled with heart — and brains, and sometimes bile.... Readers who know Lorain...will identify with long passages about parks, schools, workplaces and teen hangouts.... Readers anywhere might be captivated by the way Dirda mentions book after book amid the pain and occasional triumph of growing up." — Cleveland Plain Dealer

"Dirda, a columnist for the Washington Post Book World and a recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for his lucid, expert, and just criticism, traces the book-strewn path that led to his life as a literary journalist with a wistful sense of wonder and gratitude.... As Dirda grapples with the questions that have engaged him for decades — Why read? Why do books matter? — his fellow readers will experience a renewal of their faith in literature." — Booklist

"Dirda takes a sentimental journey back to his 1950's and 1960's childhood in the Midwestern steel town of Lorain, Ohio.... [T]he young Dirda sought solace in books, thus beginning a lifelong literary affair of unwavering intensity and curiosity. With total recall for themes, quotes, characters and plot lines, Dirda tirelessly records virtually every book he encountered in his young life, covering comic books, classics, poetry, mystery novels, high-brow literary criticism and soft-core erotica. It's an impressive accomplishment for anyone, but especially someone so young growing up in a house where neither parent read books and money was scarce.... [A] story of intellectual tenacity in middle America." — Publishers Weekly

"Both witty and wistful, AN OPEN BOOK pays homage to a bookish youth spent in small-town America." — BookPage

"AN OPEN BOOK has the elegiac quality of a tribute to a lost world.... This book [is] at once charming, memorable, and irresistible.... The transformation of working-class immigrant children into gifted professionals is a story often told, for it goes to the heart of the American dream, perhaps modernity itself. Rarely has it been combined with such a glowing tribute to the world of books and the life of the mind." — Morris Dickstein, Washington Post Book World

"A lovely and gently humorous meditation.... AN OPEN BOOK is a lovely, unapologetically nostalgic remembrance of growing up in a more innocent America. But it is also the touching story of one person's lifelong affair with words." — San Francisco Chronicle

"[An] engaging literary memoir.... Dirda beautifully weaves stories of his father, mother, and sisters into his meditations on reading works as diverse as CRIME AND PUNISHMENT and TARZAN. His portraits of family are affectionate and disarmingly honest.... Above all, this graceful memoir reveals with wry humor and wistful nostalgia a more innocent time in America when books could still have a profound influence on a child's life. Dirda stands shoulder to shoulder with our finest essayists, and his book provides a rich and evocative portrait of the reader as a young man. Essential." — Library Journal (starred review)

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