An Open Book

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In 1993, journalist Michael Dirda won a Pulitzer Prize for criticism, and now the senior editor at Washington Post Book World shares a delightful autobiography that blends reportage and commentary. He does so by tracing his youth through countless pages of innumerable books he read.

Growing up in the post-World War II era of American innocence and idealism, Dirda found the world, other possibilities, and, ultimately, a future by hearing stories read to him, then by devouring comic books and Big Little Books, and quickly developing a need to read. “Books and I were drawn together,” he remembers, “as though I emanated an invisible tractor beam for printed matter.” He artfully recounts his childhood and also focuses his hindsight on the allure of the printed page, which drew him to small-town libraries and second-hand shops to sample anything and everything, from Roy Rogers to James Joyce, Fu Manchu to Perry Mason, poetry to Jules Verne.

Along with pleasant, mundane memories of Lorain, Ohio, and classmates, family members, and other mentors, the well-paced reflection offers readers insight into ways intellectual curiosity can be inspired, and ways of life that may be missed in a contemporary society with many more media choices for kids. The memoir shows that reading and daydreaming can be connected to imagination and discovery, growth and creativity.

Sentimental and charming, An Open Book: Coming of Age in the Heartland is written with the wit and whimsy of someone who knows that any book can encourage or change lives.