AN OPEN BOOK: Coming of Age in the Heartland

Michael Dirda, Author . Norton $24.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-393-05756-0

Pulitzer Prize–winning literary journalist Dirda takes a sentimental journey back to his 1950s and '60s childhood in the Midwestern steel town of Lorian, Ohio. The only boy of four children, he grew up in a blue-collar family with a "worried" mother and a father who "hated his lot in life with every particle of his moody, dissatisfied soul." To escape from home life and his own "dissatisfied and restless" feelings, the 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 (his father was "appalled at [Dirda's] bookishness") and money was scarce. Aided by his similarly nerdy classmates and friends and a string of supportive mentors, this "four-eyed, pasty-faced bookworm" evolved into a complicated, compelling kid: smug, pompous, self-doubting, insatiable. Dirda often tries readers' patience with mundane details of small-town geography and endless summaries of obscure texts, and toward the end of the book, there are a few cringe-worthy moments as he describes his crushes on various "sweet-fleshed young thing[s]" and the "sexual acts of unspeakable deliciousness" they inspire in his imagination. But this story of intellectual tenacity in middle America rises above its author's sometimes overly precious attempt at self-examination. Photos. Agents, Glen Hartley and Lynn Chu. (Oct.)

Forecast:Dirda's position as writer and senior editor for the Washington Post Book World ensures a fair amount of coverage for his memoir, and Norton will simultaneously publish a paperback edition of Readings, Dirda's previous book.

Reviewed on: 08/04/2003
Release date: 10/01/2003
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 335 pages - 978-0-393-32614-7
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