An Open Book: Coming of Age in the Heartland
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An Open Book: Coming of Age in the Heartland

3.77 of 5 stars 3.77  ·  rating details  ·  184 ratings  ·  40 reviews
The acclaimed literary journalist Michael Dirda recreates his boyhood in rust-belt Ohio. The result is an affectionate homage to small-town America, as well as a paean to what could be called the last great age of reading.
Hardcover, 335 pages
Published September 20th 2003 by W. W. Norton & Company
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Barbara Mader
I learned that Michael Dirda is still a very insecure and defensive guy--or else his sense of humor needs a fluff-up. I also learned how *not* to write a memoir and how I may come across to others. So I've learned plenty. But I didn't enjoy the book much at all, and I had thought I would.

The book reminded me of Tommy Smothers' remark about Jane Fonda. The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was censored a great deal by CBS, and finally canceled even though it had been picked up for another season. The...more
James
This is both a great book and a challenge to readers based on Michael Dirda's memoir of his reading life and as a source for books to read and reread. Dirda not only shares the typical stories of how friends and family shaped his life, but he shares the impact of 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. His reading was both wide and d...more
John
This is an autobiography for book lovers. Michael Dirda, best known as a Pulitzer Prize winning critic with the Washington Post, takes on to his childhood growing up poor in small town Ohio. Those who recall the joys of reading when they were young will get caught up in his enthusiasm for books, from comics to serious literature, as he grows from a child to a young man at Oberlin College in the 1960s. It is a enjoyable journey to be on.
Andy
A very fun book to read.

My book is War and Peace by Count Leo Tolstoy, complete and unabridged.

Love the idea of a grade 8 kid doing that as a book report.
Tim
Michael Dirda does name drop in this book. The names he drops are all the books he read and how early he read them. But they are the shape of his life and if I could wish to have read Dostoevsky at an earlier age, Dirda notes he can hardly recollect anything from his junior high school reading of Crime and Punishment. He lists some of the books in an appendix at the end of the book: "What follows is the book list I set down in my journal when I was sixteen. It lists, in no particular order, some...more
Bruce
Michael Dirda’s book, An Open Book – Chapters From A Reader’s Life, is an autobiographical account of his love affair with reading from his preschool years through his college education at Oberlin, an account that resonated with my own experience in many ways, both of us having been Midwesterners from uneducated families that nonetheless had at least one parent who valued learning. For a while, I found Dirda’s writing too simple and almost insipid, until I realized that his account was consisten...more
Bjipson
Dirda gives us a great description of himself as a young boy, then himself as a high schooler, a college student, all the time reading and reading and reading. The book of necessity also includes a picture of Lorain, Ohio in the early 1960s and Oberlin College in the late 1960s. I enjoyed reading about his reading and his experience growing up at the exact same time as I did, and in many ways in the same world...although in many other ways, a very different world.
Linda
"A love story, full of a passion for literature and marked by intellectual vigor."—Bernadette Murphy, Los Angeles Times (Review from Amazon.)
"All that kid wants to do is stick his nose in a book," Michael Dirda's steelworker father used to complain, worried about his son's passion for reading. In An Open Book, one of the most delightful memoirs to emerge in years, the acclaimed literary journalist Michael Dirda re-creates his boyhood in rust-belt Ohio, first in the working-class town of Lorain,...more
Corey
Michael Dirda is a cousin of mine, and I remember going to my local Borders to hear him speak about this book (and get a signed copy!) when it first came out. It was a treat to finally get around to reading the book and experience his perception of some of my relatives. Marlene and "Cookie" are my aunt and uncle and their sister is my grandmother, the third Kucirek cousin who is, unfortunately, not mentioned! I grew up in Lorain in the 90s, and it's amazing to me that not much has really changed...more
Steve
This is the story of how books shaped a life and about life in America in the middle of the 20th century. Dirda, the Pulitzer Prize winning book critic of the Washington Post, tells the story of his life up till his college years at Oberlin College. In some ways the world he writes about is now past, technology and globalization have seen to that. Yet, there is, in this well written memoir, a road map, a kernel of an idea. That idea is this: books and a life of reading can serve as launching pad...more
Trisha
I loved this book! Mainly because it was all about the passion and pleasures of being a reader. It's an account of the author's first 19 years from the perspective of the books that influenced and shaped him. He writes wonderfully well and describes his earliest memories of being read to, his first trip to a library and how much he grew to love being there, his appetite for reading anything and everything that had words on it (including cereal boxes.)He describes the many lists of books he compi...more
Rick Gleaves
Excellent coming of age story from the best read man in world. He opened up many new books that I have to try.
Amanda
Michael Dirda was the former editor of the Washington Post Books section, used to host a weekly books chat, and continues to write reviews/host a books bulletin board for the paper. I tend not to like autobiographies, but I was interested in reading this because a)I've gotten several good book recommendations from his chats and reviews, and b) Dirda grew up in the same town my father-in-law grew up in (roughly contemporaneously). Quite honestly, I liked it more than I thought I would. If you're...more
Katy
Apr 03, 2008 Katy rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: memoir
Michael Dirda for many years was a staff reviewer for the Washington Post. This is his account of his childhood and early youth growing up in Northern Ohio. His father worked in the steel mills. His mother was at home with the kids. But it is more than just a memoir. It is also an intellectual biography demonstrating the irreplaceable influence of books in his development. He won a scholarship to Oberlin and his descriptions of his experiences at that remarkable college are wonderful. As a retir...more
Diana Higgins
This was really good. The first half lagged for me at times, but the parts directly related to his reading were good.

When I'd finished, I reflected on the fact that I am basically an idiot. Compared to him, I mean. I think.

My goodness, but that man read serious stuff! He was better read at 16 than I am. I lost the better part of a weekend in trying to remember what I read in my growing-up years and it was depressing.

But good book overall, and I have two more by him coming from the library.
Odoublegood
enjoyed the pleasure taken in books; was entertained that he had the same experience with Signet paperbacks--bad perfect binding that would split and sometimes cause the cover to come off; he also owned the Oscar Williams anthology of American poetry and describes the cover that I remember so well; I'd forgotten about the rounded corners of the Avon paperback of Call it Sleep; the descriptions of his working at the tube plant are also very interesting; the writer is honest but kind
Sue
Jan 28, 2012 Sue rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to Sue by: Met author when he spoke in Anchorage.
In addition to being a voracious reader, Michael Dirda is a gifted writer. Throughout this book I was with him on all of his adventures. The list of books he has read is intimidating, and he has earned the right to be a literary snob, but both on the page and in person he is down to earth and charming.

Anyone who grew up in the Heartland and enjoys memoir, and particularly those who hunger for books and more books, will enjoy reading An Open Book.
Denise
This book started out very good but by the end I found myself forcing myself to read it. I think I was intimidated by the books that Dirda read. Even as he moved through his childhood reading I was beginning to think "what kind of kid is this?"

As he went further into his teen years and then college I just couldn't relate to his reading material at all. At the end I was forcing myself to finish reading the book. Overall, it was okay but not wonderful.
Monna
I enjoyed the stories about growing up in Ohio in the 50's and 60's, but got bogged down in his descriptions of all the books that he read. I guess that's why he loves book reviews and I don't necessarily! Each reader's taste is individual. I listened to this book on tape and perhaps would have appreciated it more if I'd read the print version. Then I could have skipped over what didn't interest me.
Michael
Having grown up in the Elyria/Lorain/Oberlin area I found this book very interesting. It was a really quick read up till the last 1/3 of the book then it seemed to drag on. It was almost as if the author went from telling fun stories of how books helped him discover his love of reading and writing to just tossing out titles of to say look how smart I am I could read and understand these books.
Joseph
Dirda's pieces in the Post can annoy me at times, but after reading An Open Book my opinion of him has altered. You would think Dirda had grown up in a booklined apartment Greenwich Village with intellectually serious parents, but I was interested to see how Dirda grew up the son of a steelworker in Ohio. Don't judge a pretentious book critic by his cover, is I guess the the moral of the story.
Marwa
Perhaps it is because I found myself so much in the book that I liked it - that would be typically self-centered thinking, but it would be the truth. Reading this book, I remembered why I studied literature and why I can't survive without books. For me, comparing my own experience as a reader with Dirda's, was a real pleasure - almost as sensuous as reading his memoirs.
Hillary
I read this because I was on a kick of reading biographies of famous Ohioans. It was a bit tortuous. The language is seriously overwrought, or I am seriously dumb. Could be either, all I know is that by the time I made it to the end of Dirda's sentences, I was exhausted, thirsty, and ready for a nap. I guess that's what you get for reading the biography of a book reviewer.
Ruth Conrad
Dirda grew up in Lorain, OH, attended Oberlin College and became the senior editor of the Washington Post Book World. He writes about all the ways that books have been the major influence in his life. He truly loves books, and I was amazed at how much he has read and remembered concerning books.
Mickey
Michael Dirda strikes exactly the right balance between his outside journey through childhood/yound adulthood and his interior world (particularly his book reading). Each part is told with a perception and intelligence that makes for a truly pleasurable reading experience.
Barbara
Loving books as I do, I am susceptible to memoirs about bookish childhoods and this is a good one. I especially enjoyed the tales of Dirda's younger reading adventures; he got a little pretentious describing his teen and college years at Oberlin.
Cindy
This is a wonderful book for someone who loves reading and books. And someone who grew up
in Ohio, as did I. You see how it all evolves, the love of reading and then the continued
quest for books as other things transpired in his life.
David
Dirda is one of our most interesting writers on the subject of reading and its pleasures. In this memoir he was able to articulate how much books and reading meant to his early life in a way that really resonated with me.
Susan
I should have read this one long ago, and I'm glad I finally did. I enjoyed Dirda's writing, and there's nothing like reading about the familiar streets of your hometown.
Zeke
If it weren't set in my hometown, I might rate it a "3" as I'm not overly interested in Dirda's coming of age.
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Michael Dirda (born 1948), a Fulbright Fellowship recipient, is a Pulitzer Prize–winning book critic for the Washington Post.

Two collections of Dirda's literary journalism have been published: Readings: Essays and Literary Entertainments (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000; ISBN 0-253-33824-7) and Bound to Please (New York: W. W. Norton, 2005; ISBN 0-393-05757-7). He has also written Book...more
More about Michael Dirda...
Book by Book: Notes on Reading and Life Classics for Pleasure Bound to Please: An Extraordinary One-Volume Literary Education Readings: Essays and Literary Entertainments On Conan Doyle

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“I have now and again tried to imagine the perfect environment, the ideal conditions for reading: A worn leather armchair on a rainy night? A hammock in a freshly mown backyard? A verandah overlooking the summer sea? Good choices, every one. But I have no doubt that they are all merely displacements, sentimental attempts to replicate the warmth and snugness of my mother's lap.” 4 likes
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