As a childhood reader myself, I loved this enchanting journey through Ann Hood’s early fascinationwith reading and how it shaped her life and sensibility. Hood is a delightful writer, wise, charming, and lucid, and book lovers will find Morningstar irresistible.
Not many people could point with such specificity to books that have imparted valuable life lessons, and Hood shares beloved works with an affecting and inspiring reverence.
[These essays] are exquisitely written and moving, reminding the reader of how impactful books can be, and how they shape our lives and teach us about love, sex, and language, and seeing beyond our own skin.
Steinbeck once encouraged aspiring writers to ‘spread a page with shining.’ Ann Hood has certainly done just that with this slim but substantial book.
As a child, novelist Hood (The Book That Matters Most) had an insatiable appetite for reading, a preoccupation disdained by her large, no-nonsense Italian family in 1960s Rhode Island. For Hood, as she lovingly recounts in this ode to the power of words, books were an escape from the dead-end mill town, West Warwick, where she lived. Books guided Hood through her outsider youth and helped her to define the “yearning” for something bigger that she knew wouldn’t be found on West Warwick’s small, ordinary streets. Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women was the first book to transport Hood away from West Warwick; the next was Herman Wouk’s Marjorie Morningstar. Marjorie Morningstar brought Hood enormous pleasure because of its heft but also because Hood thought it was as if Wouk were writing about her family’s immigrant story. Morningstar (and later Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar) captured what Hood was feeling but could not express or share: dissatisfaction, anxiety, sexual curiosity, and the aspiration to write for a living. In adulthood, books such as John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath taught Hood how to be a writer and Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago ignited her desire to travel. Hood has beautifully crafted a very convincing case for discovering literature and getting lost in the pages. (Aug.)
This book is author Hood's (The Book That Matters Most) tribute to the books that shape us, those we find exactly when we need them, and those that take us beyond our own lives. The child of immigrants, Hood describes growing up in a dying mill town, in the Italian enclave of Natick, RI, during the 1960s and 1970s. A reader from the moment she picked up her older brother's book, Hood was a quiet child who found solace in the titles she devoured—the bigger, the better. From Herman Wouk to Sylvia Plath to John Steinbeck, Hood admits to reading widely and without discernment, the length of a volume her marker for satisfaction. Each chapter here revolves around a memorable title, detailing how it inspired Hood's early understanding of the world, war, sex, love, and life. The stories are poignant, touching, and enlightening, revealing just as much about America as they do about Hood's reading habits. VERDICT While there is a tradition of memoir told through a love of books, Hood provides a new, rich glimpse into an Italian American childhood. A treat for bibliophiles and readers of all genres. [See Prepub Alert, 2/27/17.]—Gricel Dominguez, Florida International Univ. Lib.
A novelist chronicles her life through the books that shaped her.Like most writers, novelist Hood (The Book that Matters Most, 2016, etc.) loves books. An avid reader since the age of 4, she grew up in a small Rhode Island town in an Italian immigrant family that did not own books. Her school did not have a library, but in second grade, she discovered Little Women and was entranced. Encouraged by her teacher, she was working her way through fourth-grade books by the time the school year was over. Books, writes Hood, gave her "an escape from my lonely school days, where girls seemed to speak a language I didn't understand," and inspired "a curiosity about the world and about people." Although her mother thought that buying books was a waste of money, she saved her allowance for the Nancy Drew series and was elated when a Waldenbooks opened up in a mall nearby. The right book seemed to come at just the right time: when she was 15, for example, Hood first read Herman Wouk's Marjorie Morningstar and felt that the author "had somehow climbed into my brain and emerged with my story." Although she only once had met anyone Jewish, she completely identified with Marjorie: "Slightly spoiled. Boy crazy. Curious about sex. Terrified of sex. Raised by prudish, old-school parents." In The Bell Jar, Hood discovered a girl who wanted to be a writer, just as the author did, and who "expressed the very things I worried over." Discouraged by teachers and family, though, Hood became a flight attendant, working on a novel in hotels on layovers. The author's literary taste is eclectic; Victor Hugo, Tolstoy, Dickens, and Frost as well as Irving Wallace, Jacqueline Susann, Harold Robbins, and Rod McKuen are among the writers who invited her into a "big, beautiful world." We read, she writes, "to know the world and ourselves better. To find our place in that world." A charming but hardly surprising homage to the power of books.