In recent years, the memoir boom coupled with an explosion of books about books has seen members of the literary establishment writing about their experiences of reading in their childhoods and adolescences. Readers are impacted by what they read and their sense of self can be both constituted and signified by the texts they have read, and when and how they read them. Memoirs of literary figures underscore ways in which this can happen. This article considers bibliographic nonfiction works by Michael Dirda, Alberto Manguel, and Karla Holloway, as three very different kinds of autobiographical expressions about reading in childhood, in order to explore how these narratives are put to use. These authors construct their childhood reading experiences in different ways. In all three, however, the value of books and the act of reading serve to frame their autobiographical recollections and to solidify a position in the literary establishment. Ultimately, memoirs of reading can advance conservative constructions of childhood that locate acts of reading and book appreciation in opposition to, and as a means of escaping, a social class.
- book culture