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.