If you’ve ever thought that you could tell the story of your life through the books that you read, you will find a kindred spirit in Karen Swallow Prior. Her Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me is a memoir of her growth from a young child to a professor of literature.
Prior organizes each chapter around a book that proved especially formative to her experience or that shed light on it in hindsight. To give but a sampling: Milton’s “Aeropagitica” taught her the virtue of “promiscuous reading,” Charlotte’s Web reinforced her love of animals and revealed the power of words, Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles helped her better to understand the grace her grandparents extended to her mother, and Flaubert’s Madame Bovary warned her of the perils of losing herself in books and fantasy. In each case, Prior’s interpretation of these works reveals her sensitivity to and her abiding love of them, and she interweaves the biographical elements smoothly and sensibly.
Prior’s book hit all the right notes for me. There are a few typesetting errors that distracted my attention at times, and Prior’s emphasis on her formation as a Christian may be off-putting or disorienting to some, but her book still earns my warmest recommendation.