Wednesday, February 27, 2013


The Day I Became an Autodidact, Kendall Hailey, Delacorte Press, 1988, 278 pp

I consider myself an autodidact (a self-taught person.) I dropped out of college midway and decided to learn what I wanted to learn by reading books. When Kendall Hailey's 1988 memoir came across my radar, I had to check it out.

I whizzed through the first half, delighting in Hailey's open minded parents (her father a playwright, her mother the author of the backlist classic, A Woman of Independent Means.) Along with her younger sister, they led a free-wheeling literary life of opening nights, book signing, and travel.

Kendall started her self education at the age of 16 by reading Will Durant's Life of Greece as well as most of the famous dramatists, philosophers, and historians from antiquity. She then went on to Caesar and Christ, Durant's history of Rome and its empire, then another reading list of ancient Romans. Boy, could I relate to that as I am doing a similar, though less thorough, study.

But about midway, the whole thing bogs down, becomes repetitive and loses its zing. Looking back on the reading experience a week or so later, I can see that the narrative arc went from cocky, self-determination to emotional dithering and then petered out.

In a recent interview on Book Riot, Ms Hailey comes across as breezy and contented, but I can't help thinking that she lost her courage at some point and settled for less than her 16-year-old dreams imagined. I know that happens to many dreamers, myself included, but I was looking for a heroine and didn't find one.

(The Day I Became an Autodidact is out of print. It is best found in libraries and from used book sellers.)

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