The Millions

In Defense of Autodidacticism

All devoted readers can recall moments of childhood reading that glow with the significance of self-mythology. These are our versions of David Copperfield shut in his upstairs room, “reading as if for life.” Such episodes are often incidental: a stray volume plucked off a parent’s shelf, a book pressed into one’s hand by a discerning librarian. Only in retrospect do they appear formative.

Here is one of mine:

I am eight or nine, sitting on a hardwood floor with an illustrated encyclopedia of science and medicine spread before me. Somewhere in the room a fan thrums to protest the North Carolina heat. Each page, as I turn it, catches the torrent of air,

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