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Novelist Ann Hood ("Somewhere Off the Coast of Maine") did not grow up in a bookish house, not at all. "I never saw anyone read a book at home," she writes in her memoir, "Morningstar: Growing Up With Books."

Her mother wanted her to be a beauty queen and was appalled that Hood wasted her pocket money on books. "A book!" her mother said, when she spotted Hood buying a Nancy Drew novel. "Of all things!"

But from the first time Ann picked up a book at age 4, she knew she had found her passion. "I had one thought: I want to live inside a book."

"Morningstar" takes us through books that influenced Hood when she was growing up. Some are good books — Sylvia Plath's "The Bell Jar," John Updike's "Rabbit, Run" — and some are perhaps more schlock: the poetry of Rod McKuen, for instance, or Erich Segal's "Love Story." But Hood was a girl who devoured all books, any book, the bigger the better, and quality didn't matter as much as the emotional wallop.

Robert Rimmer's "The Harrad Experiment," for instance — a titillating novel about free love at a coed college — taught her the basics of sex. (Especially those dog-eared pages 160-167.) The title character in "Marjorie Morningstar," by Herman Wouk, "knew me," Hood writes. "She was me, and I was her." And "Rabbit, Run" helped her understand the yearning she felt for other places, other things, a different life.

In these 10 appealing essays, Hood deftly recounts pivotal moments in her early life, recalling not just what happened, but how she felt and how wonderful it was that the right book seemed to appear at the right time. "Once again," she writes, "my world had been cracked open by a book."

Laurie Hertzel is the senior editor for books at the Star Tribune.

Morningstar: Growing Up With Books
By: Ann Hood.
Publisher: W.W. Norton, 186 pages, $22.95.