Dimestore: A Writer’s Life by Lee Smith

I appreciate that I have access to books in several formats.  Our wonderful library system (Pioneer, Oklahoma) provides me with traditional hardbacks, paperbacks, and large print books, as well as audio and digital version. I love visiting bookstores, especially local indies, and seldom leave one without purchasing at least one book (often one I didn’t know I wanted until I saw it). My book discussion group is always a source of titles to add to my list, and often willing lenders pass along books on the spot.  And, of course, there is always Amazon for my Kindle selections, including the used book suppliers on their site for those titles I “must have” for my own collections.

You may ask what this has to do with Lee Smith’s memoir, Dimestore: A Writer’s Life. With all of these choices, I still must decide which format and method of borrowing/reading will suit my needs. Cost is a factor – greater now that I am retired (from the library), as is space to be adding new “forever” books.  Demand and lending periods may play into whether I will check it out of the library.

Dimestore is a title that I have had on my “must read” list for months, and had been checking back with the library’s catalog often during that time. I really wanted my own copy, but I want my own copy of dozens of books and thought that reading the library’s would get this one out of my system.  Finally, finally, it appeared on the catalog in large print – one copy was available and I jumped on it, wondering why there would be only one copy. (I’m still wondering on that one.)  I read it and decided I will still need my own copy.  So much for thrift.

I have been a bit goofy about Lee Smith since the 1980’s, when I started reading her novels. I believe that I have read them all, but it doesn’t really matter because I’ve decided that I want to read them all again.  They are wonderful – the best of southern fiction, in my opinion.

Dimestore has given me more insight into the writer’s life than any other book since Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird.  I loved reading Lee Smith’s experiences as a very, very young writer who routinely extended her favorite books – The Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew mysteries, Heidi, Anne of Green Gables, and Pippi Longstocking, for example – by writing herself in as a character.  I enjoyed learning about her mother’s response to her first novel – she threw her copy in the river and further practiced her own brand of censorship by instructing her husband not to order it for the Ben Franklin store and the town librarian not to purchase it – all because she was afraid that she might be confused with a character who ran off with a man.

I also deeply appreciated reading Dimestore as a memoir.  I identified personally with the author’s experiences as the daughter of the owner of the local Ben Franklin store.  One of my best friends in my own small hometown was the daughter of the Ben Franklin manager and we spent hours there, including a short summer stint in the store’s sandwich shop.  I also recalled my own experiences when I read about her Vacation Bible School days and the time she spent with her aunt in Birmingham every summer to learn how to behave like a lady. My own mother enrolled me in a similar short-lived attempt, a local “charm school” with classes held in the front yard of a beautiful and popular high school girl.

The point of these personal comparisons is this: We all have some stories that are similar to those of others who grew up at the same time or in related locations.  That is part of what makes their stories fun and satisfying to read. But our stories are original, ours alone for the telling.  Reading memoirs like this one, Blooming: A Small-Town Girlhood by Susan Allen Toth, and Growing Up by Russell Baker provide fare for our own personal stories.

Recommended for those interested in reading and writing memoir and personal stories, as well as a close examination of the writing life.