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'Anthropology of an American Girl': A cult favorite goes mainstream

Hilary Thayer Hamann’s self-published novel gets a new edition from Random House

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Seven years ago, Hilary Thayer Hamann quietly published Anthropology of an American Girl through Vernacular Press, a small business she owned with her then husband. Hamann’s dense, 600-page coming-of-age opus told the semiautobiographical story of a teenager’s emotional and sexual awakening in 1970s Long Island. ”The book was so personal,” says the author, 47. ”I was really nervous, and I think a part of me didn’t want to be too public.”

No such luck. Not only did Hamann’s novel end up becoming a cult sensation, selling more than 5,000 copies and earning glowing reviews everywhere from Romantic Times to Elle Girl, it’s now being republished by Random House on a scale that Hamann never imagined possible in 2003. The new edition reflects some editorial changes — it now unfolds chronologically, for instance — all of which Hamann welcomed. ”To use a gardening analogy, it needed to be weeded, to have some of the brush stripped away,” she says. ”It felt great to have an editor — I couldn’t afford one before. And it was a wonderful opportunity to make the book more mainstream.” And she’s ready to face the masses? ”Yeah,” Hamann says. ”It’s a big leap, and I still feel exposed. But I hope people like it.”