Reading came late for me. I was eight years old and being home schooled (bad idea!) when the tumblers fell into place and reading began. My Dad was teaching me how to read with Hemingway’s The Old Man And The Sea. Apparently, he thought I was smarter than I was. Meanwhile, my Mom was teaching me how to read with a children’s book about Daniel Boone. Mom won. I was a huge fan of the TV show Daniel Boone, starring Fess Parker, at the time, and the children’s book was way easier than Hemingway, for an eight year old.
Then, at about nine, my big brother Mike turned me on to scary comic books. They had names like Tales From The Crypt and Eerie Tales Of Doom. At that time, the early 1970s, comic books cost fifteen cents. Then they went up to twenty five cents, and when they got to thirty cents I was out. Too rich for my blood.
Between about ten and twelve years old, I read karate magazines, as I was an avid Tae Kwon Do student, and a bunch of sports biographies, like Somebody Up There Likes Me, by Rocky Graziano and bios of Wilt Chamerlain and Alex Karrass. I also devoured my brother’s Mad Magazines.
And then I read my brother’s well worn copy of Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, and the top of my head came off. At that age I was too young to get much of what the book was about, but I wanted to get it. And all of the sudden, the idea of being a writer became very cool. Before that, I thought of writers as nerdy little geeks, but Thompson was a wild swashbuckler and I wanted to be like that. Hunter Thompson made writing sexy for a generation of young men, much like Hemingway did for an earlier generation.
For the rest of my teens, I read Fear And Loathing, the way preachers read the bible. Some passages, probably hundreds of times. I also devoured Thompson’s Fear And Loathing On The Campaign Trail, his masterpiece about the 1972 presidential race, andThe Hells Angels, his breakthrough hit book, about the outlaw motorcycle gang.
My next mind blower came when I was nineteen and alone traveling in Europe. I had taken my brother’s copy of The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test, by Tom Wolfe, and while in London, when not too drunk to read, I read the book and it opened a Pandora’s box of other books that I simply had to read.
In Acid Test, Wolfe repeatedly compared Ken Kesey’s cross country bus trip, with his LSD addled “Merry Pranksters,” to Herman Hesse’s Journey To The East. So I read that. And Wolfe wrote about Neal Cassady being on the bus, and Cassady had been a character in the book On The Road, by Jack Kerouac, so I read that and some more Kerouac. And there were references to Burrows and Marshall McLuhan and various writers and poets of the so called “Beat Generation.” It was like I was on some kind of sacred quest. I couldn’t wait to get to the library and read the next book in the saga. After about thirty books, theAcid Test inspired journey ended.
The years that followed contained a mishmash of biographies, true crime, classics, and the discovery (usually through my brother) of great writers like Raymond Carver, Charles Bukowski and David Sedaris. In fact, the hardest I have ever laughed while reading was while trying to read the story “Me Talk Pretty One Day,” by Sedaris, in the book by the same name. I literally had to take breaks after each sentence, just to breathe.
To this day, the two living authors whom I read absolutely everything by are David Sedaris and detective novel master Joseph Wambaugh.
I bitch about my parents a lot, but at least they instilled in me and my brother a love of reading. For that a will always be grateful.
Looking back on it, the happiest my Dad ever was, was when he was reading. Lying on the couch, plowing through a book about Hitler or Himmler or Churchill.
I love to read. I will stop reading when they pry the last detective novel from my cold, dead fingers.
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