There have been quite a few posts lately about books you read as a child, books that inspired you to write, and books you're reading now.

This is about a book that made me realize I wasn't crazy, or if I was, I was in good company. But first, like all bad writers everywhere, I want to stop this narrative to inject a little backstory.

I was seventeen in the Summer of Love, living in a small town in the mountains of Pennsylvania. We got three channels on TV, maybe four with a fuzzy UHF receiver. There was no Rolling Stone. There were no videos, DVDs, or Internet. I knew little beyond what Time and Newsweek reported and it was only luck that steered me toward vinyl by a guitar player named Hendrix and a singer named Joplin. In that same store, among the paperbacks, was The Essential Lenny Bruce.

I knew next to nothing about Bruce. I knew he was considered a "sick" comic and I knew Paul Simon wrote a line about him in a song. That was enough. I bought the book, took it home and read it.

It was a revelation. For the first time I didn't feel like all those uncivilized thoughts rolling around inside my cranium were weird. Here was a guy talking about language, so much language, and sex and the lies we accepted every day from the church and government. It was comforting to know that it was OK to talk about these things (it wasn't OK, of course, but I didn't learn that lesson until much later) and in fact, people I respected encouraged this kind of thinking.

For a boy in the middle of the Pennsylvania woods in 1967, this book literally changed my life. The Essential Lenny Bruce became my essential book. I would never think about religion, sex, language or politics the same, small-town way again.

There was so much more to learn, but that book was a start.

So, the question is, do you have a book like that? One that twisted the top of your head off and shook things around up there?

Talk to me.

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I'm sure this will be a common one, but I'd pick Catch 22 (Heller), which proved to me the world was as ludicrous as I thought and it was okay to say so.
Great question that I don't know where to begin in answering.

I still remember the feeling of, oh, I don't know what the word should be-liberation, maybe-that came when I read William Goldman's novel, THE TEMPLE OF GOLD, when I was twelve or thirteen. That book told me it was okay to feel the turmoil inherent to growing up.
Temple of Gold is so underrated. One of the best coming-of-age novels ever.
That reminds me of Goldman's novel, Your Turn to Curtsy, My Turn to Dance (terrible title), which was a similar coming of age novel I discovered after I fell in love with The Princess Bride. Curtsy/Dance wasn't a great book, but the whole coming of age thing really resonated with me.
I think the one that sticks out the most for me is "The Dice Man" by Luke Rhinehart. I was fifteen when my dad handed me a copy and said, "You should read this." Of course, this is also the guy who gave me his Robert Crumb comics when I was twelve.

I ate that thing up. The absurdity of religion and society, of handing your responsibilities to a higher power. The ridiculousness of faith, whether in god or science and just how gullible and hypocritical people can be when you give them permission to do what they really want to do.

Most of all, it got me thinking of self identification and the idea that we can be whatever the hell we want at any time we want, and don't have to be restricted to the roles and positions that we've been wedged into, either through choice or circumstance.
I answered on your blog but I'll post here too. Stephen King's collected works. I realized that his writing was not "straight from the devil" as I'd been raised to believe, and moreover, he wrote so amazingly about human experiences.
I have to agree with Christa on this one. Stephen King's books were among the first "adult" books I read. The fact that my mother didn't approve of them was the first thing they had going for them. Then I read them.

They weren't the wussy important books the teachers tried to pawn off on me, they weren't the goofy drama or love stories my mother and grandmother read (girl stories, bleah!). They seemed more real, they made my mind sit up and take note, like it was finally alive. I started scouring the shelves for books that I wanted, not what my mother thought I should read, at the age of ten, I was finally in my own world.
I have to agree that Stephen King's books had a huge impact, not only because the writing was so adult (I read Salem's Lot when I was in the 4th Grade), but he was writing about places where I lived.
Tom Robbins' ANOTHER ROADSIDE ATTRACTION. Rogue Vatican secret agents, baboons, psychedelic mushrooms, lusty hippie chicks and the embalmed body of Christ displayed in a roadside zoo. How can you go wrong?

Favorite quotes:

The history of the Catholic Church is written on charred pages splashed with gore. It is a history of inquisitions and genocides, of purges and perversions, of ravings and razings. Yes, but through those same bloody pages walk parades of saints playing their celestial radios and sowing their sparkles of love.

Logic only gives man what he needs. Magic gives him what he wants.

"There are three states of being that interest me," Amanda said. "Birth, death and fornication. I was born. Someday I shall die. Today I think I'll fornicate." And so she did.

It's also hard to overstate the impact of Heinlein's STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND.
Cat's Cradle was my first Vonnegut and it slayed me. Then I read Slaughterhouse 5.

Patricia, I read Catch 22 while in the service. It read like a documentary.

Stephen King kicked my ass with Salem's Lot and The Shining.

And I loved Still Life With Woodpecker almost as much as I liked Roadside Attraction. I couldn't get through Cowgirls, though, and I don't remember why.
"But first, like all bad writers everywhere, I want to stop this narrative to inject a little backstory."

Thanks David. I spit up my coke over that one.

In a way though, I think it's impossible to fully convey what a book might mean to a person unless you understand their background. Say the words 'small town' and it takes me back to my own youth.

I had a very weird childhood. Parents who partied harder than I ever did, was raised atheist, got in trouble if caught reading. And like so many kids, I got all my life education second hand. There are just so many books that shaped me in some way, because they were all talking about stuff I couldn't talk about at home, and a lot of it I couldn't talk about with anyone. My interests weren't in pit parties and boozefests - I didn't fit in. I found my companions through books.

A few of the books that really had an impact on me, though, were THE CHRYSALIDS and FAHRENHEIT 451. I think the idea of persecuting what's different, of being afraid of independent thought, resonated with me even then, despite my lifestyle. You might say a lot of books contributed to getting me to the point where freedom of thought and individuality was okay, and it was a slow journey taken in baby steps.
I talk about the impact of William Faulkner's SANCTUARY on my Crimespace page, but the first book that really made me feel like I had any sort of chance to make it in the world was LUCKY JIM by Kingsley Amis. That book showed me that someone who is subversive and essentially a bumbling outsider could still triumph. It showed me you could flaunt and even openly disrespect authority and survive. It showed me it was okay to have a brain that was wired differently than anyone else's brain and it was okay to have thoughts and feelings that were not exactly mainstream. It was also hysterically funny. Since I tend to be a person who makes a lot of wisecracks myself, some not too brilliantly thought out ahead of time, I really related to the humor in the book, and to the consequences the protagonist suffered at the hands of more "proper" people. Those grotesque and horribly unfair consequences meted out by people who believed they were superior in every way to Jim made his ultimate victory all the sweeter.


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