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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Wow! Lots of interesting choices here-- Catch-22 was a big one for me, as was 100 Years of Solitude and Catcher in the Rye. But the book that spun me around was A Separate Peace by John Knowles, perhaps because I read it in the same year (and the same month) that the movie came out, with Parker Stevenson and John Heyl. The one-two punch of book and movie made a profound effect on me and definitely motivated me to become a writer.
I loved "A Separate Peace." I read it in high school (freshman? sophomore?) and found it surprisingly resonant. You know, English Lit isn't supposed to resonate - but I still have a copy that I read every so often.

I also agree with "The Great Gatsby." Another high school read. I wouldn't say it opened my head, but I hadn't seen such beautiful language before it. I should get into my Fitzgerald collection again.
Frank Herbert's DUNE taught me that a religion could be manufactured, that perhaps all habits were best avoided, and that taking the time to notice the 'little things' was important.
I remember reading Dune and being amazed at what I read. As always, I moved on to the next book in the series, then the next. Being the obsessive that I am, I was determined to finish the series, but I think at some point I gave up, I just didn't have the strength. Mainly cause, yeah, they started to suck. The first one is the best.
"No Logo" by Naomi Klein. Showed me the difference between multiculturalism and tolerance and globalisation. And helps me to avoid being manipulated by branding and clever marketing.


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