Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Essential Book

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.

BTW, the video up there is Thank You Mask Man. Enjoy.


Christa M. Miller said...

Can I include collected works? I grew up hearing that anything Stephen King wrote was "straight from the devil," so naturally when I saw that my then-boyfriend (now husband) had a whole bookshelf full of King books, I spent my weekends at his house reading them. They explained more about humanity than I'd ever seen, even in school lit classes. That made me a lifelong fan.

Beneath the Carolina Moon said...

My beginnings were Sam Clemmons.