The year I graduated from high school was a turning point in my reading. I was headed for Duke, and as a Duke Scholar I was the recipient of a list of books we would supposedly discuss when we arrive. So I read them, although when we did arrive and met at a little reception, we were naturally a lot more interested in checking out the opposite sex than in discussing books.
But read them I did, and was it a survey of Great Books? A tour of the classics? Not even close, kemosabe.
Let's see, there was a book on Che Guevara, one on the Chicago 7, Siddhartha, I think, um, maybe A Confederate General from Big Sur by Richard Brautigan....you know, stuff that would make parents nervous if they only knew. Naturally I read everything on the list, and by the time I got to campus, even though I had not exactly been transformed into a revolutionary, you could say my mind had been blown.
I'd only been at school a few days when I decided to browse the Duke library. After all, with somthing like fifteen million volumes, it was the tenth largest library in the world at the time, up there with the NYC Public Library and the Library of Congress, you know, those guys. One reason I thought of going there, bookworm heaven, I figured. (The real reason was my girlfriend had gone there ahead of me by a year, but pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.)
So I'm browsing the library and sat down to read Against Interpretation by Susan Sontag, because I thought it was a neat title. Later I'm browsing the student bookstore and came to The Teachings of Don Juan by Carlos Castenada. I wondered how on earth a Yaqui Indian could be connected with the legendary Latin lover, so I bought the book to find out.
Later I discovered Zap comix, and Little Murders by Jules Pfeiffer, and more Richard Brautigan, and don't even get me started on Frank Zappa and the Mothers, or the Fugs.
I brought along my Wodehouse paperbacks from home, which should have made for balance. But anyone who's ever been to college knows that reading for diversion is one of the first things to go. You've always been a reader but suddenly you have a shot at all this provocative stuff, and the reading-as-comfort-food just doesn't get a chance.
Or maybe that's just the way it hit me. I mean, surely not everyone chooses to review a thousand-page anthropological treatise on The Ghost Dance for a two-page paper, and actually reads the whole thing! Or does all the required reading for Poli Sci 101, the original Locke and Hobbes and Thomas Payne, and half the optional reading too! I must have been nuts.
But that's how 1969 turned my reading on its tuchas. It's a wonder I can still form coherent sentences today. I think I'll go watch Gilligan's Island.