This is one in a series of essays about enthralling books. I asked my friends and colleagues to recommend a book that took over their life. I told them the book didn't have to be a literary masterpiece. The only thing that mattered was that the book captivated them and carried them into the world within its pages, making them ignore the world around them. I asked: "Did you shirk responsibilities so you could read it? Did you call in sick? Did you read it until dawn? That's the book I want you to tell us about!" See all the essays in the Enthralling Book series here. -- Mark
I hadn't read my first complete book of fiction until I was twenty-one: The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. I read it all in one night, identifying so strongly with the adolescent alienation of Holden Caulfield that I wrote a letter to Salinger, asking permission to use his character in a novel I planned to write. He gave the most appropriate response he possibly could -- he completely ignored my request. His Zen silence was so eloquent that for years I would continue to cringe with embarrassment at how incredibly naïve I had been.
In 1953, publisher friend and mentor Lyle Stuart lent me the second novel I read, Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo, who had been an unfriendly witness before the House Un-American Activities Committee. “I shall answer in my own words,” he testified. Read the rest
Wilson and Krassner Display Maturity . . . Maybe
Most likely your daily newspaper didn't acknowledge the death of Robert Anton Wilson on January 11, 2007. He was 74. The prolific author and countercultural icon had been suffering from post-polio syndrome. Caregivers read all of his late wife Arlen's poetry to him at his bedside and e-mailed me that "He was quite cheered up by the time we left. He definitely needed to die. His body was turning on him in ways that would not allow him to rest."
In his final blog entry on January 6, Wilson wrote: "I don't see how to take death seriously. I look forward without dogmatic optimism, but without dread. I love you all and I deeply implore you to keep the lasagna flying." Actually, it was expected that he would die seven months earlier. On June 19, 2006, he sent this haiku (with one syllable missing) to his electronic cabal:
Well what do you know?Another day has passedand I'm still not not.
We originally became friends in 1959, when his first published article graced the cover of The Realist. It was titled "The Semantics of God," and he suggested that "The Believer had better face himself and ask squarely: Do I literally believe that 'God' has a penis? If the answer is no, then it seems only logical to drop the ridiculous practice of referring to 'God' as 'he.'" Wilson then began writing a regular column, "Negative Thinking."
In 1964, I ran another front-cover story by him, "Timothy Leary and His Psychological H-Bomb," which began: "The future may decide that the two greatest thinkers of the 20th Century were Albert Einstein, who showed how to create atomic fission in the physical world, and Timothy Leary, who showed how to create atomic fission in the psychological world. Read the rest