December 03, 2009
JE: WWFiL is a new series we’re starting here at Three Guys, in which the fellas and I ask some of our favorite writers to guest blog a short essay about a book or books, or maybe an author, that made them fall in love in with reading. We wanted to know who they were, and how the book changed them, and who they’ve become as readers and writers and book people. In the coming months, you’ll be hearing from a dizzying array of writers, all of whom have one thing in common: we’ve covered them here at Three Guys One Book.
A couple weeks back I covered Joshua Mohr’s badass and unsettling debut from Two Dollar Radio, Some Things That Meant the World to Me. We Three Guys love watching young talent emerge and develop, and look forward to more from Mohr, beginning with next year’s follow up, Termite Parade, also brought to you by our favorite family joint, Two Dollar Radio. Here’s Joshua Mohr on when he fell in love:
Joshua Mohr: I was one of those high school students who thought reading was bullshit. And books like “Red Badge of Courage”, “Ethan Frome”, and “Pride and Prejudice” weren’t helping my opinion that literature was pretentious and stuck up. I didn’t want any part of the canon, if it was comprised of stilted and boring narratives. Or as Bukowski put it in his introduction to John Fante’s “Ask the Dust”: “…nothing I read related to me or to the streets or to the people about me.”
Then my senior year in high school–having literally faked my way through every book report I’d ever written–my English teacher busted me on it. He said it was obvious that I hadn’t read the assigned book and handed me a copy of Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse Five”; I had two days to read the book, write a report, hand it in, or he’d flunk me. I begrudgingly left with yet another novel I didn’t want to read.
But read it I did because repeating my senior year didn’t seem like a solid option, and the book changed me. Everything I thought I knew about literature was wrong. It wasn’t boring or stilted, or at least it didn’t have to be. In the right hands, literature was vibrant and exciting and unpredictable and could make you laugh and break your heart and it could even do all these things at once. I was hooked. I asked that teacher for a reading list and he recommended Plath, Kesey, Paley, and Huxley, and just like that, I was a fiend.
As an aside, I tried to contact this teacher years later to let him know the immense influence he’d had on me: that I was turning into a writer myself, thanking him for first showing me Vonnegut. He never responded to my email. He didn’t care or didn’t get it. Or he remembered me as a piss-ant stoner wasting his time. I can’t really argue with that. As Billy Pilgrim would say, “So it goes.”