What Got it Going?
At The Millions, the contributors are answering the question "What was the book that started it all for you?" Since I used to be a contributor there (those were the days...), I'll offer my own answer here. I have three: when I was in middle school, I sought out and special ordered a biography of John Coltrane called Chasing the Train, and read it greedily. It wasn't written like other biographies, as it combined "re-enactments" (little sections that imagined moments in Coltrane's life) along with elements of an oral history, and some straightforward narratives of Coltrane's life. I absolutely loved it, and it continues to be a favorite book of mine. It's the first book I remember seeking out like that, although maybe my parents remember earlier books.
The other two are more recent, and I always think of them together. When I was in college, I did a lot of reading, but none of it was for pleasure. I read a lot of great novels like Ulysses, The Sorrows of Young Werther, The Iguana, Temple of the Golden Pavilion...but I didn't choose to read any of them. They were required for classes, and they were written, for the most part, by dead people. The first two books I remember reading by choice, after a long time of no pleasure reading, were Don DeLillo's White Noise and Martin Amis' Dead Babies. These books, which I picked up after hearing my friends discuss them in bars (most of my meaningful discussions at that time happened at Jimmy's Woodlawn Tap), introduced me to the world of contemporary fiction. In their wake came all the incredible contemporary novels I've read since. Although neither book seems great in retrospect (White Noise seems like a stylistic cliche, although this may be because it's so often imitated, while Dead Babies seems like drunken ramblings next to the better Amis books like The Information), they hold a special place in my heart for introducing me to a world of books that's still alive and thriving.
Bravo to The Millions for covering such a cool topic.