Don Wallace is a former classmate from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a regular contributor to this blog.
My mother, Elizabeth, was a great reader; as I described at her service this last February, she loaded up her bedside table with piles of books knowing this would lure me in to sample something I’d never have considered.
Some of these books I remember mainly because in retrospect they were so au courant: I’m 15 and Susan Sontag’s Death Kit appears by the bed. Whoa, what a title! This became my first experience of dense post-modern prose. I can’t say I finished it.
I can say I finished Phyllis Schlafly’s A Choice Not An Echo the previous year, when I was 14 and my parents were anxious to stave off any liberal sympathies aroused by a recent cross-burning in our neighborhood. Our house always had the latest in John Birch lit lying around, which makes the Sontag and Betty Friedan and later choices all the more remarkable. (We also had a lot of golf lit.)
My favorite books were those fat annuals of New Yorker “Best of” cartoons. But I’m pretty sure my first sex scene in lit came from Ayn Rand, in The Fountainhead, a text that seems to give a stiffie to Tea Party lads of all ages even today. Was that Mom’s intention, her indirect attempt at sex ed? I’d hate to think so. But she’d love the idea were I to propose it, and I miss her laughter that would follow.
To what new realms did your mom introduce you through books?