I must have been around 14. Rayleigh Library and the Oxfam shop a few doors down the high street from it, which someone was clearly using to pay things forward and warp younger minds. I must’ve been 14. In a single year — may even have been just spring-summer-autumn — these things happened to me:
- ON THE ROAD, Jack Kerouac. I wasn’t reading particularly widely at the time, so god knows why I picked it up. I have a dim recollection of Alan Moore likening Eddie Campbell, whose comics I’d just discovered, to Kerouac. It may have been the first time that prose spoke to me like music spoke to me. An album I never wanted to end. In the next four years I read everything Kerouac in print at the time.
- NOVA EXPRESS, William Burroughs. I was mostly a science fiction reader at the time. This was exploded science fiction, a league beyond the Philip K. Dick I’d already devoured hundreds of pages of. I loved, and love, Philip K. Dick, but this was the real unfiltered sound.
- A CURE FOR CANCER, Michael Moorcock. I read this before THE FINAL PROGRAMME, in fact. And, in a weird way, it let me connect up Kerouac and Burroughs, in that you could fracture narrative and also be of your time and place no matter where it was.
- CRASH, JG Ballard. Which, to me, was the new horror fiction, and talked about landscape and society and change in new and thrillingly relevant ways to a kid who could see, literally week by week, the roads widen and the concrete spill over on to the woodland.
- SHIKASTA, Doris Lessing. Which was like dropping a bomb on the four other books. That book is so underrated, even today, so misunderstood, with such brilliant, jewelled and incredibly human prose. Even the pen-portraits therein feel like condensed books, and I would spend minutes staring into space and just thinking after each page.