Higher Learning

I never attended University for further education. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life at 17, so I chose nothing. Then I got scared and studied drafting without knowing what it entailed. I did it because a friend was working in that field and was making four hundred dollars a week. To a 17 year old, that’s a lot of money. Plus I secretly considered myself smarter than him, so I figured I could maybe make five hundred. I regretted it instantly. It was boring and the people I eventually worked with were the types I had been trying to avoid my entire life.

So I started reading. I read a lot. My first obsession was Bret Easton Ellis. I liked the way he wrote such violent pieces with such a dry sensibility. He was fixated with aesthetics and materialistic possession. He wrote of drug-addled decadence and Hollywood depravity. He wrote of Wall Street psychotics and trust fund fuck-ups. For some reason, his writing spoke to me.

Then someone lent me a copy of Fight Club, and another influence was discovered. I was just the right age – around 25 or so – to relate to Chuck Palahniuk’s nihilistic tale of killing your heroes and walking away from the Ikea-inspired consumerism that threatens to take hold and never let go. I devoured the book in one feverish sitting, and I recall being devastated when it was over. I purchased every Palahniuk title I could get my grubby little hands on, but none had the impact that Fight Club did. You never forget your first love.

I tried reading George Orwell but his writing left me feeling cold. It didn’t move me. I kept telling myself that he is considered a genius and that I need to get through it, but I couldn’t. Same with Tim Winton. I got half a page into Cloud Street and drifted off. Horrible stuff. I wanted to like Kurt Vonnegut but couldn’t, and still can’t.

Then I discovered Henry Charles Bukowski, and the rest is history. I don’t know how it happened. I think it could’ve been a lyric from Mellowship Slinky in B Major, a Red Hot Chili Peppers song from their 1991 breakthrough Blood Sugar Sex Magik:

I’m on the porch ’cause I lost my house key/pick up my book, I read Bukowski

Not exactly thought-provoking lyrics in the style of Imagine-era John Lennon, but there’s no denying that certain seeds were planted when I heard those words. It wasn’t until several years later that I ordered Post Office from Amazon. He hooked me in with the opening line:

It started as a mistake.

I think I got through this one even quicker than Fight Club. Discovering Bukowski was like making a new friend. His writing was so simple and direct and it felt like he was speaking exclusively to me. I guess the great ones have that knack. I snapped up every novel of his, every short story collection, even some of his collections of poetry, and I hate poetry. Women is probably my favourite of his work.

Lately I’ve been getting into Cormac McCarthy. What a fantastic writer. The way he paints a picture with words is truly amazing. Reading No Country for Old Men, I felt like I was in a field in Texas.

At the moment I am reading Gun Machine by Warren Ellis. Brilliant book so far.

So although I don’t have a fancy degree to hang on my wall and make me feel intellectual, I do have books. And I study them like anyone might study boring textbooks on Industrial Law, or Gastroenterology etc etc.

I have majored in Bukowski, Hunter S Thompson, Cormac McCarthy with a minor in Bret Easton Ellis.