I thought a lot about this particular post long because it was so difficult for me. Reading has probably been more important to me than any other activity in my life. I don’t remember not knowing how to read. I don’t remember when I didn’t love going into a library, when I didn’t love sitting somewhere quiet with a book that would take me into another time, another place, another universe. As much as I love computers, love blogging and reading blogs, staying connected, all that good techie stuff, nothing, NOTHING will ever equal sliding out of this current reality into a well written novel. I’ve learned more about history, biology, science, sex, love and rock’n’roll from well-written fiction than I have from all the classrooms I ever sat in. I believe if children learn nothing else, if they can read and WANT to read, then they’ll be all right in the long run.
So. My book. The book that changed me above all others. Ready? Drum roll….
Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein.
This book was written in 1961. I was 4 years old. When I first read it I was either late in high school or early in college. I remember devouring it like a starving man with a steak. This book changed my views on so many things–relationships, women’s roles, men’s roles, religion, humor, sex, jealousy, cultural acclimation and cannibalism just to name a few.
If you were to pick it up now and read it, it would probably seem hopelessly outdated, sexist and silly in a lot places. But then you have to remember when it was written. YEARS before the “summer of love”, before hippies, before the Pill, before “free love”. The ideas that Heinlein put forward in that book in 1961 were radical to say the least. Oh, and waterbeds? Yeah, first put forth in that book. Let’s hear it for science fiction, shall we?
When I read that book I was like a dry sponge waiting for someone to pour some water on me, and Heinlein’s pitcher was endless. After Stranger, I ran through his other classics, “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”, “Time Enough For Love”, “I Will Fear No Evil”, “Farnham’s Freehold”, “Starship Troopers”, etc. Lots of his older stuff. And every time I saw a new title I snapped it up.
Today, Heinlein would probably be considered “conservative”. Messages of patriotism and personal and social responsibility run deep throughout all his books. I got it then and I get it now. You can’t have “freedom” without paying for it. TANSTAAFL. If you don’t know what that is, read “Moon” and meet Mycroft, the sentient computer that runs the Earth’s only satellite and has orgasms by tossing rocks at the Earth. Oh, yeah, heady stuff.
One of my dreams was to finally meet the author of the books that shaped so much of my life, but that wasn’t to be. By the time I started really going to SF conventions, Mr. Heinlein’s health prevented him from doing the same. No matter. I have the memories and magic of his words. And I can go back there any time I want just by picking up a book.