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The Book That Messed Me Up

Ben Atherton says that reading Dylan Thomas on the pleasures of being a reporter misguided him:

Anyway, this was the world I thought I was entering as a journalist 60-odd years after the story was written.

A world of pub backrooms, death knocks, intrigue, parades of (in this case Welsh) grotesques, camaraderie, and easy-going drunkenness.

It was a dying world I thought I glimpsed in the early days, when one paper I tried to get a job on still had its printing press downstairs, filling the offices with the smell of ink and hot metal, and reporters repaired to the back rooms of poky little boozers at regular intervals.

But I soon found out that death knocks are no fun, houses that have been burnt out leave a stink in your clothes which lingers for days, and trying to make sense of an inquest while suffering with a screaming hangover is not to be recommended.

Looking back, even at this distance my capacity for magical thinking is wince-inducing.

Atherton asks his readers for names of books and writers that led them astray. “Did you enjoy it?” he further asks.

Nothing arises in my mind, though I suppose I was sort of tempted by The Unbearable Lightness Of Being to run off to Prague in 1990 and have affairs with smokin’ hot, philosophy-minded Mitteleuropean women. The moment passed.

How do you answer Atherton’s question? Has a book or a writer ever messed you up? How? Was it fun?

UPDATE: I remembered the book that messed me up: Hal Lindsey’s “The Late Great Planet Earth.” I read it at a vulnerable age — 12 — and it frightened me to death. I went down the rabbit hole of End Times nuttery for two years, and believed the worst; the Iranian hostage situation was going on, and the Soviets had invaded Afghanistan at that time. I was also terrified of nuke war. That was just the wrong book at just the wrong time for me. Though I burned out of that insane mindset, I think that my present-day weakness for apo-alypti-ism [sorry, but three letter keys on my keyboard quit working tonight] and -atastrophism are rooted in the intense emotional and imaginative rea-tion I had to that awful book.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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