The Book That Made Me a Reader
Elizabeth McKenzie on John Lennon
Two of the first books that made me a reader were In His Own Write and A Spaniard in the Works by John Lennon. This was when I was about ten. I already perceived that the Beatles were great humorists and word benders. I even ascribed inventiveness mistakenly to their lexicon, for instance I heard in “Can’t Buy Me Love”: I don’t care to munch for money. Which led me, every time I heard it, to ponder ‘munch’ as long-lost Anglo-Saxon slang for grovel or toil in a crummy job.
In the jesting and silliness, in the ridiculous characters and names, was this great spirit of rebellion:
Araminta Ditch was always larfing. She woof larf at these, larf at thas. Always larfing she was. Many body people woof look atat her saying, ‘Why does that Araminta Ditch keep larfing?’ They could never understamp why she was ever larfing about the place. ‘I hope she’s not at all larfing at me,’ some peokle would say, ‘I certainly hope that Araminta Ditch is not larfing at me.’
The scope of John’s newfangled vocabulary was practically Shakespearean!
There were serious books important to me too. Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage, in 9th grade, made me feel like a serious reader. I understood that a central wound (in this case Philip’s clubfoot) motivated the reading experience I was most after.
Elizabeth McKenzie is the author of the novel The Portable Veblen; a collection, Stop That Girl, shortlisted for the Story Prize; and the novel MacGregor Tells the World, a Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, and School Library Journal best book of the year. Her work has appeared in the New Yorker, the Atlantic Monthly, Best American Nonrequired Reading, and the Pushcart Prize anthology, and has been recorded for NPR's Selected Shorts. She was an NEA/Japan-US Friendship Commission Fellow in 2010. She has taught at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the Stanford Continuing Studies program, and is currently senior editor of the Chicago Quarterly Review and managing editor of Catamaran Literary Reader.