The Book That Made Me A Reader
William Gass on King Arthur and Thomas Mann's "Disorder and Early Sorrow"
Two books made me a reader. I dragged my anchor and sat through the fourth grade sullen and slow, my cargo a hold full of negativities, and even those were spoiled. Somehow I came into the possession of a child’s version of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. There was no doubt not much left of Malory after all the dumbing down, but what remained flew off with my imagination. I believed that England had the history depicted in this account: the struggle between Arthur and Mordred was a real war, and the sword flashed the way the summer sun did when it was withdrawn from the stone. I began to read with speed and perpetuity. I don’t know how I encountered Thomas Mann’s Disorder and Early Sorrow; there weren’t many books where I lived, and certainly none so “adult” to a sixteen-year-old as this story. Mann’s writing, I realized, was serious, ambitious, and not meant for entertainment. I have tried to remain serious ever since.
Photo by Michael Lionstar
William H. Gass—essayist, novelist, and literary critic—was born in Fargo, North Dakota. He is the author of numerous works of fiction as well as books of essays, including Life Sentences, A Temple of Texts, and Tests of Time. Gass is a former professor of philosophy at Washington University. He lives with his wife, the architect Mary Gass, in St. Louis.