Ham on Rye: An Excerpt

I read all the books by D. H. And they led to others. To H. D., the poetess. And Huxley, the youngest of the Huxleys, Lawrence’s friend. It all came rushing at me. One book led to the next. Dos Passos came along. Not too good, really, but good enough. His trilogy, about the U.S.A., took longer than a day to read. Dreiser didn’t work for me. Sherwood Anderson did.

And then along came Hemingway. What a thrill! He knew how to lay down a line. It was a joy. Words weren’t dull, words were things that could make your mind hum. If you read them and let yourself feel the magic, you could live without pain, with hope, no matter what happened to you.

But back at home…
“LIGHTS OUT!” my father would scream.

“All right, that’s enough of those god-damned books! Lights out!”

To me, these men who had come into my life from nowhere were my only chance. They were the only voices that spoke to me.

“All right,” I would say.

Then I took the reading lamp, crawled under the blanket, pulled the pillow under there, and read each new book, propping it against the pillow, under the quilt. It got very hot, the lamp got hot, and I had trouble breathing. I would lift the quilt for air.

“What’s that? Do I see a light? Henry, are your lights out?”

I would quickly lower the quilt again and wait until I heard my father snoring.
Turgenev was a very serious fellow but he could make me laugh because a truth first encountered can be very funny. When someone else’s truth is the same as your truth, and he seems to be saying it just for you, that’s great.

I read my books at night, like that, under the quilt with the overheated reading lamp. Reading all those good lines while suffocating. It was magic.

Page 154

Ham on Rye, Charles Henry Bukowski