I was assigned The Tin Drum spring semester of my junior year in college, but what would become the love of my life in novels was uninteresting to me then, when it was made a chore.
But I did at least start reading it then, of course. We always start out with the most productive plans for that sort of thing. So many pages a day, I told myself, and I would be golden by the time the paper rolled around. I lost track of it during the week and had to catch up on a Saturday—a beautiful Tennessee early spring Saturday when the air was warm but the sky was gray and lovely. There was a concert called Spring Rites going on at Alumni Lawn, one short, curvy path from my window. I stood up in my bathrobe and cranked the window open to let the air and music in—to make the duty of reading more pleasant.
It became pleasant. It became so pleasant it began to scare me. I began to fall in love with the language, with the off-center, with the dirtiness, with the grit and grime and beauty of the pit. There was a piss joke and sex in a potato field. There was a mental institution and a singing midget. It was like a circus of the grotesque, the kind I would pass with my nose up at a carnival—the kind that would have my heart beating loudly if a lover were to drag me in by the arm and force me to be human for the few minutes it took to walk through it.
I stopped. My lips were starting to feel full and my sex was tingling. It was too rich. It was too much. I was too young and I didn’t know then, what I know now, the eroticism of fine writing.
I left the book unattended for the rest of the semester, but when it was over, moving away from Nashville for the summer, stopped at a dusky motel on the drive home to California, I picked it up again. Something had told me to pack it in my overnight bag. It seemed fitting to pull it out there, to engage again in our dirty affair on sheets that would illuminate with spreading galaxies if under black light.