When We Fell In Love – Joshua Mohr

By | on December 3, 2009 | 20 Comments

JE: WWFiL is a new series we’re starting here at Three Guys, in which the fellas and I ask some of our favorite writers to guest blog a short essay about a book or books, or maybe an author, that made them fall in love in with reading. We wanted to know who they were, and how the book changed them, and who they’ve become as readers and writers and book people. In the coming months, you’ll be hearing from a dizzying array of writers, all of whom have one thing in common: we’ve covered them here at Three Guys One Book.

A couple weeks back I covered Joshua Mohr’s badass and unsettling debut from Two Dollar Radio, Some Things That Meant the World to Me. We Three Guys love watching young talent emerge and develop, and look forward to more from Mohr, beginning with next year’s follow up, Termite Parade, also brought to you by our favorite family joint, Two Dollar Radio. Here’s Joshua Mohr on when he fell in love:

Joshua Mohr: I was one of those high school students who thought reading was bullshit.  And books like “Red Badge of Courage“, “Ethan Frome“, and “Pride and Prejudice” weren’t helping my opinion that literature was pretentious and stuck up.  I didn’t want any part of the canon, if it was comprised of stilted and boring narratives.  Or as Bukowski put it in his introduction to John Fante‘s “Ask the Dust“: “…nothing I read related to me or to the streets or to the people about me.”

Then my senior year in high school–having literally faked my way through every book report I’d ever written–my English teacher busted me on it.  He said it was obvious that I hadn’t read the assigned book and handed me a copy of Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse Five“; I had two days to read the book, write a report, hand it in, or he’d flunk me.  I begrudgingly left with yet another novel I didn’t want to read.

But read it I did because repeating my senior year didn’t seem like a solid option, and the book changed me.  Everything I thought I knew about literature was wrong.  It wasn’t boring or stilted, or at least it didn’t have to be.  In the right hands, literature was vibrant and exciting and unpredictable and could make you laugh and break your heart and it could even do all these things at once.  I was hooked.  I asked that teacher for a reading list and he recommended Plath, Kesey, Paley, and Huxley, and just like that, I was a fiend.

As an aside, I tried to contact this teacher years later to let him know the immense influence he’d had on me: that I was turning into a writer myself, thanking him for first showing me Vonnegut.  He never responded to my email.  He didn’t care or didn’t get it.  Or he remembered me as a piss-ant stoner wasting his time.  I can’t really argue with that.  As Billy Pilgrim would say, “So it goes.”

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20 Responses to “When We Fell In Love – Joshua Mohr”

  1. December 3, 2009

    Patrick T. Kilgallon Reply

    I too read Vonnegut’s Slaughter House Five and loves the no bullshit approach. People who supposedly bond as bands of brothers doesn’t always get along, and if you whipped out a machine gun in the middle of nowhere while running and hiding from the Germans, it’s more likely you are a douche bag rather than a crafty warrior, and the worst killers are usually the ones who are nicest, most positive people you could ever want to meet, for they are always in a state of readiness.

  2. December 3, 2009

    Patrick T. Kilgallon Reply

    I too read Vonnegut’s Slaughter House Five and loves the no bullshit approach. People who supposedly bond as bands of brothers doesn’t always get along, and if you whipped out a machine gun in the middle of nowhere while running and hiding from the Germans, it’s more likely you are a douche bag rather than a crafty warrior, and the worst killers are usually the ones who are nicest, most positive people you could ever want to meet, for they are always in a state of readiness.

  3. December 4, 2009

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . . i’ve said it a million times– but my old man gave me breakfast of champions in third or fourth grade . . . vonnegut has proven to be such a great entree to literature for our generation . . .

  4. December 4, 2009

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . . i’ve said it a million times– but my old man gave me breakfast of champions in third or fourth grade . . . vonnegut has proven to be such a great entree to literature for our generation . . .

  5. December 4, 2009

    Bill Kenower Reply

    I did a book report on Slaughter House Five when I was in seventh grade. Loved it. I was into science fiction and fantasy at that time and this was a great bridge. Plus it was funny.

  6. December 4, 2009

    Bill Kenower Reply

    I did a book report on Slaughter House Five when I was in seventh grade. Loved it. I was into science fiction and fantasy at that time and this was a great bridge. Plus it was funny.

  7. December 4, 2009

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . . i think even before BOC my old man read me harrison bergeron . . .

  8. December 4, 2009

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . . i think even before BOC my old man read me harrison bergeron . . .

  9. December 4, 2009

    Joshua Mohr Reply

    Jonathan and Bill:

    I can’t imagine reading Vonnegut in either middle or elementary schools… I would have had no idea what was even happening. But no one has ever accused me of being precocious!

  10. December 4, 2009

    Joshua Mohr Reply

    Jonathan and Bill:

    I can’t imagine reading Vonnegut in either middle or elementary schools… I would have had no idea what was even happening. But no one has ever accused me of being precocious!

  11. December 4, 2009

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . . that’s why he gave me the one with the pictures– dang, i thought that asshole was funny! . . . much of it, of course, went right over my head . . .but not the playfulness, i totally got that . . .

  12. December 4, 2009

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . . that’s why he gave me the one with the pictures– dang, i thought that asshole was funny! . . . much of it, of course, went right over my head . . .but not the playfulness, i totally got that . . .

  13. December 4, 2009

    Marc Schuster Reply

    Reading Vonnegut must be a rite of passage for all writers. The only reason I ever got around to reading Slaughterhouse-Five was that a girl told me I might like it. Her name was Theresa, and she got most of her books from a dumpster behind a bookstore. Except for their missing covers, the books were all in great condition, but poor sales had condemned them to an early death. The least Theresa could do was rescue the cult favorites and share them with the as-yet uninitiated… Hence my first reading of Slaughterhouse-Five. Hence my falling in love with language. Hence my decision to major in English. Hence eight years of graduate school.

    Theresa’s coverless copy of Welcome to the Monkey House still bears a warning that reads: “If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that it is stolen property. Neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this stripped book.” So as she was welcoming me to the monkey house, Theresa was also robbing Kurt Vonnegut of his pocket change. If you doubt the gravity of this crime, consider this: had Theresa not gotten me hooked on Vonnegut, I never would have gone to graduate school, and the world would have one less over-educated yet largely unemployable doctor of the English language to worry about.

    Maybe this is the real reason behind the prohibition against “stripped books.” Maybe “stripped books” lead to harder drugs like “curiosity” and “critical thinking.” And we all know where “curiosity” and “critical thinking” lead: Straight to “higher education.”

    Theresa might just as well have invited me into an abandoned house to shoot heroin with her—-reading Vonnegut was that good.

  14. December 4, 2009

    Marc Schuster Reply

    Reading Vonnegut must be a rite of passage for all writers. The only reason I ever got around to reading Slaughterhouse-Five was that a girl told me I might like it. Her name was Theresa, and she got most of her books from a dumpster behind a bookstore. Except for their missing covers, the books were all in great condition, but poor sales had condemned them to an early death. The least Theresa could do was rescue the cult favorites and share them with the as-yet uninitiated… Hence my first reading of Slaughterhouse-Five. Hence my falling in love with language. Hence my decision to major in English. Hence eight years of graduate school.

    Theresa’s coverless copy of Welcome to the Monkey House still bears a warning that reads: “If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that it is stolen property. Neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this stripped book.” So as she was welcoming me to the monkey house, Theresa was also robbing Kurt Vonnegut of his pocket change. If you doubt the gravity of this crime, consider this: had Theresa not gotten me hooked on Vonnegut, I never would have gone to graduate school, and the world would have one less over-educated yet largely unemployable doctor of the English language to worry about.

    Maybe this is the real reason behind the prohibition against “stripped books.” Maybe “stripped books” lead to harder drugs like “curiosity” and “critical thinking.” And we all know where “curiosity” and “critical thinking” lead: Straight to “higher education.”

    Theresa might just as well have invited me into an abandoned house to shoot heroin with her—-reading Vonnegut was that good.

  15. From what little I knew of you, you describe your high school self as you portrayed yourself, or perhaps as I poorly observed you. Obviously, there was a lot more beneathe the surface.

    I am assuming this story took place in AP English. Pretty cool. Yeah, that book list for CA high school students is getting better now. We were on the tail end of the dead white blueblood author era. So many of the teachers of this era have read and traveled so much more widely in college and beyond that we could never again do that to our students. But institutions change slowly. Those poor kids who leave school thinking all reading is a waste of time…I was one of those wierdos who learned early to read the entire short stories book when they only assigned one or a few of them; almost never the best ones. Even the worst ones were easily forgotten and on to the next world. John Fante is awesome.

  16. From what little I knew of you, you describe your high school self as you portrayed yourself, or perhaps as I poorly observed you. Obviously, there was a lot more beneathe the surface.

    I am assuming this story took place in AP English. Pretty cool. Yeah, that book list for CA high school students is getting better now. We were on the tail end of the dead white blueblood author era. So many of the teachers of this era have read and traveled so much more widely in college and beyond that we could never again do that to our students. But institutions change slowly. Those poor kids who leave school thinking all reading is a waste of time…I was one of those wierdos who learned early to read the entire short stories book when they only assigned one or a few of them; almost never the best ones. Even the worst ones were easily forgotten and on to the next world. John Fante is awesome.

  17. December 4, 2009

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . . i have a painting of fante hanging in my office!

  18. December 4, 2009

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . . i have a painting of fante hanging in my office!

  19. December 5, 2009

    Jason Rice Reply

    I read John Fante when I first moved to New York City. It was so strange, but thrilling at the same time.

  20. December 4, 2009

    Jason Rice Reply

    I read John Fante when I first moved to New York City. It was so strange, but thrilling at the same time.

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