A classical education at a British public school left me with a general sense of what I should read and, failing in that, what I should pretend to have read.
My intensive reading has, in fact, been limited to two brief and widely separated periods of my life. The first was between the ages of 23 and 26. As an apprentice and a future executive of a leading firm of international wheat exporters, I found myself traveling incessantly between the wheat-producing and shipping centers of the North American continent. I was friendless and homesick and, in my loneliness, my only companions (besides my own dream figures and fantasies) were the characters and ideas I discovered in the books I borrowed from the public libraries of the various places through which I passed.
These created a strange and complicated emotional geography of their own. Thus I have always associated the wonders of 'The Golden Bough' with a hill of tall grass and yellow daisies in a public park overlooking the Missouri River in central Kansas; 'The Brothers Karamazov' with a peeling green bench in an Oklahoma courthouse square on which I sat waiting all afternoon for a bus. Much of Proust was absorbed in the maroon Pullman cars of the Canadian Pacific Railway, the first 100 pages of 'Das Kapital' in a sand- and soot-filled lower berth behind a wood-burning Southern Pacific locomotive speeding at night along the Gulf Coast. Rilke and Rimbaud were revealed during a weekend spent in a bare cabin in the Ozarks, which I shared with an insurance salesman from St. Louis; Michelet, 'Tom Jones,' 'The Possessed' and the 'Revelation of St. John the Divine' are forever associated in my mind with the gray skies of the Pacific Northwest, where I spent two rain-sodden winters. Finally, there is the vivid memory of a hotel room in Joplin, Mo., where, through a missed connection, I found myself lying awake all through the night of the Fourth of July, 1926. I was reading Prescott's 'Conquest of Mexico,' and the miseries of Hernando Cortes and his men, beleaguered on the causeways of Tenochtitlan, are forever related in my mind to the stained brown carpet of that high-ceilinged, ill-lit, second-floor room and to the patriotic explosions of torpedoes and firecrackers in the street below.