My mother despaired of all the pulp science fiction I kept devouring as a young boy, and the only time I ever read anything decent was when I had to read something off the “required” list at school, which is how I acquired a lifelong taste for Jack London and JD Salinger.
I ran with a well-read and articulate group; Catholics and Democrats who were reading Graham Greene, Gore Vidal, and Thomas Pynchon in high school. One of my friends went to California and had his only acid trip in Bishop James Pike’s swimming pool.. Looking back on them now, I am certain that I was the idiot jester of the group, who was put up with for comedic relief.
But I was the first in my high school to discover Tolkien. I had seen the Ace paperbacks on sale in a local drug store and had paged through a bit of the The Fellowship of The Ring. It seemed terribly confusing. Later, in January of 1967, the first Ballantine paperback came out. I purchased The Hobbit and read it in a single night, finishing at about 3 am.
The trilogy was next. At that time the whole Ballantine trilogy had not been published, only The Fellowship Of The Ring. The other two volumes arrived at my local bookseller later that spring. I finished the whole series sometime in July of 1967, not long after hearing The Grateful Dead for the first time. By the time I went back to school in the fall, I was a full-fledged Tolkien fanboy, complete with a membership in Dick Plotz’ Tolkien Society of America, and a vintage Frodo Lives button.
I still kinda like the Grateful Dead too.