Mother—crazy as she was—had an exquisite sensibility. She read nonstop. Loads of history, Russian and Chinese particularly, and art history. There was nothing else to do in that suckhole of a town. You go outside, you run around, people throw dirt balls at you, you get your ass beat. But reading is socially accepted disassociation. You flip a switch and you’re not there anymore. It’s better than heroin. More effective and cheaper and legal.

People who didn’t live pre-Internet can’t grasp how devoid of ideas life in my hometown was. The only bookstores sold Bibles the size of coffee tables and dashboard Virgin Marys that glowed in the dark. I stopped in the middle of the SAT to memorize a poem, because I thought, This is a great work of art and I’ll never see it again.

-Mary Karr, in The Paris Review (2009), on growing up in Southeast Texas.

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