When Bad Books Happen to Bad People

Last weekend the Kansas City Star ran a lengthy profile of Clancy Martin, whose debut novel, How to Sell, is a roughly autobiographical story about his bad behavior in his youth. At six he helped his sister shoplift cigarettes; by the fourth grade he’d dropped acid; in his 20s he got involved in his brother’s jewelry business, which exposed him to all manner of underworld characters and bad behavior. He’s since cleaned up, working as an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Missouri—Kansas City. (Announcing an upcoming signing at a local church, he notes, “that’s also where I go to my AA meetings, so that will be comforting.”)

Taken all together, it makes for an interesting CV (PDF). The story has a few insights on how jewelry-business folks go about their scamming, and there’s also an amusing bit in which Martin suggests his reading habits as a teen helped bring him so low. Heavy doses of New Age-y goop, plus Jim Morrison’s poetry and a dash of Beat writing seems to be a recipe for acting out:

His older brother encouraged him to read the likes of Aldous Huxley, Jack Kerouac and Jim Morrison, which, he said, no doubt influenced his drug experimentation and rule-breaking.

Meanwhile, his New Age-y father pushed him toward such influential works as “Autobiography of a Yogi” and “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.”

That played into Martin’s “meaning of life” ruminations and eventually to his passion. He found Kant at age 18 in “Metaphysics of Morals,” then a host of other continental philosophical minds.