Sontag was reading by 3. In her teens, her passions were Gerard Manley Hopkins and Djuna Barnes. The first book that thrilled her was "Madame Curie," which she read when she was 6. She was stirred by the travel books of Richard Halliburton and the Classic Comics rendition of Shakespeare’s "Hamlet." The first novel that affected her was Victor Hugo’s "Les Miserables."I have never heard of anyone loving reading that much. Say what you will about Sontag and her various political ravings, the woman did truly love reading.
"I sobbed and wailed and thought [books] were the greatest things," she recalled. "I discovered a lot of writers in the Modern Library editions, which were sold in a Hallmark card store, and I used up my allowance and would buy them all."
She remembered as a girl of 8 or 9 lying in bed looking at her bookcase against the wall. "It was like looking at my 50 friends. A book was like stepping through a mirror. I could go somewhere else. Each one was a door to a whole kingdom."
Edgar Allan Poe’s stories enthralled her with their "mixture of speculativeness, fantasy and gloominess." Upon reading Jack London’s "Martin Eden," she determined she would become a writer. "I got through my childhood," she told the Paris Review, "in a delirium of literary exaltations."
At 14, Sontag read Thomas Mann’s masterpiece, "The Magic Mountain." "I read it through almost at a run. After finishing the last page, I was so reluctant to be separated from the book that I started back at the beginning and, to hold myself to the pace the book merited, reread it aloud, a chapter each night."
Sontag began to frequent the Pickwick bookstore on Hollywood Boulevard, where she went "every few days after school to read on my feet through some more of world literature — buying when I could, stealing when I dared."
December 28, 2004
From an early obituary for Susan Sontag, who has just died of leukemia: