Indeed, every book on my shelves is a key to a little vault of memories.
In my students, I'm always dispelling the notion that characters come like a light bulb over the head in cartoons. For me, it's like a shapeless big lump of clay. You just build it into something, and then you step back and go, 'That's not right,' hack it apart, put out a new arm, and say, 'Maybe this will walk around and work.'
I had the little Radio Shack crystal radio, and then my aunt Judy bought me a shortwave radio. It was amazing to me: like on these really clear nights - I lived in Ohio - I could get Texas or Florida. You felt like the world was a smaller place.
We buy a copy of 'Gravity's Rainbow,' say, and we carry our copy home. We open it; we fall into it. And it is here that the word 'copy' fails. Because what I experience when I read 'Gravity's Rainbow,' or 'Beloved,' or 'The Moviegoer,' is not at all a 'copy' of what you experience when you read the same novel.
Twain's 'A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court' made me long to wake in an era when my Casio wristwatch would strike folks as sorcery, and Martin Amis's 'Time's Arrow' wrecked my assumption that all narratives had to proceed from Then to More-Recently-Than-Then.
I did go to an MFA program, at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. For me, it worked perfectly. It was a small program. They only take five fiction writers a year, and they fund all of us - you don't go into debt to get an MFA. It's not like getting an MBA - you're not going to buy yourself out.