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Elvis Presley, the Voracious Reader

Neatorama presents a guest post from actor, comedian, and voiceover artist Eddie Deezen. Visit Eddie at his website or at Facebook.

The old adage about never judging a book by its cover has no corollary about not judging a reader by his books. Love him or hate him, worship him or detract from him, we can all agree on one thing: Elvis Presley was a strange, unique, fascinating character, a one-in-a-lifetimer, and his choice of reading material mirrors his own fascinating persona.

Larry Geller, who for many years was Elvis' main supplier of books and reading material, estimates that Elvis read over a thousand books on philosophy, and esoteric and spiritual teachings. For many years, Elvis traveled with two trunks full of books (as many as 300) so that he could read when he felt like it, when he was away from home.

Of all the countless facts about Elvis Presley that made up his storied life, possibly the least-widely known, both to the general public and to his ardent fans, was the fact that The King was a voracious reader and lifelong lover of books.

Graceland archives include Elvis' library card from the Tupelo Public Library from when he was 13. This was despite the fact that the church to which his mother belonged, the First Assembly of God, taught that no other book than the Bible should be read.

In the fifth grade, Elvis learned by heart Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem “Crossing the Bar" and the Gettysburg Address. Through the school years, Elvis read fairy tales and biographies of famous Americans and adventurers.

Famously, in his youth Elvis loved reading comic books. He was a fervent devotee of super-hero Captain Marvel (Elvis' later trademark jet-black hairstyle with the curl in front is eerily similar to Captain Marvel's coif, although Elvis credits it's inception to actor Tony Curtis). He never was to part with book of George Price cartoons his father gave him for his 14th birthday.

Once his career took off, because he was constantly on the move, his reading was light- the occasional football magazine or concert review. In 1958, at the age of 23, Elvis sought consolation after his mother's death with Poems that Touch the Heart, an anthology by A.L. Alexander given to him by a fellow soldier when he was in the army. When he was a soldier stationed in Germany, the King read Western novels, magazines and plenty of Mad magazine.

On Elvis' bedside table in 1960 was The Power of Positive Thinking by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale and How to Live 365 Days a Year by Dr. John A. Schindler. Elvis often read medical texts and was so well-versed in The Physician's Desk Reference that he more than held his own when talking to medical professionals about prescription drugs.

Elvis' eclectic book purchases in 1963 include the following unique collection: Antique Guns, Eyewitness History of World War II, First 100 Days of the Kennedy Administration, Guns, Joke Dictionary, Jokes for the John, World Atlas, Our Fifty States, East of Eden, Strange People, and Vocabulary Builder.

In 1964, Elvis met Larry Geller, a hairdresser and spiritual seeker. On Geller's advice, Elvis began building a huge spiritual, metaphysical library. He read and re-read The Impersonal Life, an anonymously-written book espousing the view that God resides within us all. Other favorites included Autobiography of a Yogi (he freely gave out copies to friends and), The Initiation of the World, and Beyond the Himalayas.

Within a year, Elvis had devoured over a hundred books on spiritual, religious, and supernatural topics (he eagerly loved to scribble his own thoughts and annotations in the books' margins).

In the mid to late sixties, Elvis read Timothy Leary's The Psychedelic Experience and Aldous Huxley's The Doors of Perception. Elvis handed these books around to his entourage for reading and discussion. He also became a fan of Cheiro's Book of Numbers, which he often turned to for guidance. Elvis was a lifelong fan of Kahlil Gibran, and knew significant sections of The Prophet by heart.

Sadly, the majority of Elvis' book collection came to a Fahrenheit 451 end in a bonfire built by his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, who was skeptical and thought the books were a bad influence on "his boy.” Priscilla, Elvis' new bride, was also happy to watch this inanimate rival for her husband's affections get doused in gasoline, set ablaze and go up in smoke.

This would explain why so few of the many books Elvis read and collected in the sixties, and more interestingly his musings and scribblings in the margins, have made it onto the Elvis memorabilia and collector's market. One can only imagine how much these tomes would collect on eBay nowadays from Elvis collectors.

In the early seventies, Elvis read and enjoyed Ram Dass's book Be Here, Now. He read Herman Hesse's Siddhartha and Thomas Troward's The Creative Process.

Elvis was a devoted Bible reader. He would often invited anxious, nubile, young girls up to his private quarters, only to surprise (shock) the eager, compliant (and probably disappointed) ladies by reading to them aloud his favorite Bible passages. To relax from such weighty fare, Elvis read books by J. Edgar Hoover, including A Study of Communism and Masters of Deceit.

It wasn't non-fiction all the way, Elvis was known to enjoy novels too. He was photographed in 1976 clutching a copy of The Omen.

Elvis liked being read to as well. Girlfriend Sheila Ryan remembers reading to him until he fell asleep, as a mother would to her child.

On nights when sleep just wouldn't come, Elvis would sometimes retire to the reading chair in his personal bathroom. When he died, Elvis was reading The Scientific Search for the Face of Jesus by Frank O. Adams.


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