This is a bit cliché, and also requires a bit of context, but for me it’s this Jack Kerouac biography that I bought in a used bookstore in Amsterdam when I was 17:
The context: As a reminder, before the internet it was hard to look up things and information was not on demand. There was a time in the early 90s, for example, when if you liked a song and couldn’t drive to the mall to buy it on CD, you just had to wait for it to come on the radio. And I really do struggle to remember how as a culture-hungry teenager I discovered anything at all. I think friends’ older brothers must have played a role for better or worse, and more to the point of my story, I do recall a line in my sophomore high school history textbook that said something like “It was the time of counter-culture and Kerouac.” This got my attention.
But who was this Kerouac? I asked my history teacher, and he didn’t know. So I figured he must be a rock musician, so I went to my local used CD store and the clerk said yeah, he’d heard his music, but he didn’t have any of his CDs in stock.
Fast forward a year, and I find myself traveling alone in Amsterdam. And I find the above English-language biography in a used bookstore. And, aha! He was a writer.
It, of course, made an impression, for who is Jack Kerouac really for if not 17-year-old boys? And so, what begin as a trip to Amsterdam quickly hardened into a romanticism of travel. (And drinking wine from jugs.)
BTW, The Dharma Bums really is much better than On the Road.