Tired of HST

March 29th, 2008 at 1:32 pm

Yeah, I know.  I never thought I would say it either, I am about tired of reading Hunter Thompson.

 I have been chugging through the collections of his published letters.  Reading about 1200 pages that have gotten me from about 1958 to 1973, the transition in HST history from high school, to struggling writer, to star of the bleeding edge press.

 It is a lot to take in, a lot to wade through – a lot.  I still have another 500 or 600 pages to get through.  If nothing else, the shear volume of corrospondence is staggering.  There are one or two deforrested hillsides in Oregon, thanks to HST.

You get insight into the backstory on a legendary literary figure, as the fruit of your patience.  The stories are all there, from stumbling copy boy at Time magazine, to swaggering Air Force sports reporter, right through the staggering through presidential campaigns (see James’ last post)…

The drumbeat through the whole journey is truth, which seems to lie in contrast to the maniacal public persona thrust on the guy (though I think the stories of mayhem are largely based on facts).  HST was a man in search of the truth, he lived with a code that valued truth and trueness and was able to translate those truths to paper better than most.  His letters document that journey and process well.

But you know, 1200 pages of anything will start to wear you down.  So, I figure I’ll get to 1975 or so in the record and take a break.  Maybe read some poetry, comic books or labels on soup cans.  I am game for anything with less emphasis on fear and or loathing.

I’ll report back on that and shut up about Hunter Thompson.  It is starting to seem a bit too much like a HST Ass Kissing journal around here.  You deserve a break as much as I do.[...]



Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 by Hunter S. Thompson

March 25th, 2008 at 3:54 pm

“I always wanted to get into politics, but I was never light enough to make the team.” – Art Buchwald

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From Hillary to how we eat, this cruel prose, now 36-years-old, is still as relevant and incisive as it ever was. Everyone deserves a dose of HST’s literary LSD-25 These Days, the ol’ fear and loathing. Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 is a raw, worthwhile Thompson-hit of black acid. So stick your tongue out.

Thompson’s political pondering is comprised mostly of the literary equivalent of adrenaline, bile, and dark humor. Until you realize that HST is being absolutely serious. It’s like Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, some realities are so sick and twisted that you can’t play them straight. I can’t imagine anyone being able to untangle and analyze American Culture without having at least an iota of the paranoia, fear, and vindictiveness that Thompson naturally displays:

“And how many more of these stinking, double-downer sideshows will we have to go through before we can get ourselves straight enough to put together some kind of national election that will give me and the at least 20 million people I tend to agree with a chance to vote for something, instead of always being faced with that old familiar choice between the lesser of two evils?”

Bush and Gore? Bush and Kerry? McCain and Clinton?

“The assholes who run politics in this country have become so mesmerized by the Madison Avenue school of campaigning that they actually believe, now, that all it takes to become a Congressman or a Senator – or even a President – is a nice set of teeth, a big wad of money, and a half-dozen Media Specialists.”

As a betting man, a sports fan, and a sportswriter, politics and a presidential campaign are a perfect venue for HST.

“Political analysis was never my game, anyway. All I do is wander around and make bets with people, and so far I’ve done pretty well.”

He acerbically cuts through the bullshit with his wit and panache to reveal all the dirty details, maneuvers, statistics, and back-alley backstabbing of a presidential campaign.

“Superstar politicians and superstar quarterbacks have the same kind of delicate egos, and people who live on that level grow accustomed to very thin, rarified air. They have trouble breathing in lower altitudes; and if they can’t breathe right, they can’t function.”

Thompson’s imagery makes for the perfect metaphors to politics. His intimacy with subcultures, dark sects, and the dirty secrets of society come to a nice head when his potent powers converge to examine the ruthless world of politics. His fascination and enjoyment of guns, violence, explosions, and the rougher side of life find a worthy match when he is thrown into the brutal, unforgiving, outlaw landscape that is an American Presidential Election:

“A man on the scent of the White House is rarely rational. He is more like a beast in heat: a bull elk in the rut, crashing blindly through the timber in a fever for something to fuck. Anything! A cow, a calf, a mare – any flesh and blood beast with a hole in it.”

And beyond the paranoia, the drug-fueled ramblings, and indulgent digressions, Thompson is one smart sonofabitch. His analysis, journalism, and sheer unrivaled, unrequited gumption is not something to ignore or dismiss:

“This may be the year when we finally come face to face with ourselves; finally just lay back and say it – that we are really just a nation of 220 million [300 million?] used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns, and no qualms at all about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable.”

Thompson is a fascinating writer to read because of his unforgiving honesty, his crude humanity. Reading him, you ride the roller coaster of his depression, his anger, his child-like excitement, and his incessant doubt and fear. His prose tumbles along with him, a textual mirror of his obsessive criticism. His diction oscillates from rambling diatribes to poignant observations to hilarious conjectures and dark, brooding epiphanies. His words remain remarkably fresh and true, the authentic thoughts of an uncompromised man, an individual continually mesmerized and haunted by the tortuous labyrinth of civilization that man had built around him.

“Liberalism itself has failed, and for pretty good reason. It has been too often compromised by the people who represented it.”

“The time had [has?] come to abolish the whole concept of the presidency as it exists now, and get a sort of City Manager-type president…We’ve come to the point where every four years this national fever rises up – this hunger for the Saviour, the White Knight, the Man on Horseback – and whoever wins becomes so immensely powerful, like Nixon [Bush?] is now, that when you vote for President today you’re talking about giving a man dictatorial power for four years. I think it might be better to have the President sort of like the King of England – or the Queen – and have the real business of the presidency conducted by…a City Manager-type, a Prime Minister, somebody who’s directly answerable to Congress, rather than a person who moves all his friends into the White House and does whatever he wants for four years. The whole framework of the presidency is getting out of hand.”



A Book So Gruesome

March 24th, 2008 at 4:01 pm

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Author Benjamin Skinner has written a horrifying book, A Crime So Monstrous: Face-to-Face with Modern-Day Slavery.

In it, Skinner establishes a nasty little fact: there are more slaves on the planet today than at any time in human history.

And I know what you’re thinking, you pampered, disillusioned, cynical bastard, “But there are more people on the planet today than at any time in human history. So what’s the comparative ratio of non-slaves to slaves now versus at any time in human history?”

I haven’t read his book yet so I don’t know. But Skinner did find that, after adjusting for inflation, “In 1850, a slave would cost roughly $30,000 to $40,000 — in other words it was like investing in a Mercedes. Today you can go to Haiti and buy a 9-year-old girl to use as a sexual and domestic slave for $50.”

How did Ben find all this information about modern-day slaves? Like any good western journalist, he tried to buy one. “He was initially told he could get a 9-year-old sex partner/house slave for $100, but he bargained it down to $50.”

“When I was talking to traffickers, I had a principle that I wouldn’t pay for human life,” Skinner explains. “This principle enabled him to keep a certain distance from the system, but not giving in to the temptation to free a suffering human being was an emotionally taxing struggle, he says.”

No shit.

In the book Moments, a collection of Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs, you’ll find a picture by Kevin Carter taken in 1993′s Sudan when the Muslim-controlled government of the North was diverting international aide and starving the country’s people. It shows a vulture waiting for an emaciated child to die.

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When Carter won the Pulitzer, some critics said that “a photographer who concerned himself with the picture instead of helping the child was just another vulture on the scene.”

Note: Carter made a few photos, then chased the bird away.

In Moments, you’ll also learn this:

“On the night of July 28, 1994, shortly after he savored his prestigious Pulitzer in New York, Carter parked his red pickup truck alongside a river that passed through the Johannesburg suburb in which he grew up. He attached a hose to the exhaust pipe with gaffer tape and threaded it into the cab of the truck, climbed into the vehicle, closed the windows, and turned on the engine.

“The explanatory note he left behind told of a man frustrated by lack of money and haunted by unrelenting memories of killings, madmen with guns, starving children, of corpses and pain.”

No shit.



ebooks: bought but not owned

March 23rd, 2008 at 10:29 am

Some legal lemurs over at Columbia Law School are chittering and swinging their way through the legal ramifications of the new technology in Amazon’s Kindle and Sony’s eReader.

Evidently, the purchase of an ebook does not follow the “first sale” doctrine, which allows you to lend a purchased movie, album, or book to a friend, and to also sell it to the likes of a Half-Priced Books. So it’s more of a lease or a rent, not really a buy.

Because we’re in a Recession, folks. And the book industry is hurting enough already. The margins are grim. So the Corporate Fat Cats in Big Chairs in Corner Offices are clutching to their paltry purses anyway they can. Despite the fact that the likes of BitTorrent consistently render their pitiful defensives irrelevant.

If only there was another series of books about a young wizard Out There that could revive things. Oprah, isn’t there anything you can do? Choose two books a month, maybe?

Not to fear though, Borders is just going to face all of their books out to increase sales. Yeah, that should “turn things around.” Ha!

And if that doesn’t work, Barnes & Noble will just buy them.

Why doesn’t the book publishing industry switch to a newspaper and Internet business model? Since books are such a vital source of information and our most important defense against the dangers of ignorance and idiocy, they should therefore be in the hands of society at any cost. So why don’t they slash the price of bound works ( to zero?) and place advertisements in them?

Lawyers could advertise in John Grisham books.

Life Insurance Companies could advertise in A Series of Unfortunate Incidents.

Wouldn’t everyone appreciate a coupon for $10 off your next oil change nestled inside the latest Mitch Albom or Jodi Picoult?

Airlines and hotels can advertise in travel books.

Casinos can advertise in all the Las Vegas Books.

Skinny white belt retailers can advertise in books by Dave Eggers.

Video game and porn companies can advertise in graphic novels.

There’s got to be some decent money to be made by advertising a nice big box kite in The Kite Runner. 



Vegas is Free

March 22nd, 2008 at 1:40 pm

Double or Nothing: How Two Friends Risked It All to Buy One of Las Vegas’ Legendary Casinos,” by Tom Breitling with Cal Fussman is about Vegas and is Free.

The Vegas Books keep coming.

The Free Books keep coming.

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Double or Nothing is both.

Vegas Books may soon rival God Books, Dog Books, and Bush Books.



British Author Sebastian Horsley Denied Entry into US

March 20th, 2008 at 8:39 pm

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The 45-year-old author of the autobiography Dandy in the Underworld was denied entry into the great land of America due to “moral turpitude.”

Whaaaa?????

It’s definitely time to re-read 1984.

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Horsley’s memoir explicitly details his lurid life of sex and drug addiction, and “travelers who have been convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude (which includes controlled-substance violations) or admit to previously having a drug addiction are not admissible.” Yeah well, he should have just been denied for calling himself a dandy.Evidently the FBI’s exorbitant Terror Watch List includes dandies with top hats.

Poor Sebastian.

Or maybe it was because they thought he was traveling with a Negro Magician?

Or maybe they thought he was just another illegal foreigner sneaking into the country to steal an honest American magician’s job?

So magic was definitely involved. Horsley is certainly a Harry Potter-loving, God-hating, Freedom-hater.



The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

March 19th, 2008 at 6:45 pm

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Junot Diaz has written a damn fine story here. It’s about a typical character that typically slips unmentioned and unregarded through the cracks of our typical existence. The protagonist of Diaz’s highly acclaimed novel is a fat, nerdy nobody, Oscar Wao. When offered pot, he replies, “I might partake. Just a little, though. I would not want to cloud my faculties.” See. Total dork.

But with some history of the Dominican Republic’s oppressive Trujillo regime as a backdrop and some very creative and imaginative dabbling in curses, sex, love, family, and violence, Diaz creates a remarkable story.

Diaz’s work is a Modern American Novel about the Modern American Experience, which is the Modern American Immigrant Experience. It is an experience that has been America’s legacy for some time now and will continue to be thanks to the talented likes of Junot Diaz.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is told with a fresh, colloquial familiarity that authentically captures and illuminates the world of Oscar Wao, a young Dominican living in New Jersey. Things are “real as shit,” people are described with, “them two was tight,” and one individual “was supposed to have Atomic Level G.” There is plenty of Spanish throughout, so a working conversational grasp of the language would certainly add to the experience. Otherwise keep WordReference open on a laptop nearby to translate things like, “And what about that supersonic culo that could tear words right out of niggers’ mouths, pull windows from out their motherfucking frames? A culo que jalaba mas que una junta de buey. Dios mio!”

Diaz even manages to sneak in some post-9/11 literary styling. Oscar’s sister’s hot friends are “all on the volleyball team together and tall and fit as colts and when they went for runs it was what the track team might have looked like in terrorist heaven.”

I started this book rolling my eyes, unimpressed. Here we go, I thought, a Dominican Catcher in the Rye about an unrealistically over-smart adolescent in a coming of age story trying to fuck girls saying things like, “I do not move so precipitously.”

But before my frustration was able to build too much, boom, the narrator changed from third person omniscient to the point of view of his sister. And then his Mom. And then one of his sister’s boyfriends. It actually all worked quite well.

There are plenty of pop culture references, mostly from the nerd-realm of Lord of the Rings, comic books, and graphic novels, but also The Simpsons, Proust, and our globe’s fucked up history. With all the references to comics and works like Watchmen, Brief Wondrous Life makes for a nice companion piece to Quantum Lyrics. There’s even a bit of nerd wisdom: “But you know exactly what kind of world we live in. It ain’t no fucking Middle-earth.”

There are also plenty of footnotes that work to give Diaz’s novel the guise of an actual, serious biography. If anything, it has strong parallels to Virginia Woolf’s Orlando.

Unfortunately, Brief Wondrous Life is guilty of committing one of my biggest book pet peeves: characters in books who are aspiring writers. Is this all writers can write about? And if that’s not enough, when describing a particularly brutal beating, Diaz chooses to tell us via his narrator that, “It was like one of those nightmare eight-a.m. MLA panels: endless.” Isn’t it bad enough that Junot Diaz is a writer who was born in the Dominican Republic, raised in New Jersey, and teaches at M.I.T. writing about a boy who was born in the Dominican Republic and living in New Jersey and going to college?

Diaz’s novel is also annoyingly self-aware, apparatus apparent, if you will. The narrator says things like, “And now we arrive at the strangest part of our tale,” which really bugs me. I know this is a story, Junot. I got your novel in the fiction section.

I even read it.



AUTHOR ARTHUR C. CLARKE IS DEAD

March 18th, 2008 at 4:44 pm

The famous, prophetic, preeminent, visionary, distinguished, knighted, celebrated, transcendent writer died in Sri Lanka on March 19th, 2008 at the age of 90. I bet Anthony Minghella’s family is pissed for having Tony quickly pushed right out of the Obituary Spotlight.

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Sri Lanka was called Ceylon when Clarke moved there in 1956. Which makes me wonder how creepy it will be to tell my children about when this particular arbitrary landmass was referred to as the United States of America.

Though expiring in Sri Lanka, Clarke also seems to have died in Britain, New York, Space, and MTV. This SciFi Star was killed by breathing problems, having suffered from post-polio syndrome for two decades.

No mere writer, Clarke invented the concept of geostationary satellites in 1945, and the orbit of such satellites is named in his honor. Pick up a cell phone and tell that to Dan Brown. As if co-writing a spectacular movie with the Greatest Filmmaker Ever was not enough…

Having separated from his wife after only a few months together in 1953, Clarke spent the rest of his life sharing a home with his “business partner” in Sri Lanka. Which sounds like one hell of a gay tryst. But when asked if he was gay, Clarke would answer, “No, merely mildly cheerful.”

Ha!

Adieu, good Sir. Adieu.



Specter’s Cancer Book a Cancer

March 16th, 2008 at 2:00 pm

Senator Arlen Specter is publishing a book about his battle with cancer.

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Why we need a five-term Senator to publish a book chronicling his personal ordeal with cancer when so many books are already Out There that have articulately and poignantly done the same exact thing is beyond me.

Arlen, if you really want to “Battle Cancer in the Senate,” why don’t you do something about the incestuous and deadly relationship between the government, food manufacturers, and food marketers? 

Evidently Arlen “wanted to be instructive and inspiring to others.”

No once cares, Arlen.

Get back to work.

You are a Public Servant. Not Hemingway. So stop writing.

Instead of selfishly and vainly demanding that simply reading your words will inspire and instruct people to be healthy and fit, why don’t you as a Congressman actually pass some legislation that will improve our failing health care industry? Have you seen Sicko? Chair committees, propose initiatives, but please, please stop writing.

Arlen says that, “Health is our No. 1 capital asset, so to maintain a person’s health is a very, very important item.”

And your book is helping how? Is it so big that lifting it to read is a form of exercise? You’re not Oprah, Arlen. You’re not hosting Biggest Loser. You have your own avenues to enact change. Stop writing, stop playing squash, and for the love of a god, please fix this country. Our levees are breaking, our bridges are disintegrating, our health care system is in shambles, and you’re writing?

In addition to unnecessarily adding to a bursting shelf of books, we can also thank Arlen for chairing the committee that confirmed Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.



Dealing Dope

March 15th, 2008 at 10:00 am

I have been pretty quiet here at the Authwhore, to date. Only becasue I have been in the throws of making my way through the published letters of one Hunter Thompson. That is about 1200 pages of rambling thoughts from one of the great wordsmiths of our time.

I had really planned on a rap about a couple of books before I started that sidebar, which stand on their own merit; Acid House by Irvine Welsh and The Toy Collector by James Gunn.

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I had this whole line of thought worked out, regarding these two books. I was going to go into a whole bit about how comtemprary fiction was in it’s own recession. I was going to write about how literature is a vehicle for escapist moments. You know, those moments of down time when the right book takes you out of your own experience. But my own experiences rival the depravity exhibited what is detailed in the two books I had planned on deconstructing.

Christ, even Oprah has gone on about how great similar stories of epic abuse are fantastic narratives. (Then cried when the line is less than true drug addled whoring.)
The book about some young guy getting sideways on whatever random thing hits his button, treating the folks around him poorly and in the best scenario turning back around seems to have become it’s own genre.
Write about drug boys and get a book published.

Do we even care? Really?
Fiction or Non, does it really matter?
We are talking about straight up escapism right?
I can’t say my motive for reading these books had anything to do with my identification with “using” to escape my present reality. They The Toy Collector and Acid House had neat covers and good lines from random reviewers on thier covers. I was sure they would fill some hours on the train.

Once I had read them I was left marvelling in the similar story lines. And that was the launching point of my attack.
I mean really, they are the some story: with wild drug abuse and shallow love. It is the program for publishing, when considering current fiction. We could all do it.
Slap some smack with some funky love and you have a book.

We all have spent some hours working our way out of our minds. Right? I have, at least. Be honest with yourself, and I will lay one that you have too. Maybe not to the degree of ralphing on your “pals” or selling out your dealers. You have sought escape. I have, too.
So how does that pass for good writing, a story worth publishing?

Acid House does it with some immersion technics with linguistics. The Toy Collector does it, but with less success. They both are good stories, don’t misconstrue my intent here. They both will sink you deep into another minute of a life that is likely worse off than the shit you are dealing with. They will give you escape.

Their form is what is hassling my head, right now, though. General stories of mean drug use and sad relationships are the bit of shit that sells books these days.

It still seems to lack some twinge of reality I know, though. They are both close to a truth and that pulls us in, with the promise of escape from our own banality.

And that is what we’re all hoping for in a book, right?

We want to get out.
Out of our skin. Out of our heads.
Into some sexy shit that makes our own lives look pale.
Along with a little more.

I am still trying to reconcile the drug boy books with earlier books, which feature narcotics as a character, though.
When I put The Toy Collector and Acid House in context with the likes of On the Road, or those stories of Burroughs or especially the work of HST – I am left wanting. Could it be that these contemporary junkies are somehow more empty, more vapid that those of the past? Have we evolved into a society with the depth of dry puddle? In comparison, there is less meaning, in my mind, with these new generation of junkie books, less firmament.

The central figures lack the subtext of actual living in their lives. There is less motivation to identify with characters who are as deep in , as out of it as my worst associations. I am left considering my own bad decisions, after plowing through these stories. The escape delivered is no better than the ones I was able to pull off for myself some twenty years ago. And I did a better job.

Perhaps I exhibited a greater commitment to escapism in my own actions, in my youth. I want something more from those tales today. HST was able to pull that shit off, but he was one to bring the subtext of some larger event to his narratives.

Welsh and Gunn give me a parachute to jump with, but not the ground to land on when things are done. I am left to float in the clouds, and there are no heavens.