Friday, January 2, 2009

YotA Book #1: Hunter S. Thompson, BETTER THAN SEX

I intend to read more this year, because reading is awesome. I will try to write something about every book I read here.

Does Dr. Hunter S. Thompson need an introduction? Quite possibly, if only because his writing is more varied and intelligent than he gets credit for. Being relatively uninterested in reading page after page of drug-addled nonsense, I ignored him for far too long, until, interest piqued by the positive opinions of many intelligent and awesome friends, I picked up The Great Shark Hunt at a used bookstore one vacation. It's the perfect introduction to HST: a sprawling work excerpting everything from serious early journalism to his later gonzo style writing, and it's a satisfying reading on its own.

Better Than Sex is the fourth book I've read by him, falling a good twenty years after Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail and returning to the same topic. To be honest, I prefer the earlier book: while HST was deep into his gonzo phase already, he was also on the road, getting the stories, and writing long flowing streams of prose, albeit with his usual tirades, sideways turns, and, well, personal touch.

By the time of this book, narrative flow is replaced by a series of short bursts of writing punctuated with fax pages - his preferred form of communication - all told, creating the (accurate) image of HST as a man hiding in Colorado, watching a political nightmare unfold while blasted off his tits, and spurting out spasms of unshaped genius, free-associating into the depths of conspiracies.

To which I can hear a voice saying: "You're saying that like it's a bad thing." And independently, it's not. Objectively, it's a pretty fascinating book, and certainly worth the time of anyone remotely interested in HST. But overall, despite some genius flights of fancy, I didn't find it as rewarding as his earlier work.

At the end of Better Than Sex, though, is a eulogy for Richard Nixon, if the term can be applied in this case. It's a relentless, relentlessly incisive, brutal piece of writing, and one that lays the sensitive heart of HST bare. Behind the drugs, guns, insanity, and self-caricaturizing was a man who cared more about this country than even his supporters really imagined.

The final paragraph:

He has poisoned our water forever. Nixon will be remembered as a classic case of a smart man shitting in his own nest. But he also shit in our nests, and that was the crime that history will burn on his memory like a brand. By disgracing and degrading the presidency of the United States, by fleeing the White House like a diseased cur, Richard Nixon broke the heart of the American Dream.

The combination of passion, incisiveness, and imagistic obscenity in one short paragraph is Thompson at his greatest, and why he is, well, awesome. I'm saddened to think of what we lost with his suicide: his writing would have provided a fresh, much-welcomed perspective during the Obama/McCain campaign.

Next book: probably McSweeney's THRILLING TALES anthology.


Alastair said...

debbie harry, bloc party and blackalicious = awesome morning playlist. well played good sir.

dd said...

likewise, well done on the buzzcocks for soundtrack to airport. kept the b's going on the airplane with Built To Spill, Bruce Springsteen (you NEED to listen to NEBRASKA), and Big Star.