Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail

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Staff Picks: Mano, HST, Castle, Dundy, Powers, Lasdun

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The “staff picks” shelf in any good independent bookstore is a treasure trove of book recommendations. Unmoored from media hype and even timeliness, books are championed by trusted fellow readers. With many bookselling alums in our ranks, we thought it a good idea to offer our own “Staff Picks” in a feature that will be appearing irregularly. We hope you discover something you like.+ Take Five (Dalkey Archive) by D. Keith Mano recommended by GarthD. Keith Who? This guy has written for TV and Sports Illustrated, which hardly explains how, in 1982, he came up with this gloriously funny, word-drunk modern mock-epic. Over the course of 5 days, filmmaker Simon Lynxx, in pursuit of a project called Jesus 2001, loses his senses…one by one. Recommended for: shaggy undergrads, lovers of Pynchon, Barth, Coover, and John Kennedy Toole.+ Fear And Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72 (Grand Central) by Hunter S. Thompson recommended by AndrewI confess: I’m an election junkie. And though I’m a proud Canadian, it’s U.S. presidential elections that really get me going. So as we (and by we, I mean you) gear up for primary season, here’s a masterpiece of political journalism as the irrepressible Hunter Thompson chronicles a year on the campaign trail. You’ll feel like you’re back in 1972, rooting for McGovern, booing at Muskie and “Hube,” your eyes darting about in case the ghost of Nixon is spying on you. There’s lots of minutiae, but as with the best of Hunter Thompson, the devil’s in the detail.+ Boss Ladies, Watch Out! Essays on Women, Sex, and Writing (Routledge) by Terry Castle recommended by EmilyThis collection of essays and reviews, by turns deliciously irreverent (“Was Jane Austen Gay?”), devastatingly funny (the opening of “Women and Criticism”), and astonishingly poignant (“To the Friends Who Did Not Save My Life”), is a must-read for any connoisseur of literary criticism – and, really, any connoisseur of literary style or authorial persona. Castle’s masterfully elegant prose style, her irrepressible and self-deprecating sense of humor, and her shrewd yet humane readings of Cather, Colette, Charlotte Bronte, Austen, Casanova, and Lillian Hellman, to name a few, offer a new hope to those down-cast about the state of criticism, both academic and lay. Recommended for: aspiring Lady-Critics, despairing literature grad students, and belletrists of all stripes.+ The Dud Avocado (NYRB Classics) by Elaine Dundy recommended by EdanOriginally published in 1958 and reprinted this year by the wonderful New York Review of Books, this book follows the adventures and misadventures of young Sally Jay Gorce, an American expat in Paris. She drinks too much, wears ridiculous outfits, and sleeps with the wrong men – it’s like Sex and the City, but far smarter and funnier.+ Wheat That Springeth Green (NYRB Classics) by J.F. Powers recommended by PatrickJ.F. Powers writes about Catholic priests the way Michael Connelly or David Simon writes about homicide detectives – they’re all burned out, chain-smoking, overworked, borderline alcoholics. It’s for precisely these reasons that anyone, Catholic or not, can enjoy Wheat That Springeth Green. More of a bildungsroman than some of Powers’ other work, Wheat follows its protagonist, Joe, from childhood through the seminary and into his priesthood at a parish in Minnesota, where he has to put up with the new generation of sandal-wearing, folk guitar-playing priests. Funny, sexier than you’d think, and vaguely political (Powers went to jail for being a conscientious objector during WWII), this book has been a favorite of mine for years.+ The Horned Man (Norton) by James Lasdun recommended by MaxToo many novels take academia as their backdrop, but few break the mold as thoroughly as Lasdun’s 2002 debut. Amid inter-departmental backbiting, Professor Lawrence Miller discovers a bookmark shifted by a few pages in a book he’s been reading. Beginning with this tiniest lapse from reality, the unexplained events get weirder and wilder: is a vagrant inhabiting his office? is he a killer? This psychological roller coaster is everything I’ve wished Paul Auster’s novels could be.

Hunter S. Thompson

Just found out that Hunter S. Thompson killed himself. It’s unbelievable. I suppose he’s one of those guys who didn’t want to die of old age. Maybe we’ll find out more…HST has been appropriated by many. He came to represent a lot of things, especially an over-the-top counter-cultural wackiness, that he may or may not have signed up for. It also seems like his work is dismissed by as many as those who embrace it. To my mind, his books, especially those penned from the mid 1960s to the early 1970s, included long stretches of blinding brilliance. Unfortunately, there is a lot of bad HST writing on bookshelves too, but his public demanded it, I suppose. My favorite HST book is Fear and Loathing On the Campaign Trail ’72 which is about the race that led up to Nixon’s reelection. If you have even the slightest interest in politics, this is an essential book. In it the ever-distractable HST follows the many tangents that encompass the insanity of the American political process. In one particularly surreal scene, Thompson shares a long limo ride with Nixon. The election is not the only – nor even the central – drama of the book, which originally appeared almost in its entirety in Rolling Stone. The subplot that occasionally becomes the plot of the book, is whether or not HST will be able to finish the book and to face the inevitability of Nixon’s reelection. In the end he does not, and the reader is left frustrated, wanting this man – who seems to have an answer for everything – to stick it out until election day, but he can’t. I think, though, that that was Thompson’s way. It’s infuriating in that instance, as well as in today’s, but in exchange we got brilliance from a man who wrote with such fury that he burnt himself right out.See also: the AP obit. The first of many to come.

Campaigning

I’ve been having a really good time following the race for the Democratic nomination. As is usually the case with me and politics, I’m far more interested as an observer than as a participant. The daily maneuvering makes for good reading. I’ve mostly been following the action at The Note, the daily column put together by ABC News’ political unit. It’s a great behind-the-scenes look at the process. All of this politicking has got me thinking about one of my all time favorite books. Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72 combines, in a way that only Thompson can, political reporting with author’s deteriorating ability to keep it all together. I enjoy this book the most out of all of Thompson’s books because it provides a terrific outsider’s look at the mealy insides of American politics. Thompson sharing the back of a limo with Nixon on a ride from Boston to Manchester is priceless. But it is also amazing because it comes at an odd moment in Thompson’s career, the point of transition from the clear-headed, idealistic recklessness of Hell’s Angels to the addled egotism of his later work. The book got me excited about politics, but I was frustrated that Thompson wasn’t able to keep writing at this level for the rest of his career. Still, it remains a fantastic book for anyone who is interested in history or politics, especially if you have taste for Thompson’s singular, stylistic flair.

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