The Fight by Norman Mailer

It feels right to move from Hunter S. Thompson’s Hell’s Angels to Norman Mailer’s The Fight. Both big names with big reputations. Both pioneering journalistic works, with that subjectivity later honed by Hunter S. into his trademark gonzo, which is to say a hardboiled style where the journalist writes and lives his way to the centre of the story he is reporting.

I studied Mailer’s An American Dream in high school, a novel about a ex-congressman who murders his wife and gets away with it, looking back, a gateway book to adulthood for me. It was the last book I studied at school, and the last assignment, to write an extra, final, chapter to the book, kept me many nights from sleep, characters and conflicts swirling in my head, tossing and turning, reaching for my notepad, scratching down ideas almost indecipherable the next morning. In the end, I submitted my chapter by printing it in the same font and layout as the novel and binding the pages into my copy of the book. I learnt something about writing in those weeks, and I still feel the struggle and satisfaction today, twenty years on.

-Reading the Why

The daily press is the evil principle of the modern world, and time will only serve to disclose this fact with greater and greater clearness. The capacity of the newspaper for degeneration is sophistically without limit, since it can always sink lower and lower in its choice of readers. At last it will stir up all those dregs of humanity which no state or government can control.

-Sören Kierkegaard, The Last Years: Journals 1853-5 quoted in Hunter S. Thompson, Hell’s Angels

Hell’s Angels by Hunter S. Thompson

You’ve probably noticed that I like books, but I don’t have as many as you may think. Most I’ve sold or given away. Right now, I only have 80 or so novels, a handful of Leunigs (certain to be the name of his next collection), and a dozen art books.

I left my home town 12 years ago with a backpack of essentials, leaving behind everything else at friends’ houses, including all my books and comics. I wish I could remember which book I took with me on my trip out, that would be amazing to know. I moved to Airlie Beach, a small backpacker town where I stayed about a year before travelling down the coast to Melbourne. I was there a year too. From there I moved to the UK where I lived in London and worked two winters and stayed in Cambridge and travelled Europe two summers. At the end of two years, I again packed my backpack and moved to Germany where, a few months later, I settled in Berlin. Two years later, I moved cities once more, but I returned to Berlin less than a year later. In Berlin I’ve lived in 4 separate flats. The point is, I’ve had to sell, gift, abandon a lot of books over the years.

Luckily I don’t like a lot of what I read (the why of that I’ve probably explained elsewhere, or I will again soon). Moving so often, I tried not to accumulate too many books. I borrow from the library, I inherit books when friends move away, and I fail to resist picking up second hand books at flea markets. It’s only recently that I’ve started to re-buy some of my favourites, what I call my comfort books, books I’ve read and loved and want to lend to friends to read. I usually don’t even read the copies I buy. My current living arrangement is the most stable I’ve had since I left home, and I’ve realised I may never be reunited with my books back in Australia.

I bought another selection of comfort books the other day. They were:

1. The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams
2. Last Chance to See by Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine
3. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
4. Calvin & Hobbes by Bill Watterson
5. The Crucible by Arthur Miller

I also bought two books I hadn’t read before. One of them was Hell’s Angels by Hunter S. Thompson.

-Reading the Why

I pride myself with having discerned even then the symptoms of what is so clear today, when a kind of family circle has gradually been formed, linking representatives of all nations, jolly empire-builders in their jungle clearings, French policemen, the unmentionable German product, the good old churchgoing Russian and Polish pogromshchik, the lean American lyncher, [and] the man with the bad teeth who squirts antiminority stories in the bar or the lavatory…

-Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

A customer came in to the bookshop today looking for Flowers for Algernon, which was quite funny because I had just spent most of yesterday researching multiple intelligences in a vain effort to  draft my own intelligence test that takes all aspects of intelligence into account which I was going to call AQ: Awareness Quotient, and had stumbled upon a reference to a discussion about the meaning of intelligence in Daniel Keyes’ Flowers of Algernon (coincidentally already on my to-read list) so I looked for the text online and found a PDF version of the original short story later to be adapted into a novel by the same author, and I shared this with the customer who didn’t seem much impressed. We didn’t stock the book.

She moved on and asked if we had anything by Bukowski, who of course is the author of the book I just finished reading! I love these kinds of coincidences but obviously she didn’t because she just looked at me like why-are-you-telling-me-this and waited for me to point her the way. Connection averted.

-Reading the Why

P.S.: Incidentally, I’m still in the middle of Speak, Memory but I figure I could squeeze a short story in there between chapters.

Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov

Reading Lolita for the first time some years ago I thought to myself that it could have done without the last hundred pages. Then I read the afterword from Nabokov and he writes that some idiots think the book is a hundred pages too long! I felt pretty stupid, but not as stupid as if I had read his 999-line poem Pale Fire and omitted the forward and commentary. It could have happened. I’m sure it’s happened to some people.

I love Nabokov. I love his bleak humour, and I love that he wrote in English as a Russian to rival the great English-language authors. In fact, he is for me one of the great English-language authors. But most of all I love him for his use of unreliable narrators. It’s a feature in pretty much all his novels, all the ones I’ve read so far anyway, and it hasn’t gotten old yet. I’m about half way through.

Speak, Memory is supposed to be an autobiography. It probably won’t but I hope it also turns into an unreliable history! (I also love punctuation in titles.)

-Reading the Why