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