In summer my IQ goes down dramatically, but I’m happy to report I read a book all the way to its ending this past week. The book in question is Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson. People that know my reading tastes might be surprised that I haven’t read it until now. I like novels that take on drinking, drugs, and sex themes. Librarians have an entire week in celebration for these types of books, and that is banned books week which is the last week in September. So for this entry I’m going to talk about the controversial books I read, and why the print media should be open to all ideas with little constriction.
First I’ll summarize my opinion of Fear and Loathing. The introduction is phenomenal. There are two people in a car speeding through the desert to Vegas with a car full of a numerous drugs. Every sentence is like a outlandish phrase that could be coined. Maybe in our time Charlie Sheen could write an intro this good. The first few chapters really show the mania. Unfortunately in my opinion by the middle of the book that originality is dried up by a repetitive storyline that goes on and on. At only 200 pages the story seemed too long to me, as if Thompson stretched a short story idea into a novel.
Even though the book in its entirety did not hold my interest, it probably did turn heads when it came out. Even people reading it now could be turned off by the excess and the glamorization of these drugs. The description of usage in this book is so over the top, that in real life those doses would most likely kill the taker.
The full title of this book is Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream. So throughout the book there is a theme of the American Dream, whether it be social standards, various wars, and even family. Most of this was lost in the description of mania, but I think Thompson’s idea was to attain the American Dream you took everything on like a roller coaster, and only once you have it all can you analyze it.
Now I’ll talk about Requiem for a Dream by Hebert Selby Jr., this novel has the bleakest scenes of heroin use that I’ve ever read. Set in and written in the 1970’s the story highlights a few main characters and their drug problems. Early on one character describes how he would never use toilet water to shoot up, and then later in the book he does just that. This also has the a brutal description of winter that will stay with the reader.
For grad school I did a book report on Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller for an Intellectual Freedom class. I have since read that two more times. I like the expatriate period and for years my favorite book was Tender is the Night by Fitzgerald, but when I read Miller I felt that was how the real expatriates did it, the ones without the money. In Tropic the themes are whores and drinking written with humor and intelligence. In the novel the narrator can be very brutal about it, I remember one idea put in Tropic is to never pick up a starving prostitute because she will want more money and be a horrible lay.
A few autobiographies and worth mentioning that I liked. Manchild in the Promise Land tells of Claude Brown’s growing up with drugs, gangs, and racial tensions in 1950’s New York City. Recently Keith Richard’s wrote his autobiography called Life and he in detail tells of his excess.
I’m sure that there are many more risky books out there with themes on drugs. One classic I could not stomach, I hated Naked Lunch, and felt it too much for my tastes.
I’m thinking of all these books that have ugly contexts and I’m wondering why I like them. I never and never will do heroin, and I would not be a shady person in Paris. I think there is a universal fascination with what is happening to people in different circumstances than the status quo. Even though Requiem for a Dream is fiction and abstract to me, there are people going through that awful addiction. The hard drugs have ruined people and families forever, and will continue to do so as long as there are humans. If literature is to take on the human condition, it has to take on the dark sides of humanity too. Also this creates some understanding as to why decisions are made and everything should be discussed with at risk people and information on risky subjects should not be brushed aside or hidden.
To me, these books left an impression, but it was not an overload. I don’t think I could stomach watching the movie Requiem for a Dream that shows people injecting. There is also a reason the images in books like Naked Lunch should not be made visual. The movie system has a PG, R, and Adult ratings. Movies have sound effects, talking, and visuals and with more senses being used I think can make more of a horrifying experience. So I agree with the rating system for movies, a kid should not see the Saw movies. But reading words an individual reader evaluates the context in his or her mind, and can bring on so many thoughts and discoveries that it should not be limited.