And there were no books to read. Okay, there were books. But I recently caught up on my to-be-read pile, something that's pretty amazing on it's own, and I was there staring at two whole shelves of books that seemed to be simply lacking in what I was looking for. That is, something new. Something exciting. Anything but the craziness my wife had be recently reading. Don't get me started.
I just re-read John Green's LOOKING FOR ALASKA, which is something I rarely do. After that, I knocked out Sara Zarr's SWEETHEARTS. So there I was freaking out, trying to convince myself that I should just go to sleep.
Then I saw it.
It might be cliche to say Hunter S. Thompson's FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS was important to me. But whatever. Deal with it. The dude scared me, made me want to go on benders, and always knew the exact write words with which to detail these savage journeys of his. And let me just say it so you will not be confused: The first 20 pages of FEAR AND LOATHING is an absolute clinic in Voice. The first paragraph is iconic; I would stack it against any first lines/paragraphs in literature. Need a refresher?
We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like “I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive...” And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming: “Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?”
Another one of my favorite parts from the book:
There was every reason to believe I was heading for trouble, that I'd pushed my luck a bit far. I'd abused every rule Vegas lived by—burning the locals, abusing the tourists, terrifying the help. The only hope now, I felt, was the possibility that we'd gone to such excess, with our gig, that nobody in a position to bring the hammer down on us could possibly believe it . . . When you bring an act into this town, you want to bring it in heavy. Don't waste any time with cheap shucks and misdemeanors. Go straight for the jugular. Get right into felonies. The mentality of Las Vegas is so grossly atavistic that a really massive crime often slips by unrecognized.
What makes Thompson brilliant, I think, is the irreverence. It's what makes his writing voice so memorable, like a whip being cracked across your face. I love it. I aspire to it. And you should too.
Okay, so maybe not the drugs. Or the guns. Or the ether, either. But the words - the way he wrote like he didn't give a damn (but it was so obvious that he was in control of everything he put down on paper.) The way he told his story. The passion and fury in his writing wasn't workshopped out. And if you know anything about HST, just pause for a moment and consider him as part of your critique group.
He may not be your type of writer. Which means you suck. Okay, maybe not. Maybe we'll just consider you suspect for your obvious lack of taste. Putting all of that aside, maybe you can simply appreciate the simple fact that Thompson was a master at what he did.
It makes me want to take chances in my own writing, to not edit out the stuff I think will offend people; to not make my manuscripts so clinical and pedestrian. It makes me want to write the way he wrote - without abandon, using words that come so close to burning the page.