My high school years were splintered between a boisterous love for cricket, muay-thai kickboxing, and reading. Like many students before me, I was introduced to reading via my eccentric English teacher who used tantalising anecdotes from his own life to foster his students' curiosity for language. He was a soccer hooligan who often brawled with skinheads after he'd spent an afternoon considering Beckett or Frost. Some of the writers he introduced me to—Bataille, Rumi, Bolaño—turned me on even more than the cheer squad captain Emily.
But in general, high school was no place for a reader. So many MySpace profiles filled their Favourite Book columns with "pffft" and "lol," so I became a covert junkie for letters and words. In some ways this continued to uni, where some authors were considered "literary giants" while others were a sure way to embarrass yourself.
This has continued to this day. You can't say you love On the Road these days without someone scoffing at you from their pretentious pedestal. You can't say you enjoy Fear and Loathing without someone making a comment about watching the movie stoned as fuck. So basically, some of my favourite books have become uncool and I don't understand why.
This is why I'm looking at my stained copy of Anthony Kiedis' Scar Tissue, realising I've "arrived at that circle", as Ram Dass once put it. So I re-read the books I loved before I was reprimanded by all those nuanced language jugglers, outcast wordsmiths, and art residence girls from Berlin.
And guess what? They're all still sick.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
Choice quote: "This is the same cruel and paradoxically benevolent bullshit that has kept the Catholic Church Going for so many centuries. It is also the military ethic…a blind faith in some higher and wiser "authority." The Pope, The General, The Prime Minister…all the way up to "God."
More sex, drugs and rock n' roll. Without the sex and rock n' roll. Hunter S. Thompson was every young geek's get out of jail free card whenever writers were pinned down as dweebs. He was a gun-toting, coke-inhaling maniac who churned out articles and books while giving birth to a new genre of journalism. Fear and Loathing is so much more than getting stoned before the film and watching Johnny Depp and Benecio del Toro wave their arms around at bats while lugging around a briefcase full of party-supplies.
Thompson invites you into his interpretation of the American Dream, that of pure indulgence.
The book reads like the friend your parents warned you about. But you still sneak over to his house, because that's where all the best parties are. Even if you know you're going to feel like absolute shit the next week.
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Scar Tissue by Anthony Kiedis
Choice quote: "The sad thing is, people don't want to believe that the person they're in love with is out of his mind, drinking, and using, so if you give them even half an excuse, they're going to want to believe it."
Scar Tissue. Wow. Great song. The book? Not so much now. Re-reading it I noticed how it just feels a like a Hollywood blockbuster. So if you take it for what it is—cheap entertainment—then it is quite good, and much healthier for you than reading something like Twilight. When I was young, the allure of fuck-up drug culture seemed endlessly cool, but revisiting the book it reads a little forced, like a watered down version of Burrough's Junky.
But this doesn't take away from the fact that Kiedis' gutter-fame narrative illuminates the life of a vibrant musical legend, and his notes on meditation and love affairs have a lot to teach. Some of the auto-biographical parts did seem a little far fetched but hey, that's Hollywood. I'm from suburban Melbourne and have never been to LA but Scar Tissue is what I imagine it's like. Billboards, drama, grandiosity, and bullshit.
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
Choice quote: "Somewhere along the line I knew there'd be girls, visions, everything; somewhere along the line the pearl would be handed to me."
Ah yes, On the Road, the book that defined the hipsters of my generation and inspired 75 percent of aspiring writers between the ages of 15-19. I actually really enjoyed this book, probably more so now than when I was young. I don't actually think I read it when I was in high school. It was just another bookshelf prop.
The plot and romances are fleeting, like in a Wong Kar Wai film. As a school kid, the stream of consciousness style would've been really abrasive and edgy, especially after a long day of interpreting King Lear. But even now, the book reads like the internal monologue of the coolest guy in the room, reserved and silent but ticking away in his own head.
1984 by George Orwell
Choice quote: "Even in his terror it was as though he could feel the pain in his own body, the deadly pain which nevertheless was less urgent than the struggle to get back her breath. He knew what it was like; the terrible, agonizing pain which was there all the while but could not be suffered yet, because before all else it was necessary to be able to breathe."
The book that seems ever more important as we trek further into the actualisation of the author's prophecy. This book was a necessity for those "young adults" who always wore oversized sweaters and glasses. They also only drank red wine and referred to things everyone else thought was cool as passé.
Orwell's writing doesn't seem to age in the same way a writer like Melville does. His ability to craft sentences with the precision of a surgeon elucidates his handle on the cognitive process of reading. He knows how to make you feel with words. And reading this novel now is fucking scary in terms of atmosphere and interpretive power. Orwell was woke or on point or whatever the fuck you want to call it. No wonder the Orwellian adjective immediately connotes government control whenever it is uttered by contrarians the world over. He was a punk badass.
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