Sunday, January 17, 2016

Books About Drinking, Fucking, and Travelling: The 70s, Bukowski, Thompson, and Theroux

After the free love and idealism of the 60s, there was the perhaps-inevitable crash into bitterness and dissolution. The three Prime Movers of Books about Drinking, Fucking, and Traveling in the 70s were undoubtedly Hunter S. Thompson, Charles Bukowski, and Paul Theroux.

(Damn, has it been three years already?  Previous entries in this series:

SOME HISTORICAL LITERARY PERSPECTIVE ON DRINKING, FUCKING, AND TRAVELING -- In which I examine THE CANTERBURY TALES, CANDIDE, and GULLIVER'S TRAVELS

MORE BOOKS ABOUT DRINKING, FUCKING, AND TRAVELING (1900 - 1950) -- In which I examine the work of Jerome K. Jerome, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scot Fitzgerald, and Graham Greene

EVEN MORE BOOKS ABOUT DRINKING, FUCKING, AND TRAVELING (SPECIAL BEATNIK EDITION) -- In which I examine the life and work of hep cats Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs.)


In 1971, Hunter Stockton Thompson was a succesful journalist who had written a book about the Hell's Angels motorcycle gang and several noted articles for Rolling Stone. Then he released FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS: A SAVAGE JOURNEY TO THE HEART OF THE AMERICAN DREAM.

It was a wake-up call for those who wished to be fucked up all the time. With his energetic, unique prose stylings, he made a couple of weekends taking drugs in Vegas hotel rooms probably much more entertaining than they would have been to actually experience. 

And in the process transformed himself from hard-hitting investigative journalist to Cultural Icon of Buffoonery. His Woodward and Bernstein soul morphed into a Cheech and Chong reality. 

He did write one more important piece of journalism -- FEAR AND LOATHING ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL 1972 -- but that was pretty much it. The rest of his career was a fog of drugs and Celebrity and books that rehashed things he'd seen on TV and almost always reprinted things he'd written in his glory days. 

He isn't as well known for his travels abroad, but he worked and traveled in the Caribbean and South America in the 50s and 60s -- many of his dispatches from South America are printed in THE GREAT SHARK HUNT. His novel THE RUM DIARY is under-rated in its portrayal of expat life in Puerto Rico at that time. (Apparently back then the drunks and fuckups worked at English-language newspapers, rather than teaching English. I've met a few English-language newspaper writers in my travels but only a few.)

Source: Wikipedia

Hunter S. Thompson blew his own brains out at age 67 on February 20, 2005, following some health problems related to his back and skeleton. (While drugs and alcohol seemed to take a toll on his writing and his life in general, his body didn't seem to mind too much.)


And then there are those of us who prefer to sulk silently on the sidelines of life; how could we not fall in love with Charles Bukowski? 


Raised in Great Depression-era Los Angeles, Charles Bukowski is often described as the Poet Laureate of Lowlifes. He worked at the post office until he started writing full-time at age 50 (round about 1970) and he is a best-selling author in Europe but a bit less well-known in the US. Writing simply and powerfully and (perhaps most importantly of all) humorously about life on the outskirts of society, drinking hard, working crappy jobs, and living in squalid rented rooms, Bukowski's philosophy seemed to be that losers were more honest than winners and that there was some nobility in refusing to play the bulshit games of life. (DON'T TRY is written on his tombstone.)


He has written countless books of poetry -- enjoyable and readable though they are -- but he seems to be better beloved by readers for his novels. HAM ON RYE describes his rough childhood and college years; FACTOTUM describes his travels around the US living in different cities in the 40s. POST OFFICE is about his years of drunken employment at that fine institution, and WOMEN is about his final success as a writer, and indulging himself in some groupies. HOLLYWOOD describes an attempt to make a film about one of his books (which in real life was called BARFLY:)


Drinks for all my friends! Charles Bukowski died of leukemia in 1994 at age 73, successful, married, critically-lauded, and seemingly rather content. 

What's that you say? A bit less drinking and fucking, and a bit more travelling?  

Former English teacher Paul Theroux might be right up your alley.  

Source: Wikipedia
With the release of THE GREAT RAILWAY BAZAAR in 1975, Paul Theroux changed the landscape of travel writing. The book describes an epic round-trip train journey across Europe, India, the Middle East, Russia, and Asia and now instead of writing snootily about history and culture, travel writers could bitch endlessly about the filth and the discomfort. (It's a fascinating read in retrospect, as with many travel books, in seeing what's the same as well as what's different. )

He's also written a lot of novels about the ups and downs of expat life; some notable ones include 1973's SAINT JACK, about a hustling expat working as a pimp in Singapore, and 1981's THE MOSQUITO COAST about a disgruntled whacko inventor who takes his family to live on an island in  Honduras.


NEXT ON BOOKS ON DRINKING FUCKING AND TRAVELING: SPECIAL ANNOYING 90s CHICKS EDITION! 

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

A return to form.

These three have all written books I enjoyed...and other stuff which wasn't so great.

For Paul Theroux I think his three early novels set in Africa are his most entertaining.

Someone you should read/put on you list is Anthony Burgess, the author of 'clockwork orange' - he was an English teacher in Malasia - and wrote a good trilogy of novels about it - The Malayan Trilogy - he also has another bunch of novels about an expat poet 'Enderby' - one of these 'The Clockwork Testament' has the best writing about teaching ever...based on his experiences in lecturing on Elizabethan Playwrights in New York.

Tom said...

I'm a big Thompson fan, especially of "Rum Diary". The movie was awful but the book was a solid look at expat life. Thompson was only 22 when he wrote it, which makes it more impressive. The drugs definitely took a toll on him, and based on the biography I read about him he was a real piece of shit. An abusive narcissist who sucked everyone around him dry. Probably would have been a good English teacher...

I'm a bigger Bukowski fan, although he had some of the same personal flaws. Women was great, and it seemed like his girlfriends in that gave as good as he did. He definitely comes across as a broken person.

I hate Theroux though, at least his books about railroad travel. He is so boring, and seems to really hate people and travel. That would be fine normally, but I don't want to read 400 pages about it.

You should make a modern version. The Irishman in Columbia book could be a good candidate. I know lots of smaller self-published books too. Most suck but some are good enough.

englishteacherx said...

Well, the point of this series was just that all these new Manosphere / PUA guys were living abroad, drinking and fucking, acting like they'd invented it. Felt like I had to remind them what time it was!

Dave in Seattle said...

Ham on Rye and Tropic of Cancer are my two favorites. I believe Henry Miller was briefly some kind of English teacher in France. Miller is the best at capturing the ups and downs of ex-pat life in all its depravity, deviancy and humiliations.

Some of Theroux's books are good, parts even excellent but he's such a snob and sanctimonious misanthrope that his longer books really wear on the reader. Parts of Mosquito Coast, especially the beginning are really good. Same with the Railway Bazaar. The one where he travels through the Americas by rail has some great bits in it too. Usually, the best parts of his travelogues are when he meets up with a fellow American who's crazy, alcoholic, deviant etc. and just records his tropical rantings. The sex crazed pilot he meets in Costa Rica comes to mind or the drunken "contractor" he meets on a train in Thailand who details his visit to Lao whorehouse and the ladyboy prostitute he fell for.

Dave in Seattle

Tom said...

Oh, I didn't know that was the goal. Makes sense though. Lots of classics going back a long way. Some of the modern travel/expat books are so fucking awful. I'm sure books that bad were coming out 50 years ago too, but still.

I'm a big Miller fan too. Celine is good too, he spent a lot of time living the expat life from what I remember.

englishteacherx said...

Yeah, you know Miller was a big omission from my list, but I find the guy unreadable. Not sure why, but it was a general feeling that he can't get out of his own way long enough to tell what happened. I should probably try him again these days. Celine I like, though.

Chris said...

Today, it's hip amongst journalistic authors to write what "seems true". In other words, to make up what sounds authentic or otherwise hammers home a point (and I suppose then that the irony of a foundation-less "true" point becomes lost on them).

With Bukowski, one got the impression that he needed to construct nothing. That either means he is one of the most entertaining and convincing bullshit artists around, who managed to write "what is true in a manner that would legitimately map the lives of the hapless; or that he was lucky enough to be his own muse and produce really great writing as a result. I think either case is rare, but I like to think that it is the latter. With Thompson, one gets the impression of the former for at least a significant portion of the time, though I don't hold that to detract specifically from his work.

Rest in peace Chinaski and Hunter

Anonymous said...

Bukowski was not born in L.A. He was born in Germany. You're a phony hipster who doesn't know a fucking thing about Bukowski. nd your writing reads like something from a freshman English Lit. class.

englishteacherx said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
englishteacherx said...

That is true that he was born in Germany and spent a whopping 3 years there, before being RAISED in depression era Los Angeles. Edited, Septermber 13, 2016. I'm not a hipster, and we are anxiously awaiting more of your sophisticated prose stylings, please send us samples.