Tuesday, October 14, 2014


The Rum Diary, Hunter S Thompson, Simon & Schuster, 1998, 204 pp

I have a fascination with Hunter S Thompson. To me, he is the quintessential bad boy of the late 60s and onward. In your face, always high, and getting away with it. I used to fall for guys like that. I even married one but it didn't last. Still, I have a romantic remnant that attracts me to such rebels.

But I haven't read his books, just his Rolling Stone pieces as they appeared during the years I was reading that mag, before it lost its edge. So, in my usual way, I am starting at the beginning.

The Rum Diary is a book dripping with legend and lore: that Thompson wrote it in 1960 when he was a Hemingway worshipper but couldn't get it published, that Johnny Depp found the manuscript among Thompson's papers and got it published in 1998, that Depp finally got it made as a movie in 2011, six years after Thompson's death. When it comes to Hunter S Thompson, the truth is deeply buried in his outrageous persona.

I put the book on the 1961 list for My Big Fat Reading Project. I saw the movie last year and it was good. Depp spiffed it up for the 21st century but the book is better; less flashy, more sunk in youthful despair, and the female character is unrecognizable. She is not the one in the movie, she is more pathetic, but most of all she fits right in with the way bad girls were portrayed by male novelists in the early 60s. Hemingway would have approved.

The Rum Diary is a quick read. Since it is about newspaper people working at a failing daily paper in San Juan, Puerto Rico, it reminded me a little of The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman, though this is the better book in my opinion. As a piece of Hunter Thompson history, the novel contains numerous harbingers of the man's later writing. Next up: Hell's Angels, 1966!

(The Rum Diary is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

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