Archive for the 'Books' Category

Through the Looking-Glass

Friday, May 7th, 2010

On the Hunter

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

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Separating fact from fiction in ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’
By Corey Levitan (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

That author Hunter S. Thompson and his friend, attorney Oscar Zeta Acosta, visited Las Vegas in 1971 is a fact. There are photographs and witnesses. But what exactly happened, and how much of it resembles the book forever entwining Thompson’s name with Las Vegas?

To commemorate the fifth anniversary of Thompson’s death on Saturday, we attempted to separate the fact from the fiction in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” (For the record, the 1971 book was never represented by Thompson as an accurate account of anything.)

The story opens with Thompson and Acosta — thinly veiled as Raoul Duke and Doctor Gonzo — speeding from Los Angeles to the valley so Thompson can cover the Mint 400, an off-road vehicle race around undeveloped parts of North Las Vegas, for Sports Illustrated magazine.

According to Norm Johnson, who founded the Mint 400 in 1967 and raced in it the year that Thompson observed, the author “got the race stuff right.”

Quickly, though, the Mint 400 became inconsequential to the article that Sports Illustrated ended up rejecting. (It ran in Rolling Stone before becoming the book.) Instead, Thompson delivers a sad but funny and truly demented eulogy for hippiedom, arguing that its flowers be replaced by guns. (The drugs could stay.)

Some events are verifiable. In the 2008 documentary “Gonzo,” Thompson and Acosta can actually be heard living Chapter 9 as they pull into a Boulder City taco stand.

“We’re looking for the American dream,” Acosta tells a waitress, “and we were told it was somewhere in this area.”

The waitress turns to the cook, thinking she has just been asked directions to a nightclub.

“Hey Lou,” she says, “you know where the American Dream is?”

“That whole chapter is a transcription of that audiotape,” said “Gonzo” director Alex Gibney. “So it leads you to believe that some of this stuff is real.”

What probably isn’t real is Thompson’s infamous account of a Debbie Reynolds show at the Desert Inn: Duke and Gonzo witness the opening number (a cover of the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”) before getting bounced for having conned their way in for free.

While Reynolds did play the Desert Inn in March 1971, the singer does not recall this incident, or anything similar. It’s possible that she was never informed, or that she forgot. However, Reynolds is sure of one detail that casts suspicion over the entire account: She has never, she told the Review-Journal through a spokeswoman, performed “Sgt. Pepper.”

Likewise, although much of the book was set in Thompson’s comped room at the Mint (Room 1850 of the recently shuttered Binion’s Hotel), an equally likely setting was Thompson’s creative mind. K.J. Howe, a former publicity executive at the hotel, insists that he would have immediately been informed if any Mint 400 guest ran up a room-service bill of — as per “Fear and Loathing” — “$29 to $36 an hour, for 48 consecutive hours” then skipped out on it.

“That is something I would have known,” Howe said, “but I never heard that.”

Howe, now retired at age 71, remembers meeting Thompson the night before the race, while manning its press table in the Mint lobby.

“I thought he was a panhandler,” Howe said. “He was dressed out of context. I think he had a flowered shirt on and a crazy hat and sunglasses. He should not have been in a racing environment.” (Obviously, the famous Thompson persona was not yet famous.)

According to Howe, there was no “Mr. Heem” or any other hotel executive looking for Thompson, Acosta couldn’t have ordered a set of luggage from room service without paying, and 600 bars of Neutrogena soap never went missing.

“He may have grabbed a pile of them from a maid’s cart,” Howe said, “but that’s about all.”

Other embellishments require no witnesses to identify. For instance, the district attorneys’ conference Thompson was assigned to cover by Rolling Stone convened in late April, more than a month after the Mint 400. Yet the book places the events a week apart, joining them by an aborted trip to Los Angeles punctuated by a traffic stop conducted by a California Highway Patrol officer who supposedly let Thompson go after the author led him on an off-road chase, at 100 mph, with a Budweiser in hand.

“You know,” Thompson quoted the officer, “I get the feeling you could use a nap.”

Howe put it bluntly: “His concept of what was going on and what was really going on was two different things.”

Dismissing Thompson’s entire Las Vegas travelogue as fantasy, though, misses the mark by an equal distance.

“It’s really only from a deep basis in fact where he did start to spin off into certain things that, at some point it became evident, were fantasy,” said Corey Seymour, Thompson’s assistant from 1991 to 2000 and author of his 2007 biography (also titled “Gonzo”). “What you can never really do is to draw that line exactly when the fact stopped and the fantasy began, and that is certainly part of Hunter’s genius.”

Indeed, even Howe acknowledged that Thompson got the brand of allegedly stolen soap right. (The late Del Webb, who owned the Mint, also sat on the board of the company that made Neutrogena.)

Judging by Internet message boards devoted to Thompson, the book claim most readers want verified is the author’s drug use while in Las Vegas. “Fear and Loathing” implies that he and Acosta consumed “two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers … and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls.”

As exaggerated as this sounds, it’s a claim both Johnson and Howe have no problem believing. Johnson recalls escorting Thompson onto a Mint balcony the morning of the big race, to view the vehicles lined up on Fremont Street.

“He almost fell off the edge of the balcony,” Johnson said, adding that a security guard had to step in and catch him.

“Oh God, yeah,” Johnson added, “he was stoned.”

Thompson’s drug abuse, in fact, could be used to explain much of the fictionalization in “Fear and Loathing” as — strange as this sounds — unintentional. As Seymour explained: “Who’s to say what he’s writing is not exactly true in the way that he’s experiencing it?”

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We can’t stop here, this is Bat Country!

Sunday, March 7th, 2010

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Mad Tea Party

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

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In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

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Through the Looking-Glass! Theme of Chess

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

Whereas the first book – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – has the pack of cards as a theme, the book – Through the Looking-Glass – is based on a game of chess, played on a giant chessboard with fields for squares. Most main characters met in the story are represented by a chess piece, with Alice herself being a pawn. However, the moves described in the ‘chess problem’ cannot be carried out legally due to a move where white does not move out of check (a list of moves is included – note that a young child might make this error due to inexperience).

The looking-glass world is divided into sections by brooks, with the crossing of each brook usually signifying a notable change in the scene and action of the story: the brooks represent the divisions between squares on the chessboard, and Alice’s crossing of them signifies advancing of her piece one square. The sequence of moves (white and red) is not always followed, which goes along with the book’s mirror image reversal theme as noted by mathematician and author Martin Gardner. wiki
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Living backwards

Monday, April 6th, 2009

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Wool and Water – Chapter V
SHE caught the shawl as she spoke, and looked about for the owner: in another moment the White Queen came running wildly through the wood, with both arms stretched out wide, as if she were flying, and Alice very civilly went to meet her with the shawl.

“I’m very glad I happened to be in the way,” Alice said, as she helped her to put on her shawl again.

The White Queen only looked at her in a helpless frightened sort of way, and kept repeating something in a whisper to herself that sounded like “Bread-and-butter, bread-and-butter,” and Alice felt that if there was to be any conversation at all, she must manage it herself. So she began rather timidly: “Am I addressing the White Queen?”

“Well, yes, if you call that a-dressing,” the Queen said. “It isn’t my notion of the thing, at all.”

Alice thought it would never do to have an argument at the very beginning of their conversation, so she smiled and said, “If your majesty will only tell me the right way to begin, I’ll do it as well as I can.”

“But I don’t want it done at all!” groaned the poor Queen. “I’ve been a-dressing myself for the last two hours.”

It would have been all the better, as it seemed to Alice, if she had got some else to dress her, she was so dreadfully untidy. “Every single thing’s crooked,” Alice thought to herself, “and she’s all over pins! — May I put your shawl straight for you?” she added aloud.

“I don’t know what’s the matter with it!” the Queen said, in a melancholy voice. “It’s out of temper, I think. I’ve pinned it here, and I’ve pinned it there, but there’s no pleasing it!”

“It can’t go straight, you know, if you pin it all on one side,” Alice said, as she gently put it right for her; “and, dear me, what a state your hair is in!”

“The brush has got entangled in it!” the Queen said with a sigh. “And I lost the comb yesterday.”

Alice carefully released the brush, and did her best to get the hair into order. “Come, you look rather better now!” she said, after altering most of the pins. “But really you should have a lady’s-maid!”

“I’m sure I’ll take you with pleasure!” the Queen said. “Two-pence a week, and jam every other day.”

Alice couldn’t help laughing, as she said, “I don’t want you to hire me — and I don’t care for jam.”

“It’s very good jam,” said the Queen.

“Well, I don’t want any to-day at any rate.”

“You couldn’t have it if you did want it,” the Queen said. “The rule is, jam to-morrow and jam yesterday — but never jam to-day.”

“It must come sometimes to ‘jam to-day,’ “Alice objected.

“No, it can’t,” said the Queen. “It’s jam every other day: to-day isn’t any other day, you know.”

“I don’t understand you,” said Alice. “It’s dreadfully confusing!”

“That’s the effect of living backward,” the Queen said kindly: “it always makes one a little giddy at first — ”

“Living backward!” Alice repeated in great astonishment. “I never heard of such a thing!”

” — but there’s one great advantage in it, that one’s memory works both ways.”

“I’m sure mine only works one way,” Alice remarked.

“I can’t remember things before they happen.”

“It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backward,” the Queen remarked.

“What sort of things do you remember best!” Alice ventured to ask.

“Oh, things that happened the week after next,” the Queen replied in a careless tone. “For instance, now,” she went on, sticking a large piece of plaster on her finger as she spoke, “there’s the King’s messenger. He’s in prison now, being punished: and the trial doesn’t even begin till next Wednesday: and of course the crime comes last of all.”

“Suppose he never commits the crime?” said Alice.

“That would be all the better, wouldn’t it?” the Queen said, as she bound the plaster round her finger with a bit of ribbon.

Alice felt there was no denying that. “Of course it would be all the better,” she said: “but it wouldn’t be all the better his being punished.”

“You’re wrong there, at any rate,” said the Queen; “were you ever punished?”

“Only for faults,” said Alice.

“And you were all the better for it, I know!” the Queen said triumphantly.

“Yes, but then I had done the things I was punished for,” said Alice: “that makes all the difference.”

“But if you hadn’t done them,” the Queen said, “that would have been better still; better, and better, and better” Her voice went higher with each “better,” till it got quite to a squeak at last.

Alice was just beginning to say, “There’s a mistake somewhere — ” when the Queen began screaming, so loud that she had to leave the sentence unfinished. “Oh, oh, oh!” shouted the Queen, shaking her hand about as if she wanted to shake it off. “My finger’s bleeding! Oh, oh, oh, oh!”

Her screams were so exactly like the whistle of a steam-engine, that Alice had to hold both her hands over her ears.

“What is the matter?” she said, as soon as there was a chance of making herself heard. “Have you pricked your finger?”

“I haven’t pricked it yet,” the Queen said, “but I soon shall — oh, oh, oh!”

“When do you expect to do it?” Alice asked, feeling very much inclined to laugh.

“When I fasten my shawl again,” the poor Queen groaned out: “the brooch will come undone directly. Oh, oh!” As she said the words the brooch flew open, and the Queen clutched wildly at it, and tried to clasp it again.

“Take care!” cried Alice. “You’re holding it all crooked!” And she caught at the brooch; but it was too late: the pin had slipped, and the Queen had pricked her finger.

“That accounts for the bleeding, you see,” she said to Alice with a smile. “Now you understand the way things happen here.”

“But why don’t you scream now?” Alice asked, holding her hands ready to put over her ears again.

“Why, I’ve done all the screaming already,” said the Queen. “What would be the good of having it all over again?”

By this time it was getting light. “The crow must have flown away, I think,” said Alice: “I’m so glad it’s gone. I thought it was the night coming on.”

“I wish I could manage to be glad!” the Queen said. “Only I never can remember the rule. You must be very happy, living in this wood, and being glad whenever you like!”

“Only it is so very lonely here!” Alice said in a melancholy voice; and at the thought of her loneliness two large tears came rolling down her cheeks.

“Oh, don’t go on like that?” cried the poor Queen, wringing her hands in despair. “Consider what a great girl you are. Consider what a long way you’ve come today. Consider what o’clock it is. Consider anything, only don’t cry!”

Alice couldn’t help laughing at this, even in the midst of her tears. “Can you keep from crying by considering things?” she asked.

“That’s the way it’s done,” the Queen said with great decision: “nobody can do two things at once, you know.

Let’s consider your age to begin with how old are you?” “I’m seven and a half exactly.”

“You needn’t say ‘exactly.'” the Queen remarked: “I can believe it without that. Now I’ll give you something to believe. I’m just one hundred and one, five months and a day.”

“I can’t believe that,” said Alice.

“Can’t you?” the Queen said, in a pitying tone. “Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.”

Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said: “one can’t believe impossible things.”

“I dare say you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast. There goes the shawl again!”

The brooch had come undone as she spoke, and a sudden gust of wind blew the Queen’s shawl across a little brook. The Queen spread out her arms again, and went flying after it, and this time she succeeded in catching it for herself. “I’ve got it!” she cried in a triumphant tone. “Now you shall see me pin it on again, all by myself!”

“Then I hope your finger is better now,” Alice said very politely, as she crossed the brook after the Queen.

 Lewis Caroll – Through the Looking-Glass