Hunter S. Thompson on reading, writing and rejection
All the King’s Men, by Robert Penn Warren, is one of my all-time favourite books. If you don’t know the book you should grab it and read it as soon as possible because it will teach you a lot of things. The Ginger Man, by J. P. Donleavy, was one of my seminal influences. It was kind of a password in certain circles. The Ginger Man got the piss beat out of him more than a few times, as I recall. The reading experience is important: All the King’s Men, George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Gatsby is 55,000 words long—amazing economy in a book like that. With Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas I was determined to make it shorter than that. I may have failed. I think I beat it. But it’s like the speed record on Saddle Road: I’m not sure I still hold it. In fact, I’m sure I don’t if I could do it just by getting my hands on a Ferrari.
I get tremendous pleasure from reading aloud and having other people read to me. I like to hear how other people hear things. I like women’s voices, foreign accents. There’s a music to it.
When you’re reading aloud, just remember that you want to understand it yourself. You have to hear it. That’s the key to other people comprehending. You’ve got to hear the music. You need to hit each word. Not the way journalists read but with a dramatic rendering. It takes awhile. It’s easier to comprehend when you creep along, like driving in second gear. The listener should be impatient for what’s coming next.
For the better part of two years, while I was working as a copy boy at Time magazine—after my time in the Air Force—I took courses at Columbia and the New School. I had the fiction editor of Esquire, Rust Hills, as a creative writing professor at Columbia. I still have a note from him saying, “Never submit anything to Esquire ever again. You’re a hateful, stupid bastard. Esquire hates you.” It was kind of a shock at that age.
—from “Post Cards from the Proud Highway,” Playboy, May 2005
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