If you go to school, or went to school or tell people you go to school, you’ve seen a syllabus. A paper full of shit you’re supposed to read. You get it the first day of class and when you do you feel jazzed and promise yourself to read them all. Get A’s. Participate. Get smart. But that dream quickly fades. Usually by 3 p.m. that same day. And for the most part — aside from a few hidden gems — you might actually be OK. I’d personally recommend you do your fucking homework. But if you don’t, at least do ours. The world has a lot of problems and I’m starting to learn that deleting distracting apps and settling in for a few hours to read every day might be the only thing that saves me (and us all) from a series of serious panic attacks caused by mutilated social media brains and a world losing it’s fucking mind outside. So, here’s our medicine.—Travis
1.) Kingdom of Fear by Hunter S. Thompson
“There is a huge body of evidence to support the notion that me and the police were put on this earth to do extremely different things and never to mingle professionally with each other, except at official functions, when we all wear ties and drink heavily and whoop it up like the natural, good-humored wild boys that we know in our hearts that we are. These occasions are rare, but they happen — despite the forked tongue of fate that has put us forever on different paths…”—from Kingdom of Fear
Might wanna tell your “Social Studies” book to fuck off for the year and try this instead. Your teacher and the world at large (some of them) will thank you. And me. This book might be the closest thing we have to a memoir from Hunter. More or a less a paraphrase of his evolution and life as one of the most fascinating writers, journalists and political gatekeepers our world’s ever seen. All just a few years before he shot his head off and asked Johnny Depp to fire his ashes out of a cannon as a funeral — no time like today to realize Hunter was right all along, and this time it might be too late. But it’s always worth a shot. Or two.
2.) A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace
“I have felt as bleak as I’ve felt since puberty, and have filled almost three Mead notebooks trying to figure out whether it was Them or Just Me.”—from A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again
It is equal parts hilarious and terrifying. The late (yes, him too :/) David Foster Wallace’s tone is as if he’s in your mind pulling out a narrative you wish you could relay but have always held inside. Dillon Perillo once told me, “Everything is so agreeable that you feel like you’re the actual author as you read him. You almost have to snap out of it.” And that’s a great way to put it. His writing is clearly genius, but he taps into observations and allows them to crystalize into paragraphs full of context and depth in the grand scheme of life when the thing he’s telling you about is the flush from a toilet on a cruise ship. This book is full of essays and I recommend every single one of them. Especially the one about the cruise ship at the end. His great novel Infinite Jest is for the avid fan, and takes a serious commitment to putting your phone down. If you can read it, I will give you a hug and we will have a drink together discussing it. Call me if you do. I’m serious.
3.) Barbarian Days by William Finnegan
“What could rightly have worried my dad about me and surfing was the special brand of monomania, antisocial and ill-balanced, that a serious commitment to surfing nearly always brought with it. Surfing was still something that one did — that I did — with friends, but the club thing, the organized-sports part, was fading fast. I no longer dreamed about winning contests, as I had dreamed about pitching for the Dodgers. The newly emerging ideal was solitude, purity, perfect waves far from civilization. Robinson Crusoe, Endless Summer.” —from Barbarian Days
I hate reading about surfing in my “free time.” Usually. I spend a lot of my time doing it, and maybe that’s why, and it’s rarely (if ever) been documented all that well. There are a whole bunch of dudes out there who coined the worthless and self-entitled thing that is “surf journalism” which is as phony and pretentious as anything (see The Inertia). And it’s always left my mouth feeling icky. But then, then there is William Finnegan. I have never read passages as on point, sophisticated yet simple on a topic that has long avoided great prose. Surfing and traveling and figuring out existence. He’s got it all in there. Obama’s got it on his list, and it’s on the What Youth syllabus too. You’ve probably heard of this book, and now it’s time you read it.
4.) Love is a Dog From Hell by Charles Bukowski
“there is a loneliness in this world so great
that you can see it in the slow movement of
the hands of a clock.
people so tired
either by love or no love.
people just are not good to each other
one on one.
the rich are not good to the rich
the poor are not good to the poor.
we are afraid.
our educational system tells us
that we can all be
it hasn’t told us
about the gutters
or the suicides.
or the terror of one person
aching in one place
watering a plant.” —From Love is a Dog from Hell
Charles Bukowski is cliche by now. And his novels are great, sure. Pretty entertaining reads. Simple. But effective. But it’s his poetry books and anthologies — which, yes, you’ll have to find in the poetry section — are where his words will leave you in a puddle of candle wax and wine. He will cut you down, build you up and pluck emotions out of your heart that you wish you didn’t know existed, but are happy to have revealed once the wine goes down. I’ve spent hours and hours and finished these books in one sitting and a bottle and a half of wine. All of them are good and necessary. There have been tears. Inspiration. Sadness. Laughter. Joy. And heartbreak. It’s like living a whole life in one bottle of wine and a few poems.
5. Deadeye Dick by Kurt Vonnegut
“My wife has been killed by a machine which should never have come into the hands of any human being. It is called a firearm. It makes the blackest of all human wishes come true at once, at a distance: that something die.”—from Deadeye Dick
I haven’t read much Vonnegut. But I read this one and a few others, but it’s still my favorite. Audacity, existential questions, morality, humor and politics, all rolled into one very clever book. And in a time when these choices and issues regarding guns, politics, race and kindness are all called into question, every single day, very few have put perspective around it like Kurt Vonnegut. Let’s keep trying.