Saturday, November 02, 2013

The Scandalous Bumping of Hunter S. Thompson

“You don’t rotate Hunter S. Thompson,” Patti snorted.  I’d just finished selecting books for my spring semester literature course The Great American Road Trip and Other Epic Journeys and thought Patti might be impressed that I’d “almost” included her hero on my syllabus. 

I knew going in that it was a risky move.  Patti’s feelings for the 1960s bad boy journalist surpass the average tween at a One Direction concert. 

“Almost?” she deadpanned.  “Why almost?”

I hastily explained that he wasn’t out for good, there’s always next semester, maybe next time.  “I’ll rotate him in,” I offered, hastily. 

“He wouldn’t approve at all.  Hunter S. Thompson would rather NOT be on your syllabus at all if he’s going to be rotated.” Patti paused. “Who made the cut?” she asked, the hint of suspicion audible to my trained ear.

“Kerouac,” I retorted.

Patti was momentarily mollified. Before I could breathe a sigh of relief, she asked The Question, the one I was hoping to avoid.

“Is there a reason he can’t be on the syllabus with Kerouac, right now?”

“Ummm.  I wanted to stick with books I’ve read. Recently.  Um, I mean, ever.”

“What?? You mean to tell me you haven’t READ Hunter S. Thompson?”

“Well, samples, sure…” my voice trailed.

“And they let you teach stuff?” Patti demanded.

The truth is, despite Patti’s passion for Hunter S. Thompson, he’s never come up on any syllabus in my entire educational history. No prof I've ever had has taught, or even mentioned the journalistic icon.

It's entirely possible that the omission of Thompson is a problem; a failure of the state educational system.  Of late, I’ve been amassing a secret List of Shame.  I add to the list of “educational gaps” whenever the name of a writer of which I’m unfamiliar pops up during the course of my nonfiction workshop MFA class.  Which happens almost every week.

But it seems equally likely that the bumping of certain greats from various syllabi is nothing but a statistical fact. I could, after all, make a list equally long of works I’ve mentioned that draw nothing but blank stares from my fellow workshoppers.  It’s become clear that I read different books, and, in the aftermath of the Hunter S. Thompson affair, I have decided that I just might be OK with that.

For instance, am I less literate because I’m not really familiar with Robert Yates—an apparent darling of the workshop crew, but my mention of Dany Laferrière draws quizzical glances?  Is it a problem that I voraciously read Anne Lamott, Lori Notaro, Sloane Crosley and Lisa Kogan but am not really sure what David Foster Wallace or Bukowski penned?  That I’ve devoured Steinbeck’s less-known Travels With Charley no less than a half dozen times but haven’t read The Grapes of Wrath?

Likewise, if Patti embraces Hunter S. Thompson and misses a few other authors from the Standard Canon, why should it matter?  The fact is, there’s a whole lot of books out there—an astounding, exponentially growing collection of tomes.  Even the best read of us will only scratch the surface.  By sheer necessity, we have to be selective—and open.  I, for one, am downloading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, yea even this evening.  Looking forward to it, actually.  After all, he’s up next in the rotation.

What classic books and authors have you bumped/missed/ignored and which ones have you embraced?

P.S. And yes, despite the HST flap, I am still allowed to teach stuff.  Here's the 411 on the new class:


The Great American Road trip and other epic travels hits America’s iconic highways and footpaths as well as the lesser-traversed landscape of the inner self.


On the Road  Jack Kerouac 
A Walk in the Woods  Bill Bryson
Travels With Charley John Steinbeck
Travels Michael Crichton 
Into The Wild Jon Krakauer

In addition to a long paper, my students will make travel folders for each literary journey--so excited!

Prof Dan Not His Real Name asked our Nonfiction Workshop class to analyze our writing.  The results are in, and in this post:

I write like
Oscar Wilde
I Write Like. Analyze your writing!


Lisa said...

Don't know if you knew that one of my majors in college was English. I took one class where the professor chose American authors but not the works they were known for. I hated the class....I have read 2 of the books in your syllabus by the way.

Cynthia Davis said...

Yes, I do know this bit of trivia, which is one of many reasons I'm interested in your opinion on this topic. I know you read Bryson...which was the other book you read? And at least 2 of mine are non-famous works of famous American authors...should I be concerned? lol

patricia minium moonis said...

Nicely done.
HST always loved a good scandal. ;)

Erica@PLRH said...

Perhaps I need to expand my horizons? I haven't read any of the books on your syllabus. I also analyzed my writing and apparently I write like HP Lovecraft. Now I need to find out who that is.

Cynthia Davis said...

Hi, Erica! I analyzed 6 writing samples and matched to an equal number of authors--one of whom was HP Lovecraft. I had to look him up, too. Evidently he's a nineteenth century horror icon.

George Vacca said...

Suggestions for future topics:

Men and Food: Does Quantity Trump Quality?

The Twelve Best Kindergartens in New York State

The Humiliation of Unused Desktop Icons

George Vacca said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
George Vacca said...


The analysis alleges: Kurt Vonnegut.
So what do I do now?

Cynthia Davis said...

Hey, Dad! Hmmm....if you like the result, I'd download the little badge and display it proudly. Otherwise, I'd keep going until I got i result I really liked ;)
And those topics! Were you using a topic generator app to come up with them? lol Maybe it's time for YOU to start blogging!

George Vacca said...
This comment has been removed by the author.


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