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God’s Middle Finger: Into the Lawless Heart of the Sierra Madre – Richard Grant

“’Jesus Fucking Christ,’ I thought. I’ll never go into the Sierra alone again.” – Richard Grant

Journalist and travel writer Richard Grant takes us along on his journey through the most dangerous region of North America: Mexico’s Sierra Madre. During his travels he will be hunted in the night, offered cocaine by police officers, left crawling in first gear with the nearest garage two hours in either direction, and stand accused of being a DEA agent by paranoid coked-up Mexicans.

Stretching out for over 800 hundred miles, the Sierra Madre Occidental is a rugged and violent landscape, and it lies just twenty miles south of the border of Arizona. Grant himself called his fascination with the area an “unfortunate one”. Throughout the book we meet characters which would seem at home in the pages of a Cormac McCarthy novel.

The book begins at 200 miles per hour, Grant is being hunted through the forests in Durango City by two cocaine- and alcohol-fuelled Mexican cousins. It doesn’t let up from there. The drinking binges are stuff of legends for these Mexicans, if they vomit, they drink another beer to get rid of the taste in their mouth.

Although the danger of the Sierra Madre is never far, you are heartened reading the generosity and kindness of strangers who offer Grant food and shelter, not to mention the welcome advice on how not to get himself killed by saying the wrong thing.

To Mexico! The liver does not exist!

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Henri Charrière – Papillon

“Now a man is not necessarily lost for ever because he has gone very badly wrong on one occasion.”

A literary sensation upon its release, Papillon tells the real-life story of its writer Henri Charrière, nicknamed ‘Papillon’ for the tattoo of a butterfly on his chest, who is arrested by French police and convicted of a murder which he claims he did not commit.

Charrière is sent to a penal colony in French Guiana where he plans out and attempts an escape (not for the only time), with his gang of incarcerated friends.

Some attempts are successful, others are not. Throughout his thirteen year stretch in prison, Charrière’s journey takes him to many different nations – at one point after an escape he washes ashore and comes face-to-face with a local indigenous tribe in the Northern Colombian region. He spends months will the tribe, learning their ways and improving his fitness before moving on. Charrière even, he tells us, gets two of the female members of the tribe pregnant during his time there.

Upon leaving the tribe, he is re-arrested and sent to confined isolation for two years; a hole in the ground only big enough for five steps in any direction. He keeps his hopes of freedom alive by rationing his food so that he will not starve, and by walking in squares for hours of the day, trying not to think about how foolish he had been in leaving the safety of the indigenous life behind.

His most daring escape is done in a make-shift raft floating through shark infested waters, trying to escape from the dreaded Devil’s Island where the prisoner death rate was at a shocking 25%. You would be forgiven for thinking the man a relative of Harry Houdini; such is his level of determination to not serve the sentence handed to him.

It is not known how much of the story is based on his own prison experiences. Most readers tend to believe Charrière took bits and pieces of other inmates’ lives and pieced them together as his own, to form a full flowing narrative. The book certainly does read like a novel in places, and – drags tediously in others.

Overall, Papillon is a piece of literature which at its heart is about not giving up. Not allowing yourself to fall to the depths of despair and trying to keep your spirits raised in the face of adversity. I would recommend it to anyone who is worried they will never get through whatever may currently be beating them down—as well as to the in-need-of-inspiration convict…

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Jeannette Walls – The Glass Castle

“I lived in a world that at any moment could erupt into fire.”

Memoirs can be difficult to get right.

Who are you? Why should anyone care, let alone read, what you have written? In the 21st century publishing world, we are inundated with major and minor celebrity memoirs, mostly ghost-written and hardly saying anything of substance. Easily forgotten once read.

Jeannette Walls’ book suffers from no such symptoms. It will stay with the reader long after he or she has placed in upon their bookshelf.

From growing up on the move, living in rackety shacks with her family and having little to nothing to eat, sometimes fleeing from one heating-less house to the next when rent is due, to dealing with her alcoholic father and despondent mother – Walls and her three siblings quickly realised they would have to fend for themselves. Be their own parents, look out for each other.

Although loving their parents, the four children fight to go their own way as soon as they can.

What prompted the writing of this book for Jeannette Walls was seeing her homeless mother, now in New York, through the window of a taxi digging for food in the trash. Walls was on her way to a fancy dinner party when this occurred. A world away from where she grew up.

She asked the driver to turn around and take her home.

Her story is superbly told, written in short blocks of text four or five pages long; meaning you are quickly halfway through it without realising.

It is a deeply touching memoir, one sure to pull on the heartstrings whilst also leaving the reader bewildered at some of the ‘grown-ups’ actions.

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Irvine Welsh – Filth

“When I get home I take some sleeping pills and within what seemed like half an hour of unconsciousness it was Monday morning again.”

With a nasty tapeworm setting up home in his bowels and poisonous sexual predilections running through his mind constantly; Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson has one problem and one problem only.

Promotion.

And he will do whatever necessary to make sure he gets it. Even if it means setting his co-workers against each other.

Robertson’s life is a mess. The only enjoyment he can get out of it is by tearing down others.

At the beginning of the novel we learn he is recently out of a long-term relationship with his wife Carole; who has also taken their daughter with her. D.S Bruce Robertson is not ready to let their marriage fall apart completely, however. He has his own particular methods of keeping her close. . .

Through a plethora of drugs, alcohol and pornography; Robertson is keeping his life on track by merely a shred. Indeed, his excessive chemical consumption can account for more than one panic attack featured within the book.

Throughout his chemical haze he spits vitriolic hatred for just about everyone: women, blacks, Asians – hell, even the Scottish get their own fair share of contempt from him.

He is a paranoid schizophrenic, a maniacally depressed, bi-polar, ego-centric, evilly compelled human being with a back story worthy of its own spin-off. Yet through all this, through all his disgust and debauchery and in typical Irvine Welsh style – you can’t help but root for his actions, depravity included.

From the opening scene where a man has his skull smashed in with a hammer, to the final paragraph which will leave the most weathered of readers heartbroken, the story of Bruce Robertson and his tapeworm will take many eventful twists and turns.

What you put out must come back.

Same rules apply.

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My Struggle – Karl Ove Knausgaard

“For the heart, life is simple: it beats for as long as it can. Then it stops.” – Karl Ove Knausgaard

It has ended. The struggle is finally over.

Throughout Knuasgaard’s six books and the unfolding events held within their 3,600 pages; the countless cigarettes, cups of black coffee, black-out drinking sessions, shame-ridden experiences and highs and lows with family members: Knausgaard has laid bare his deepest, most sacred of moments for us all to see.

 Whether we are reading about he and his wife, Linda, during her first gruelling pregnancy at the hospital, or his multiple failed attempts at losing his virginity, or, even – about his brief teaching year when he was eighteen and fell for a thirteen-year-old student of his, absolutely nothing is off-limits (incredibly not even his credit card number – which he gives away in book 6!).

His whole reason for writing about his life in this way, that is, in such as way as to be as truthful as one possibly can be; was due mainly to the early death of his father from alcoholism, laying dead for an entire day in his own mother’s house before anyone noticed, and the feelings that stemmed from that.

Indeed, his father’s life and passing is a running theme throughout the novels. The father/son dynamic growing up in 1970’s Scandinavia thoroughly examined. We see the young Knasugaard, tormented and terrified by his father’s volcanic rage; grow from a shy and inquisitive young boy who couldn’t pronounce the letter ‘r’ until he was sixteen, to a self-loathing and crippled-with-doubt adult, determined to leave his own children with none of the feelings of contempt and fear he himself held and still holds even now.

There has been outrage within the Knuasgaard family for his writing of such sensitive matters.

Most notable was the reaction of his uncle, his father’s brother – Gunnar, who threatened to sue the publishing house if the books went to print, claiming that the events in the books involving his brother and his drinking were either exaggerated or simply did not happen at all. These claims were contested when, a nurse who arrived on the scene of his father’s death, wrote to Knausgaard and backed up his writing on the state of his estranged father when she arrived with the ambulance crew and found him dead in a chair. Bottles lay strewn around the home, blood was smeared across his face, his nose was broken.

  ‘It may be Knausgaard’s My Struggle marks the moment 21st literature begins,’ writes novelist Richard Flanagan.

The books are an incredible literary achievement which sink to the depths of what it means to be human.

They have left me feeling that I know the writer better and more intimately than most people in my own life, the people I see and speak to in my own circle of day-to-day events.

And I am certain that is true. Knausgaard’s words and thoughts have permeated my entire thinking, such is their intensity. It is a collection I never wanted to finish, for fear I’ll never have another literary experience like it.

But even so; I turn the last page, close the final book, and set it upon my shelf.

I go to the kitchen, boil the kettle and pour the water into a grey ceramic cup, throw in a teabag and mix milk.

Then, I sit and I write my thoughts.

Life goes on. Nothing ever really changes.

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Into the Wild – Jon Krakauer

“The very core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure.” – Christopher McCandless

Into the Wild is the true story of a young man named Christopher McCandless; a young man, who, giving away all his belongings and donating his savings to charity – left his comfortable, conventional life behind after graduating college in 1990 and made for the great American outdoors. He even gave himself a new name, deciding his old one just didn’t quite suit his new lifestyle. He then on referred to himself as Alexander Supertramp.

Growing up McCandless had great difficulties with his parents – he disliked their strict approach to life, how they were so focused on making money and how violent his father would sometimes get. He became enamoured by the works of writers such as Jack London and Henry David Thoreau; particularly with London’s book The Call of the Wild. McCandless decided to do what his parents wanted him to do – to get a part-time job and to pass college. But after that, he would be gone.

He would sever ties with them and live how he chose to. His heart was set on one day making it to Alaska, and he would do everything he could to make that happen.

The journey McCandless takes is full of both highs and lows – he works odd jobs here and there, gathering together enough money so that he can feed himself and continue to the next stop on his voyage. He hitches rides on trains, traverses rushing rivers and hikes through mountains and plains.

  The people he met and who got to know him along his travels all have wonderful things to say regarding him – one man in particular, an elderly man who lost his wife and child in a car crash years ago, and who knew of McCandless’ struggle with his own parents, goes so far as to offer the then twenty-three year old Chris McCandless the option of being adopted by him.

I have found with this book that the readers opinion of ‘Alexander Supertramp’ will be one of two extremes – they will either greatly admire his perseverance or think him an idiot for leaving behind his well-off, secure, family life.

The story of this man’s life is full of hope, tragedy, light and darkness. It is a book I would recommend to anyone; because I feel it is a story that deserves to be read and told.

Krakauer’s empathy for his subject can be directly related to the popularity of the book. He draws on his own experiences to give us a full picture of McCandless’ life; showing us why and how Supertramp came to be, and, why ultimately – he remains a martyr for many.

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Freedom – Jonathan Franzen

“The personality susceptible to the dream of limitless freedom is a personality also prone, should the dream ever sour, to misanthropy and rage.” – Jonathan Franzen

“You may be poor,” Franzen writes, “but the one thing nobody can take away from you is the freedom to fuck up your life whatever way you want to.”

Freedom, the novel, centres on the Berglund family and their indie-musician, women-disliking friend (unless they’re sleeping with him), Richard Katz, who proves in more ways than one to be the bane of his friends’ life.

We meet Walter: the politically correct, liberal-minded environmentalist with a dedication to protecting birds in North America, much like Franzen himself, against the perils of non-native predators to the region, pesticides, deforestation, and, to a lesser degree – climate change.

There is his wife, Patty; who is perhaps the most conflicting character I have ever read; you will simultaneously sympathise with and feel the urge to scream at in frustration on multiple pages. She cuts off all ties from her parents after we learn she had been raped in her teenage years, and they, being public figures, advised her to keep quiet about it. She is therefore determined to become a better mother than her own.

Then there are their two children: Joey and Jessica. Joey, much to his father’s chagrin, is incredibly independent and has grown up with strong conservative views, going so far as to move in with the next-door neighbours, whom he already has a long-term relationship with their daughter, at sixteen years old. Jessica herself is independent, but much less so and much less a disappointment in her father’s eyes.

TIME magazine dubbed Franzen the ‘Great American Novelist’ upon the release of this book and it is clear to see why.

The story is wholly American. Environmentalism verses the devastation of the Iraq war, the white-picket-fence suburban family, the break-up of said family, rock and roll, and of course, the concept of true freedom all being discussed within the 600 or so pages. All it is seemingly missing is apple pie and baseball.

The entire book beginning-to-end took Franzen eight years to complete, with only one of those being the actual writing process.

He remains, in my opinion, unsurpassed in the field of writing about the nuclear family and all its pitfalls.

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Trainspotting – Irvine Welsh

“Sometimes ah think that people become junkies just because they subconsciously crave a wee bit ay silence.”

Choose a book. Choose a character. Choose Renton, Sick Boy, Spud, Begbie, Tommy, or any other low-life, thieving, assaulting, junkie scum-bag. Choose a favourite scene. Choose analysing it like a poncey cunt. Choose writing about it on a blog that’ll generate no more than ten clicks if yer lucky.

Choose fucking TRAINSPOTTING.

More a collection of short stories than an actual novel, Trainspotting was published in 1993 by Secker & Warburg, starting its life relatively underground. Chapters of the book had been previously published in various journals and pamphlets across the Scottish literary scene before Welsh received a full-length book deal. In the years following its publication it became the fasted selling and most shoplifted novel in Britain.

The book left many critics disgusted – apparently Trainspotting failed to make the shortlist of the Booker Prize in 1993 as it had severely offended two panel members.

Written in a heavy Scottish dialect, the book is almost impossible to translate in its true form. Even native English speakers may have to pause occasionally and re-read a sentence twice.

It centres, mostly, around a group of friends living in Leith, Edinburgh. In some way or other: they are struggling. Struggling with money, women, drugs or violence. Usually all four amalgamated together in some depraved conglomerate of filth and excess.

In one scene, named “The Worst Toilet in Scotland,” we have the main character of Mark Renton dig around in his and other people’s faeces searching for his lost Oxycontin pills, which have fallen out of his arse after he used that very toilet.

The events of the stories take place in the mid-to-late 1980’s, a large portion of them based of Welsh’s own diaries during his time as a heroin user. They show characters who are dissatisfied with the world they find themselves in: a world they choose to blur out with chemicals and sex.

These characters, who often seem to have no redeeming qualities, are shown fully as people who are fighting their own personal demons, going through their own trials and tribulations and who, by the end, you can’t help but feel a slight twinge of sympathy for.

Irvine Welsh’s ability as a writer is evident to see.

He has been quoted as saying he imagined Trainspotting becoming a cult-book, but not generation defining one, which, with over one million sales in the UK alone – it certainly has.

At least for those of us who can make the words out…

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Summer – Karl Ove Knausgaard

“Your voice woke me up around eight this morning, it sounded unusually close, since, as I discovered upon opening my eyes, you were lying on our bed.”

Summer marks the final season of Knausgaard’s literary quartet. This book—the lengthiest one of the four—is written in dedication to his youngest daughter. It features paintings from German artist Anselm Kiefer.

In Summer, Knausgaard writes in the form of short diary entries and essays on the most simplistic things and concepts in life: these range from cats to insects – from pain to intelligence. Usually, they are interwoven with a personal anecdote. For example, when writing about ground wasps he shares with us the story of his only son becoming surrounded by them at a beach one day; resulting in the child only feeling comfortable wearing long-sleeved clothing thereafter, associating clothes with security.

Knausgaard has the uncanny ability to make the mundane and banal interesting; something which many other writers would struggle with. Even though you may be reading about something you feel doesn’t deserve three or four pages dedicated to it, you do not come away feeling your time has been wasted.

Take for instance his essay on mosquitoes. He argues they have found their “perfect form,” for the fossilised remains of mosquitoes found two-hundred-and-forty million years ago show no sign of significant size increase. If they were, he writes, as big as a cat or a wolf, and had a corresponding need for blood—they would surely have lost their comparative advantage. Their numbers would have had to shrink drastically, perhaps they would even be an endangered species.

Imagine that: a five-foot tall mosquito with a foot-long proboscis ready to pierce into and drain the life from an unsuspecting victim. Haunting.

He also dabbles with the idea of a new novel, written in the diary entries. The novel would focus on the story of an old woman during World War Two, who begins a love affair with an Austrian solider and who she runs away with. Whether he will pursue this idea is yet to be seen.

If his daughter one day decides to read this when she has grown; she will discover her father’s constant fascination with all aspects of life. His commitment to raising her and his shame at being himself: be it his yellowed teeth, his forty cigarettes a day, or his shame at being a writer.

Overall; Summer is a fantastic book for fans of Karl Ove Knausgaard and for those who are waiting on his sixth a final edition of the My Struggle series, released in the UK on August 30th.

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The Collected Letters of John F. Kennedy – Edited by Martin Sandler

“We are not here to curse the darkness, but to light the candle that can guide us through that darkness to a safe and sane future.” – John F. Kennedy

Even after almost sixty years on from his death – John Fitzgerald Kennedy still inspires many from all walks of life around the world. He remains one of, if not the most, popular presidents to have ever entered the White House.

In this compilation (released in 2013) we are shown letters which he wrote during his youth, his time fighting in the war, and his presidency. Both JFK’s wit and charm shine throughout.

One feels slightly odd at being given the opportunity to read such intimate conversations, but I’m grateful for the opportunity nonetheless.

They are written to family members, to friends, girlfriends, and, later – to political comrades.

They range from the innocent youthful words of a twelve-year-old boy asking his mother for an increase in allowance, to the teetering-on-the-edge-of-nuclear-war letters during the early sixties.

We can gauge an intelligent and articulate person behind the letters. Kennedy was a man who had an appreciation for the written word; something that is evident to see when you read him.

One of the more touching pieces of writing found in this collection is written to a twelve-year-old girl; she writes to President Kennedy expressing her fears that the Russians may bomb Santa Claus at the North Pole. Kennedy responds to her, kindly expressing that she needn’t worry; he recently got off the phone to Santa Claus and he is sure Mr. Claus will be making his usual rounds again this coming Christmas.

We are given insight into President Kennedy’s life; his constant wavering health and his hope for a second term are openly discussed. He had wished to take a stronger approach regarding civil rights, to make peace his aim and, perhaps – to get the troops out of Vietnam and back home to America.

It is, unfortunately, an opportunity he would never get to pursue.

Whether you believe his death was a conspiracy or not is beside the point: America became poorer that fateful day.

A bullet, searing through skull and brain matter and spitting them aside – took away a father from his children, a husband from his wife, and a leader from his nation.

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Big Sur – Jack Kerouac

“It always makes me proud to love the world somehow – hate’s so easy compared.” – Jack Kerouac

Forget On the Road and forget any pre-conceived notions you may have about those who read Kerouac. Go out pick up this book.

Hell, right now if you can.

Big Sur is by far and large the greatest of Jack Kerouac’s works. I adore the melancholic blues that jump out and grip you as you read. It feels like you are there with him, following along on the ride and sharing his disillusionment with life, his deep-rooted sadness, his fears.

Originally published on the 11th of September 1962 by Farrar, Straus and Cudahy – it is the first of Kerouac’s books written after the massive literary success that was On the Road, five years earlier.

In Big Sur, you can see the effects his newly found fame had upon him and how he chose to deal with it. Usually; it was with alcohol. Copious amounts of the stuff. Whiskey, wine, beer: it didn’t matter.

The story centres around the fictionalised alter-ego of Jack Kerouac, Jack Duluoz. His character takes three trips to the Bixby Canyon area of Big Sur. All the big hitters of the Beat Generation make at least one appearance here: Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Neal Cassidy, William Burroughs.

Even the cabin they are staying in belongs to legendary Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

His idea for going to Ferlinghetti’s cabin is to get away from the limelight and attention for a while: to sober up and try to write again. This plan never comes to fruition. His journey’s there end up being fraught with excuses to further drink his thoughts and feelings away.

It is clear to see he had become a slave to his addiction.

This is the first of Kerouac’s books in which I feel you can truly begin to see his depression take over from the man behind the words.

In it, we learn of his shame at having fans in their late teens and early twenties arrive at his doorstep with alcohol, pills and something to smoke; expecting to find a young, youthful Jack Kerouac ready to party the night away with them. The reality of the situation was vastly different – the main reason being that it took so long for On the Road to get published. He was already entering middle age when the book about his cross-country travelling twenty-something-year-old-self hit bookstores. He hated seeing the looks on those young faces fall as they realised he was the man they were looking for.

“Where’s Jack?”

“I’m Jack.”

You read Big Sur with an almost sick fascination: wanting to see how detached and low one can fall. Big Sur holds little to none of the holiness and nirvana shown in his earlier novels and poetry. It is the work of a man trying to find his way again and ultimately falling short of the mark.

The book ends with a poem he pens in ode to the crashing waves found at Big Sur. His words lapping against the rocks, swept in by the sea.

Jack Kerouac died in 1969 at the age of forty-seven.

The official cause of death was cirrhosis of the liver, due to complications with alcoholism.

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A Father’s Story – Lionel Dahmer

Fatherhood is perhaps the most important journey any man will go through in his life. It is his responsibility to be there for his son or daughter, to care and provide for them, and to offer any advice they may need, if he is able.

So – what then, is a father to do when he is told his son; the person he helped bring into this world and raise, is a depraved demon responsible for the demise, the cannibalism, the rape and the dismemberment of seventeen young boys and men?

Write a book, apparently.

Because that is precisely what Lionel Dahmer decided to do once learning of the horrific crimes committed by his first-born son: Jeffery Dahmer.

This book, released in 1994 and published by Little, Brown – was written as a way for Mr. Dahmer to try to understand what went wrong in his son’s life. In which ways, if any, had he contributed to the makings of a monster.

Jeffery Dahmer was born on May 21st, 1960 to Joyce and Lionel Dahmer. They would later have a second child, Dave Dahmer. Since his brother’s infamous arrest and trial, ‘Dave’ has legally changed his name in hopes of distancing himself as far as he possibly can from that part of his life.

One can hardly blame him.

Their father comments in the book that his first wife, the mother of his two boys, was on heavy amounts of medication during the time of Jeffery’s pregnancy; something which he has hinted at could’ve been a contributing factor to his first born’s wickedness. Currently there is zero medical information to back this theory up, however.

Jeffery, he writes, had always been an aloof child. He didn’t have many friends growing up and preferred to spend his time alone. This would continue throughout his whole life.

Lionel Dahmer was a chemist. He would spend the majority of his time at the laboratory, working very long hours. Their mother would be in and out of mental institutions multiple times as they grew up, often she would be unable to get out of bed to care for her children, and they would have to take responsibility for themselves.

Because of Lionel Dahmer’s chemistry work, Jeffery soon picked up a fascination of his own: stripping the flesh of roadkill and preserving their bones in different chemicals his father would bring home.

“I thought…you know, I thought it would turn into a normal hobby. Taxidermy, or something,” Lionel Dahmer says in an interview after his son’s arrest.

Throughout the book you can find photographs of father and son, pictured doing seemingly normal activities any father would do with his child: riding along on a bike, playing with their dog, swinging his son in the air, and splashing around in the pool.

Viewing what would normally be innocent and heartfelt childhood images, you can feel the creeping sensation of a sinister dread at what those small, infantile hands would later do. The necks they would wrap around; the flesh they would tear at; the lives they would snuff out.

Jeffery Dahmer would finally be arrested on July 22nd, 1991, bringing his reign of terror to a close.

Tracy Edwards was nearly Dahmer’s eighteenth victim, but he managed to talk Dahmer into undoing the handcuffs he had placed on him. Then, in a swift movement, he fled the apartment, tracking down two police officers and leading them to the lion’s den, where the gruesome and grisly details of this man’s life would be exposed for all to see.

The judge would ultimately give Dahmer sixteen life terms, meaning that he would not be eligible for parole for over 900 years.

At his sentencing, Jeffery Dahmer would wish for his own death. He couldn’t live with the thoughts of knowing what he did and asked for the death penalty. Although the state of Wisconsin did not have the death penalty, Dahmer would get his wish. He was beaten and killed by a fellow inmate on the 28th of November 1994.

His father ends the book by stating that he feels this was the only appropriate place for his son to go. Not a prison, not a mental intuition – only death. A truly heart-breaking thing to read a father saying about his son; even if it happens to be the truth.

For anyone interested in this case; I urge you to watch the interview between Lionel and Jeffery Dahmer which has been uploaded to YouTube. It was done in 1994, a few months before his death. I will link it below.

Although you and I may be vastly different people to the likes Jeffery Dahmer; we are still all human beings at the end of the day, as trite as it sounds, it is true. It may be hard to grasp Dahmer as ever having been human, but he was. At least for a while.

Should this type of person be forgiven? Attempted to be rehabilitated? Or should they be given the death penalty?

This is not for me to say; everyone must make up their own mind.

Lionel Dahmer says he forgives his son, but he is not sure if his son should forgive him.

A bizarre statement, some may think, but sometimes it is easier to blame yourself than the ones you love, such is your will to protect them.

Such is your blindness.

 

[ Lione Dahmer/Jeffery Dahmer interview: https://youtu.be/oOCUQKReBk8 ]

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The Lords and The New Creatures – Jim Morrison

“Death makes angels of us all and gives us wings where we had shoulders smooth as ravens claws.”

The focus of these poems in Morrison’s first collection (it would also be the only collection published during his short lifetime) deal with his fascination of life, death, sex and mystical imagery. It is split into two parts. Morrison’s struggle to make sense of his life are evident in these poems. The influences of Rimbaud, Nietzsche and Blake drip from every page.

  The Lords make up Side A of the book. Morrison focuses a lot on cinema and the camera; the camera being a means to which we view life through whilst the eyes, viewing and recording memories, will ultimately fail us. We remember things as we want them to be, rather than what they truly were. That the camera will never lie, never tell us a false image, seem to be his assessment. Perhaps Morrison would’ve changed his ideas if he stuck around long enough, made his way into the 21st Century and became aware of the wondrous deceit that is Photoshop.

Cinema and the making of films held a deep interest for him throughout his life, he was a film student at UCLA from 1964-1965.

This section also shows us his views on L.A city life in the 1960’s. The different vices that were around at the time, always ready to sink their sharpened teeth into anyone who danced too close to the ring of fire, who threw off their challenge with a shrug.

Jim Morrison would ultimately find this out first-hand.

  The New Creatures begins with a dedication to his common-law wife, Pamela Courson. These poems conjure up images in the brain of a man before time; a man running around in the ancient jungle of Earth where snakes and lizards and other creatures of the night loom large in his sights. Ghost people within a ghost planet.

This section, for me, is the more powerful of the two. The poems are consumed with metaphors. I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in mysticism, particularly Native American mysticism, the 1960’s, and, of course, The Doors’ music.

This slim volume offers the readers an insight on what, with more time, Jim Morrison could’ve become. Sadly, a star burnt out before it had shone brightest. His inner demons and depression caught up; there are only so many bottles you can dive to the bottom of before you drown.

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The Life & Times of Hunter S. Thompson – William McKeen

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘Wow! What a Ride!'”

The ashes of novelist and journalist Hunter S. Thompson were fired from a 150-foot cannon on August 20th, 2005. They sent a roaring fireball high into the sky, lighting up the gloomy Aspen night.

Oftentimes referred to as the Doctor of Gonzo, a style of writing he developed, he died as he lived – fast-paced and loud.

Gathered together at the ceremony were the writers, actors, politicians, friends and family Thompson had amassed over his feverish sixty-seven years.

His story begins in Louisville, 1937. Born weighing eleven pounds, his mother and his father’s friends would sometime dub him ‘Fat Baby’, for kicks.

His first brush with the law came at nine-years-old (for knocking over a mailbox, a crime that came with a five-year prison sentence.) Young Hunter Thompson had managed to talk himself out of trouble, citing that the FBI agents had no actual proof it was he that committed such an atrocious and brutal crime.

It was a trend he would continue throughout his whole life.

Thompson knew he wanted to be a writer from a young age; he began writing for a ‘newspaper’ he and some friends created when he was ten. They named it the Southern Star.

Hunter Thompson’s first real break in the world of journalism came from an article in The Nation, it was to be on the Hell’s Angels. An outlaw motorcycle gang. He jumped at the opportunity; taking the one hundred dollars offered to him for the piece.

Within a week of the article being published Thompson had seven book offers.

He was stunned.

H.S.T signed with Ballantine Books as they offered an advance of $1,500; money which he so desperately needed then more than ever, due to the recent arrival of his one and only child, Juan Thompson.

The biker gang would eventually beat Thompson to within an inch of his life the year the book Hell’s Angels was published, 1967. The altercation came about after he witnessed an Angel slap first his wife, then kick his dog violently in the ribs. The Good Doctor stepped in to try break it up and ended up horrifically kerb-stomped for his effort.

Another book soon followed his first. Fear And Loathing in Las Vegas, it would ultimately be called. It, again like the Hell’s Angels book, was first inspired by an article Thompson wrote. This time the article was for Scanlan’s magazine. It was focused on the Kentucky Derby of 1970, and, when Thompson handed this article in; he said he was convinced he would never work for a major magazine again, such was the incredible stream of consciousness and wild potion of sentences he had concocted.

The book would go on to become his best-known piece of work.

After another book dealing with the campaign trail of 1972, Thompson’s writing began to slow. It sadly never quite picked up that same pace and intensity; he wrote less for magazines and became more secluded in his home at Owl Farm. Books became thrown-together amalgamations of his earlier, younger writings. He still maintained flashes of utter brilliance; The Great Shark Hunt: Strange Tales from a Strange Time (1979) and The Rum Diary (1998) to name two. The latter having been written in the early sixties and re-worked before publication in ’98.

Friends blamed his rampant drug and alcohol intake for slowing him down.

The ‘Raoul Duke’ persona he created for himself in his books trapped him, he sometimes said. He could never be entirely sure who his fans wanted him to be: the real-life Hunter Thompson who loved his family and the freedom of home, or the drug-gorging, liquor-guzzling, crazed madman of his novels and articles.

Hunter S. Thompson took his own life in February of 2005.

He was tired, depressed at his declining health. The life he lived at 200 miles an hour had taken its toll.

But despite this his life should not be viewed as a sad one; Thompson will be remembered as one of the greatest writers America has ever produced.

As I write this it is 13:35pm, July 18th. Today would have been Hunter S. Thompson’s 81st birthday. I have poured myself a glass of whiskey and I plan on re-reading The Rum Diary. I implore anyone thinking about picking up one of this man’s books to do so. You’ll love it, and, Hell, even if you don’t – it’ll be a literary experience like none other.

Here’s to you, Doctor.

Cheers.

van Gogh and Romanticizing the Tortured Artist

P O S T S C R I P T

Vincent van Gogh is experiencing a 21st-century renaissance. Popular portrayals of the troubled artist are increasingly appearing on both the small and big screen – a Doctor Who episode, the film Loving Vincent, and the most recent movie depiction from director Julian Schnabel, At Eternity’s Gate, starring Willem Dafoe.

In all of these representations, van Gogh’s mental health is at the forefront of the story — it is hard to mention him without bringing up the self-inflicted severing of his ear in the following sentence. Perhaps the cliché of the ‘starving, tortured artist’ can be attributed most notably to him. This is certainly how we view his art—through the lens of a man who grappled against life, cornered by his own mind’s wolves.

In the late 1880s, after cutting off his left ear and offering it up to a prostitute, van Gogh was admitted to a hospital in Arles…

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