Saturday, April 30, 2016

I Would Die 4 U: Why Prince Became an Icon

Author: Toure 
Publisher: Atria Books, 2013
My Source: Amazon for Kindle


I was deeply saddened by the death of Prince earlier this month. That may sound crazy to some since I didn’t actually know him, but his music has been such a big part of my life. I imagine that this is how an earlier generation felt when Elvis and John Lennon died.

I was in middle school when I first heard “Little Red Corvette.” Certain songs of his bring back specific fond memories of my adolescence. I was lucky enough to see him in concert last year (thanks Paul.) It was an amazing show. He sang all of his hits, danced, and flirted with the audience as only Prince could do. An autopsy was conducted, but the official results are not yet available. The press has reported that his death was due to an overdose of Percocet prescribed for hip pain. I also heard a rumor that he had an addiction to opiate pain pills. It is such a tragedy when someone so talented is gone too soon.

On the day of his death, MTV played his music videos and aired the movie, “Purple Rain.” Social media blew up with pictures, videos, and sentiments of disbelief and sorrow from fans and celebrities. Then within the next few days there were Prince tribute specials on the Today show, Dateline, and Saturday Night Live. It was during the Dateline special that this book was mentioned. I made a note of the title and ordered it from Amazon for my Kindle.


Prince was a very private person and did not contribute to this book himself, but many people who knew and loved him did contribute their thoughts, insights, and memories. The first chapter defines Generation X and describes the zeitgeist of the 1980’s and how the combination contributed to his stardom.  The author also provides a biographical sketch of his early life.

Prince (born Prince Rogers Nelson) grew up in Minneapolis, the son of a jazz musician father. He taught himself to play many instruments including guitar and piano. His high school music teachers let him spend extra time in the music room practicing his craft. Prince knew he wanted to be a rock star and took a music business class to learn all the ins and outs of the music industry. He used this knowledge not only to write music, play all the instruments on his albums, and record and produce his albums himself, but also to successfully win a battle with his record label for more control over his music. Prince’s efforts resulted in helping future musicians to have greater control over their music and its distribution.

The next chapter focuses on Prince as an artist and the various bands he worked with. He didn’t want to be known only as a Black musician, but wanted to be free to experiment with all genres of music. As a result, he employed women and people of different races in his bands to reflect the diversity of the country and thus appeal to a wider audience.


The last chapter is an analysis of his songs. Specifically, the author posits that Prince was influenced by a wide range of artists as well as the gospel music coming out of Black churches. Common themes of his music are sex and religion, often in the same song. Prince went to different types of churches as a child, but became a Jehovah’s Witness in 2001 and had a strong faith in God. Although I can recite many of the words to most of his popular songs, I learned a lot about the deeper meanings behind the words.

 I really enjoyed reading this book because of the inside information about Prince’s life, music, and legacy. It also helped me process what his death meant to me. I would definitely recommend this book to any fan, but also to others who were not big fans and now want to see what all the fuss was about.

RIP Prince (1958-2016)


                                                   Rating: 5 out of 5 funky high fives

Friday, April 29, 2016

Kim Michele Richardson--GodPretty in the Tobacco Field



Last night I attended an author event at Carmichael's featuring Kentucky native, Kim Michele Richardson. Her latest novel is entitled GodPretty in the Tobacco Field. She described it as a cross between Winter’sBone and Coal Miner’s Daughter. It takes place in a poor town in eastern Kentucky in 1969. Richardson said when she was writing it she couldn’t come up with a name for her fictional town, so she wrote Nameless and planned to go back and change it later. She forgot to change it, however, and her publisher loved the idea of keeping Nameless because the town is so poor it can’t even afford a name.

The main character, RubyLyn is a teenager who likes to make fortune tellers. A fortune teller (also called a cootie catcher) is a form of origami used in children's games. Parts of the fortune teller are labelled with colors or numbers that serve as options for a player to choose from, and on the inside are eight flaps, each concealing a message. Richardson and her husband gave a fortune teller to each of us in the audience.



The paper it was made from had the map of Nameless on it. Richardson’s husband drew the picture for her because she was writing several books at one time and needed a way to keep her settings straight. It was not meant to be put in the book, but again her publisher loved it and it made it into the book. Richardson had us open the fortune teller and look for a particular symbol on the map. Well, I was the lucky one with the symbol and won a bottle of Dandelion Wine.  


Richardson talked about how she did hours of research for her book. Specifically, she researched the type of candy eaten during the time period and the types of flora and fauna that grow in eastern Kentucky. Richardson and her husband even planted six tobacco plants on their land so she would know what tobacco picking is like.

It was a fun event which included wine tasting, cake eating, and a giveaway. Richardson herself has a cheerful disposition and quirky personality. I am very much looking forward to reading and reviewing her book.



You can follow Kim Michele Richardson on twitter @writernwaiting

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Stories I Tell Myself: Growing Up With Hunter S. Thompson

Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, 2016
My Source: Carmichael’s Bookstore


Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have a famous parent? How about a famous parent with a reputation for being eccentric? Well, this memoir tells one man’s account of growing up with a famous writer for a father, a man notorious for his eccentricities and rages, as well as his charm and generosity. Specifically, Juan F. Thompson gives the reader a glimpse into the 41 years he had with his father, Hunter S. Thompson.   

On the first page, even before the Preface, Juan includes the poem, Forgiving Our Fathers by Dick Lourie. This meaningful poem ostensibly summarizes the way Juan feels about his father and prepares the reader for what is to come in the following pages.

In the Preface, Juan clarifies that this is a memoir dependent upon his personal memories, and memories can be imprecise. With that in mind, Juan shares his memories of his father from his early childhood until the time of his father’s death as an adult. In so doing, he reveals as much about his own personality and vulnerabilities as those of his father. Juan comes across as a sensitive and quiet man who desperately wanted his father’s love and approval throughout his life. As I read the book, I was struck by Juan’s bravery in taking the reader on a journey into his family’s private world, both the good and bad parts.

In a brief biographical sketch, Juan introduces the reader to Hunter for those who are unfamiliar with his work and reputation. In it he writes, “He was an alcoholic, drug addict, and a hell raiser, but he was also a brilliant writer and craftsman of the language, facts overshadowed by his Wild Man persona.” Juan adds that Hunter was first and foremost a writer before all other things including a father.

Juan spent most of his childhood afraid of and angry with his father. He feared Hunter because of his unpredictable rages that could be provoked by anything and everything. Juan walked on egg shells all the time. Juan was angry with Hunter for not taking an interest in him and for what Juan viewed as bullying and manipulating his mother. When he was about 12, his parents’ marriage started to fall apart and Juan witnessed many vicious verbal arguments between the two of them often including throwing and breaking things.

As Juan became an adult his relationship with his father changed. He stopped hoping for the intimate relationship he longed for and learned to accept what Hunter could give. Simply spending time together engaged in an activity was his father’s way of showing him love and respect. They shared a love of guns and made cleaning guns a ritual they took part in together. Examining his past relationship with his father led Juan to reflect upon his current relationship with his teenage son. His son is similar to Hunter in that he does not like to discuss his feelings, so Juan focuses on sharing activities with him.

Juan, an IT guy in real life, has a strong writing style although very different from that of his father’s. I found this book fascinating and devoured it in two days. It satisfied my curiosity for information about the infamous writer. I think Hunter would have been proud of Juan’s book because Juan told his truth and Hunter was all about reporting the truth from the point of view of the writer.  


                                                        Rating: 4 out of 5 high fives

Monday, April 25, 2016

Josh Rosenthal--The Record Store of the Mind

“Don’t leave your records in the sun.” That is the inscription Josh Rosenthal, author of the self-published new book, The Record Store of the Mind, wrote in my book at a recent author event at Carmichael’s. Rosenthal is the founder and producer of Tompkins Square record label which celebrated its 10- year anniversary in 2015. He started by saying that his 11 year-old daughter, Hazel, designed the cover of the book, which by the way I think is quite good. Rosenthal then read from chapter 12 which is about musician, Smoke Dawson. While somewhat entertaining, I didn’t know who Smoke Dawson was. After he read the chapter, he said thank you and left the podium without taking any questions. I found this disappointing because I wanted to know his life story and how he came to start a record label.

Following Rosenthal, was a short concert by Louisville instrumental guitarist, Nathan Salsburg, who recorded an album on Rosenthal’s label entitled Avos. I enjoyed Salsburg’s original songs and he was entertaining as he explained the inspiration behind each song. The best part of the event was when in the middle of a song, a 3 year-old boy came out of nowhere and sat in the front row directly in front of Salsburg. He swayed back and forth and made Salsburg and the audience smile. Shortly after he loudly said, “I gotta go” and stood up and left. Again getting a laugh from the crowd.


I have since read Rosenthal’s book, and although it is entertaining at times it is also confusing. I felt like it needed a better outline and organizational structure, and a bit of editing. Most of the chapters are dedicated to particular musicians, all of whom I had never heard of (except for Eric Clapton.) Other chapters, about Rosenthal’s life and love of music, are randomly interspersed with the musician chapters. I enjoyed the chapters about his life more than those of the musicians, however at times it felt like Rosenthal was bragging about the famous people he met throughout his career. In the back of the book, he lists all the ticket stubs he has saved over the years, old time LP’s in his record collection, and the names of the artists he has signed. The list of ticket stubs was neither chronological nor alphabetical, but according to him, written in the order that he pulled the items out of a box.

As a casual music listener, this book was not that interesting, but it would probably be well-received by a serious music fan.


                                                           Rating: 2 out of 5 high fives

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Invisible Bridge

Publisher: Vintage, 2010
My Source: Louisville Free Public Library



Okay, so I’m in my 40’s and my To Be Read list is over 200 books long. With that in mind, I don’t see the point in continuing to read books that do not keep my interest. The Invisible Bridge is one of those books. According to my Kindle I have only read 10% of the book, and I have been reading it for at least one week now, which is unheard of for me. I don’t hate it, but I am not excited to read it and find myself doing other things (I even started and finished another book) when normally I would be happily reading away.

The story is about two Jewish Hungarian brothers, Andras, and Tibor and is set in 1937 just before WWII. Andras gets a scholarship to study architecture in Paris and Tibor has been accepted to medical school. A wealthy woman from their Hungarian town asks Andras to deliver a large box and mail a letter when he gets to Paris. Neither Andras nor the reader knows what is in the box or what the letter is about. Andras moves to Paris knowing little French and is tutored by one of his professors who also happens to be Hungarian. He befriends three other Jewish men attending his school and starts to feel comfortable in his new home. One month into his schooling, Andras finds out that his scholarship has been cut because he is Jewish. He is then forced to find another way to pay for his studies.

As I mentioned in one of my other reviews, I am a Francophile, so I appreciated the Paris setting and the French phrases thrown in here and there. I also enjoy reading historical fiction especially about WWII. Additionally, I found the author’s writing style to be quite good. What I did not like was the slow pace of the novel. To be fair, as I previously noted, I am only 10% in, but nothing compelling about the plot or the characters has grabbed me or sucked me in yet.

This book was not for me, but someone more patient who is willing to wait for the action to start might not be turned off by the story. I assume the story will pick up as the war begins and the brothers, as Jewish men, start to feel the discrimination of the time. This must be the case as its average rating on Goodreads is 4.19 out of 5 stars.

This is the first book I have not liked since starting my blog. I considered not reviewing it at all, but that did not seem fair to my readers. I don’t want to be known for praising every book I read. So take my opinion with a grain of salt, but I would skip it if I were you.


                                                          Rating: 2 out of 5 high fives

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Engagements

Publisher: Vintage, 2013
My Source: Louisville Free Public Library



Diamonds, engagements, relationships, weddings, and marriages are the themes of this book. The novel begins in 1947 depicting the life of Frances Gerety, a copy writer for the N.W. Ayer advertising company. As the author notes in the Acknowledgements, Ms. Gerety was a real person who wrote the famous tag line, “A Diamond is Forever” for the De Beers diamond company. Ironically, Ms. Gerety marketed diamonds to engaged and married couples yet she herself was never engaged nor married.


Frances ran a finger over one of her new honeymoon ads. Other women never seemed to think about what came next. They were so eager to be paired up, as if marriage was known to be full of splendor. Frances was the opposite: she could never stop thinking about it. She might go out to dinner or out dancing with someone new, and have a fine time. But when she got home and climbed into bed afterward, her heart would race with fear. If she went out with him again, then they might go out again after that. Eventually, she would have to take him home to be evaluated by her parents, and vise versa. Then he would propose. And she, like all the other working girls who had married before her, would simply disappear into a life of motherhood and isolation.


The remainder of the book bounces around between Ms. Gerety’s life and the fictional lives of four other sets of compelling characters across different decades. It almost felt like an unrelated collection of reoccurring short stories. Late in the book, the author seamlessly and artfully reveals the ways in which the stories are united. I was pleasantly surprised by the connections.     
  
The reader first meets Evelyn and Gerald, a wealthy retired couple living in the 1970’s who have been married for many years and watch their only son dissolve his marriage and family for a new love. Evelyn is disappointed in her son for many reasons including that she doesn’t believe in divorce, and because she is losing her grandchildren and the daughter-in-law she thought of as a friend.

Next up is James and Sheila, a 30-somethig married couple with two children living in the 1980’s who work too much but still struggle financially. James became an EMT because his musical career didn’t take off and subsequently feels like he never meets Sheila’s expectations.

Third is Delphine and P.J., a newly engaged couple in 2003 with a 20-year age difference trying to stay connected despite their age gap and different cultural backgrounds. Delphine, who moves from France to the United States to be with P.J., tries to assimilate, but never quite feels at home in his country.

Finally there is Kate and Dan, a committed 30-something couple in 2012 with a 3 year-old daughter and no intention of marrying despite pressure to do so from all around them. Kate’s parents’ divorce when she was a teenager soured her on the idea of ever marrying.

The author does a beautiful job of describing the settings by name dropping towns, local restaurants, and famous landmarks. I felt like I was being transported to the different places in the stories. I personally enjoyed this because one of the locations is Boston and I grew up in Walpole, a suburb of that city. One of the characters volunteers at the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain, and another one eats at Papa Gino’s and shops at the South Shore Plaza.  As a self-proclaimed Francophile who visited France as a teenager, I was delighted that Paris is one of the other cities. The descriptions of the Seine and the outdoor market with fresh fruits and vegetables, wheels of cheese, and flower stalls were vibrant and alive. In addition, she highlighted the decade in which the characters lived by discussing current fads and fashions of the times. Some of these include EST meetings and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles dolls in the 1980’s. One that made me laugh out loud was the real PTA pamphlet from 1970 entitled, “How To Tell If Your Child Is A Hippie And What You Can Do About It.” The place and time became as important to me as the characters’ personalities.

This book made me reminisce about my own engagement story and reflect upon my happy marriage. I truly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to those who believe in the institution of marriage and to those who do not. Anyone who has ever loved someone can relate to some aspect of this book.
                                                   


                                                          Rating: 5 out of 5 high fives      

           
 Bonus: According to imdb, the movie version of the book is "in development." 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Juan F. Thompson--Stories I Tell Myself: Growing Up with Hunter S. Thompson


Last night I met Hunter S. Thompson’s son, Juan F. Thompson, while on a book tour of his new memoir, Stories I Tell Myself: Growing Up with Hunter S. Thompson. There was a fairly large crowd at Carmichael’s waiting to welcome him to his father’s hometown. One special audience member was Ron Whitehead, Kentucky outlaw poet and founder of GonzoFest. 


GonzoFest is the literary and music festival honoring and celebrating the life and times of Hunter S. Thompson. The event features live panels, literary readings, book signings, and live bands. It will take place this Saturday, April 16, 2016 at the Great Lawn starting at 1pm. Juan Thompson, his wife, Jennifer and their son, Will, will be in attendance. Juan Thompson is going to deliver the keynote speech. Unfortunately for me, I will not be able to attend due to a prior commitment, but maybe next year.

Juan Thompson began his presentation by reading the Preface of his book which explains that it is not a biography but a collection of memories and memories can be deceptive. It is Juan’s story of the relationship between the two men over the course of their 41 years together. Juan talked about his yearning for a close and deep relationship with his father and said he tried to achieve that for a large part of his life. It wasn’t until at some point in his early adulthood when he accepted that their relationship would not be one of shared confidences and deep talks, that Juan found peace and concluded that they loved and respected each other despite their differences.   

Juan reported that it took him almost 10 years to complete this book. He started out feeling very protective of his father and only wanting to show Hunter’s good side. As he went along considering which memories to include and which to leave out, he thought about what Hunter would want him to do. His answer was that Hunter would want him to be honest and tell the truth. After that revelation, Juan felt more comfortable including the less flattering memories of his father.

When asked which of Hunter’s works was his favorite, Juan responded with two: Hell’s Angels and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72. In Hell’s Angels, Hunter balances his own experiences living in the gang with the gangs’ own view of themselves. It also shows the sheer bravery of Hunter to embed himself into the infamous motorcycle gang. In Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72, Hunter’s idealism, passion for justice, and hatred of Richard Nixon come through. Juan called it, “pure righteous anger.”

Another audience member asked Juan why Hunter committed suicide. Juan clarified that while no one knows for sure, he has come up with three reasons why he thinks Hunter took his own life. First, the alcohol and cocaine had taken a toll on his mind and he was unable to concentrate enough to write anything and knew it wasn’t going to get any better. Second, Hunter had some physical ailments which made it difficult for him to walk. And third, he had recently gotten married and the relationship was rocky.

I must come clean and admit that although I had heard about GonzoFest, I knew next to nothing about Hunter S. Thompson until very recently. My husband, a native Louisvillian, read many of his books. I even found his copy of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas on our basement bookshelf today. Now that I have met Juan and started reading his memoir, I am more than eager to read some of Hunter’s works. I will finish the memoir and write and post a review. And then I will get on to reading Hunter!



Monday, April 11, 2016

The Girl On The Train


Author: Paula Hawkins 
Publisher: Riverhead, 2015
My source: Louisville Free Public Library

My husband and I listened to this book on Audible during our 10 hour drive from Louisville to Panama City Beach and back in August 2015. I recently read the Kindle version because one of my fellow book club members chose it for our May book (thanks Lisa.)

I have read mixed reviews of this book, but being that it is a psychological thriller focusing on human flaws and failing relationships it is right up my alley. The first page grabbed me instantly because it describes a simple gravesite, but no clues about the identity of the deceased or manner of death. From there the story backtracks to the events leading up to the death which kept me guessing until the end. 

The chapters are written from the different perspectives of three main characters. I enjoyed this format because I was able to understand the unique and disturbing ways the characters thought and felt about themselves and the events in the story. I wonder, though, if I would have had difficulty distinguishing between the characters if I had not first listened to the audible version and heard the different characters’ voices. 

One unique aspect about this book is that there are two timelines going on. This was a bit confusing at first, but each chapter is marked with the date and I quickly caught on.

The primary character is Rachel, a divorced woman in her early 30’s who rides a commuter train every weekday back and forth from her home in the suburbs to the city of London. Day after day she looks out the train window and notices things.


There is a pile of clothing on the side of the train tracks. Light-blue cloth—a shirt, perhaps—jumbled up with something dirty white. It’s probably rubbish, part of a load dumped into the scrubby little wood up the bank. It could have been left behind by the engineers who work this part of the track, they’re here often enough. Or it could be something else. My mother used to tell me that I had an overactive imagination; Tom said that, too. I can’t help it, I catch sight of these discarded scraps, a dirty T-shirt or a lonesome shoe, and all I can think of is the other shoe and the feet that fitted into them.


At one train stop, she always sees the same couple sitting outside on their deck. Rachel is comforted by this, starts to feel as though she knows them, and even assigns them names. She imagines the perfect life they lead, a life quite similar to the one she has lost but not quite let go of.

One day Rachel sees something that shocks and upsets her. She becomes obsessed with the couple and subsequently inserts herself into their lives. At several points in the story she realizes she should back off, but she can’t help herself. Rachel is lonely and bored and wants to feel included in something. Her neediness results in her getting mixed up in a death investigation. I knew this wouldn’t end well, and kept wanting to tell her to stop as she embedded herself deeper and deeper into the mess and hooked me deeper and deeper into the story.  

As a side note, one of the minor characters is a psychotherapist. As a former psychotherapist, I am always concerned about the way the profession is portrayed in fiction. I’ll let you form your own opinion about this portrayal. 

I really enjoyed this book, probably more so the second time around because I was paying better attention to the nuances of the characters’ personalities. The story was surprising at times and suspenseful throughout. I would recommend this to readers who enjoyed Gone Girl.
Rating: 4 out of 5 high fives


                     
Bonus: The movie version of the book comes out on October 7, 2016.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Bittersweet


Publisher: Crown, 2014
My Source: Louisville Free Public Library

Most of this novel is set in Burlington, Vermont on Lake Champlain. This location was particularly significant to me because my brother (Brian) and his husband (Tom), lived in Burlington for many years and I have fond memories of visiting them and strolling up and down Church Street. And that is where the similarities between my life and the lives of the story’s characters end.

Throughout the story, the main character, Mabel, is attempting to read Paradise Lost, the 453 page poem written in 1667 by John Milton. The theme of Milton’s epic poem is about the fall of mankind starting with Adam and Eve. This is a foreshadowing of what is to come in the story. Mabel’s roommate is even called Ev, short for Genevra.

The two girls are college freshman roommates who form an unlikely friendship despite coming from very different worlds.


Ev wore a camel-hair coat, drank absinthe at underground clubs in Manhattan, and danced naked atop Main Gate because someone dared her. She had come of age in boarding school and rehab. Her lipsticked friends breezed through our stifling dorm room with the promise of something better; my version of socializing was curling up with a copy of Jane Eyre after a study break hosted by the house fellows.


The story takes off when Ev invites Mabel to spend the summer with her at Winloch, her family’s summer retreat in Vermont. Mabel is thrilled that Ev is showing an interest in her and is excited for the opportunity to live Ev’s glamourous life if only for a few months. From the beginning, I had the feeling that Ev’s interest in Mabel was not genuine and this feeling built the suspense of the story and kept me reading to find out Ev’s motivations. During the summer, Ev alternates between showing Mabel a lot of attention and completely ignoring her, causing Mabel’s emotions to go up and down accordingly. This behavior by Ev played with my emotions also, as I identified with Mabel and her insecurities.

Throughout the summer, Mabel gradually meets the various members of Ev’s immediate and extended family. One of Ev’s aunts, Indo, is personally interesting to me because she has three dachshunds and I have two dachshunds. Indo quickly befriends Mabel and encourages her to find evidence of a long-held family secret. She tells Mabel she can find proof of the secret by pouring over historical family documents in the attic of the Dining Hall. Mabel becomes obsessed with researching the documents to uncover the secret. Over time Mabel uncovers, not one, but many secrets. Just when I thought Mabel had found the secret, she finds another one, and on and on. It was almost hard to believe that one family could be hiding so many things, and yet I used to be a psychotherapist who helped people deal with multiple family problems.  


Throughout the story the author hints that Mabel also has a secret which haunts her and she contemplates revealing at several times, but it is not fully revealed until one of the last chapters. In the end, Mabel is forced to make a life-changing decision based on the information she has learned over the course of the summer. She does not make the choice I expected her to make, nor the one that I would have made, but the story has a clever ending that I enjoyed.

Rating: I recently learned that the high five is rumored to have been invented in Louisville by University of Louisville Cardinals Basketball players Wiley Brown and Derek Smith during the 1978-1979 season so in honor of them I am changing my rating system from stars to high fives.

       I give this book 4 out of 5 high fives.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Hunter S. Thompson & GonzoFest


April 16, 2016 will mark the 6th anniversary of GonzoFest, the unique literary and music festival honoring and celebrating the life and times of Louisville’s own native son, Hunter S. Thompson. The event features live panels, literary readings, book signings, and live bands. This year’s special guests include Thompson’s son, Juan Thompson (whose new book Stories I Tell Myself: Growing Up with Hunter S. Thompson has recently been released) and grandson, Will Thompson. Among festival planners and Thompson fans there is also some hope that Bill Murray (who played Thompson in the movie “Where the Buffalo Roam” in 1980) will make an appearance.

Hunter Thompson’s father died when the writer was a teenager leaving his mother, a Louisville Free Public Library employee, to raise him and his two brothers alone. The Thompson’s were poor and as a result Hunter Thompson reportedly felt like an outsider in Louisville compared to his rich friends. Just before his high school graduation, Thompson and said friends were arrested for vandalism and underage drinking. Thompson spent his graduation day in jail, while his wealthier friends were sent home.

In 1966, The Nation gave Thompson his first legitimate writing job which would gain him public notoriety. For the assignment, he embedded himself into the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang in the bay area of California for almost a year. His falling out with the gang came when he confronted a member who was violently beating up his wife and dog at the same time. The man beat Thompson severely, causing broken ribs and multiple contusions to the head and face. When he recovered from his injuries, he wrote the article for The Nation which was later expanded into the book, Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs. Although a best-seller, Thompson was not satisfied with the work.

Thompson was a controversial figure who could be loving one minute and vicious the next. He was infamous for his extensive alcohol and drug use and vast collection of firearms. He challenged the establishment every chance he got. The countercultural mindset of San Francisco in the 1960’s was utopia to Thompson. He had been a fan of the Kennedy’s and was devastated when the brothers, John and Robert were assassinated. During this time he became very politically minded and attended the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968. After witnessing the riots he concluded that the “American Dream” was dead. In an effort to change the system at the local level he ran for Sheriff of the city of Aspen in 1970 on the “Freak Ticket.” His main campaign promise was to legalize marijuana (little did he know that Colorado would be the first state to legalize marijuana for recreational use roughly 40 years later.) He lost the election, but not by much.

His next major project was covering the Kentucky Derby for Rolling Stone. He took artist, Ralph Steadman, with him to the Derby and together they documented the excesses of the wealthy stumbling drunk spectators, with no mention of the actual race. Despite wide popularity, he was again dissatisfied with the work. In turn, he coined the term “Gonzo” to define his particular brand of New Journalism (a writing style in which the journalist involves themselves in the events thus becoming a central figure in the story and blending fiction with nonfiction.) From then on he wrote from this perspective, including in his next work Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72, which involved his unique coverage of the McGovern campaign and disdain for Nixon.


Thompson was a prolific writer whose famous cult classic, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, was made into a movie in 1998 starring Johnny Depp as Thompson. The story is that of a crazy drug ridden long weekend road trip with friend Oscar Acosta. Additionally, his book The Rum Diary, which was written in the 1950’s and based on his experiences in Puerto Rico at the time, wasn’t published until 1998. The movie version came out in 2011 again starring Johnny Depp.



Thompson continued to write from the 1970’s -2000’s, most notably publishing the Gonzo Papers (a four volume compilation of his previous journal articles), but was criticized by fans and critics for what they thought was a regurgitation of past works. In 2003 he wrote Kingdom of Fear which was an angry rant on the state of the century before, during, and after 9/11.

On February 20, 2005, Thompson took his own life by gunshot wound to the head. His son, daughter-in-law and grandson were visiting him at his home in Colorado at the time. His wife was on the phone with him when he shot himself. A single sheet of paper was found in his typewriter with the word “counselor” on it. He left a suicide note for his wife entitled, “Football Season is Over.” As per Thompson’s wishes, his ashes were shot out of a cannon accompanied by fireworks and music. The arrangements were paid for by his close friend and actor, Johnny Depp.

Hunter S. Thompson, though a deeply troubled and flawed man, has developed a cult following since his death. His books and articles continue to be read by a new generation of people who question the status quo. He is so loved by the people of Louisville that they are currently raising funds to create a statue of the man to be displayed to the public. There is no doubt that his fans will have a blast honoring the man at GonzoFest this year and for as many years as it continues.

Bonus: Juan Thompson will be doing a book reading and signing at 7pm on April 12 at Carmichael’s. Don’t worry if you can't make it to the talk, I will attend and report back.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Kevin Gibson--100 Things To Do In Louisville Before You Die


Last night I attended a book signing at Carmichael’s bookstore where I met Kevin Gibson, author of the new book 100 Things To Do In Louisville Before You Die. Mr. Gibson is a proud Louisville resident who works at Maverick Marketing & Media and writes for Insider Louisville and The LEO.  This book will primarily be of interest to Louisville residents, but will also hopefully encourage outsiders to visit the Derby City and experience its rich culture. Mr. Gibson explained that his current book is #28 in a series of similar books about 27 other cities in the United States written by various authors.

Before his talk officially started, Mr. Gibson spoke informally with the few early bird attendees. I took this opportunity to ask the question of whether or not he had done all 100 things mentioned in the book. He admitted that he had not, but that he had done most of them. He added that he is extremely afraid of heights so he strongly doubted that he would accomplish #37, Zip Line at Louisville MegaCavern.

He told the audience that when he sat down to start writing the book he brainstormed activities he personally knew existed in the city and came up with about 60. Then he asked his friends on social media for their ideas and they came up with 100 more. From there he whittled the list down to the 100 things that ultimately made it into the book. Louisville is known for its bourbon history, so naturally many of the activities in the book involved bourbon. When Mr. Gibson sent the manuscript to his editor he got the note back that, “Louisville must be a city of drunks.” He subsequently took the note and made the book a little more “family friendly.”

Mr. Gibson was asked which things he personally recommended as must-see items for Louisville residents and visitors. His first response was to take the backside tour of Churchill Downs (item #38). Mr. Gibson told us that his uncle was a horse guy so he grew up working on the backside cleaning up after horses. He said that this is where you meet the real people who live and breathe Churchill Downs. Although I have been on the regular tour of Churchill Downs and bet on my fair share of horses (most of them losers), I have never done the backside tour and plan to put it on my to-do list.

Two of the more colorful activities he highlighted included visiting Cave Hill Cemetery to eat KFC and throw the bones on Colonel Sanders’ grave, and to pour some Pappy Van Winkle (if you can even get your hand on a bottle) on the grave of the man who bears the bourbon’s name. Other items of note were the Muhammad Ali Center, Louisville Slugger Museum, and Jack Fry’s restaurant.  He added that one unique thing about Louisville residents is that when they first meet each other they always ask what school they attended and by this they mean high school.

Mr. Gibson proceeded to ask the audience what things we like to do in Louisville. My answer was to drink beer at Holy Grale which happens to be #8 in the book. Holy Grale is a craft beer bar located in a converted church on Bardstown Road. A few years back my husband and I took a beer tasting course at the bar taught by one of the owners, Lori Beck. Since then we have frequented the bar on occasion (wink wink) and also twice attended their annual New Year’s Eve 5-course dinner party with beer pairings. The iconic bar is mentioned in the current book as well as his previous book, Louisville Beer: Derby City on Draft.


Although I have not finished reading the entire book, it appears to include a well-rounded assortment of interesting and unique things to see and do in the city. The activities in the book are broken down into 5 categories: Food and Drink, Music and Entertainment, Sports and Recreation, Culture and History, and Shopping and Fashion. There are also 2 additional sections: Suggested Itineraries and Activities by Season.

After listening to Kevin Gibson and perusing his book, I recommend it to all Louisville residents even if you think you have seen and done it all because there may be some things that surprise you. It is also a good guide to have on hand when friends and relatives come to visit. For out-of-towners, it is a nice preview of potential activities to accomplish when you come to visit our eclectic city on the Ohio River.

I will end with the inscription Mr. Gibson wrote in my book, “To Sarah, Louisville rocks and so do you.” Thanks Kevin, same to you!

You can follow Kevin Gibson on Twitter @kgramone and Carmichael’s bookstore for upcoming book signings @carmichaelsbook.