photo4Following on from the rather heavy piece about the point of studying English, here’s a yee-American book that I think would go down rather well with teenagers and should be considered as a set text.


The thought of having their fifteen year old child studying a book on drug-taking, gun-firing, cop-baiting, two-fingers up rebellion might horrify parents (especially those that read the Daily Mail), but the truth is at fifteen, their child has not only seen worse, they’ve probably done worse (in Grand Theft Auto or similar).

Hunter S. Thompson’s rampage through sin city has some similarities to Catcher in the Rye  – a man kicking against a world of phonies, cheats and fiends, believing everyone else to be bogus and untrustworthy – themes that would no doubt strike a chord of recognition in many teenagers.

Whilst Hunter S. Thompson isn’t an obvious choice for study, his work isn’t without literary merit. He earned his crust as a journalist and published right up until his death in 2005. His style has many imitators and as the godfather of Gonzo journalism his work is culturally significant.

Fear and Loathing is a book with electric prose and no waffle. It’s a lean and relentless with one chaotic scene after another. And if that doesn’t keep the kids awake, there’s Ralph Steadman’s iconic illustrations too.


It’s also full of themes. There’s the role of drugs (they are bad, mmm’kay) and questions what is socially acceptable behavior, showing the extremes oppressors and rebels can fall into and the trouble they make for themselves – important topics for kids to study when they preparing to receive the keys to adulthood and all the scary stuff that comes with it.

Would it be so bad to put it on the syllabus? I discovered Hunter S. Thompson in my early twenties and found his style to be the most exciting I’d ever read. Fear and Loathing remains the only book I read back-to-back seven times. SEVEN! I’d get to the end and then go straight back to the start. His work was so addictive that I can now only read it in small doses as my own work suffers (I end up unable to write without hearing his voice, and then my work starts drifting off, and then I see these huge bats…and…and…you get the picture).

So, what do you think? Should this be a GCSE text? I say exam boards should buy the ticket and enjoy the ride.


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