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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Good read: He Died with a Falafel in his Hand

by Jamie Lutton

Machiavelli in the Prince had a wonderful thing to say about desire.  He defined for the ages 'de facto' vrs 'de jure' when talking about human behavior.  De Facto is how people actually behave, and 'de jure' is 'the law' or how people are 'supposed' to behave, In his book, The Prince, Machiavelli has a lot of fun talking about how these two states deviate from each other.
          
I see this in what people actually read.  A young person may say he or she is reading Dickens  or maybe their school work, but actually the night before she is curled up with a SF book, a graphic novel or a copy of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, say.  The desire for a fun, 'evil'  book rather than an uplifting 'good' book is just, then, part of human nature
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My hardest job is finding books that appeal to the people who come in the door.   Often  I get young people walking in my shop who are not in the habit of reading, whose eyes glaze over when surrounded with books in a bookshop.  I ask them; what is the last book you read you really liked?       

He Died With a Felafel In His Hand published by duffy and snellgrove in 1994 was a book I really liked.
       
It has no redeeming social qualities, except perhaps,  to the eyes of an sociologist studying the behavior of  young 20th century Australians  just away from their parents, in shared housing accommodation.  It is a true account,  an autobiography, of a law student and sometime journalist living in one shared house after another in Australia for a number of years.   I had heard for decades that young Australians were a lot crazier and wilder than Americans; this book is one of the best pieces of evidence of that.
        
 Here is a yarn about 'de facto' living, then,  at its most decadent.
       
Heavy drug use, living in disgusting filth, clinical madness and  lawlessness of all sorts,  (from skipping out on rent and phone bills to identity theft) drug and sex orgies overheard,  observed are all participated in and documented in this dark, funny believable autobiography.    The author, John Birmingham, has a fine talent for observation and pithy, colloquial writing in the slang of the young of Australian. in the 1990s. . 
           
I find the author to be completely politically incorrect, as he documents  the beyond wild behavior of both young people of both straight and gay men, and straight and gay women. Be warned!! You will not find any sober or uplifting people in this book.   I found, however, that his characterizations to be even handed and three dimensional. With a few words, he draws thumbnail, believable sketches of his housemates as they come and go.   He does not let anyone off the hook.

His young straight men are uniformly insane, though he remarks that many went on to become 'movers and shakers'; lawyers, academics, etc.   His young women, esp. are often the sanest, soberest and cleanest people in the book.  Though not always. The greatest scam, identity theft, is run by a woman in this book.  But the reader should be warned beforehand  that this book wallows in it's drug use, filth, depravity and fecklessness, and has absolutely no redeeming moral values in it. Young people at their laziest and most decadent, mischievous  insane and wild run thorough this book.   It also is bloody, awful and horrifying  in a few places.  I am old and sensitive enough to flinch at a few of the stories in the account.
   
The back of my copy says "not recommended for landlords', but I would have to disagree. I think this book is a  'must read' call for any landlord.  Esp the naive and those who wish to think the best of the dewy eyed young people who approach them to set up shared housing in property they own and control. It is important  to exercise caveat vendor when renting to young people, esp. young men.   I also recommend books on commercial and industrial  sabotage to business owners and managers who come in,  for the same reason.
       
Myself,  I read everything   from bad romance novels to physical anthropology and books on the evolution of sauropods.  It is part of my job, so that I can review said books and steer people to the best in the field and avoid the unreadable and the junk. It is also my pattern for reading for pleasure.  But like many people,  I gravitate to books for my own enjoyment, from time to time,  that make me shriek with  guilty laughter, and shudder with horror at the same time..

I first read this book 10 years ago, reread it, and clung to my copy, though it was on line for over a hundred dollars at the time. It has come back into print now, and with a little poking around the book can be had for less than $5 on line. It is scarce locally; as a second hand bookseller I have only seen two copies in my career.
            
This book also make me realize what a goody-two-shoes I have been all my life.  This sort of lifestyle  may have been going on around me, in shared houses I never went to,  or perhaps was never invited to join.   My brother handed me a copy of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as a teenager, partly, I think to warn me as well as to amuse me.  I did find the drug use in that book to be pretty horrifying,  even though I can recite the first two or three paragraphs of that book by heart, just as I can recite poetry by heart.  Hunter Thompson book is very like this one, but He Died With a Felafel In His Hand to be more believable.  For example, the 'Samoan' in the book was actually a Chicano activist and writer, Oscar Zeta Acosta; I am sure a lot of other details were dreamed up; that is part of Thompson's notorious signature. 

 The best and most redeeming thing I can say about both of these books that they are well written. Like Oscar Wilde said, that is the whole point of novels, whether something is well written or not, not whether it offends . .    
           
For the reader who likes dark, debauched and funny stories. like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, I can recommend this book without reservation.  Unlike Hunter Thompson's obviously embellished tale of a sport's journalist's road trip to Las Vegas with a 'Samoan' companion, He Died With a Felafel In His Hand  has stink of plausibility to it. Say, maybe 80 percent of it is true..     
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