What The Hell Is 'Wild Animus'?

There are a few baffling items every thrift store carries.

Every thrift store has a collection of crutches. Usually they're corralled in a big barrel, and usually the under-arm pads are in a state that makes you wonder just how many people sweat acid from their armpits.

Every thrift store has golf shoes ranging in size from men's 14 to men's 177. These shoes usually contain remnants of the last round of golf played, a little dried grass and mud from whatever course frustrated the player to the point of tossing the sport entirely.

Every thrift store has a used book section, and within that section there are some books you're guaranteed to see. There's almost always What to Expect When You're Expecting. You'll always find some Janet Evanovich. You know, the fun mystery novels with titles like One For the Money, Two for the Dough. Three to Get...Deadly? Four to Score? Five to...Five is definitely something. If that's not your thing, how about a Dick Francis book? Those look to be almost the same except they also involve horse racing. Jesus, how many books can one man write about horse racing?

Interviewer: Do you have any special writing rituals?
Rich Shapero: I like to have sex while I'm writing.

And then, amongst the horse races and number puns, there's another book.

Every time, without fail, every time I go to the thrift store, I find Wild Animus. At least one Wild Animus.

Maybe it's the version with the pictograms on the front, the little drawings that look like Led Zeppelin runes. Or maybe it's the version with the mountain and wolf eyes. Or maybe I'll really hit the jackpot and find another audiobook copy. Or the musical CD meant to accompany the book.

Whatever the format, whatever the weird cover, there it is. Wild Animus is always there.

How is this possible? It's no big surprise to run into A Million Little Pieces or a Da Vinci Code. Those books, the guys who wrote those books, they were everywhere. But who the hell is Rich Shapero?  How did his book get this much exposure?

Just what the hell is Wild Animus?

For most of my life, I thought I knew what 'Wild Animus' was. Here's why.

Maybe ten years ago I ran the Bolder Boulder. For those of you who don't care for running, the Bolder Boulder is a gigantic 10K road race in Boulder, Colorado. For those of you who don't think in numbers expressed in K's, just know that 10K is pretty much forever and at the end you go into a field filled with tents and get free things.

Anymore, when I see a town of tents at the end of a road race, I pretty much seek out the beer tent and consider the rest of the tents obstacles to the beer tent. Why would I want a Powerbar right now? I just ran K's. Give me a beer and a sandwich that's full of the second worst thing for me, slathered in a sauce made from the number-one worst thing for me.

But ten years ago, way back then I was young and foolish,  I was naive enough to think that any company that had their shit together enough to purchase a collapsible tent might have something to offer.

At the end of the Bolder Boulder, in one collapsible tent, they were giving away books. Hundreds of the same book. Maybe thousands.

These were real books. Professionally-bound, long, and the cover art looked pretty decent.

I went up to the table and asked if they were really free, because that didn't seem possible. But they were, and I was handed a copy of Wild Animus.

Ever since then I've seen Wild Animus here and there. At thrift stores, at library book sales. Anywhere you can buy a book someone else gave up, you can get yourself a copy of Wild Animus.

I always figured they must have given away a ton at the Bolder Boulder. I live only an hour away from Boulder. If someone gave away a few thousand copies of a book, there's a good chance I'd see it over and over, right? Hell, I see Bolder Boulder t-shirts in the thrift store all the time, so there's a good chance the books would make their way too, right? Stands to reason?

Case closed. Until I made a Wild Animus joke to my partner. I didn't expect her to know what the hell I was talking about, and I prepared to explain the joke because that ALWAYS makes it much funnier. But it turned out I didn't need to. My partner, who went to school in Missouri, said, "Oh, that book. People used to drop off boxes of that book on campus all the time."

Turns out, Wild Animus isn't just a Colorado thing.

And it turns out, acquiring this book through normal methods is almost unheard of.

I looked up Wild Animus on Goodreads. I wanted to know what people thought of it. What their opinions were.

What I found was a treasure trove of stories where people explained the weird ways they'd acquired Wild Animus.

Here are some lines pulled from several different Goodreads reviews:

Someone handed me a free copy of this book (they were giving away tons, I'm not special) as I was walking on the quad of the college I attend.

At the LA Book Festival ten years or so the author was giving out free copies of this book. He had hundreds of them. I got one.

Got mine in Chicago outside the Art Institute. They had boxes of them.

Like most reviewers, I ended up running across this as a freebie in Vancouver, on my college campus. It would disappear from the dorm every few days and then reappear in the laundry room, so I finally decided to read it.

Found it at a local Goodwill...The next time I visited that Goodwill, they had about a dozen unread copies—now that would have been a fair warning.

I got this book for free. I hate it.

i got this as a freebie at the final Phish concert.

This book came to me very awkwardly, they dropped a copy of it in the front yard and i read it

Oh, that's right, our book group got a bunch of copies for FREE from the publisher along with smoked fish.

Like so many others here, I got this book for free—it was being given away on my campus. (Honestly, doesn't that freak anyone else out that it was given away on so many college campuses nationwide, or am I just being paranoid?)

How the fuck is it even possible that this book has been in every single thrift store I have ever been in the USA and I've been to like 8000 thrift stores in my travels what the fuck is this book a govt coup

I swear that last one isn't me. We share concerns, but it wasn't me.

Take a second, look away from your screen. Think about a book you have on your bookshelf. Now think about where you got it. Friend? Bookstore? Garage sale?

Did any of you pull up a memory of getting a book outside a Phish concert? Did any of you ponder a book that just appeared in your front yard? Of course, I'm sure we all have those books that arrived at our book clubs along with smoked meats. That's a given. I'll never forget the day I got a copy of Wuthering Heights sent to my house with a pepperoni platter.

Seriously, is that not the weirdest string of stories you've ever seen? And I did not dig far to find these. These were in the first five pages of reviews. People seem pretty interested in discussing how they came about the book, and between the giveaways and library users, you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who paid for this book.

I went to Goodreads for some answers, but came away even more confused. What the hell is Wild Animus? How is this happening?

Interestingly enough, and I don't want to sound like a paranoid maniac here, but there really aren't many articles or reviews, and finding an interview with Shapero is nearly impossible.

Indeed, when I clicked links, I often got the 404. Where did all this stuff go?

I did find some details about the release of Wild Animus, however.

Wild Animus was published by Too Far in 2004. Too Far was author Rich Shapero's self-started publishing company. Around the release of Wild Animus, one news writer claims to have visited the offices of Too Far, which were deserted except for two employees. 

Too Far made big plans to distribute these books all over the place, especially on college campuses. Most of the distribution was done by hiring students on Craigslist. However, there was quite a bit of time and effort put into unorthodox methods of distribution. Personal favorite highlights:

A group of "wolf women" appeared at several music festivals in Europe and Australia. These costumed promoters would encircle people and hand them the CD preview version of Wild Animus. I couldn't find pictures of the costumes, but they were wired for sound and played wolf howls from somewhere within. 

A March 2005 article alleged that actors were hired to put on fake demonstrations against Wild Animus

There was a video project involved with Animus. Allegedly we had videos of college students reading the book aloud, then experiencing the accompanying music for the first time.

These tend to involved a sincere reading:

Weird, silent, beatific stares into the camera:

And ultimately, utter transcendence:

The best promo story of all, a box of Wild Animus books was mistaken for a bomb on Yale's campus. A brave bomb-disarming robot investigated, and it turned out the box was filled with copies of Wild Animus. I'll leave the "bomb" jokes to others. Just know that if you make one now, you'll be vindicated in a few paragraphs.

Now, I know. I know the obvious answer here is that Richy-Rich Shapero self-published these, cranked them out, and basically found a really interesting way to spend a whole lot of money. I know that doesn't sound amazing. But please, indulge me. Let's talk scale for a second because I think this may be the most ambitious self-publishing project of all time.

How many copies of this thing were printed?

It turns out that finding info on how many copies of a book exist is a difficult task. Especially when the publisher is basically one guy.

I found one article that said the initial print run was 50,000, and later on a Publisher's Weekly blurb confirmed this, but did it end there? Just how many of these things are there?

Let's compare Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, James Frey's A Million Little Pieces, and Rich Shapero's Wild Animus using Bookcrossing, the web site dedicated to people releasing books into the wild. We're going with Bookcrossing because it's a site focused on giving books away rather than sales. This experiment doesn't work on Amazon because who the hell is going to buy a book that shows up everywhere for free? I have to believe that the readily-available quantities of free books would mess up sales numbers, so giveaways are a better picture.

Why The Da Vinci Code and A Million Little Pieces? After all, there are certainly other, more popular books with higher sales. The thing is, you don't tend to see them show up at the Goodwill. Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone, for example, comes up with a relatively low 1346 books on Bookcrossing. People keep their Harry Potters.

'Wild Animus' will introduce a new template for human potential. If you don't have the gnads for it, go sit with the girls!!

Bookcrossing has 5653 copies of The Da Vinci Code listed. 
Wild Animus comes in at 3478 copies.
A Million Little Pieces? 989.

Now, let's chew on that for a second. The Da Vinci Code is probably one of the bigger print books that you're likely to find secondhand. Think about it. It was one of the last big pop books before the digital boom really hit. It was published in 2003, and the first Kindle came out in 2007. Indeed, The Da Vinci Code sold 81 million copies worldwide as of 2009.

A Million Little Pieces was a book that went through some serious hell. But its print run was more than decent. It sold more than 5 million copies worldwide.

We certainly can't look at these mixed-up data points and assume that Wild Animus has over 5 million printed copies. But what we can say, what this mish-mash of data says, to me, is that the lifetime print run for these things had to be a hell of a lot bigger than 50,000. It had to be nothing short of goddamn staggering.

Not to mention the audiobook, which was also given away in huge quantities. In 2009, a librarian used the WorldCat database to determine which sound recording was available in the greatest number of libraries in the world. Harry Potter books came in at second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth. Number one? Yep. Wild Animus. 

A quick review of what we've learned. In terms of copies floating in the wild, it would appear Wild Animus is competing with the big boys, falling somewhere between a book that sold 5 million and another that sold 81 million. And it was one of the most ubiquitous audiobooks held by libraries in 2009.

Rich Shapero must have been rich as hell to bankroll this whole thing himself. I clicked over to CreateSpace to see what it would cost just to print 50,000 copies of a book about the size and scope of Wild Animus. The bill comes out to $250,000, give or take. And let's keep something else in mind. The original 50,000 copies of Wild Animus were printed in 2004. More than ten years ago. If Shapero started his own publishing house in 2004 and printed 50,000 copies, it's safe to assume that his cost was way, way higher. Not to mention shipping, hiring people to hand them out, sending wolf women to Australia. 

Who is this aptly-named Rich Shapero, and where does he get his money?

Well, it depends who you ask.

You can read the bio on his web site. It focuses mostly on Shapero's literary inspirations, his love of Knut Hamsun and Henrik Ibsen, and his spiritual connection to the natural world, especially in Alaska.

To answer the question about his money, a piece of his bio:

He did well in the computer industry. Ultimately, he was president of two high-tech start-ups, and partner in a Silicon Valley venture capital firm.

If you look elsewhere, you'll find only a little bit more of the same story.

Bloomberg Business has a short blurb on Shapero and his professional history, which reads like the spewed results of a random name generator for 90's tech firms. Crosspoint Ventures. Shiva Corporation. NetBoost. Bluestar Communications Group, Inc. Web.com Group Inc. Powerwave Technologies. 

The safe assumption: the guy made a killing in the tech boom.

That tells us about Shapero's money, and it tells us how he got Wild Animus out to everyone. But why?

At one point Shapero had some interviews up on his web site, interviews conducted by a company that he seemed to own. I couldn't find them anymore, but I did find excerpts quoted on an old-ass blog

Rich Shapero: Some people like to write because they enjoy putting their thoughts down. They enjoy the act of self-expression, the way a child likes to finger paint. You know, it just feels good. It feels good to me, too, but I don't think it's worth doing unless something important is being expressed. I liked words and I liked the power that words have to illuminate and change people's lives, but I didn't think it made sense for me to be a writer until I had something to communicate that was important.

Interviewer: And you finally found that.

Rich Shapero: No, I just got tired of waiting.

Oh, and just because it was too fun to leave out:

Interviewer: Do you have any special writing rituals?

Rich Shapero: I like to have sex while I'm writing.

I don't even understand the mechanics of that enough to really make fun of it.

Is it too wild an assumption to speculate that, with print and audio numbers combined, when one considers the efforts put into distribution, this book may very well be the most ambitious self-publishing project of all time?

With the exception of religious texts, has anyone, ever, given away this many copies of a book in physical form?

The question, the big question behind What the Hell Is Wild Animus? is the question of whether someone can throw a lot of money behind a book and make it a success. 

Is it just a matter of getting the good work into peoples' hands?

There's a problem with the normal book reviews in this case.

Indeed, the Amazon rating is a 2-star average with the vast majority of reviews coming in at 1 star.

Goodreads is even worse. 1.9 total, lots of 1-stars there too.

The problem with the numerical review system in this case is that so many people seem to comment quite a bit on how they acquired the book and the fact that it's clearly a vanity project. Which is worth noting. Hell, I'm writing an entire column about it. But it doesn't really tell me the good and bad about the book.

I spent quite a bit of time looking through reviews to find one that seemed unbiased about the book. By which I mean reviews that discussed the text as opposed to how it came into existence. 

After some looking, I found a few consistent pieces.

People who liked it were very spiritual. Or would probably describe themselves that way. They tended to talk about personal growth, discovery, and the deeper meaning.

From Amazon:

...if you are a low IQ idiot and you can not climb out of your little boxed-in world you will not be able to experience this book which should be a movie. It would have you at the edge of your seat and exhausted yet high by the end. Issues & obstacles of your life will seem like nothing when you relive real experiences of a wild animus.

Wild Animus is a worldwide movement. It's a shared ideal. Paintings, sculpture, movies with established stars - all these have sprung from Wild Animus. People are gaining spontaneous enlightenment from reading Wild Animus! It's happening across the globe! Wild Animus will introduce a new template for human potential. If you don't have the gnads for it, go sit with the girls!!

People who were middle-of-the-road on it felt like there was, perhaps, something there. But they just weren't interested.

For a book that seemingly was meant to be something moving and thought-provoking I found it quite dull and dry.

And then you have the haters.

If you were to take The Room and instead make it a story about an LSD-addicted man who thinks he's a ram and have it take place in the frigid realm of the arctics then you would have Wild Animus.

There are a lot of haters.

I would rather watch my father take a shower than read lines like "Lindy, Sam murmured blindly" or "He felt a terrible danger in her desire" one more time. This whole book is a Comp 101 professor's nightmare.

Publisher's Weekly was the only professional review I could find. Their opinion? Shapero can write some interesting descriptions, but he spoils the ending in the prologue of his book, rendering the rest of the journey worthless. 

My personal opinion?

Well...I couldn't read it. I tried. I really tried. I couldn't get into it at all. But I think I can still add something useful to this conversation.

I've read some bad books and enjoyed them in a way. I read a good third of Tyra Bank's Modelland and only quit because I stopped reading for a bit, picked the book up again and had no earthly idea what was happening anymore. I didn't know where we were, who else was there with me, and frankly, it was so utterly insane that I wasn't sure what was new information being introduced and what I should know already.

To be perfectly honest, the existence of 'Wild Animus' as an object is a lot more interesting to me than whatever is contained inside.

To give you a tiny taste the things that happen on almost every page of Modelland, the father character, Creamy de la Creme, was a circus performer who was blinded when his wife opened her makeup mirror, accidentally bouncing a beam of light in Creamy's eyes, which sent him plummeting from a tightrope. He fell face-first onto a sword, resulting in the loss of his eye.

I also read a romance novel that involved, to my unending joy and confusion, a rocket launcher equipped with a bayonet.

Those books were bad, the kind of bad I can get behind.

Wild Animus was not bad in that way. Not in the Demolition Man way, not in the bayonet rocket launcher way. It was just kind of boring. A lot of writing for the amount of story. And it seemed like the author wanted to confuse the reader, throw her into the middle of a scene and rely on the reader's desire to solve tiny mysteries as opposed to actually just telling us what was going on now and then.

I have some patience for bad books. What I don't have much patience for is an author who is withholding information, creating a false sense of mystery by covering my eyes here and there.

What I have even less patience for is an author who withholds information when I don't care to know the answers anyway. I'm so uninterested that neither the mystery nor the answer seem to warrant much effort.

To be perfectly honest, the existence of Wild Animus as an object is a lot more interesting to me than whatever is contained inside.

Rich Shapero:

I want people to see what I’ve done. I have no commercial motive. I’m like a street musician playing for whoever might have the interest to stop and listen.

Now, this certainly seems like a view of street musicians that differs from my own. In my experience, if there's a guy with a saxophone on a street corner, he plays a damn good Ghostbusters theme, he has great sunglasses, and he has a case open for a nice donation when he can get it.

Clumsy metaphors aside, did Shapero do what he set out to do?

The book didn't make any money. But that's outside the stated goals.

The book isn't very good. But that's not necessarily within the stated goals either.

Rich Shapero wants people to see what he's done. No doubt, people have seen. People have been made aware.

In my estimation, it's such a tough call. On the one hand, people are unduly harsh towards Wild Animus. It's hard to get a clean review because it's seemingly impossible for a reviewer to come upon this book without bias.

Let's face it. We all figure a rich kid really can't write a book with heart. Whether or not this is true, it's an artistic prejudice most of us hold. We like the story of a lady living in her car and writing a great book much better than we like the story of a wealthy guy in a boring industry doing it. Although I must say, Rich's story isn't all that different from most writers. Well, other than the fact that he walked away with a hell of a lot more money:

I would get up at four in the morning, write for four hours, drive to work, bust my guts, crash and wake up at four a.m. again. If the bubble hadn’t burst in 2000, I’d be in the graveyard. I hung up my tech spurs, and focused on my very first project, Wild Animus. 

On the other hand, without that prejudice, if one were to eliminate that background, I don't know that Wild Animus would have popped up anywhere. Without the money poured into it, it seems likely this project wouldn't have been snapped up by a publishing house. That's not even a slam on the book. It's a reality for any manuscript.

I like to think that Rich Shapero doesn't necessarily consider himself a great author. That perhaps he knows where his limits are, that his prose isn't what's going to carry his books. He seems like an ideas guy, and he's said more than once that his ideas were the most important thing for him.

I like to think that while Rich Shapero hasn't written the Great American Novel, he's written something, and he's put it into hands.

I also like to think of Rich Shapero as someone who, unknowingly for most of us, heralded a future we couldn't have predicted. Now, with digital options, self-publishing and self-published authors are everywhere. They can be all over social media, all over the world, and they don't need to hire a pack of wolf women to do it.

Rich also heralded the downside of that future, a future in which it becomes harder and harder to sift the great self-published works from those that are unreadable. Indeed, the force of presence behind Wild Animus has almost legitimized it in my brain somehow. The physical quality of the object, and seeing it everywhere—it's an imposter in a literary landscape, but it's there nonetheless.

If Rich's only goal was to get his stuff out there, he's an undeniable success. He's proven that you can put a book on shelves all over the world if you're willing to devote the cash. Sure, those shelves might be in thrift stores, and some copies might not be so much ON the shelves as being used to correct wobbles, but they are out there. They're around.

If Rich's idea was to open minds, I don't think it's happened. Because, from what I can see, the primary outlet for Wild Animus is in snarky reviews. And columns.

What the hell is Wild Animus?

It's a book with a story big enough that I could write an entire column about it without describing a single plot point.

To make up for it, my favorite plot summary from a Goodreads reviewer. Spoilers, I guess:

I'll tell you the ending. A column of lava erupts from beneath his feet while he is dressed in a goat costume and wolves are in mid-air tearing him apart.

Part Number:

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helpfulsnowman's picture
Community Manager
helpfulsnowman from Colorado is reading But What If We're Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman March 5, 2015 - 8:05pm

Update: I had someone email me today (Thanks, Andrew!) with a Wayback link to an old interview with Shapero: https://web.archive.org/web/20050206020716/http://richshapero.com/author/meetrich1.html  

The emailer's suggestion was that the interview I quoted from the "old-ass blog" was a parody, but I'm not so sure.

There were several different interviews that seemed to be mixtures of the same questions, sometimes answered differently or in a different order, and all conducted by Jan Sassano (who is somewhat of an internet ghost herself). The interviews differed depending on whether the interview was about Wild Animus, Too Far, or from RichShapero.com.

While the Wayback ones are certainly legit, I'm not quite ready to rule out the one quoted. Especially because the tone of the questions and answers seems pretty similar to Shapero's own style. However, just be aware that the quote is from a blog that links to a web page that doesn't have Wayback Machine data. The top-level doman linked DOES, and it leads right to an old Wild Animus site, however the useful impressions from that top-level domain are over 10 years old.

George Jones's picture
George Jones May 23, 2015 - 5:24am

This is weird. I got a free copy of Too Far when I was in university - this wsn't even in America, it was in Wales.


Joe Thompson's picture
Joe Thompson June 12, 2015 - 6:49pm

Funny you mention using BookCrossing to gauge the circulation -- that was actually how I got my copy in 2004 (an Advance Reading Copy, no less -- BookCrossers got in on the ground floor of the insanity!).  It caused a minor controversy in the membership at the time as many people felt they'd been used as collateral in a marketing campaign for a real turd of a book.  (I slogged all the way through it out of sheer bloody obstinacy, and I can confidently say I will never get those portions of four days of my life back.)

Tasha Panda's picture
Tasha Panda July 17, 2015 - 2:42pm

I've just started reading Wild Animus. I salvaged it from a friend I lived with a few years ago - he doesn't remember where he got it. Despite never reading it I've lugged it around with me from house to house. After finally sitting down with it I'm disappointed but it's physical journey around the world is quite interesting!

Context: I took it off a friend in England, but it is now in Wales with me.

Migrator's picture
Migrator July 29, 2015 - 5:48pm

I forgot how many thousands of copies were distributed, but I can never forget how awesome was doing it. The budget for this must have been insane, because Shapiro had teams distributing the book across the US and the expenses included transportation,  hotels, meals, even drinks at night! I was part of a team that went through the NY Tri-state area, which included Princeton, Yale, Cornell and Columbia University and I even remember hitting Times Square and a gazillion other places in the space of two months. The distribution team was accompanied by a group of actors who would reenact portions of the book and on some days pretend they were boycotting the book. We even got huge bonuses for distributing a certain amount of copies and at the end of the project many people were flown to San Francisco for a party at Shapero's expense, too. 

To this day I still have no idea what the hell all of that was about. The book is horrible beyond belief, but I swear it was the best  summer job ever. 

silsrevenge's picture
silsrevenge September 12, 2016 - 5:45pm

>>There were several different interviews that seemed to be mixtures of the same questions, sometimes answered differently or in a different order, and all conducted by Jan Sassano (who is somewhat of an internet ghost herself).<<

Jan Sassano is no ghost.  She's Shapero's literary equivalent of a Booth Babe.  She was one of the "two employees" at Too Far, Shapero's "publishing house" (chortle), cited in the SFGate article.  Her role as Chief Hack was basically to mastermind the campaign to smear the planet with this appalling turd of a book...sorry, I mean, Wild Enema.  Indeed, Sassano has spent most of her no doubt well-paid career trying to make us all believe that Shapero isn't simply a guy who made a fortune looting pension funds as a VC, but is in fact an Artiste struggling to break free from the confines of Mammon (which have been bery-bery good to Mr. Rich, indeed).  Now that's job satisfaction and artistic integrity.  

She also, not surprisingly given the job skills required to foist such pap on the literary world, is somewhat attractive.  No wonder middle-aged Shapero's self-aggradizing answers to her "interview" questions make self-aggrandizing references to his sexual prowess.  Maybe he thinks he's Sting.  Maybe she does.

What the hell, indeed.  Answer: a foul-smelling exercise in Silicon Valley arrogance and waste, supported by another cash-strapped Liberal Arts refugee who mistook money for talent, and lost her way.   Deeply, unremittingly sad.

Jillane Lauren's picture
Jillane Lauren February 12, 2017 - 5:13pm

I ended up on this site because i just bought a copy of this book at a thrift store in Easton,PA.

vals5856's picture
vals5856 November 7, 2017 - 7:19am

I am on page 261 and didn't think I'd get that far. The book is so strange that I decided to look up Rich Shapero and see if he was a real author and if Wild Animus was a real book. And now I found out. I also bought this in a thrift shop, LOL. They had 2 new Advanced Reading copies

Charisbluejay's picture
Charisbluejay December 9, 2017 - 7:55am

I learned about this site through my grandcousin who did some internet research just for fun, following my description of what I usually like to refer to as the "Worst Novel Ever", and since starting to read this column, I´ve already collapsed laughing 5+ times...

I acquired my copy of this little gem the same way apparently everyone else did - stacks of it lay right beneath a BIG sign saying "FREE NOVEL", in a bar in Little Five Points/Atlanta, GA, back in 2003. I didn't think twice. So I started to read, and I don't think I ever made it past page 50 (if that far) - I had honestly never ever read anything worse in my entire life. I took my Wild Animus back home to Germany, both as a souvenir and as one of life's oddities: end of story, or so one should think.

Now comes the REALLY weird and uncanny part that might come as a surprise to all you Americans -  the damn thing is ubiquitous over here too! I'm an avid visitor to thrift stores, yard sales and fleamarkets wherever I go, and I swear to God, I´ve found a copy everywhere, even in the remotest towns in Germany. All the time I`ve kept asking myself just how many copies of that book must exist in total if they turn up even outside of the US, why anyone with half a brain should have bothered to keep his/hers (or dispose of it by trying to re-sell) instead of just doing the world a favor and mercifully burn it - but not anymore.

This site has solved the mystery for me - it's not a novel, it's a phenomenon!


Neidzgirl's picture
Neidzgirl December 14, 2017 - 1:40pm

So I found this article profoundly interesting becuase I see that many people have seen it in their local thrift shop or were given it for free by a friend.

I go to a University in CT, and I was scoping out the "Books on CD" section all semester. I had seen the complete set of Wild Animus there maybe a week or two weeks ago. I didn't pick it up because I had too many exams to study for. I finally came in today, finished with my exams, and picked up the Audio CD Bundle. I also grabbed the book before I checked out. Super cool how this book has brought me to this blog. I also find it interesting that it is rated 1.9/5 on Goodreads.... Which is why I came to this blog... To find out why it has such a low rating when the book seems so interesting.


Happy Reading!!


ebala's picture
ebala February 13, 2018 - 8:45pm

I am an English lit. major at The University of Pennsylvania and as I was walking to class today, drinking my matcha latte, some people were handing out this book. I think I was enjoying my drink and the sunshine a bit too much, and I accepted the book. I know I'm never going to read it; between reading The Aeneid, a bunch of British poems and my own reading list, it's never going to happen. But my SO and I got a good laugh out of your article and I wish you hadn't included the part about the free smoked fish because now I feel shortchanged.

HowlingCicada's picture
HowlingCicada February 20, 2018 - 3:23pm

I take evening walks up and down the hills of my college town, often seeing "little free library" boxes with the usual collections of pop-novel paperbacks. Looked in a box a couple days ago (2018, not 2004!) and saw about five identical, new-looking, hardcover books. Mis-read the title as Wild Animals, realized my mistake and used it as a mnemonic to remember Wild Animus. Never heard of it. Maybe the author lives in this house - might be interesting to search for the title. No reason to take a copy home. Soon forgotten.

Next night, another box in a different neighborhood, another five new copies. This is seriously weird - I have to look it up. That, of course, brought me here. Will the next 100 boxes have the same? Is this happening all over the world? Are hardcover books safe to use as wood-stove kindling?

3Bluemiece's picture
3Bluemiece February 23, 2018 - 5:07pm

Some people were handing out this book ealier this month at San Francisco State University as well.   Who is paying these people to distribute the book?  What a waste.

The distributors claimed it was the 50th anniversary edition - imagine my surprise when I saw 2004 as the copywright date.


JillBobbins's picture
JillBobbins May 6, 2018 - 3:09pm

Hate to poke such an old article, but Rich has definitely cranked up the hype machine again. This week I recieved 4 boxes (96 brand new "50th anniversary" copies) of this book at the charity shop I work for in the north of England, and it seems other shops in the area have been given copies too. Seeing as there's been other recent comments/give aways, I'm not sure this is old stock like I originally thought. Time to set up StopRichShapero.com? For a quasi-hippy, he's used up an awful lot of trees, let alone distribution resources.

FWIW I too got a free copy from bookcrossing back in the day.

thantsy's picture
thantsy June 8, 2018 - 6:41am

I've just been handed one in Brighton North street. This article is far more interesting than the book it seems. Now my task is how to get rid of it without the charity shop rejecting it.

helpfulsnowman's picture
Community Manager
helpfulsnowman from Colorado is reading But What If We're Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman October 9, 2018 - 7:29pm

It lives.

verreauxi's picture
verreauxi March 4, 2020 - 12:20pm


andrea81's picture
andrea81 June 27, 2021 - 8:15am


just writing to let you know that the free distribution of Wild Animus wasn’t limited to the US.

I have been given a copy of the book and a Wild Animus T-Shirt between 2005 and 2008, while I was studying to get my PhD at the “Sapienza” University of Rome (Italy). The guys had several boxes of each and were located near the entrance of the campus.

I have always been and avid T-Shirt collector, but I never wore this one on since it’s quite weird - a strange face in flames (or something like that) on the front, a Wild Animus URL on a sleeve, and a slightly creepy quote on the back (“the sweetest kiss leaves a chest wound”).

I remembered all this today, and I found your site looking for info. The reason I remembered is because I met with my parents and uncles for a lunch, and my father was wearing the Willd Animus shirt (I have long left it in my parents’ home, along with the book).