These Are Your Heroes On Drugs, And They Kind of Suck

The path to excess leads to the path to wisdom.

-William Blake

Bull fucking shit it does

-Me, at age 38 upon reading William Blake's famous quote

So who wants to commit some literary blasphemy with me?

Well of course you do!

You guys all know who William S. Burroughs is, right? Yeah, he wrote Junky, Queer, and some rambling, delusionary “novel” called Naked Lunch. Yeah, Naked Lunch and everything else Burroughs wrote after Junky, it sucked. Absolutely unreadable. In fact, Burroughs’ novels are so obscenely unreadable that I’ve thought about initiating a nationwide campaign to have the books banned (By the way, I'm joking, so don’t get your panties in a bunch.) because of their overall crappiness.

So how’s about Charles Bukowski, anybody heard of that guy? Unrepentant drunk, used to work at the post office, wrote a shit ton of poetry.
Yeah, Bukowski, that guy sucks, too.

How about Hunter S. Thompson?

F. Scott Fitzgerald?

Raymond Carver? (God, that one hurts to admit.)

Jack Kerouac? (I can also lump Allen Ginsberg in here, too.)

Edward Bunker? (Listing Mr. Blue among these characters is killing me even more than listing Carver.)

Phillip K. Dick?

All of them, each and every single one, they’re shit.

Now at this point, I imagine I have a lot of people shaking their collective heads, thinking:
“How dare you, you little ashhole. I may not like fill in the blank but fill in the blank is a goddamn national treasure! Fill in the blank is one of the best writers to ever live!

And to a certain extent, I would have to agree with you. The writers I listed above have written one or two groundbreaking literary treasures. I mean, can you honestly picture a world without The Great Gatsby or Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas? Without Naked Lunch? Of course not, these works are some of the most important pieces of writing to ever be produced, and without them more then a few writers wouldn’t exist. Without Burroughs, there’s no Thomas Pynchon; without Fitzgerald, there is no JD Salinger. (Or most American novelists for that matter.) Hell, without Thompson and Bukowski, I wouldn’t be writing in this ultra-personal style of nonfiction. But if you read deeper, you'll discover that most of them have rolled one or two of those literary treasures into a career where they've rewritten the same story over and over again, and most readers don't even realize it.

Kerouac, Burroughs, Ginsberg, Bukowski, Carver and so on so forth. All of them, in one way or another, took my creative breath away. They were gods, pure and simple.

Let me put this thought out there, because it's one that I’ve come to embrace over the last several years:
Most readers don’t LOVE certain authors, they love one or two seminal works from an author, but haven’t read the entire body of their work; they just really, really, really like that one book. So whenever I’m talking authors with other readers and they say: “Oh, I just love Hunter S. Thompson!”

My automatic first thought is:

Oh, you mean you LOVE Fear in Loathing in Las Vegas or Hell’s Angels?

And it’s the same if they list Vonnegut, or Bukowski, or Chabon, or Egan. For most readers, it’s not the body, but a singular work which busted their heads open; it’s that one book that changed their world view or made them want to seek out other authors of similar style. True, they may own the rest of the books of their “favorite author,” but generally speaking, they’ve maybe read one or two other titles and have left those other books sitting on the shelf, collecting dust. But if most readers delved a little deeper, particularly in to the writers I mentioned at the beginning of this column, they'd find an overwhelming amount of repetition

Now this particular rule doesn’t apply to me. As a reader, I’m the obsessive type. When I read a novel and it blows me out of the water, I absolutely have to track down the authors past works and devour them as a quickly as possible. (my latest obsession was Irish novelist Alan Glynn—that guy’s got some serious chops.) Which brings me to the authors I’ve listed above as sucking.

As a younger man, my obsessive nature was a bit of a handicap when it came to the books and authors I was into at the time. When I found an author who flipped a switch for me, all I could do was read that author; I would live and breathe them, talk about them obsessively until I finally came to the end of their oeuvre and I would scramble to find another writer to drool over. In my twenties, there was no lack of new-to-me authors to try on: Kerouac, Burroughs, Ginsberg, Bukowski, Carver and so on so forth. All of them, in one way or another, took my creative breath away. They were gods, pure and simple.

Fast forward ten years. The 'me' of my 20's is long gone; I’m a suburbanite, married, a father, stable employement, 401k, medical insurance, homeowner, the whole about to enter middleage bit. But I’m happy, particularly since I'm sending out my writing in earnest for the first time and the response is more or less positive. And on top of that, I've discovered a whole slew of new writers to obsess on. But, for one reason or another, I decided that it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to revisit some of the writers who turned me on back in the day; a kind of old home week to compare and contrast the writers of the here and now versus the writers of the past. So I cracked open some Bukowski, and then Carver, and then Burroughs (but barely Burroughs.) and discovered something.

These writers who I so long revered, well, their books and stories really didn’t progress beyond one or two subjects. Bukowski did nothing but write about himself. Carver did nothing but write about love in decline, and booze being the major cause of that decline. Burroughs wrote about whatever it was he was seeing when he was on the nod, and usually what he was seeing/writing about was weird sex with bug like humanoid creatures. And the more I delved into the writers of my past, the more I noticed this, and then I couldn’t help but notice that all of the writers I listed above shared one or two common threads. They were either:

A) Boozehounds, or
B) Junkies, or
C) A combination of the two

For those of you who don’t have much experience with boozing or drugging and pursuing those activities over long periods of time, let me clue you in on a couple of things that liquor and dope do to you. First off, it makes you feel absolutely fucking amazing. I’m telling you, the first time I dropped acid or did a line of whatever drug it was I was snorting up my nose was a come to Jesus moment, and then I spent years trying to replicate that feeling again. The second thing it does is it makes you want to smoke an assload of cigarettes. The third thing is that booze and drugs make you feel like shit after the high is over, so therefore you need to do MORE drugs so you don’t feel like shit. And the last thing it does, is completely fucks up your long and short term memory, particularly if you’re a long time user.

With Bukowski, Burroughs, Fitzgerald, Dick, Carver, Thompson, (With Thompson, the line is a little wobblier because he's a journalist, but thematically, there isn't much difference between one book and the next.) all of them went way too deep with their addictions, and because of it, all of them basically wrote the same book, the same story or poem over and over and over again. Sure, the names changed, maybe the town where the story takes place, but the imagery, the themes, they stayed exactly the same.

And if you think I’m wrong, go to your book shelf and do a blind taste test with the authors I’ve listed above. Go pull Love is a Dog From Hell and War All The Time by Bukowski; go pull Where I’m Calling From by Carver and read a couple of stories from it; go pull Naked Lunch and any of Burroughs I’m fucking or getting roughly fucked by a giant cephalopod books, and you’ll notice that even though some of the writing is out-in-out brilliant, all of it is pretty much one constant loop of mental and physical debauchery.

Once I finished rereading, I went back and reread all of my old writing, and I discovered that I was writing in the same never ending loop.

I can’t exactly say they (or I) wrote this way because of long term memory loss; that they wrote these books and stories because they forgot that they wrote the exact same thing a few months or a few years back. (Even the best novelists do this dead sober. I mean, read the last ten years of Phillip Roth’s output, because he pretty much touched on all the same themes now that he was writing about in his thirties.) But the last thing that drugs/booze do to you is it mentally pigeonholes you. Because when you do drugs long enough, if you drink long enough, all that matters is the substance, and it invades every detail in your life, particularly your chosen art form. And really, do you want to spend an entire career writing the same thing over and over again?

Fuck, I can’t believe how much I sounded like a Dare To Stay Off Drugs commercial from the 80’s (I do coke so I can work more, so I can buy more coke…) but the older I get and the more my tastes as both a writer and reader evolve, I really don’t want to read the same things over and over again. If I want that, I can spend what little free time I have watching The Bachelor, or one of the hundreds of remakes Hollywood makes a year, or read James Patterson and Janet Evanovitch novels. But I don’t want things to be the same; I want to fill my life with originality, with inspiration that goes beyond chemically altering myself.

Now I’m not saying don’t read the authors I’ve listed, because you know what, The Great Gatsby is one of the best novels ever written; Bukowski is funny and sad and wonderful; Edward Bunker’s novels are frightening and spell binding. (Bunker’s Dog Eat Dog is one of my hallmark novels along with Selby’s Last Exit to Brooklyn and Johnson’s Angels) Even early Burroughs (and I mean early, like Junky and Queer.) is brilliant. I’m not even saying don’t do drugs; smoke a joint if you want, (trust me, I know more then a few people who’d benefit from a bong toke now and again just so they would mellow the fuck out.) have a drink or two, hell get drunk every once in awhile. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to expand the consciousness; it’s just not such a hot idea to expand it so much that you become lost in it, and let's face it, after awhile, reading and writing about drunks and junkies just becomes flat out boring.

Alright gang, thanks for reading my blather, and as further thanks (and because I haven’t done it in awhile) I’m going to give away a copy of And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks by Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs, and all I want from you is for you to tell me who was one of your favorite authors when you were younger, but you can’t stand now and the reason why?

One commenter will be selected at random, and the contest is restricted to U.S. and Canadian residents only.

Part Number:
Keith Rawson

Column by Keith Rawson

Keith Rawson is a little-known pulp writer whose short fiction, poetry, essays, reviews, and interviews have been widely published both online and in print. He is the author of the short story collection The Chaos We Know (SnubNose Press)and Co-Editor of the anthology Crime Factory: The First Shift. He lives in Southern Arizona with his wife and daughter.

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Jason Christie's picture
Jason Christie August 13, 2012 - 11:28am

Kinda hard to agree with anyone who says Philip K. Dick sucks...


Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies August 13, 2012 - 11:28am

Great stuff, Keith. I used to love Koontz, but can't read him any more, same story, different day. Stephen King was also an alcoholic/druggie, but overcame his addictions. He certainly had some weak novels, but I don't know if could name many that just totally 100% sucked. You've given us a lot to think about, and talk about as well.

.'s picture
. August 13, 2012 - 11:34am

Stephen King. I think the drugs and booze are what fueled the madness of his early novels such as "The Long Walk." But over time, drugs burned him out for a while and he started spewing novels like "The Tommy Knockers." Sober now, and a replaced hip later, his Dark Tower novels start to lose edge and he eventually turns to cranking out a novel almost every year that are mediocre at best. "Under The Dome" for example, starts strong, the middle is tolerable, the ending sputters out in a rush like most of the latter King novels. 

Keith's picture
Keith from Phoenix, AZ is reading Growing Up Dead in Texas by Stephen Graham Jones August 13, 2012 - 11:35am

@Jason - I love PKD, but when you read him he essentially sticks with the same themes, same type(s) of character, etc.Even his so-called "literary" efforts were essentially covered the same ground as is SF.

.'s picture
. August 13, 2012 - 11:36am

Damn, Richard is a keyboard ninja. 

Awesome article Keith. I agree with most of it. Though I never wanted to admit Thompson runs over the same themes, his voice never really changed much either. 

Keith's picture
Keith from Phoenix, AZ is reading Growing Up Dead in Texas by Stephen Graham Jones August 13, 2012 - 11:40am

@jacks_username - Thompson beats the same drum with every single book he's written. It can be entertaining, but not if you read concentrated doses of him.

@Richard - Not a huge fan of Koontz either, and I read him constantly in high school, too.

alisia's picture
alisia from Byron, NY is reading The Goldfinch by: Donna Tartt August 13, 2012 - 11:47am

It is quite impossible to say that I truly loved an author and then grew to dislike them. You've listed so many of my favorites here and although I don't go back and re-read my favorites very often, they're still my favorites and I'll always keep them in my heart. This is especially true of Philip K. Dick and Charles Bukowski. 

I do agree that drug novels are boring overtime. I also agree that I have a single book, more treasured than others, when it comes to my favorite authors. My first brush with "I love it...No, I'm bored with it," was Piers Anthony. I discovered fantasy novels around twelve years old. I put away the horror (Stephen King) and picked up Anthony for some indulgant fantasy. This lasted the span of six books. I got bored. I never went back to his writing. I guess I gave it up, because I prefer sex, drugs, rock & roll and the often disgusting results of such debauchery. 

I also don't read Chuck Paluniuk anymore. I read a few of his novels, loving some much more than others. Lately, I just haven't been interested. I don't think this means that I dislike Paluniuk. I think it just means I'm maturing as a reader and moving on to new things. I go through reading phases. I spent years unwilling to read anything modern and simply chewed my way through all the classics. After that, it was modern only. I read a lot of Bukowski, Paluniuk and others during that time. Now, I'm read trashy women's literature, which is the height of literary maturity - clearly. 

I'm sure I'll go back to my old drunky-druggie favorites, when the feeling strikes me. I don't judge them for their lifestyles, although I think they would live and write longer if they made some changes. Still, if they were sober who knows if they could have coined brilliant lines like:

“And yet women-good women--frightened me because they eventually wanted your soul, and what was left of mine, I wanted to keep.”

― Charles Bukowski, Women

Dino Parenti's picture
Dino Parenti from Los Angeles is reading Everything He Gets His Hands On August 13, 2012 - 11:49am

I'm so glad to hear someone say this because I'm fed up with telling twenty-somethings about the relatively low value of Bukowski, Burroughs, etc. the moment they open their mouths to laud their supposed brilliance. I read them too at their age, and though I felt pretty much the same eye-opening revelatory excitement at first (except for buroughs--I thought then as I still do now that Naked Lunch is utter tripe, with it's only saving grace being the shocking number of permutations in describing scatology), it began to flat-line after their third, and sometimes even second respective works, which hardly evolved or changed from the first one.

The one thing I can say about these writers--and their biggest irony--is that they're gateway drugs to better drugs, vis-a-vis literature. What I got from Bukowski and Blake and Keruoac is their continued referances back to their inspirations: Fante, Hemingway, Dos Passos, Fitzgerald, Dostoevsky, etc. This made me want to read these people, and on that level, junkie writers were indispensable to me.

Henry Baum's picture
Henry Baum August 13, 2012 - 11:49am

This is senseless. Name a writer who doesn't cover the same themes over and over again. This has nothing to do with drugs or drink.

NotMarilyn's picture
NotMarilyn from Twin Cities, MN is reading Mistress of Rome by Kate Quinn August 13, 2012 - 11:50am

Enjoyable article. Nicely done. 

When I first stumbled onto Lamb by Christopher Moore, I was hooked by the story, the escapism, the humor... so I tracked down every novel I could find of his. The more I read, the more I found that his protagonist is always the same guy, his troubles always the same troubles, and the word "fucksocks" (or it's medieval counterpart "fuckstockings") makes ten thousand appearances in each novel. The books are still good, I just enjoy them less and less each time a new one comes out (which I invariably buy anyway out of habit).

He never had any substance abuse problems that I'm aware of, but he does strike me as the pot-head type. *shrug*

Keith's picture
Keith from Phoenix, AZ is reading Growing Up Dead in Texas by Stephen Graham Jones August 13, 2012 - 11:59am

@Henry - Sure: Thomas Pynchon, Don Delillo, Murakami, Egan, Chabon, Franzen,  McEwan, Ballard, and that's naming just a few. And I'll agree with you, there's TONS of common themes explored by individual authors over and over again, but they also take it to another level than most of the authors I featured in this piece. where as most of the featured authors kept their themes on a highly personal, constantly repetitive level.

Jeff's picture
Jeff from Florida is reading Another Side of Bob Dylan by Victor Maymudes August 13, 2012 - 12:05pm

What? They suck because they had a moment or two of greatness and then descended into ignominy?  I'd kill to have a touch or two of the mindsets that delivered us the likes of "Fear and Loathing" and "Post Office" and whoever else you mentioned in your laundry list which included some of my all time favorites.  What about Philip K Dick? Yeah, his last work, Exegesis, was out there but still, reread " We Can Remeber It for you Wholesale" and tell me he should have been more concerned about damaging his short term memory. That story danced all over the graves of any mortality issues. It's not like they knew what they had produced.They just put it out there in the prevailing winds and were just as curious as the rest of us to see what would happen.  

Anyway, thanks for putting this piece in. It was fun to go off like that.

Tom1960's picture
Tom1960 from Athens, Georgia is reading Blindness by Jose Saramago August 13, 2012 - 12:06pm

Thanks for saying something that too often goes unsaid - not every hit is a home run.  Sure the guys you talk about wrote soem great stuff; they also wrote some real crap.  On The Road was a great read but when it gets repackaged over and over under diffeent titles you just gotta call fowl.  Same for Hunter S. Thompson.  He made soem great observation then became as boring as a  political pundit.  Yeah, The Great Gatsby is a walk off grand slam, but try reading tender Is The Night.

Good article, can't wait to read soem of your fiction.


Henry Baum's picture
Henry Baum August 13, 2012 - 12:15pm

All fiction is veiled autobiography, so you could make the same argument about all of those writers you mention. I agree that there's not a great difference between Post Office and Factotum, but that's what make Bukowski what he is - he was writing one long novel. What makes these writers more interesting than others is their vision -  trying to figure out something on the page that no one else is working on. The fact that they keep trying is evidence of their passion, not their failure.

Farmstress Maggie's picture
Farmstress Maggie August 13, 2012 - 12:29pm

When I was younger and thought (hoped) myself to be ultra-hip, I told everyone how deep and profound Bukowski was.  Now that I'm older, and have given up on ultra-hipism, I concede that Bukowski was no better than a love(alcohol) sick preteen with a pencil and vague knowledge of haiku.  It's all insufferable.

Courtney's picture
Courtney from the Midwest is reading Monkey: A Journey to the West and a thousand college textbooks August 13, 2012 - 1:54pm

Reading my first Palahniuk novel (Diary) was like discovering sex. Every little detail was so good. The writing style -- the obvious journalistic influences and the refrain -- hooked me.

Then I read the rest of his catalogue and realized that every single book was written that way. They all have the same gimmick -- highly specific one-liners tailored specially for that exact novel. In Survivor, it's cleaning tips and "the trick to..." and in Diary, it's "just for the record, the weather today..." and in Fight Club, it's the snowflake comparison.

It got boring.

Drew Carr's picture
Drew Carr from Pennsyltucky is reading Unholy Night by Seth Graham-Smith August 13, 2012 - 2:00pm

I really enjoyed this article. I also shared an obsession when I was younger for reading the entire body of work of an author. HST, the majority of Burroughs and Kerouac. I have read every single Kurt Vonnegut book, before he passed I wrote him several times and even searched out rare first printings of some of his novels. Even with that frankly, I agree with you on many of your points.

To read Vonnegut's posthumous works now that I have matured and tastes have changed, is difficult.

That being said, I would gladly give up anything asked to have a career as prolific, successful and long as many of these authors. Hell even one moment of genious that I could parlay into a career of repeats.

Teri's picture
Teri August 13, 2012 - 8:43pm

Many of those authors started out disillusioned to begin with, they weren't happy types experimenting, or partaking of things for enjoyment, they were self medicating from the get go and as writers, the importance of intention should never be underestimated, yeah? Bukowski didn't like himself.  Ultimately, really, neither Kerouac or Fitzgerald actually had much respect for their peers, both acting more often as observer to scene as opposed to active participant, in later years disassociating themselves from many of the companions of their youth.

Burroughs was a hardcore junkie, the fact that he wrote anything cohesive at all is partly due to the efforts of his friends. Kerouac and I think it was Corso or Ginsberg went and found him in some pit in Tangiers and they were the ones who collected up the papers that later became Naked Lunch. I think Thompson may be the one odd ball exception, I agree, within those mentioned in that, he seemed to be really enjoying himself and the whole 'buy the ticket, take the ride' ideology seems to have been legit. There was a consciousness to Thompson's use of things that speaks more to decisive process rather than addictive response and when he wasn't digging any of it anymore, he did what he did. 

There are those who chose chemical alteration as experiment, escape, enhancement, medication or for enjoyment. But expecting chemicals to do the creative work, never works, or so I've heard. It's overly romanticized. The tone these days does seem to be much more about a colder kind of intelligence as opposed to the intellectualized humanity of those 'heroes on drugs' not that I ever thought of them as such. 

I did edit my list of favorite authors, based on the number of their works that I've read. Edit:  Meaning, I'm pondering the question does a favorite book or work qualify as a 'favorite' author over all, in the full scope of things?

Excellent article.

ongarolorenzo's picture
ongarolorenzo August 13, 2012 - 2:09pm

The fact is that they are not writing novels they are recording their lifes.

By the wa, I'm 22 and i'm already obsessed with all the authors you mentioned... but now i can't read anymore palahniuk... i felt in love with him when i was 14, and now he seems so boring to me...

Keith's picture
Keith from Phoenix, AZ is reading Growing Up Dead in Texas by Stephen Graham Jones August 13, 2012 - 2:18pm

@lorenzo.ongaro - By all means explore these authors, they are worth your time. But (isn't there always a but?) just don't become too enamored with the lifestyle they portray, because it tends to get dark fast.

And with Chuck, what can I say, I can't get enough of the guy. I thik he keeps getting better with each new novel.

cosmo's picture
cosmo August 13, 2012 - 2:49pm

All of them, each and every single one, they’re shit.


Joan Defers's picture
Joan Defers from United States August 13, 2012 - 3:24pm

So, you think readers are either morons who cannot detect repition or posuers who pretend to read more widely than they acutally have? That oughta win you some friends.

Also, I can't really name an author that doesn't have favorite themes, addict or no. Is Toni Morrison a super secret wino?  Did Steinbeck have some sort of hidden heroin-flavored shame?  Why isn't Hemingway on your list?  He's the grand daddy of authorly alcoholics.

Courtney's picture
Courtney from the Midwest is reading Monkey: A Journey to the West and a thousand college textbooks August 13, 2012 - 3:47pm

@Joan It's not about favorite themes. It's about the repition of not only themes but settings, plots, and characters. Morrison had a knack for writing original characters, Steinbeck was great at creating new plots, and Hemingway isn't on the list because he wrote beautiful stories about loss and disillusionment with new characters and settings.

SammyB's picture
SammyB from Las Vegas is reading currently too many to list August 13, 2012 - 4:20pm

What was that noise? I think I just heard my professor's head explode. Haha, just kidding.

I can't actually answer your question, because I rarely re-read books. There just isn't enough time, sadly. Fitzgerald was one of my favorites in high school, but you're right. It is mostly because of Gatsby. I've read other things by him, but never liked the other works as much. In fact, I sort of hated Tender is the Night. Considering reading that one as an adult, because I was only 16 when I read it the first time. Just have to find the time!

MaSmylie's picture
MaSmylie from London, England is reading Haunted August 13, 2012 - 4:29pm

I think to say that each of these novels are about drinks, drugs and other illicit and illegal means of transgressive behaviour is completely unfair. Aren't they more a response to depression, to uncomfort within one's own skin and a reaction to the drudgery of ordinary, day to day life?

I'd say that Bukowski's works explored more the realities of day to day life and his desperate attempts to escape his own pained depressive frame of mind and existence than a celebration of drink and/or drugs. Also, each of Bukowski's works, whilst exploring that similar frame of mind and state, each progress Bukowski as a human being and as a scarred soul, making and forcing through each day as it presents himself to him. 'Pulp' presents Bukowski as a man confronting and coming to terms with death, whilst 'Ham on Rye' is him mired in the turmoil of teenagehood.

I'd day that each of Bukowski's works are beautifully raw and that is what makes them so fantastic.

Keith's picture
Keith from Phoenix, AZ is reading Growing Up Dead in Texas by Stephen Graham Jones August 13, 2012 - 4:48pm

@cosmo - It's all for the purpose of dramatics, sir.

@Joan - No, I don't think people are posers, but I do think in certain circumstances, people tend to exaggerate how much and who've they've read. And if I was looking for any new friends, I wouldn't be a writer or be involved in the arts. By the way, you have no idea how close Hemingway came to making this list, but as @Courtney pointed out, Hemingway never really got stuck on a single theme or idea, and he never really let his drinking interfer with his writing. Faulkner and John Cheever also almost made the list.


Michael Thomas's picture
Michael Thomas from South Jersey is reading books August 13, 2012 - 4:48pm

It comes down to taste. I disagree that most readers don't have favorite authors, only favorite singular works. I've read 11 novels by Vonnegut and several of his story collections. I can't get enough. I've read 9 Palahniuk novels and they all, with few exceptions, devastate me in some way or another. And I agree he gets better with each new novel.

Maybe that's rare, to fall in love with a particular writer, but some stories are worth telling over and over. Some points or morals need to be hammered home. As long as it's creative and interesting or makes you think, isn't that what writing is about? Vonnegut's humor and Chuck's masterful writing speak to me. There are other writers I love that I haven't been able to read ALL of their works simply because I haven't gotten to them yet.

These writers you mention, they are human. Humans can be flawed and pathetic. Sure, it's easy to say their writing suffered due to succumbing to addiction. But, like you said, without a lot of their works, others would never have existed. Vonnegut said he wrote to keep grief away. He said all good literature simply boiled down to a story of how bad it can suck to be human. You battle your demons any way you can and if that means producing shit, then so be it. At least they expressed themselves in some way. I'm sure most of said writers felt better after walking away from their typewriter, notebook, computer after that shit came out of them.

That said, you're points are really interesting and worth talking about. The number of responses proves that.

Jane Wiseman's picture
Jane Wiseman from living outside of Albuquerque/in Minneapolis is reading Look to Windward by Iain M. Banks August 13, 2012 - 5:08pm

Robert Heinlein--the more you read him, the more you realize what a fascist, misogynistic ahole he was.

Laramore Black's picture
Laramore Black from Joplin, Missouri is reading Mario Kart 8 August 13, 2012 - 5:31pm

I have quite a love-hate thing for Hunter S. Thompson. Not really his writing, but simply that people seem to know about him in the wrong ways. I always find friends who haven't read the books but get all excited when they hear his name because they've seen all the movies. 

I'd have to second some of the mainstream writers like Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Anne Rice just because in my opinion the writing has become bland because they have produced so much that any long-term fan can sense where every single story is going.

Ken Leek's picture
Ken Leek from San Diego is reading 'Tis by Frank McCourt August 13, 2012 - 5:54pm

Well, at least they're pieces of shit after doing mass amounts of good drugs and having sex with all kinds of women. Hell of a lot more than I can say for myself.


EdVaughn's picture
EdVaughn from Louisville, Ky is reading a whole bunch of different stuff August 13, 2012 - 6:20pm

smoke a joint if you want, (trust me, I know more then a few people who’d benefit from a bong toke now and again just so they would mellow the fuck out.)

amen, brother.

I'm going to have to steal Richard's and say Dean Koontz. When I was a teenager I read everything I could find of Koontz, then he became so boring after discovering other writers and I never went back to him. Twenty years later, still haven't picked him up again.

bryanhowie's picture
bryanhowie from FW, ID is reading East of Eden. Steinbeck is FUCKING AMAZING. August 13, 2012 - 7:31pm

It's the same way with boobs.  It's like, they're all the same.  Different sizes and stuff, but basically the same... I'm so over them. 

Wait, nevermind.  Sometimes repetition is good.

Zackery Olson's picture
Zackery Olson from Rockford, IL is reading pretty much anything I can get my hands on August 13, 2012 - 7:58pm

I think every author explores repetitive themes because they're trying to figure out something about their life or the world that they live in, or to bring some piece of those things to others. I have a hard time saying any of these authors are shit.


I'm not sure I understand the several comments here about getting bored with Palahniuk (correct spelling by the way) either.


I'll say that Koontz is the one author that I really have no regard for as an adult. Most of his novels are the same story with the same characters told with the same vaguely poetic prose. I still read one every once in a while to see if he has retained any entertainment value, and I'm usually disappointed. I do still like his two Christopher Snow novels, but anything else really falls below my standards.

tzarek1998's picture
tzarek1998 from Massachusetts is reading Less Than Zero August 13, 2012 - 10:06pm

Well, that kind of caught me of guard. I'll admit, I'm guilty of saying "I love Burroughs" even though I've only read Naked Lunch and one short story, and the same rings true for Thompson and Fitzgerald and Dick and Kerouac. With me, I think it's more along the idea of saying I love an author because of the style they have, and the myth around them (how can you not think that Thompson's life wasn't a living and breathing story all on it's own, and not love him for that?).

That being said, there's only two authors I've really read most of their work, and that's Bret Easton Ellis and Stephen King. As I'm reading this, I find that you're right with Ellis' work: his early stuff (especially Less Than Zero and Rules of Attraction) is relatively unique from the rest, but everything after starts to become this rather long and obvious attack on something (see: American Psycho and Glamorama, not to say that his other stuff doesn't though). I want to love Ellis' work, but it's so hard because of his theme-drilling.

As for King, I think I just reached a peak with The Dark Tower and the related stuff from his library. There's still some good stuff I want to read, but most of his stuff I feel isn't worth reading now, whether it's because it's old or tired or clichéd or just can't stand against the good stuff.

Igor Del Toro's picture
Igor Del Toro August 14, 2012 - 3:45am

Nice article with interesting points. Reading about Booze hounds or junkies or any fringe artist is appealing because we are not them. For the big majority of us, this is as close as we can get to a lifestyle/ point of view, that we may not want to experience personally. The fact that the 40-year-old suburbanite Mr. Rawson finds the literary heroes of his '20 are not longer "cool" simply means that his tastes are changing as he matures, like everybody else.  He may accuse these writers of just telling the same story over and over again. But every artist does it: It's called your voice and most writers don't even find it. I (or you) would be blessed to ever create something as meaningful as any of those authors have, even if it means spending the rest of my life retelling that story. What's your story?

Devon Robbins's picture
Devon Robbins from Utah is reading The Least Of My Scars by Stephen Graham Jones August 14, 2012 - 3:59am

I used to love Bukowski. I guess i still do, but I can't really read his stuff anymore. Every once in a while I'll pick up 'Tales of Ordinary Madness' and read a short story real quick, but that's about as much of my attention that Bukowski gets these days.


Like you said, I've read it before. It's not exactly the same, but it's pretty close. Because of that, it feels like it lacks the density that you find when reading something new.

Shawn I.'s picture
Shawn I. from New York is reading Important Things That Don't Matter August 14, 2012 - 8:21am

Interesting article. Some good points. The closest author that falls into your criteria for me is King. It's not that I can't stand him but I really need to be in the mood or psyche myself up to read his stuff now. Some of his work can be very disapppointing. Thanks.

postpomo's picture
postpomo from Canada is reading words words words August 14, 2012 - 8:24am

Vonnegut - yeah, I said it.

I read the same way, find an author, and read it all, and that was the deal with Vonnegut shortly after I graduated with a Lit. degree and could read whatever I felt like. I enjoyed the ride, and I've gone back to read my two favourites Slaughterhouse-5 and Breakfast of Champions, but as for the rest, no thanks.

I still find his insights clever, his delivery minimalist, but after 18 novels/collections, there's nothing to rediscover.

I wouldn't say he sucks though. there's lots of stuff that I read at a particular time that was good then. I wouldn't re-read Hardy Boys.

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies August 14, 2012 - 10:50am

at least you got people talking, keith. if people are defending their authors, the ones they love, maybe they'll fight harder for them, and their own work as well. good discussion. there are no absolutes, ever. (see what i did there?)

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like August 14, 2012 - 10:57am

I can't read Jan & Stan Berenstain anymore.  I could still read Dr. Seuss or Richard Scarry, but the Berenstain Bears just don't do it.  I think it's because their vision of the family unit is one that is somehow disconnected from the larger context of society.  Dr. Seuss shows us individual personal dramas not unlike the best written theater pieces of the last 400 years.  Richard Scarry gives us a DeLillo- or Boccaccio-esque hyper-connected omnibus of modern urban life.  The Berenstains show a Little House on the Prairie -portrayal of life which I can neither relate to or get lost in.

Keith's picture
Keith from Phoenix, AZ is reading Growing Up Dead in Texas by Stephen Graham Jones August 14, 2012 - 2:33pm

@Richard - Absolutely.

@J.Y. Hopkins - I can't help but agree with you.

Ciarán Micheal's picture
Ciarán Micheal from Liverpool is reading Arrest Us stories August 14, 2012 - 3:13pm

I think I had a sheltered childhood, judging by all the posts so far. I loved Sherlock Holmes and Jack Reacher novels when I was younger. I still do now, but as I'm re-reading the Reacher novels in anticipation of the new one, the fact that mystery novels don't hold up to second viewings has never been more obvious. I still love them, but it's hard to get wrapped up in a mystery when you know what happens already.

My Uni Tutor put me onto Carver and I loved him. A few years ago I realised I just loved What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, my first taste. Thankfully, my idolising of him died much earlier than that. I read he once described himself as a cigarette with a body attached and died of lung cancer. I don't think I've ever stubbed a ciggie out as quickly as I did when I read that. (But I've not quit, and who really wants to?) I think most mind-blowing first read's are like ex's. The first months are a dream and then you are exposed to the same old list of faults and you leave, quickly; telling all your friends of your folly.

That being said, these days, I can only like songs, as I have no patience to listen to an album from just one band, such is my constant desire for something different and new. When I was a teen, I loved Limp Bizkit and Slipknot; a fact my friends will never let me forget. Maybe our younger years are supposed to be a list of fond, loveable errors?

Anyway, loved the article. Whether I agree or not, (I do) nothing beats a ballsy rant.


Michael J. Riser's picture
Michael J. Riser from CA, TX, Japan, back to CA is reading The Tyrant - Michael Cisco, The Devil Takes You Home - Gabino Iglesias August 14, 2012 - 3:14pm

I'll go with Palahniuk. Fight Club was a revelation for me in many ways. Nothing else has been as good, as no matter what order I read them in, I get less interested with each novel. And I've noticed that almost every Palahniuk reader I talk to, their favorite is whatever of his they read first. I don't think he's bad or getting worse, only that his style does rely on certain techniques or even gimmicks, and once you've realized that, a lot of surprise goes out the window. The stories themselves are usually interesting, and the themes, but the writing itself seems really to have stagnated.

I don't know that returning to the same themes is a problem if you approach from different angles or at least tell a different story. I've not read enough of any of the authors you've mentioned to really say if they have or haven't done that. Either way, I think I have a tendency to get bored very quickly wth stylistic monotony, less so with thematic consistency.

Keith's picture
Keith from Phoenix, AZ is reading Growing Up Dead in Texas by Stephen Graham Jones August 21, 2012 - 7:54am

@alisia wins! Please PM me your mailing address

Malcolm Weathersbee's picture
Malcolm Weathersbee March 23, 2013 - 10:25pm

I was marginally interested until I saw his opinion on Philip K. Dick.
Philip K. Dick rules (as does Hunter S. Thompson) and the author of this article is a fucking philistine

Cradd's picture
Cradd April 17, 2013 - 3:04pm

Not a single one of my favorite authors has ever written something that doesn't resemble their previous works or that by that matter ponders by the same ballpark. Every single person is obsessed with himself. In the words of Charles Bukowski in his last novel  "Everybody takes themselves too fuckin serious."

Skygrotto's picture
Skygrotto from Southwestern Ontario is reading Europe: A History by Norman Davies April 29, 2013 - 2:41pm

Nietzsche. Not a novelist, not a drug user or boozer, but he repeated himself as he got older, and his best work is actually a condensation of all his ideas (Twilight of the Idols). I adored him when I was in my early twenties. Read every letter he wrote; read every book, every essay; read every accessible piece of writing of his. But now I can't sit down and read his books anymore. His ideas and words are always in my head. Maybe I don't need the books after having read them each at least a dozen times. I mean everything he wrote, I consumed. I read biographies, stuides of him, watched documentaries. I don't think any of his books suck, but if sucking is equated with repitition and self-aggrandizement than Nietzsche is one of the top dogs.

foy59's picture
foy59 July 28, 2013 - 1:17am

Yes a lot of revered authors only have a few good books in them, rock bands have the odd classic album between average ones, you can apply the same reasoning to any artist in any genre. Very few manage to endure creatively and push new boundries their careers. As for repeating the same themes over and over that's just their outlook. HST, Burroughs etc had such rich lives, traveled extensively and took on new experiences. It seems a bit cheeky for a self confessed suburbanite noob writer to critique the greats for the lack of a real body of work where at the age you are now they were already recognized internationally.


Nate Snyder's picture
Nate Snyder April 27, 2014 - 12:02pm

I'm curious how you can have a 401k, home in the suburbs and support a wife on 3 ebooks at Amazon that sell for 99 cents a piece. Is it this blog that pays the bills? How do you do it? Thanks.

Austin Reckness's picture
Austin Reckness June 20, 2014 - 2:33pm

Suburbanite with 401K 
happily ever after, 
ever after happily
clicking his buttons
and writting his books
and having 

Dee da lee dee

Drunks are repetitive
20 somethings are repetitive
and having opinions
and writing his books
and clicking his 

Dee da lee dee

Post master files post, 
and drinks a bottle. 
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday.

Boatswain builds boats,
teachers with their students
bakers, bread
drivers driving driven drives
writers writing writen writes

401K, la tee da
Dee da Lee Dee. 

and having his books, 
and writing his buttons
and clicking