I’m about halfway through The Motorcycle Diaries, by Che Guevara, and so far, so good. I picked it off my girlfriend’s shelf because I still haven’t managed to renew my library card and I was desperate for something to read. I finished the Rum Diary two or three days ago and I was getting itchy. (I just realized they both have diary in the title. Weird.)
The book also falls into a set that I’ve been getting more and more into recently, that of books that deal with people’s formative years, the awkward time between when we are declared legal adults and when our character and temperament seems to congeal into actual adulthood. Motorcycle Diaries is perfect for this: Che was a young, idealistic medical student, fairly naive but a pretty nice guy. The changes that occur during the book are subtle, but as the book unfolds he starts talking less about getting drunk with people he’s met on the road and more about Chilean mines, the conquistador invasion of the Incan empire, and poverty and death. Still gets drunk a lot, but it’s less prominent.
The Rum Diary was a little different, of course, because it’s a work of “fiction,” and was accordingly crafted by the author to reflect a certain vantage point. Like I mentioned in a previous entry, Hunter Thompson was 22 when he started it, made his character 30 to give him a little more seriousness, and then made him act like a world-weary 50 year old. That alone can tell the reader tons about the mindset he was in while writing.
In the spring of freshman year, lo those four incredibly long years ago, I gobbled up a book called The Proud Highway, which was a collection of hundreds of letters Thompson wrote between the ages of 18 and 30. He obsessively made carbon copies of all his correspondance, which was a godsend for Thompson fanboys such as myself. To be able to look at a great writer at age 19, when I was 19, and see a kid with raging emotions, incredible intensity, even if I was so little like him myself in the details, was simply amazing. He was, to a t, a stupid little kid with an ego. I, too, was/am a stupid little kid with an ego.
In the nonfiction classes I’ve taken, plenty of students, myself included, have written short memoirs. Pretty soon, I got sick of it, and if I felt some desire to get something of an emotional or personal nature off my chest, I put it in fiction. It’s simply that every memoir I wrote or read in a class was navel-gazing to the nth. I have no faith that anything I’ve experienced over my short and easy life is in anyway remarkable, or is something that no one was experienced before. So why would I write a fucking memoir?
So instead, I like to read about the formative years of others, and through that both confirm my suspicions about the lack of novelty in my experience but also allow myself to feel comradeship with these people, and let them do the bragging for me. And if by some luck I see an event in their lives and get a chance to apply it to my own, well, only the better.