A personal glimpse of a legendary persona
The Woody Creek literary tsunami once again breaches the levees of the publishing world this week, with the issuance of The Kitchen Readings: Untold Stories of Hunter S. Thompson, written by artist and columnist Michael Cleverly and Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis.The title, as is explained in the books Introduction, largely is a reference to the Gonzo authors writing process, and the fact that he loved to read his works aloud, or have them read by a friend, while seated in the kitchen of Owl Farm, Thompsons well-documented fortified compound in Woody Creek.In keeping with the tsunami theme, the publication is to be celebrated by a book-signing at Explore Booksellers in Aspen on Feb. 5, followed by a tidal wave of similar events at Boulder Books on Feb. 7, The Tattered Cover in Denver on Feb. 13, the Denver Press Club on Feb. 14, Verbatim Books in Vail on Feb. 15 and the Woody Creek Art Studio on Feb. 19.And thus does the world gain yet another glimpse into the life of the man whose virulent prose, caustic and hilarious wit and bombastic style irrevocably changed the craft of journalism.Cleverly met Thompson shortly after the two men had migrated to the Aspen area, Thompson in the late 1960s and Cleverly in the mid-1970s. But it was after Cleverly moved to Woody Creek, less than a mile from Thompsons compound, that he became a habitu at Owl Farm, and a close pal of Thompsons in his later years.Braudis got to know Thompson in the late 60s, and became the writers friend, close confidante, intellectual foil and, once Braudis was elected sheriff, his guardian and gatekeeper in many ways.The book, coming in at 274 pages including the Honor Roll acknowledgments, is the tale of life at Owl Farm and beyond as seen through the eyes of the authors and a few others.Whether the reader knows Hunter Thompson only through the filter of his carefully maintained legend or has met him and interacted with him, the chapters will entertain as they educate.Following a vaguely chronological order, they describe Thompsons escapades in Aspen, Woody Creek and several far-flung locales, such as Boulder, Colo., the scene of a bizarre encounter with a student besotted by the great writers presence, or San Francisco, where Thompson became night manager of a famed porn palace while researching an article. And there are chapters that deal with more personal, even painful episodes, including the writers deteriorating health in his later years.Cleverly and Braudis describe a broad range of scenes in and around Owl Farm, featuring a list of props that would make a Hollywood producer proud everything from a powerful but occasionally reluctant tractor to a noisy but fabulous flock of peacocks.They also detail his friendships and escapades with a range of local characters, some nationally famous (Ed Bradley of 60 Minutes fame, actor Jack Nicholson, filmmaker Bob Rafelson), some more locally known (former Aspen Mayor John Bennett and his daughter, Eleanor, or cowboy [now Pitkin County Deputy] Jesse Steindler).There are tales involving the kind of weapons and explosives that caused severe nervous reactions among neighbors, and delight among Thompsons friends. And there is occasional mention of the ingestion of substances guaranteed to alter the consciousness of both the one doing the ingesting and anyone within reach.Many of the stories are hilarious, but a few are bound to raise the ire of some readers. For example, there is one about a neighbors cat that unwisely pestered the peacocks in their cage on Thompsons front deck, and returned home bloodied and wounded by at least one round of birdshot. Or another about the time Thompson, employing one of his favorite pyrotechnic tricks, ignited a stream of lighter fluid as he blew it out of his mouth just in time to light a passing dog briefly, if minimally, on fire.Animal lovers and animal rights activists should be advised, and beware.All this is recounted in essentially conversational rhythms and tones, as the two authors dredge their memories and those of numerous interviewees to paint a portrait of the artist and the imprint he left on the valley and on the world.The chapters are interspersed with photos, drawings and other illustrations that highlight Thompsons moods, his barbed sense of humor and the environment he roamed.Whatever you think of the Good Doctor, as a pioneering writer, iconoclastic legend or troublesome neighbor, this book will make you laugh and, perhaps, help you better understand a man whom few really knew well.
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