It’s at this point in the university term that many of us start to feel as though we are treading water in a pulpy pool of bookshelves and tears. I read Louis Theroux’s The Call of the Weird: Travels in American Subculture during last year’s exam period as a desperate attempt to find some joy in reading again, and was not disappointed.
Although this book is hardly a new release, its relevance remains. Rap culture, prostitution, UFO belief and radicalism are still very much specific to contemporary society. It is interesting to read back over what were once the cutting edge reports in these issues and consider the changes.
The book follows up many of Louis’ documentary subjects as he revisits them years later. He offers more intimate insights into his perception of the people he met than he showed on Weird Weekends through a series of short sections. This makes it the perfect book to dip in and out of at will, but no matter how much you read, you will always be left with your worldly curiosity whetted.
Theroux’s famous neutral reporting is crammed with original insights, concluding many of the questions the documentaries left open. Reading his characteristic commentary, Louis’ liberal inquisitiveness really brings you along; the pages pass with hardly any notice. It is easy reading, truly gripping and intellectually stimulating all at once.
Many moments in the book are almost cinematic, with Theroux’s work as a broadcast journalist clearly influencing his writing significantly. His attention to detail is intricate but accurate; every word is made to work hard to keep the scene he retells concise but salient. Almost every section ends with a striking image or exchange.
One I found particularly affecting was his depiction of Angel and her co-workers at a Nevada brothel doing karaoke. “All songs of romance and heartbreak, I thought. All love songs,” he concludes. Nothing else could illuminate the dashing of the idealised dreams of these girls in so poignant a manner.
I won’t say this book will immediately bring you to a moment of enlightenment upon the state of modernity. Theroux’s book does, however, demonstrate the importance of traditional journalism in the ‘Twitter age’; and it encourages its readers to remain open to new interpretations on matters we may be tempted to consider inevitable elements of our cultural fabric.
Emma Thomasbookmark me