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Likely Stories

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Keir Graff and editors from Booklist's adult and youth departments write candidly about books, book reviewing, and the publishing industry

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Thursday, August 3, 2006 3:37 am
More Bewildered, More Innocent, and More Welsh
Posted by: Keir Graff

I was going to sit down and write about how I was able to finish four reviews today because my three-month-old, whose naps are usually short and unpredictable, snoozed the morning away. But then he just spent the last hour having an inexplicable (to me, anyway, probably not to him) screaming fit. The baby giveth, and the baby taketh away.

I’m still a little rattled. So instead of something original, I’m going to lift from the book whose review I have yet to finish: The Joke’s Over, by Ralph Steadman (Harcourt).

Steadman, as you undoubtedly know, is the amazing artist who illustrated many of Hunter S. Thompson’s books and articles, most famously Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. He’s Welsh and a perfect tempermental foil to Thompson. And I think any friend of the exceedingly difficult gonzo journo can probably be described fairly as “long-suffering.”

Anyway, Steadman’s slashing, ink-spattered drawings are savagely eloquent, but it turns out his writing’s not bad, either. He obviously had immense respect for Thompson, but also some unaddressed gripes, and he puts it all down in his book with dry wit and seeming honesty.

Describing his confusion at arriving at the Kentucky Derby in 1970, he writes:

From there on in I was on my own. Innocence and a Welsh way of asking directions, coupled with a look of utter bewilderment, stood me in good stead. I noticed this early on and acquired a knack of looking more bewildered, more innocent, and more Welsh if things got hairy. 

Describing a spectator at the Derby, he writes:

…a 22-carat gash appeared somewhere around the place where his mouth was supposed to be. It was like the back end of a goat with its tail up. 

Later that year, in New York after covering the America’s Cup, in need of a favor, he dials the only number he knows:

I had met her in Bologna at the Children’s Book Fair, the previous year. She remembered me because I had put her in hospital by overturning a car in a ditch on our way back to her hotel after a party. She had broken a couple of ribs but was okay now. 

Okay, I could excerpt all night, but I’ll end with this one:

Normally I don’t drink unless I need to, which is often, in this world, to soften the dreams of reason. 

To that, I say, chin-chin!

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