Riots of Passage by James McGathey // Book Review, Interview

Length: 732 pages
Publisher: Independently published (December 11, 2019)
Independently published (December 11, 2019)
Genre: Non fiction, Memoir
Buy On: Amazon

Synopsis:

“We have spent this entire summer living on chipped ham and No-Doz…”
In this highly anticipated follow-up to his memoir “One Hundred Virgins,” the author continues to document in riotous fashion life on a major college campus, in a major U.S. city. Though specifically Ohio State University and Columbus, Ohio, in a sense the particulars don’t matter because such experiences, though often outrageous, are universal ones.

Joined by his familiar cast of fellow reprobates, along with a healthy crop of fresh recruits, this crew closes out their final year exploring campus. If the first six months were centered around discovery, then this epoch finds them operating under the banner of refinement and expansion. As always, the journey is nothing if not wildly unpredictable, and a continual reminder that it’s often best to just start running, with no end goal in sight.

If I had to describe how any of us, and certainly yours truly, ever manages to accomplish anything, McGathey observes in these passages, I would say it runs something like this: we start down a hallway toward the object of our desire at the other end, but a rug is pulled out from under us, just about on a daily basis, before we get anywhere near it. Yet every so often, after landing on the floor, you happen to spot this secret passage in the wall that you never would have noticed otherwise. Certainly not by remaining back on the starting block. And this passage commonly leads to something as good as or even better than what you originally mapped.

My Review:

⭐⭐

I have to start out with saying I was very disappointed in this book.

For one, I did not think there was anything unordinary in this book to make it a memoir. I read memoirs to learn about a persons extraordinary life–not ordinary. I can experience an ordinary life by looking at any other person’s life–i read memoirs to experience something NEW and unique.

For two, there was an unnecessary amount of language. Like WAY too much. I can handle language–when its used in moderation and the right wayhowever. Unfortunately, neither was the case in this book. I thought the language was completely a down fall to the book. The language was so overused that I could not find what the author was tying to get across in his writing. I felt like I was spending too much time just trying to avoid reading so many cuss word a. My brain did not have a filter large enough. Not to mention, the book was extremely long, so by the time I reached the end, I was tuckered out from attempting to filter so many dirty words. I thought it was very unfortunate because I did not think the author needed any of the language to tell his story. The book would have been much much better if it were cleaner.

All that being said, if it were not for the language, Riots of Passage could have been more enjoyable. The author wrote with a writing style that intrigued the reader, and made an ordinary story sound exciting. Even though I did not find any thing extremely unique about his story, I would have recommended this book if it had been a lot cleaner.

Riots of Passage is a acceptional book hidden behind a curtain of language.

Author Interview:

What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?

I can’t really say I’ve done a ton of this. It might be a cliché but in my early twenties I did become enamored with going to Vegas and checking out some of the famous sites Hunter S. Thompson and others had written about. Although this wasn’t the only attraction, obviously. My wife and I have had some fun trying to figure out where various Poe stories were written, and also visited his grave in Baltimore. It’s actually in this sad little spot off to the side of a church, not the least bit remarkable. So that was kind of touching in a weird way.
More recently I’ve actually been getting a kick out of researching what kind of obscure writers hail from this same region as me, and then getting their books from the library, as well as possibly visiting the sites. Like this woman who grew up in an old house just a few blocks from ours and published domestic drama type books in the mid 1900s. Or this horror writer who lived around here, whose short stories I’ve really liked. It’s a great way of discovering authors you never would have before, and also learning quite a bit about the region in the process.

What is the first book that made you cry?

By this I assume you mean something that was profoundly sad. In that category, although it didn’t actually bring me to tears or anything, but the most relentlessly sad book I think I’ve read was Rick Moody’s Purple America. And yet it’s a gripping page turner, all the same, which is kind of the best of both worlds. For whatever reason heartbreaking tales have me more kind of scooping my jaw off the floor and thinking about them nonstop instead of actually bringing tears.

But I have definitely laughed myself to tears. Your questions are probably making me sound like a cliché-spouting machine but Douglas Coupland’s Generation X and then basically everything Flannery O’Connor wrote, in a really demented, black comedy kind of way, come to mind when I’m thinking about things that had me laughing from start to finish. Also a little lesser known one, which might be the funniest I’ve listed here, would be Chuck Klosterman’s collection of essays called Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs.

What is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?

Well, everyone knows about these gaming tricks to rig the numbers on Amazon and elsewhere. I actually read this hilarious piece recently about how easy this is to do, from a guy who wanted to make a point about how ridiculous and empty these “best-selling” categories are. He did nothing but take a picture of his foot – for the quote unquote cover – and come up with a fake table of contents for the alleged

book, then have a few friends purchase a copy. Now he has an orange “best-seller” flag on Amazon next to his name, as a result. But again, he did this on purpose to prove what a joke the process is.

Having said that, Amazon itself is certainly getting shadier and shadier with some of its practices, with throwing its weight around just because it can. This whole POD revolution has been nice in one respect, as far as democratizing who can get their works into print, but on the other hand this whole bit about how we’re going to make more money from our books is proving false. We’ve just created a different kind of almighty beast than what was in place before. Amazon is proving no more noble or altruistic than the major publishing operations it replaced. For all of their billions upon billions, it seems like they always have some nonsensical reason – even though you’re supposed to get, say, a 70% cut – as to why you’re only making 54 cents per copy sold, or the affiliate link sale didn’t count, et cetera.

Does writing energize or exhaust you?

Ha ha, good question. The writing itself must be enjoyable, because I can’t seem to stop! In all seriousness though, it’s something I still really love to do. Thinking about writing is exhausting, when you allow your mind to drift to all of these things you need to knock out. So in some weird way actually sitting down to write is a distraction from all that. This is one great reason to just jump in and start hammering stuff out. Then when you’re trying to shut all that down at night, go to sleep and stop thinking about your projects, that’s the exhausting part.

What are common traps for aspiring writers?

I think the rush to publish your first book, believing it will validate you, is something you probably want to avoid. Of course, it helps to have realistic expectations, and remind yourself of why you’re doing something, what your long term objectives are. My first novel I knew even then wasn’t exactly a masterpiece, probably borderline terrible in spots, but I felt like I’d talked about being a writer for long enough and wanted to get some tangible proof, to show people. And at least start hopefully getting my name out there. But then after releasing a few more, I quietly took it out of print.

But something Bukowski once said has always stuck with me. I know, that’s a controversial name and possibly another cliché, yet this little interview is something I’ve thought about often. He was saying how grateful he was, looking back, that nobody would publish his stuff when he was just starting out. Now, at the time I watched that, I thought, b.s., this is just some sort of false modesty he’s spewing here. Nobody would wish for that. Then a handful of years down the road, I felt like I got it, and knew exactly what he meant. It’s that point at which you realize that everything you’ve written up to that moment is garbage. Then I was kind of doing the whole kid-screaming-in-Home-Alone face and thinking, holy smokes, can you imagine if all of this stuff was in print? How horrific would that be? Thank you, everyone, for rejecting it!

So the bottom line I would say is, don’t screw around, you know, don’t spend ten years talking about the book you’re going to write. Get in there and start working on it. But if you’re steadily working on things, don’t obsess over whether or not it’s been published yet.

Does a big ego help or hurt writers?

I think a big ego is counterproductive for pretty much everyone. Not to bring you down, but chances are nobody is going to care about any of this 100 years from now. If you scroll through an old list of Pulitzer or Oscar winners or whatever, from decades ago, you’ve never even heard of half these people. Nobody is reading Booth Tarkington these days. The universe will probably go on exactly as it is without our input.

But at the same time, you don’t want to drift too far down into these bleak viewpoints. I actually think a more even handed outlook is the most productive, and probably the most accurate, too. Recently I stumbled upon this thought which I’ve kind of been using as my own little internal pep talk: I tell myself that it’s delusional to think that anyone cares about anything I’ve written up to this point. However, it’s inspirational to think that they someday might.

This tends to kind of keep your ego in check while at the same time motivating you to keep getter better and do your best work.

What is your writing Kryptonite?

Well, I’m not sure if this metaphor completely matches, but I think even though Kryptonite was bad for him, Superman was drawn to it anyway, right? If that’s the case, then without question I would say these handwritten notebooks are my own personal devil. I know the latest hot theory is that writing stuff by hand is supposed to be good for you, and I’m sure that’s true in many respects. But all I can say is it’s also made an unholy mess for me over the years, as far as attempting to sort things out later. Because for some reason I can get into typing up actual books just fine, but when it comes to, like, a journal, and random notes, these are all over the place, in notebooks and stray scraps of paper. I just can’t seem to get motivated to type that stuff up initially instead, to start with. Even though I know finding and sorting it out later will be a nightmare.

Have you ever gotten reader’s block?

For most of us who write a lot, I think we also are obsessed with reading a lot. And that’s certainly true for me. There’s never a point where I’m not reading a ton. However, you definitely go through these stretches where you’re completely burned out on everything you know, and need to find new topics or authors or genres to get into.

I actually had this recent little epiphany where I realized that most of the highly touted, highbrow quote unquote “literature” of the 2000s, you know, it really kind of sucks. And yet for the past 15 plus years, I keep checking this stuff out, and reading it, even though I really am not all that into it. For all this talk about building character, most of these books seem to focus more on artful sentences to the extent you actually don’t care about any of the characters. And somehow we’ve also been on this kick where plot is a bad thing.

So once that thought sunk in, my enthusiasm kind of cratered for a little bit while looking for something else to get into. That’s when I realized, hey, maybe these genre books I used to read, but everyone’s convinced me to get away from and scoff at for the past couple of decades, maybe these weren’t so ridiculous after all. Maybe we left something on the table by abandoning them.

Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?

Yeah, and I still think about that from time to time. It’s just often really hard to write personal stuff. I’ve kind of dipped my toes into writing about the kooky hijinks of my early 20s, and some of my friends from then, and that’s about the extent of it. But thoughts of anything more serious than that whatsoever, like, a family history or anything, these are completely paralyzing. Even if converting them to fiction.

That’s when I begin to entertain thoughts about how much easier it would be to have a pen name. Also more morbid ones of, heh heh, maybe my name is the actual problem. Maybe this stuff would sell better if nobody knew who I was.

Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?

In general I’ve had a tough time writing anything other than exactly what I want to do at that moment. There’s one book where I got to page 300, and realized the ending was still more than half the distance away – and I thought the entire book should be 300 pages – and lost all interest that day, haven’t returned to it since. And this happened 16 years ago. So it’s been a lot more productive to me to just bounce around, even though everyone in the world advises against it, and work on exactly what I feel like at any given time. My thinking is the ones I’m inspired enough to complete, then that must be for a reason. As long as you’re always working then this isn’t a problem.
So the thought of writing something for other people – be it imaginary readers, or an editor or whoever – is just not something I’m very good at. Sometimes I look at magazines or forums where jobs are listed, or articles that a magazine wants, and it just draws up a blank. It’s much, much easier for me to write whatever I feel like, and then see about shopping it around, if anyone’s interested.
Having said that, there are occasional situations where you are going to have to write stuff for other people. I think this is a good experience to work on, as far as improving your skill. One trick I’ve found useful in these situations – I used to do this at a job where they would ask me to write blog posts for the company – was to amuse yourself going off on these tangents where you were 100% certain you would cut them out anyway. But writing the stuff kept you entertained enough to complete the project in question, after which you could go back and delete it before turning the piece in. Maybe even use that stuff for a later project of your own, if you’re really crafty

4 thoughts on “Riots of Passage by James McGathey // Book Review, Interview

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