Wonky Journalism is Back in Fashion: The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe

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One of my all-time favorites! Would you believe Tom Wolfe's irreverent masterpiece has been picked up by Time as one of its 100 Best Nonfiction Books???


I bet Tom Wolfe would have a fit...actually, maybe he's having it? He hated conventional wisdom and conventional style. He broke all the rules and wrote the way he breathed.

Wow, I fell in love with his "voice"! Back in the Sixties when his book came out, we used to talk about a "writing style", not a "voice". I hate that habit of using the term "voice" for the way a writer writes: he's not speaking, damn it, he's writing! So how can you read his voice?

No matter.

I fell in love with his writing style. He'd hit it on the head. Bingo! Smash! Boom!

There's no question that Tom Wolfe started a new era in journalism. Following a celebrity around (in this case Ken Kesey) would never be the same again. It wasn't just following. It was...yes, climbing into his mind! Into his heart! Spreading the emotion around like thick butter! Splash!Smooch!

And in some ways, Tom Wolfe predates blogging. Indeed, the best bloggers today write very much in his style, immediate, hot and haunting. The sort of stuff that sticks with you and you want more and more of it...

Conversely, and contrary to what I thought at the time when I first read his book, Tom Wolfe DID NOT change journalism - not much anyway. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised. Journalists work in a set (and complex) institutional environment. Newspapers and magazines have hierarchies and responsibilities (to their investors, advertisers etc and of course the readership). You can't write freely like Tom Wolfe did, shooting from the hip! There are all sorts of people (and interests) to pay attention to! No freedom!

Yes, I know, I'm overdoing the exclamation points...but it's so liberating! That's Tom Wolfe's style, a breath of fresh air!!!

Okay now I'll stop and be serious again. What's interesting is that Tom Wolfe, after the fantastic success of his Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test could have turned to pure journalism and become one of the major journalists of his time. That's what I expected him to do, he was such a genius at it.  Instead, he followed the example of Truman Capote and Hemingway, and turned to novel writing.

No doubt a great novelist too, but nothing like the experimental, ground-breaking journalism he had shown himself capable of...

What is your opinion? Did Tom Wolfe take the right turn in his life when he opted for novel writing, or didn't he?
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