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The Call of the Weird: Travels in American Subcultures Hardcover – January 30, 2007

4 out of 5 stars 40 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Ten years after hosting a BBC series on weird American subcultures, Theroux decided to make a "Reunion Tour" and write a book about how his interviewees' lives had changed. Theroux's weird Americans were UFO enthusiasts, porn stars, Aryan Nation white supremacists, brothel prostitutes, gangsta rappers, become-a-millionaire scammers, Heaven's Gate survivors and, strangely, Ike Turner. Theroux (son of writer Paul Theroux) likes them because he believes they use weirdness to feel "alive," and that's "more important than telling the truth." Apart from that, what they have in common, 10 years later, is their unavailability—the porn star had become a computer programmer, the UFOer was inhabiting a different reality, and the prostitute was either born-again or doing drugs, hard to say. So Theroux settled for talking to others in their communities. Although he sometimes criticizes himself for botching things (trying unsuccessfully to attend the Millionaires seminar as the guest of a blacklisted former adherent), Theroux never criticizes his subjects, confining himself to what he hopes will be inoffensive questions—like, have you "ever thought of trying to be less racist?" As their rants become repetitious, these "weird" subjects become surprisingly boring. By the end, readers may wonder why Theroux still finds these people so "alive," so interesting. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"Alternately fascinating and sad." -- (Kirkus Reviews, 11/15/2006)

"An artful piece of work." -- Boston Sunday Globe, 2/11/07

"An engaging read for enthusiasts of examining the fringes." -- Miami Herald, 3/13/07

"Easy and enjoyable to read (Theroux's writing light, clever, and witty)...Convey[s] the beauty, absurdity, and pathos of life." -- Alarm, December 2006

"From time to time, Mr. Theroux does come up with a nice, fat fish to shoot at in his barrel. He is a facile, amusing writer." -- The New York Times, 2/7/07

"Marvelous collection of oddballs, fanatics and true believers...Wittily skeptical, breezily sardonic yet strangely fascinating." -- Providence Journal, 3/11/07

"Pure, voyeuristic entertainment. Theroux writes with a dry, witty sense of humor." -- Columbia Daily Spectator (Columbia University), 3/5/07

"Theroux writes in an enjoyable, well-paced fashion." -- BlogCritics.org, 2/19/07

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press; 1 edition (January 30, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0306815036
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306815034
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #432,035 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As of today, April 1, 2007, this book is ranked over 100,000 at Amazon. Where are the readers? This is, so far, the best book I've read all year. Today is April 1, but I'm not joking.

I read this book in one day, on a trip from Boston to Fairbanks, Alaska. This gave me the opportunity to literally take the book in as a whole. According to Theroux in the prologue, he covers four main sources of journalistic weirdness: sexual, racial, religious, and narcissistic. He interviews the types of poeple that most would consider "weird." But for Theroux, the host of a popular British TV show, his motivation is different than the typical Jerry Springer variety. The interviewees and their entourage take a back stage to the way Theroux interacts with everyone and everything. Sometimes we detect empathy. Somethines we detect mild scorn. Always, Theroux humanizes his subjects while he exposes them. The methods are always subtle.

Theroux's writing style is clean, crisp, using the right adjective or adverb when necessary. His quotes really bring his interviewees to life: Theroux is not afraid to keep local dialects or cultural or socio-economic related slang. The prose is polished.

This is an excellent work of journalism, matching the quality of Gay Talese, Michael Lewis, or Malcolm Gladwell. It's too bad that this book isn't noticed more in the U.S. This book is as much a work of journalism as it is a work of psychology or sociology. There is work in them thar pages -- despite the crude subject matter, this is no fly-by-night piece of hack writing. Theroux asks the correct questions. He mixes a sophisticated sense or ironic humor with brief interludes of philosophic discourse, always reporting the facts without letting his personal opinions get in the way.
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Format: Hardcover
The Call of the Weird is the first book offering from Louis Theroux, son of American travel writer and novelist, Paul Theroux. Formerly a writer for the satirical magazine, Spy and host of such celebrated U.K. television programs as Weird Weekends and When Louis Met, Louis Theroux offers a weirdly appealing jaunt through a number of subcultures that most Americans would choose to overlook completely. He shows little fear (or far less than most of us would, I venture) in engaging the likes of prostitutes, porn stars, alien killers, gangsta rappers, cult members, white supremacist folk singers, and even Ike Turner.

Theroux sets off on his journey with a mind to revisit ten of his most memorable "ex interviewees" to see how their beliefs and subcultures might've shifted in light of changes in the world at large, or as he writes, "Clinton's American versus Bush's America; the nineties and the noughties." What he finds is nothing short of...well...weird.

In each chapter Theroux begins by setting the scene, recapping his first engagement with the subject at hand, and he always takes some time to analyze the changes (or lack thereof) in the people he's dealing with. Perhaps the most intriguing and engaging part of the book is Theroux's willingness to engage with some of the most intimidating or downright odd subcultures one might think of with a terrific amount of humility and humanity. While he might find himself stricken close to speechlessness by some of the tirades or actions his subjects engage in, he also does a fine job keeping judgments to a minimum and effectively communicating not only the "weird," but the seemingly normal in all of us: the fervent anti-Semite's flying toaster screensaver, the porn star's happy marriage, Ike Turner's nostalgia.
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Format: Hardcover
Louis Theroux is an Oxford graduate and former writer for the satirical magazine "Spy" and for Michael Moore's award-winning "TV Nation," as well as a former host of the BBC series "Weird Weekends" and son of American travel writer and novelist, Paul Theroux. The Call of the Weird is his first book, and it is a superlative work of journalistic effort.

Ten years after hosting a BBC series on weird American subcultures, Theroux decided to follow up on and write a book about his interviewees.

These are people most of us would want to avoid: Thor Templar, Lord Commander of the Earth Protectorate, who claims to have killed ten aliens (of the extraterrestrial rather than undocumented Latin American variety); April Gaede, a neo-Nazi mother bringing up twin daughters Lamb and Lynx, who form the "White Power" folk group Prussian Blue; Marshall Sylver, get-rich-quick guru, life coach and indicted fraudster; Oscody, nostalgic survivor of the suicidal Heaven's Gate cult and Jerry Gruidl, self-nominated fuhrer of the violently racist Aryan Nations organization - dreamers, schemers and outlaws all.

Theroux attempts to discover what motivates people to believe outrageous things, what it means to be weird and to be oneself, and whether Americans have a peculiar propensity to believe in the unbelievable.

Theroux's subjects include UFO enthusiasts, porn stars, white supremacists, brothel prostitutes, gangsta rappers, and, strangely, Ike Turner. Theroux gravitates to them because he believes - and attempts to document - their use of weirdness to feel "alive," and that's "more important than telling the truth."

Theroux is pointedly (and poignantly) asked by one contact, "Have you ever argued with a member of the Flat Earth Society? ...
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