Customer Reviews: The Call of the Weird: Encounters with Survivalists, Porn Stars, Alien Killers, and Ike Turner
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on April 1, 2007
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. (He does give his opinions, but they do not bias the text.) He commands a sophisticated vocabulary, maintaining a mature, elegant prose. His self-effacing writing style is fair to the reader.

The most important conclusion of this book is taken from Theroux's Epilogue: "'Have you ever argued with a member of the Flat Earth Society?' a self-help guru named Ross Jeffries once asked me. 'It's completely futile, because fundamentally they don't care if something is true or false. To them, the measure of truth is how important it makes them feel. If telling the truth makes them feel important, then it's true. If telling the truth makes them feel ashamed and small, then it's false.' My experience on my trip has borne this out. On the list of qualities necessary to humans trying to make out way through life, truth scores fairly the end, feeling alive is more important than telling the truth....We are instruments for feeling, faith, energy, emotion, significance, belief, but not really truth."

This last pragraph, my fellow readers, sums up Theroux's great book.

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VINE VOICEon July 15, 2007
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? ... it's completely futile, because fundamentally they don't care if something is true or false. To them, the measure of truth is how important it makes them feel. If telling the truth makes them feel important, then it's true. If telling the truth makes them feel ashamed and small, then it's false."

Theroux's writing is clean, clear and tight and his interviewing style is wonderfuly textured and illustrative, bringing his subjects to life, keeping local dialects and cultural or socio-economic related slang in place to vivid effect.

"Call of the Weird" is a wonderful psycho-social travel essay, a "Passport to Adventure" that allows us a peek at what's happening at the margins of civil society out between and beyond the boundaries of the inappropriate, the bizarre, the macabre and the truly grotesque.
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on March 31, 2007
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.

In one particularly telling instance Theroux writes:

"Jerry's casual anti-Semitism was routine. Most of the time I ignored it, but I was aware of the unseemliness of having a virulent neo-Nazi as the contact person for my lost computer. I wondered if I could trust him--didn't the monstrousness of his beliefs suggest a fundamental dishonesty? But I was fairly sure I could rely on Jerry, and found it all the more odd that, for all his hatefulness, Jerry could also be thoughtful and decent."

Theroux's honest struggle with his personal beliefs in relation to the paradox of hatred and kindness so often present in his interviewees is what makes this book so very difficult to put down. I admired his candor and his bravery very much, and his willingness to present an even-handed account of his subjects in what are often such wildly disagreeable circumstances to the average person, no matter what part of the world he or she hales from.

As he poignantly summarizes:

"Though occasionally I'd been rebuffed by my old subjects, or shocked by their beliefs, and though I'd sometimes questioned my own motivations, in general I was more amazed by their willingness to put up with me a second time, and surprised by my affection for them. I'd been moved at times, and irritated, and upset, but the emotions had been real."

I suppose it is this impenetrable sense of reality that is at once unsettling and overwhelmingly attractive about The Call of the Weird, for it is certainly a very fine peek into the taboo and tantalizing in an often wholly unrepresented America.
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on June 23, 2013
If you are familiar with Louis Theroux this book is a fun read. He goes back to interview the weirdos you have already seen on television. If you haven't seen the show you might get lost. Some chapters are more fun than others but it's all due to the subject. I found this book very easy to read.
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on February 21, 2009
Anybody considering this book should definitely see at least a few of Louis Theroux's BBC documentaries before reading the book, which tells what the author discovered upon revisiting some of his former subjects years after filming them. (Some of the earlier Amazon reviews of the book spell out who the subjects are, so I won't repeat that info here.) Theroux spends a fair bit of time recounting his initial encounters with these folks--essentially, summarizing the relevant portion of the film in which they were featured--then provides an account of what he found when he went looking for them again minus the camera crew, in what seems to be 2004 or 2005. The prose is very readable and often funny, but while the writing style is breezy, the book does contain an undercurrent of sadness and more than a little ugliness (as one might expect when visiting fanatical racists). Much as I enjoyed the book, I found it slightly disappointing: I had hoped that Theroux would use the book to expand upon his subjects and his own ideas in ways that are more detailed and intellectually developed than the format of a TV show allows. He takes a few steps in those directions, but overall the book is quite a lot like the narration and dialogue from his films, minus the visual information. As such, I think the book is ultimately less rewarding than his films--more of a supplement to them than a fully developed work on its own terms--but the book is still a real pleasure, and I recommend it to all who are intrigued by his films.
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on July 8, 2014
I purchased this book because I really enjoy Theroux's documentaries. I don't suggest purchasing this book unless you've watched the documentaries. Each chapter features a different documentary character, with only a little bit of context. The book basically describes what these people are doing several years after having been filmed. In some cases, I wish Theroux had delved deeper into their lives. I guess that's why he's a film maker and not a psychologist.
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on July 31, 2013
Even if you only have a passing interest in the Louis Theroux documentaries you will enjoy this book where Mr. Theroux follows up on some of his subjects from the "Weird Weekends" series on BBC 2. Essentially this book is about Louis trying to reconcile his feelings of just being "Documenter to his former subjects "Documentee" (Yes, I made up those words) and the fact whether he is, or even should be, friends with these people. I really identified with Mr. Theroux's need to be liked by his subjects and it's insightful as to how he works through these feelings with a Nazi, a prostitute, and others. A must read for die hard Theroux fans. And yes, I think Hayley wanted to date Louis...
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on July 31, 2012
This is a great follow-up to Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends show. If you've never heard of him, I highly recommend watching all of his videos. He is funny, informative and a little goofy. A perfect combination for dealing with the off-beat weirdness of the myriad of fringe groups wandering around the US.
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on January 2, 2014
I really enjoyed his documentaries, and I had gone on a Louis Theroux documentary binge over the last few months and watched the majority of them before buying this book, I love his approach of trying to humanise people with some beliefs or ideas that can be considered inhuman.

The book is his journey to see what has happened to people in his documentaries a few years on, it seems to explore if the people have kept up with their beliefs, and if he can can get to know the more personal side of his interviewees off camera.

There is a brief repetition of some of his documentaries in this book to give people who haven't seen the documentary context.

Although you cannot see the entertaining facial expressions, tone and body language he uses in his documentaries, his writing has a beautiful flow and keeps you entertained throughout. A must read for any Louis Theroux fans.
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on June 23, 2015
A surprisingly conversational piece in which Louis Theroux follows-up with subjects of his past documentaries. I appreciated that each subject had a chapter of their own as it allowed me to read a chapter at a time without keeping up with a plot. Mr. Theroux does a nice job summarizing each relevant documentary; I didn't feel like I knew the characters that I had watched on the TV anymore than the one's I hadn't seen before. I can't decide if the epilogue on weirdness is a true expose on Louis's feelings, or just the author's justification for prying into these people's lives.
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