BOOKS . . . THE PROUD HIGHWAY: "If the first dirty secret of the 350 or so youthful letters collected in Hunter Thompson's new book (Villard; 683 pages.; $29.95) is that the Unabomber of contemporary American letters was writing like a paranoid madman even in his teens, the second is that he was doing so because he was a well-read and ambitious man determined to claim his place in literary history," says TIME's Pico Iyer. Meticulously keeping carbons of all his 20,000 letters, and taking himself seriously even when slaving for a Puerto Rican bowling magazine, Thompson figured out early that the best way to make a name for himself was by fashioning a persona. The deliriously entertaining rants assembled here trace the renegade’s progress from editing the sports pages of his Air Force–base magazine, through a stint as a TIME copy boy, to his first best seller, 'Hell's Angels,' in 1967. There are absurdly elaborate screeds to collection agencies and complaints to banks about the color of his checks. The proud highwayman wrote to William Faulkner, suggesting that the Nobel laureate send him money; to President Johnson, nominating himself for the governorship of American Samoa; to the Postmaster General, protesting the introduction of Zip Codes. "If the sorrow of later Thompson is that more and more of his pieces read like celebrity walkabouts at 4 a.m.," Iyer notes, "the pleasure of these letters is that they have all the rude vitality of the man who was not yet a myth."
BOOKS . . . THE BALLAD OF GUSSIE & CLYDE: Manhattan-based novelist and screenwriter Aaron Latham has written the mother of all Father's day's presents with this spare, beguiling tale (Villard; 176 pages; $19.95) of how his widowed father Clyde courted the widow Gussie Lancaster, a childhood sweetheart who more than 60 years before had moved to California. "Latham tells his 'true story of true love' in deliberate, prairie-flat language, strewing the landscape here and there with verbal posies and perhaps a few too many quotations from 17th century romantic poetry," says TIME's Jesse Birnbaum. "Still, the style is right for what is, after all, the sentimental chronicle of two endearing octogenarians behaving at times like teenagers."