"I got this book for free. I hate it."
March 5, 2015 10:20 AM   Subscribe

"What the hell is 'Wild Animus'? It's a book with a story big enough that I could write an entire column about it without describing a single plot point. With the exception of religious texts, has anyone, ever, given away this many copies of a book in physical form?"

Wild Animus is a book written by Rich Shapero, who distributed tens of thousands of free copies of the book all over the world in the mid-2000s.

Of his writing process, Rich had the following insight to offer:

Rich Shapero: I didn't think it made sense for me to be a writer until I had something to communicate that was important.

Interviewer: And you finally found that.

Rich Shapero: No, I just got tired of waiting.


Among the hundreds of reviewers simply describing how the book came into their hands, there were a handful that were very positive:

Wild Animus is a worldwide movement. It's a shared ideal. Paintings, sculpture, movies with established stars - all these have sprung from Wild Animus. People are gaining spontaneous enlightenment from reading Wild Animus! It's happening across the globe! Wild Animus will introduce a new template for human potential. If you don't have the gnads for it, go sit with the girls!!

and... less so:

If you were to take The Room and instead make it a story about an LSD-addicted man who thinks he's a ram and have it take place in the frigid realm of the arctics then you would have Wild Animus.
posted by showbiz_liz (57 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
You get what you pay for.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:24 AM on March 5, 2015


Reviewing Wild Animus did something strange to us. For the first time, a book was so bad, we actually felt bad for the author. Then we remembered we had to sit through 10 hours of nonsensical, acid washed audiobook. And we were angry. Then we noticed that Rich Shapero only had 32 fans on Facebook. And we felt bad again. Then we remembered he's giving the book away for free and it makes a good doorstop. So we felt better.
- Read It And Weep Podcast, 11/4/11

I can see the audiobook copy of this that my library owns from my desk.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 10:27 AM on March 5, 2015 [9 favorites]


Every thrift store has a used book section, and within that section there are some books you're guaranteed to see.

For me this is Wouk's War and Remembrance and the Book of Mormon.
posted by resurrexit at 10:27 AM on March 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Haven't read any of it but I have heard it drunkenly compared to Infinite Jest. "The same thing really, except completely different in every conceivable way. I mean, it has pages and words ... and a cover. And some guy seems to have written it."
posted by philip-random at 10:34 AM on March 5, 2015 [7 favorites]


Wild Animus will introduce a new template for human potential. If you don't have the gnads for it, go sit with the girls!!

Funny how I've been thinking all this time that one of the ways to freeing human potential was to include the girls/women along with everyone else.
posted by nubs at 10:34 AM on March 5, 2015 [12 favorites]


"Interviewer: Do you have any special writing rituals?

Rich Shapero: I like to have sex while I'm writing. "

I don't even understand the mechanics of that enough to really make fun of it.

posted by ogooglebar at 10:35 AM on March 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


Oops, meant to add:

I imagine he's using his non-dominant hand.
posted by ogooglebar at 10:36 AM on March 5, 2015 [12 favorites]


If you were to take The Room and instead make it a story about an LSD-addicted man who thinks he's a ram and have it take place in the frigid realm of the arctics then you would have Wild Animus.

Sold!
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 10:38 AM on March 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


This is pretty much what I'd do if I had too much money. I would make my own dumb art things that basically only please me and just seed them throughout the world. Pay kids to stick 'em on store shelves, force young adults to take them at their schools and all that. I'm not sure I'd write a novel, though. Maybe a comic, ideally a it'd be a pocket sized painting-sculpture I could mass produce and slowly weasel into pop culture.
posted by GoblinHoney at 10:40 AM on March 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


Weird. I've encountered this book before, and I seem to recall it being in college (also Boulder) but that would have been before the 2004 publishing date. As I remember it, it was much like the other stories where free copies were being handed out by the box full. I remember thinking at the time that it was strange that they'd be giving away so many books but just chalked it up to cult recruitment or something. Haven't thought about that book in ages.
posted by banwa at 10:46 AM on March 5, 2015


I have this book! I got my copy from a pile of free books outside the Economics department of the university. I began reading it and then discarded it to read something more coherent, but it's still on my bookshelf.
posted by alltomorrowsparties at 10:46 AM on March 5, 2015


Interviewer: Do you have any special writing rituals?

Rich Shapero: I like to have sex while I'm writing.


ZOMG
posted by angrycat at 10:51 AM on March 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


I used to write unpaid book reviews for a shitty newspaper and they would only let the unpaid reviewers choose the books that none of the paid reviewers got or wanted. I remember seeing Wild Animus on the list for years, and no one ever took it, but that wasn't the only title that lingered forever so I didn't think much of it. It wasn't until years later that I started regularly haunting thrift stores and seeing it at every single one that I recognized it and looked up the history of the damn thing.
posted by jabes at 10:51 AM on March 5, 2015


If I were his partner, it would have to be a bloody good book he was writing.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:52 AM on March 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


This is pretty much what I'd do if I had too much money. I would make my own dumb art things that basically only please me and just seed them throughout the world. Pay kids to stick 'em on store shelves, force young adults to take them at their schools and all that.

When I worked at a gallery in the early '90s, there was an artist who used to sneak in and put his own little porcelain sculptures on the shelves of our shop, with price tags applied and everything. We'd sell his things if anyone ever brought them to the register, but he didn't see a dime of it, and that somehow pleased him.
posted by xingcat at 10:56 AM on March 5, 2015 [12 favorites]


Rich Shapero: I didn't think it made sense for me to be a writer until I had something to communicate that was important.

Interviewer: And you finally found that.

Rich Shapero: No, I just got tired of waiting.


This guy is totally a minor Douglas Adams character.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 10:57 AM on March 5, 2015 [31 favorites]


I know this isn't the main point, but:

There are a few baffling items every thrift store carries. Every thrift store has a collection of crutches...

How can it possibly be "baffling" that crutches end up in thrift stores? Let's say I break my leg, I need to be on crutches for 3 weeks, and then... I have some useless crutches. They are almost always adjustable rather than custom-made. Not anticipating breaking my leg again soon, what the hell else am I supposed to do with them other than take 'em to Goodwill?
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 10:59 AM on March 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Gnads? Really? If your just gonna remove one letter, you might as well just leave it in.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 11:00 AM on March 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Gnads all folks!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:02 AM on March 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


Rich Shapero: I like to have sex while I'm writing.

Ok, if the trifecta for George Costanza was sex, TV, and a pastrami sandwich, what's the third item for Rich Shapero?
posted by InfidelZombie at 11:02 AM on March 5, 2015


Oh man, I used to work at a bookstore, and people would totally come in trying to sell this to us. I'd always be like, have you even read it? And they would either sheepishly shake their head, or excitedly tell me about one of the nutty plot points.
posted by redsparkler at 11:04 AM on March 5, 2015


A copy of this found it's way into our house at some point and all I can remember from it is a terribly-written sex scene that included the matter-of-fact phrase "he mounted her" which has become a long running in-joke at my house.

And on our shelves we have a copy of Wild America, which is quite a good book but unfortunately shares very similar coloring and typography (at least on the spine) to our old friend Wild Animus.
posted by gyusan at 11:07 AM on March 5, 2015


Also, mad props to Tyra Banks' Modelland. Most celebrities who decide to try the author thing end up writing boring, careful fiction, but Modelland was a no-holds-barred psychedelic romp wrapped up in a runway-obsessed dystopia.
posted by redsparkler at 11:10 AM on March 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Holy shit now I want to read Modelland. "Only seven extraordinary young women become Intoxibellas each year. Famous. Worshipped. Magical. What happens to those who don’t make it? Well, no one really speaks of that. Some things are better left unsaid."
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:12 AM on March 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


I swear to god I saw this book today in the childrens' book section at Savers in Worcester, MA.
posted by beccaj at 11:14 AM on March 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


If you were to take The Room and instead make it a story about an LSD-addicted man who thinks he's a ram and have it take place in the frigid realm of the arctics then you would have Wild Animus.

Not there, but a decent first step toward that vision...
posted by Naberius at 11:23 AM on March 5, 2015


Amazon has it. 23 5-star reviews.
posted by sammyo at 11:25 AM on March 5, 2015


I have never seen/noticed this book, no doubt it will be the first thing I see next time I go to the used bookstore.
posted by emjaybee at 11:32 AM on March 5, 2015


I haven't heard of Wild Animus before, but I have seen copies of Shapiro's most recent book, The Hope We Seek, all around campus, including one that sat unopened on a lectern for two weeks. It's somewhat beautiful that every generation has its own free Rich Shapiro book.
posted by lunch at 11:46 AM on March 5, 2015


...all I can remember from it is a terribly-written sex scene that included the matter-of-fact phrase "he mounted her"

Wild Animus certainly has its faults, many of them, but I felt that Shapero handled the ram sex quite sensitively.
posted by Flashman at 11:49 AM on March 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


makes you wonder just how many people sweat acid from their armpits.

Former gf's pit sweat was so acid that it dissolved her underarm hair!
posted by telstar at 11:50 AM on March 5, 2015


Hah, several years ago, box loads of Wild Animus were given away at San Diego Comic Con. As the convention wore on, each con-goer had to make hard decisions about what they wanted to drag around in their gimmie bags so abandoned copies of this book paved some of the concourses. I ended up with 3 copies in my hotel room at the end of the second day even though I was certain it had been purged from my stuff back at the convention center. I took the copies back on Saturday, left them somewhere and even then found yet another copy in my luggage when I returned home. I'm pretty sure someone slipped it into my bag when I wasn't looking.

Wild Animus, the oversized late-summer zucchini of books.
posted by jamaro at 11:54 AM on March 5, 2015 [16 favorites]


Some folks on campus were handing out copies of The Hope We Seek a few months back, so I took one, because hey, free book. I looked up the reviews once I got to my office and didn't find them compelling enough to make me open the shrink wrap on the book/CD combo, but maybe I'll give it a look. I hadn't realized that he'd distributed a previous book the same way; I guess he must feel the technique is a success.

Someone should make a sculpture out of discarded Shapero books.
posted by fermion at 12:24 PM on March 5, 2015


I feel a very enjoyable, pure and sweet relief reading these accounts. It must be a first for me: a long, challenging novel that makes me feel absolutely zero FOMO. Not even a twinge!
posted by ssr_of_V at 12:42 PM on March 5, 2015


Do not feel bad for Rich Shapero.

I used to work for this guy. Met him several times, visited three of his houses (I think he owned at least five in a single-digit-mile radius). He's one of the most intense, initimidating, aloof, yet strangely likable people I've ever met. His wife was extremely generous and personable. And he is perhaps the world's biggest Nirvana fan.

And he has literally bazillions of dollars (made though venture capitol investments in some of the biggest names of the original dotcom hype era). That is perhaps why he gave away his book for free.
posted by armoir from antproof case at 12:50 PM on March 5, 2015 [12 favorites]


See, now I want him to write an autobiography.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 12:58 PM on March 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


FWIW, the interview quotes appear to have been a spoof. You can find the real interview on the Wayback Machine:
J: Do you have any special writing rituals? For example, what do you have on your desk when you're writing?

R: I have a little figurine that's carved out of a root. A little goddess.

...

J: So grade school to Too Far and WILD ANIMUS. What did you do in the interim?

R: I thought a lot. I did a lot of internal and external exploration. I don't believe that writing has any merit in and of itself.

J: How do you mean?

R: Some people like to write because they enjoy putting their thoughts down. They enjoy the act of self-expression, the way a child likes to finger paint. You know, it just feels good. It feels good to me, too, but I don't think it's worth doing unless something important is being expressed. I liked words and I liked the power that words have to illuminate and change people's lives, but I didn't think it made sense for me to be a writer until I had something to communicate that was important. So I guess the answer to your question, more succinctly, is that I was on a journey of discovery in hopes that I would discover something that would be important enough to write about.
posted by clawsoon at 1:01 PM on March 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


This, though, from the last page of the interview, is an ironic gem:
J: Part of the proceeds from book sales will go to conservation?

R: All of the financial proceeds from publications during our first few years of operation will be devoted to wilderness conservation.
How many trees cut down to make tens of thousands of books which are abandoned in piles at Comic Cons?
posted by clawsoon at 1:12 PM on March 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


"With the exception of religious texts, has anyone, ever, given away this many copies of a book in physical form?"

And still no movie deal out of that level of saturation? I guess you have to give it away in book stores to get counted on "best seller" lists, which then gets the attention of movie makers.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:30 PM on March 5, 2015


He's one of the most intense, initimidating, aloof, yet strangely likable people I've ever met.

If that isn't the first line of Fifty Shades of Animus then something's gone very wrong.
"Every time, without fail, every time I go to the thrift store, I find Wild Animus. At least one Wild Animus."
Sometimes even two or more Wild Animuses.

I wonder just how regional this is. I've spent a lot of time in the thrift stores of the Carolinas and I can't remember ever encountering a Wild Animus in the, uh, wild. This is the first I've ever heard of the book! I'm delighted to read this, tho, because now I know to keep an eye out for Tyra Banks' Modelland.

And he is perhaps the world's biggest Nirvana fan.

This is the staggering thing. With his talents and resources, this man could be the Batman of Kurt Cobain fanfic.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:35 PM on March 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


This finally explains why this book has been a fixture of every charity shop around these parts for years. It seemed to reach 50 Shades/ Dan Brown levels for a while.
posted by gnuhavenpier at 1:37 PM on March 5, 2015


Sometimes when I see these in thrift stores (in Austin, they're in all the thrift stores) I reshelve them behind the real books, so that in case somebody hasn't seen them before they don't get tricked into paying $1.99 for them.

Copies of Too Far, as well as The Hope We Seek and its attendant CD showed up at the house recently. I took some grim pleasure in throwing them directly into the Goodwill box. In retrospect, that wasn't exactly helpful. I should have done what I did whenever a copy of Infowars shows up, and thrown it straight in the trash.

Note the pub date for The Hope We Seek- 20fucking14! He's learned nothing, nothing from the millions of dollars he's spent distributing this crap, and in consequence he's doing more of it.

I'm not entirely sure why this bothers me more than Dan Brown. I guess, as contemptible as Brown might be, he's doing something people like somehow? And Shapero's not even trying to play that game, no, it's really more akin to Gideon's bibles, if the bible was actually the incessant semi-literate dronings of some egomaniacal corporate schlub who did some acid once and figures he's got it all figured out.

And now they're everywhere, like glossy professionally-bound cockroaches, and they're probably multiplying on the shelves there, behind the real books, and it's too late to stop them. But I'll keep trying.
posted by hap_hazard at 2:22 PM on March 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


As Redsparkle mentions above, these used to show up all the time at the bookstore I work in. No one has ever bought this book.
As an added bonus, there is a CD of songs Shapero wrote, and sang, which is a "companion" to the book. It's weird non-tuneful howling-talking-singing. It's every bit as good as you would expect.
posted by librosegretti at 2:34 PM on March 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter: glossy professionally-bound cockroaches, and they're probably multiplying
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:34 PM on March 5, 2015


This reminds me of The Professor and the Dominatrix, of which a gratis copy was sent to the student atheist group I ran in my university days. Many meetings were ended with impassioned dramatic readings.
Anna watched Slane leave, such a handsome man. She remembered her pencil on the floor. As she reached for it, a sign came through the door. DYKES TAKING OVER. Two stalwart, young women followed it, one a crew-cut blond the other a crew-cut brunette, white latex glove on the left hands, paratrooper boots on the feet.

Miss Unger became more than a little flustered: she forgot about the pencil, grabbed for the phone, nearly dropped it, but managed to call campus security, and then shrieked, PRESIDENT WYNN!

Wynn came in a rush. He blinked at the two girls. He loudly demanded, What's the meaning of this?

We represent DTO!

Wynn inadvertently passed gas—that peanut-butter sandwich.
MetaFilter, I think you would love to hate this book.
posted by books for weapons at 3:32 PM on March 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


eponybloodyperfect
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:38 PM on March 5, 2015


FWIW, the interview quotes appear to have been a spoof.

Aw, that is mildly disappointing.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 3:51 PM on March 5, 2015


This sat on the shelf at my grandparents for ten years. At the household auction this year I saw it on the shelf and picked it up. The sticker said 50 cents. I opened it up, and the bookmark inside was on the 6th page. I just can't get over the fact that someone in our family thought that James Herriot lovers would like this. Heh.
posted by triage_lazarus at 4:26 PM on March 5, 2015


A person dancing around in a wolf suit handed me a copy on the Ithaca College campus.

At the time, I was pleased, because I thought, "Oh, hey, free book."

I never got more than a couple of pages into it.
posted by BrashTech at 4:27 PM on March 5, 2015


I just discovered a copy in one of the many piles of books in my house (I have hoarding issues). I don't know how it got there.
posted by LindsayIrene at 4:54 PM on March 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's weird non-tuneful howling-talking-singing. It's every bit as good as you would expect.

Hm. I can dig a little Jandek now and then.
posted by octobersurprise at 5:02 PM on March 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


@steely-eyed missle man: from what I understand, it is very autobiographical.
posted by armoir from antproof case at 5:12 PM on March 5, 2015


There are tons of copies of Too Far in Montreal used book stores, but I haven't seen Wild Animus... yet
posted by eisforcool at 5:54 PM on March 5, 2015


I've seen it many times at my local Deseret Industries thrift store. Shelved not far from the many copies of The Book Of Mormon, which at least is an in-house publication.
posted by lhauser at 10:30 AM on March 6, 2015


Oh man, glad to see a back story. This was a constant back during my tenure as a bookbuyer in the East Bay.
"street kid" whose parents bussed him down from Marin every week: "Uh, could you give me like, five bucks for three of these?"
or
Newish buyer-in-training who had no way of knowing: "I told him we don't buy galleys, but he just left these here; I'm gonna go ahead and put them on the dollar cart."

Our eventual policy was to just tear off the cover and recycle it.
posted by aspersioncast at 7:40 PM on March 7, 2015


We were walking up the hill towards Union Square in San Francisco on a busy Saturday morning, lots of traffic in the shopping district, and a young man wearing ram horns was making a spectacle of himself giving away a book, of which he had stacks of them. Have no earthly idea why I remember the title, but after reading the post, it was definitely this book. I love the fact that most people want to talk about how they acquired _Wild Animus_ rather than review it on Goodreads.
posted by Pocahontas at 9:31 PM on March 7, 2015




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