In the mid 1990s, an anarchistic group of young men and women from the Philadelphia area moved into a rented farmhouse located in Charlottesville, Virginia. The house, dubbed “Big Fun” by its inhabitants, was the setting for what must have been some of the wildest debauchery Charlottesville, Virginia has ever seen.
One of Big Fun’s inhabitants (“The Gus”) began working on a glossary while living in Big Fun. The glossary contained hundreds of entries that documented the words, locations, events and people surrounding Big Fun. Eventually the originally hand-written glossary was converted into a computer document that was printed out and passed around town. In the spring of 1996, The Gus converted his glossary into a website. For 20 years now, The Big Fun Glossary has sat online, largely unchanged. The website is a tribute not only to Big Fun, but also to bad HTML design of the mid-1990s.
In 2007, The Gus took The Big Fun Glossary (the website) and released it as a self-published book titled Concerning Big Fun. That book is the subject of this review.
And when I say that Concerning Big Fun is a copy of the online Big Fun Glossary, I do not meant that figuratively. The book is, for all intents and purposes, a complete text dump of the website, and little reformatting has taken place. For example, all the clickable hyperlinks on the website appear underlined here. The caption on page 233 of the book prompts users to click the photo to enlarge it (I tried — it doesn’t work). The book’s introduction and stories that bookend the glossary itself appear virtually word-for-word as they do on the website. If you purchase Concerning Big Fun in hopes of new Fun-related content, you’ll be disappointed.
Why then, one might ask, should anyone buy a printed copy of the glossary at all? Personally, I bought the book for two reasons. The first is that for twenty years now, I’ve had Big Fun stories and adventures swirling around in my brain, and I thought The Gus deserved $11 for that. The glossary captures a moment in time that most reality shows could only dream of concocting. The other reason I purchased the book is that websites rarely live forever. The Gus mentions enough people by name that I have often feared a single cease-and-desist order from any one of them could take the Big Fun Glossary offline forever. Even if the website someday disappears, I’ll still own a hard copy of the glossary.
The glossary portion of the book alone runs 185 pages, and like most glossaries, is presented alphabetically. For those experiencing Big Fun for the first time, that means you’ll be reading references to events and people’s names before you know who they are. The website solves that problem to an extent by visitors to jump around using hyperlinks, but it doesn’t work as well on paper.
Given enough time with the glossary, readers will uncover a situation not unlike MTV’s “The Real World” … that is, if the denizens from that show were placed in a house that ended up without running water and/or electricity, and spent their spare time abusing everything from cough syrup to heroin while spray painting everything in sight, collecting doll heads, and mummifying cats. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall during the height of Big Fun, although I can tell you I wouldn’t have lasted one night in the place. As I once said in a blog post about Big Fun, “I am sure the thought of living in such squalor sounds like much more fun than it really was — and, by the time you get to the end of the glossary it doesn’t even sound like that much fun. Fantastic romanticism, perhaps.”
What can I say to get you to buy this book? I cannot honestly say that reading about Big Fun was more fun on paper than it is on the website; in fact, the underlined words and passages in the book are a constant reminder that online these are hyperlinks I could be clicking to jump around. And, seeing as though Big Fun (the website) is still online, it’s hard to justify the purchase of a paper copy. That being said, I would urge you to check out the Big Fun website and, if you find yourself enthralled with the story the way I did, buy a copy of Concerning Big Fun and consider it a donation to The Gus for all the effort and work he put into capturing these stories.