July 24, 2004
Thought for the day

"Wonderful to have a whole day unplanned," Caroline said. "It's like a blank sheet of paper to be filled in according to inspiration."

—Muriel Spark, The Comforters

July 19, 2004
Campus bonfire

A new Tom Wolfe novel is always a publishing event. His latest, I Am Charlotte Simmons, a novel of college life, is due out in November. Rolling Stone magazine is serializing excerpts, and the first appears in its current issue:

If America ever had to go to war again, fight with the country's fate on the line, not just in some "police action," there would be only one source of officers other than the military academies: frat boys. They were the only educated males left who were conditioned to think and react . . . like men. They were the only -

The concept would have grown still larger, had not a boy named Hadlock Mills, known as "Heady," which was short for "Headlock," come in from out of the entry gallery and said, with a slight smirk, "Hoyt, there's a young lady here to see you."

We don't yet know who Charlotte Simmons is. But many trademark Wolfe-isms are already apparent—the seamless interweaving of current slang, the knowing little details (the band of the moment is "Swarm").

The New York Post, however, is appalled. "A highly anticipated novel from one of this country's most respected journalist authors is shocking in its salaciousness and vulgarity," it breathlessly declared. "The full manuscript of 'Charlotte Simmons' has not been turned in, sources say, but The Post obtained about 100 unedited manuscript pages."

A lost age

I have had my first piece published in The Weekly Standard. It's a review of the book The Terry Teachout Reader:

One of the other virtues of middlebrow culture was that it was popular. Everybody watched The Ed Sullivan Show. Everybody knew who Norman Mailer was. All Americans, to a certain extent, participated in a shared culture, and this culture in turn unified America. To be "American" really meant something, culturally. Now, Teachout argues, culture has become atomized, catering to every possible niche interest. Many free-marketeers, especially libertarians, applaud this new cultural diversity. But not Teachout: "The information age offers something for anybody: Survivor for simpletons, The Sopranos for sophisticates. The problem is that it offers nothing for everybody." Teachout misses Midcult, despite its pretension, social climbing, and eat-your-peas ponderousness.
You can read the first few paragraphs online. To read the whole thing, you'll either have to subscribe or buy a copy of the print edition, out today or shortly thereafter.

And if you're intrigued by what you read, you'll certainly want to stop by Terry Teachout's blog. How he finds time to write so well, usually five days a week, on all the arts while a full-time critic, I'll never know.

July 16, 2004
Thought for the day

"[D]emocracy has never had much to do with making great art."

Toni Bentley

July 15, 2004
Thought for the day

It is a carefully embellished myth that dressing casual is in some way standing shoulder to shoulder with the electorate against the establishment, and that in being well dressed one is in some way decadent, snobby, and treacherous. This is why we have in one generation gone from a formal, well-behaved society into the casual modernity that uses the F-word constantly and sees soap-opera stars and badly-behaved, women-bashing multi-millionaire basketball players as role models.


July 13, 2004
And you thought your breakup was bad

“That being said, he’s one of the coolest guys I’ve ever met. He’s Jeffersonian to the core. He’s always been worthy of emulation.”

“He’s an interloper. He is garbage, scum, a scurrilous piece of shit. I spit on him.”

—on Richard Johnson, Page Six editor
The world of gossip is a frightening thing. New York magazine dishes it up in all its gruesome glory. The article is a very revealing look at many aspects of New York life. And it's made all the more juicy by the story of the love affair gone wrong—between an 18-year-old authoress/belly dancer and a 46-year-old PR flack—that got a Page Six columnist fired.

Snark is in

Kill Your Idols is a new collection of essays, each one attacking a revered member of the rock 'n' roll canon. Mediabistro.com interviews one of its editors, Jim DeRogatis, on the state of rock criticism today:

There is much more freedom today in America to voice your true opinion in the big, square daily newspaper than there is in the rock magazine. This is a pathetic state of affairs. In the daily newspaper, you have to have two-sentence paragraphs, and you cannot say "fuck." And you must have the parenthetical aside that explains that breakbeat is a form of electronic music. But, you know, Rolling Stone needs to make the agreement with Eminem to have him on the cover. He is going to choose the writer who interviews him, he's going to choose the photographer, he's going to dictate the coverage. He is not going to get a negative review, no matter what piece of shit he puts out. And that's the case at many publications.

On Books

The American Enterprise magazine has published on its website a second column of mine on books.

Read on to find out who wins the battle of the Anglosphere, read my review of A.N. Wilson's latest, get an update on the boy wonder, and discover one very disgruntled author.

July 11, 2004
Night and day, indeed

Night and Day, while starring the inestimable Cary Grant, was an almost completely fictionalized portrait of the great songwriter Cole Porter. But don't expect much better from Hollywood's latest kick at the cat, De-Lovely. The reviews are terrible, too.

But we can thank it for bringing us something like a Porter revival. The best article I've seen in print so far is John Lahr's in The New Yorker. The magazine also has an added treat—a 1940 profile of Porter by Margaret Case Harriman:

Audiences come early to Porter first nights to see the entrance of the Porters and party, who arrive courteously on time and sweep, in a wave of chatter, perfume, and furs, to their seats in the second row. Porter always buys seats for his own first nights and pays for them at the box office, and—unlike many authors and composers who spend such gruelling evenings downstairs in the men’s washroom with a bottle of bromide tablets—he enjoys the opening performance enormously, beaming and applauding without restraint. One time, strolling up the aisle at intermission and waving and stopping to chat with friends in the audience, he was heard to say repeatedly, in a tone of honest admiration, “Good, isn’t it?”

July 09, 2004
Paperback writers

Toby Clements at The Telegraph sings the praises of the paperback:

Allen Lane was doubtful of the success of his venture. "I will be the first to admit," he said, "that there is no fortune in this series for anyone concerned but… these Penguins are the means of converting book-borrowers into book buyers."

There is no doubt he was right – within the year, three million Penguins had been sold and we had all become book buyers – but Lane underestimated his contribution to the modern world. Thanks to his inspired piece of publishing legerdemain the world is a more sociable, colourful, literate place – and its citizens have lighter bags.

All true, perhaps. And I do find paperbacks much more portable and easier to read—I can rarely fit a hardcover in my purse, and they're not quite as easy to manage lying in bed. But hardbacks have more gravitas. And paperbacks more easily lend themselves to ugly covers. I sometimes wonder if students would have more respect for the classics if they had never seen the inelegant Signet editions.

July 07, 2004
Thought for the day

"By contrast, the rise of magical realism is in many ways akin to the appearance of abstract expressionism in painting. Both were invented by people (Pollock and Garcia Marquez) who imagined themselves to be bold critics of the established order. Yet, their work appeals to many expressly because of its absence of obvious social criticism: content for all intents and purposes. Is it any surprise that Pollock has proven so popular in corporate office buildings given that big corporations are concerned above all else with avoiding display of anything that anyone might find offensive? (Who could be offended by a bunch of bright, happy colors?) Where there are no subjects, no offense may be taken."

Jonathan Leaf