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Why is Bush reading Tom Wolfe? Don't ask

 
 
Reply Tue 8 Feb, 2005 03:10 pm
Quote:
White House Letter: Why is Bush reading Tom Wolfe? Don't ask
Elisabeth Bumiller
International Herald Tribune
Monday, February 7, 2005

WASHINGTON If you ask the White House what President George W. Bush is reading these days, the press office will call back with the official list: "His Excellency: George Washington," by Joseph J. Ellis, "Alexander Hamilton" by Ron Chernow and, not least, the Bible.
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What the official list omits is Tom Wolfe's racy new beer- and sex-soaked novel, "I Am Charlotte Simmons." The president, a Wolfe fan, has not only read the book but is enthusiastically recommending it to friends.
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It is unclear exactly what Bush liked so much about the book, which is told from the point of view of a young woman from the God-fearing backwoods of North Carolina, Charlotte Simmons, the first in her family to go to college. Charlotte, who is at first shocked by the booze and debauchery she encounters at Wolfe's Dupont University, modeled on Duke among others, eventually succumbs in a chapter-long deflowering scene at the hands of a drunken fraternity rat. Then she sinks into depression.
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Bush, who was the hard-drinking, hard-partying president of the jock fraternity at Yale, Delta Kappa Epsilon, is also the father of two partying twins, Jenna and Barbara. Jenna graduated last year from the University of Texas and Barbara from Yale, and on neither campus is the milieu of Charlotte Simmons entirely foreign.
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Does Bush like the book because it is a journey back to his keg nights at Deke, or because it offers a glimpse into the world of his daughters' generation? Or does he like the writing? Or is it all of the above? The White House won't say. Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, did not respond to phone calls or e-mail messages last week asking about Bush's interest in Wolfe's book.
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So perhaps Wolfe had some thoughts. In relatively short order he was located last Friday at a conference at his alma mater in Lexington, Virginia, Washington and Lee University. He was asked if he thought it unusual that a 58-year-old man, that is, the president, had so embraced his book.
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"Well, a 74-year-old man wrote it," Wolfe replied. He said he had no idea why Bush liked it. "I imagine he responded to the blinding talent," Wolfe added, chuckling, "but beyond that, I'm just not sure."
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Wolfe, who voted for Bush and was invited by the first lady to the White House last year to speak at a salute to the authors Eudora Welty, Flannery O'Connor and Truman Capote, said he had not talked to the president about his book. But he said that Bush's father once told him how much he liked "The Bonfire of the Vanities," Wolfe's novel about New York City bond traders and racial politics during the excesses of the 1980s.
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Friends note that the current President Bush has read every one of Wolfe's books, including "A Man in Full," the behemoth about real estate and social change in Atlanta in the 1990s.
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Bush, who does his reading for pleasure on Air Force One, on weekends and before bed at night, has long said he prefers books to channel surfing, although he does watch television sports.
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"I'm reading, I think on a good night, maybe 20 to 30 pages," the president told Brian Lamb of C-Span in an interview at the White House last month. "I'm exercising quite hard these days, and I get up very early, and so the book has become somewhat of a sedative. I mean, maybe there are some other old guys like me who get into bed, open the book, 20 pages later you're out cold."
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Bush added that "in this job, there are some simple pleasures in life that really help you cope. One is Barney the dog, and the other is books. I mean, books are a great escape. Books are a way to get your mind on something else."
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Friends say that Bush, who like most modern American presidents is drawn to the biographies of those who governed before him, reads more nonfiction than fiction and tends toward history. "It turns out that the president better have seen the day that has gone in order to be able to help lead to the day that is coming," Bush told Lamb, paraphrasing the Texas writer and painter Tom Lea. "In other words, history really matters for the president."
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Bush noted that he liked the Hamilton biography because "it was a very interesting history of how hard it was to get democracy started." He also told Lamb that he alternates between reading the Bible every day in one year and a daily devotional by Oswald Chambers, a Protestant minister of Scotland from a century ago, the next.
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Bush told Lamb that "Oswald Chambers was one of the great Christian thinkers" and that "the easier it is to understand what he writes, I think, the more understanding of religion a person becomes." This year, the president said, he is once again making his way through the Bible.
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He did not utter a word to Lamb about "I am Charlotte Simmons."
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Type: Discussion • Score: 1 • Views: 1,914 • Replies: 23
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Brandon9000
 
  1  
Reply Tue 8 Feb, 2005 03:30 pm
Alright, I'll bite. What's wrong with reading Wolfe?
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Walter Hinteler
 
  1  
Reply Tue 8 Feb, 2005 03:38 pm
No idea, the International Herald Tribune said, you shouldn't ask.

So I posted this in the Book category to discuss it.

I mean, it isn't officially listed by the White House. Perhaps they think, it might be something wrong reading Wolfe's "I Am Charlotte Simmons", and the Bible, "His Excellency: George Washington" and "Alexander Hamilton".

Wolfe certainly can be read, I think so, on the same day together with textes by Oswald Chambers!
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edgarblythe
 
  1  
Reply Tue 8 Feb, 2005 06:16 pm
Haven't read Wolf in quite a few years. How's the old buzzard doing these days?
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squinney
 
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Reply Tue 8 Feb, 2005 06:41 pm
"Well, a 74-year-old man wrote it," Wolfe replied.

Edgar, I'd say the old buzzard is doing just fine. Very Happy
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dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Tue 8 Feb, 2005 06:51 pm
Truman Capote got honoured at the Bush White House??????!!!!!!!!


Lol - I bet Bush had never read HIM!

Wolfe? Well, good - satire is good for the soul.

Mind you - I have only actually read "Bonfire of the Vanities".

Mebbe Bush had only read "In Cold Blood" by Capote?
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Merry Andrew
 
  1  
Reply Tue 8 Feb, 2005 07:05 pm
Maybe the Shrub's taste is improving. I haven't read Charlotte Simmons but it got less than lukewarm reviews. Not up to his usual snuff, most reviewers said. I loved Bonfire of the Vanities. I used to read his sardonic commentaries when he was doing mainly non-fiction, mostly for The Village Voice, back in the 1970s.
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Brandon9000
 
  1  
Reply Tue 8 Feb, 2005 09:39 pm
"Bonfire of the Vanities" was good, and "The Right Stuff" was fabulous.
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Dartagnan
 
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Reply Tue 8 Feb, 2005 09:52 pm
I read Wolfe when I was in college and that was (ahem) several decades ago. Now he's 74 and telling us what college students are up to these days. Does that not strike anyone as odd?

If I want to know what's going on in the colleges, I'm sure as hell not going to get my info from someone old enough to be my father. I know it's a novel, not a sociological study, but Wolfe is known for his efforts to reflect reality in his fiction.
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eoe
 
  1  
Reply Tue 8 Feb, 2005 09:54 pm
Loved "Bonfire..." Absolutely.
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dyslexia
 
  1  
Reply Tue 8 Feb, 2005 09:56 pm
Hells Angels, great book eh Sonny?
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Walter Hinteler
 
  1  
Reply Wed 9 Feb, 2005 12:27 am
D'artagnan wrote:
I read Wolfe when I was in college and that was (ahem) several decades ago.


Same with me (how does it come that I think it was centuries ..... and sometimes: weeks?).
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Mr Stillwater
 
  1  
Reply Wed 9 Feb, 2005 03:15 am
Methinks the President will be unhappy when he finds out that there aren't any pictures to colour in.
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Mr Stillwater
 
  1  
Reply Wed 9 Feb, 2005 03:17 am
If we could get him to read 'Catch-22', now - that would BE something!
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Merry Andrew
 
  1  
Reply Wed 9 Feb, 2005 03:57 am
Walter Hinteler wrote:
D'artagnan wrote:
I read Wolfe when I was in college and that was (ahem) several decades ago.


Same with me (how does it come that I think it was centuries ..... and sometimes: weeks?).


A sure sign of age, Walter, is when your sense of time gets distorted. Smile Smile
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Green Witch
 
  1  
Reply Wed 9 Feb, 2005 06:36 pm
Bush can read??!! - could have fooled me.
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Acquiunk
 
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Reply Wed 9 Feb, 2005 06:55 pm
The only to books of Wolf that I enjoyed were The Right Stuff and From Bauhaus to Our House (architectural criticism) I thought Vanities was a bore.
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dyslexia
 
  1  
Reply Wed 9 Feb, 2005 07:01 pm
Mau-Mauing the Flack Catchers / Tangerine Flake Streamline Baby was a pretty good book too.
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ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Wed 9 Feb, 2005 09:36 pm
I liked Bonfire, whatever liking Bonfire means politically, I enjoyed it a great deal. I didn't read all the early stuff. Read the thing about painting, The Painted Word, and agreed in part and didn't in part. (No, I don't remember which part, do you?)

I like Wolfe's existing, and will read this latest if it crosses my path. (I tend to buy used books from a sort of literarylike bookstore, and, once in a while, buy a spate of used and new books from Amazon via a2k or Powells, not via a2k. Thus many of the books in my stack are freeforall serendipitous, as they happen to land two blocks away.

On the aged commenting... harrumph. Those who think older folks like Tom Wolfe shouldn't comment will - I think - be surprised to learn that older folks are mostly a mere bit older. That has been the big news for me, how little older all those aged folk were to me, when I was 25, and

how little older the people of the early nineteen hundreds were, and past them, the eighteen hundreds, and past them, the fifteen hundreds.

Trust me, if you look around and read as you age, it will all get eerily close.
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Acquiunk
 
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Reply Thu 10 Feb, 2005 02:16 pm
Actually I did not agree with most of Wolf's comments on the International Style, in Bauhaus to Our House. I like the style,and am not very fond of much of the Post Modern style (s?) that has/have replaced it, which I take he is more approving of. But I did enjoyed his engagement with the issue and his writing.
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