Moe Tkacik takes a whack at the Bobo review of “Freedom” that I enjoyed so much, finding nine important errors in the span of 73 words:
There’s almost no religion.(1) There’s very little about the world of work(2) and enterprise.(3) There’s an absence of ethnic heritage(4), military service(5), technical innovation(6), scientific research(7) or anything else potentially lofty and ennobling.
Richard is an artist, but we don’t really see the artist’s commitment to his craft(8). Patty is an athlete, but we don’t really see the team camaraderie(9) that is the best of sport.
Now, what is truly brilliant about the above is that every single one of those things is either a dominant theme or a conspicuous subtext of Freedom (and you can scroll down to see my detailed annotations if you really care.) It makes you wonder why Brooks didn’t just go ahead and add “the inimitable joys of semi-functional family life” to the list! (Maybe someone’s editor actually read The Corrections?) It’s as if the guy read a Candace Bushnell novel just so he could tell his readers that, “important new book” though it may be, the leaden plot was woefully lacking in references to female friendship, casual sex, meals consumed in trendy restaurants, ludicrously expensive anti-aging ointments and/or cosmetic surgery procedures, homosexuals, frivolity in general, and even more disappointingly he found no instances of product placement or the word “fabulous” in any of its 256 pages (and also what was up with everyone in the book insisting on going barefoot everywhere?) Nothing to see here, “security moms”! Jeez, what will Franzen think of next, a vampire-free young adult novel?
Tkacik makes a lot of other interesting points in her piece, discussing the right’s larger anti-DeLillo, anti-Franzen jihad and the Atlantic‘s inexplicable decision to have a specialist in North Korean literature do a hatchet job on “Freedom” (I am not kidding).
Bobo has a long history of making things up to support his theories about the awesomeness of Real Murka, of course. I’ve never been able to decide whether his fabulism is Straussian or Glassian and whether it’s accurate to say that Bobo is to PBS what Stagger Lee was to the Mississippi Delta.
…so the way to refute/ridicule Bobo is to string together a string of references that are obscurely arcene to everyone except say, the English Phd grad student types who find them terribly clever? What the hell is “anti-DeLillo”?
I thought the problem with Bobo is that he’s the one dreadfully out of touch with real ‘Merica.
His fabulism is Applebeesium.
Which pretty much describes Bobo’s columns, and Bobo’s life.
David Brooks is like a community-college version of a “public intellectual.” And I apologize already, because that’s insulting to community colleges.
Looks like I’m going to have to read some literary fiction this fall. I’ve been junk-fooding through the summer with crime fiction and Iain M. Banks.
c u n d gulag
Bobo and Modo need to go!
Modo’s like that girl who nobody likes in High School who keeps a diary putting down all of the other kids, who think she’s an asshole.
Since Bush left she’s had maybe a handful of interesting columns, and all of them dealt with the Catholic Church’s abuse. Outside of that, see the paragraph above.
And Bobo is like that sniveling nerd in school who everybody can’t stand because he tries so hard to be everyone’s friend, but really doesn’t like anybody but himself.
He’s the guy you used to beat the shit out of for his lunch money just so when you bought a lunch with it, you’d smush it in his smug face, just so you didn’t have to look at it for a few minutes.
They’re both irrelevant. But, of course, I fear the alternative if they are let go. As bad as Bobo is, the Times could go out and get someone just as bad or worse, like Douthat, which was replacing Bill Kristol with Kristol-lite.
DougJ is the business and economics editor for Balloon Juice.
@c u n d gulag:
I think Douthat is a better columnist than Bobo. He’s nuts, but he’s not dishonest.
This is so meta on so many levels.
I can’t keep up.
@Mike G wrote:
Bobo is a turd much to large for real amurkins to excrete without incredible pain.
which would be true, if their was sufficient fiber content to merit proper log formation, as such, the volume is large, but its texture is lacking in substance. bobo passes easily through the colon of real america, in fact, the real concern is that of sudden violent excretion of bobo’s watery content.
Bobo is a classic example of the American worker. Pay someone to do something, and they think they can. Our legislature has an inordinate percentage of these people in its ranks, most of whom are dear to
BilbosBobos heart. As any good friend would, Bobo blends bondsbends over forwardbackward for them.
It’s weak to go after Bobo- he’s a symptom of a truly out-of-joint culture.
I also want to respond to c u n d gulag. Everything doesn’t revolve around your dysfunctional high school experience. Also, I’m guessing most of us didn’t beat up nerds for lunch money. Or smush food in their faces. Jeez.
I just finished a blog entry about Freedom, and why I won’t be bothering to read it; I also provide a medium-length list of books I have read, and enjoyed, this year:
c u n d gulag
Sorry, I was kidding.
I enjoyed my HS experience, probably one of the few people out there, and I never thought it was any more dysfuntional than what anyone else went through at that age. I never did any of that stuff because I was not, and am not now, a bully. I was trying to paint a picture.
But if you read MoDo, a lot of her columns lately have been compared to the writings of a jealous HS girl. Not just by me, but by a lot of well known leftie bloggers. I try to be original when I can (which, believe me, ain’t often), but that MoDo HS meme has been out there for a long time.
And Doug J,
Yeah, you’re certainly right that Douthat is better columnist and more honest than Bobo. But that’s a pretty low bar. It’s like being right more often than Bill Kristol. That octopus picking his second game in the World Cup already had a better track record than Killer Kristol.
@alex: I’m not ready to agree Bobo is:
Pollution, racism, class-ism and poverty would constitute “symptoms”.
Bobo is a nook message purveyor, at the least an enabler, if not an active functionary in the creation of our:
You are right. Most of us didn’t beat up nerds. In my day, Nerds could only be found on Ka-Troo. That was way too far to go, my parents would never have allowed it.
I’m about as much of a leftist as you can be, and I think DeLillo sucks. Just sayin’, it’s not necessarily a right-left thing.
DougJ is the business and economics editor for Balloon Juice.
I’m not a huge fan of Franzen and am obviously a leftist. But I doubt my critique would be the same as a right-wing critic.
I liked your piece.
I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to read Freedom, because I haven’t yet picked up a copy and looked at it. As a lifelong lover of fiction, I basically have only one criterion: pick up the book, read the first page, leaf through a few more early pages to see if the writing rings true, if the characters are real and if the story interests me.
The socioeconomic status of the author or characters is mostly irrelevant, though now that I think of it it’s been a long time since I was interested in a book set in the contemporary U.S. A lot of that genre is indeed pretentious bullshit. I suspect I probably won’t end up reading Freedom.
wrt to a couple of the authors you mentioned, you might want to check out Philip Roth’s first book from way back in the ’60s, “Portnoy’s Complaint.” I haven’t liked any of his more recent stuff, but Portnoy is really a classic — a freakin hilarious portrayal of a nerdy, horny young Jewish boy in 1940s New York.
As for Ian McEwan, “Atonement” is really good. All of his other stuff that I picked up I ended up putting down.
He’s both symptom and cause, sure.
But why do people read and enjoy him? I think there’s something to him as a messenger. The message and the messenger aren’t quite the same thing. Bobo seems reasonable; as Moe said, he’s “mild-mannered” and seemingly unthreatening. He’s some domesticated, NPR version of American conservatism (He’s on NPR, often). It shouldn’t be shocking that he’s a serial liar, because his job is laundering Republican Party ideas to educated, upwardly-mobile Americans.
The problem is that people who see themselves as serious and reasonable take him seriously. They want to be sold his message, they want to see their unenlightened self-interest as reasonable.
So I think it’s kind of beside the point to vilify him, to say he deserves to get beaten up, and to call him a turd. He’s just a tool.
Quite right, Alex.
Yup, right again. But I’ll wait to jump on that train until the GOP and their bagger sycophants quit vilifying my President. Until then, Bobo and the rest of the insane herd are fair game.
Of course, we intend to play fair. Immediately after kicking these mentally herniated Scrooges in the nuts.
Myers’ pan of Freedom is all too predictable. The Atlantic wanted to pan it and he’s their go-to guy. Here’s Myers pan of “Tree of Smoke” in the Atlantic:
A Bright Shining Lie
It’s the most critically acclaimed novel of the fall. And it’s astonishingly bad.
B.R. Myers is the Atlantic’s contrarian critic. He wrote a sloppy essay ten years ago about the badness of American literary fiction, and he writes to deride the big critical successes.
That said, I’ve just started reading Freedom, and it’s pretty mediocre.
You’re missing nothing by skipping “Freedom”; but I do disagree with you about Roth. He’s even better when compared to the likes of Franzen.
Apparently, anyone can buy the word “masterpiece” for their book for about a nickel. Most of the “masterpiece” books I’ve read in the past couple of years have been real let-downs (“One Day” by David Nicholls, “Beautiful Children” by Charles Bock, “Bright Shiny Morning by James Frey just to name three). For all their affectations, each book turned out to be nothing more than conventional.
This overblown pretense of literary-ness reminds me of the supposed geniuses of the 1980s: McInery, Ellis, and Janowitz. Sucked, suckeder, suckedest.
One example between real writing and what currently passes for brilliance: Roth and Updike would have taken great pains to convey what it would have been like to live in a specific time and place. They created an entire atmosphere; these new clowns just toss in a couple of brand names and figure that’s enough.
Here is Myers’s atrocity from ten years ago, which has indeed made him the Atlantic’s go-to guy for panning “important” authors. There is clearly no reason to read his opinions of DeLillo.
(IMO, DeLillo hasn’t written anything worthwhile since Underworld, but Myers’s attempted takedown of White Noise is just idiotic.)
You just started reading it and it’s “pretty mediocre”?
Notice to literary snobs: if you’re going to pass judgment on a work of art, do so after the first couple of chapters. Otherwise your disdain comes off as a bit untethered.
I actually like Bret Easton Ellis’s work – not all of it, but Less Than Zero still has some real impact, and Glamorama is massively underrated – his satire of New York celebrity culture at the end of the last century is dead on.
As my blog post probably indicates, I tend to prefer genre fiction to literary fiction, though. I also tend to prefer heist movies to indie flicks about people discovering themselves on cross-country journeys, or whatever.
That review of the Franzen novel seems kind of dumb (that bit on the word “fuck?” Seriously?), but I thought A Reader’s Manifesto was pretty great. DeLillo is grotesquely overrated, and although Myers doesn’t QUITE have the necessary critical apparatus to fully articulate why White Noise is such a bad novel (and a bad novel it most certainly is), he makes a pretty decent start. He’s also good–better, I’d say–on the reliably awful Cormac McCarthy.
(Please note that as a doctoral candidate in postmodern literature, I’m not actually a COMPLETE philistine, but BOY do those two ever push my buttons)
DougJ is the business and economics editor for Balloon Juice.
I think “White Noise” is the best contemporary novel I have ever read, but what do I know.
I suppose what you know depends on what I know, as well as the meaning of “know.” I thought White Noise was the result of a dude skimming through Postmodern Theory for Dummies and then banging out a book that riffs on the concepts therein without doing anything even remotely interesting with them, while simultaneously demonstrating an inability to draw characters that are anything but ironic-pseudo-profundity-spouting machines (and I know that you COULD defend this on the basis that this is what postmodern culture DOES to people, but I prefer to think of it as “covering up for an utter inability to write actual characters“).
To be fair, I thought that Underworld was somewhat less bad.
I’m sorry; I didn’t MEAN to get into a fractious argument about Don friggin’ DeLillo today. But for whatever reason, I am ABSOLUTELY UNABLE to resist whenever the opportunity comes up. This may be indicative of a serious character flaw.
I have absolutely no problem with the word “fuck” in general, and don’t even think twice when it’s in dialogue or when used as a swear word, but I thought Franzen’s use of it was really just him being lazy. Very early in the book, he’s got all these evocative phrases, and then, there’s something to the effect that no one really knew when they began fucking.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say Franzen was being pretentious and then sank to the gutter, but it was a really jarring change of language and mood.
@GeoX – Dude, “White Noise” is a riot (and “The Corrections” struck me as a book written by someone who thought that Eastern European action sequences and lesbians would make up for the fact that his DeLillo pastiche wasn’t funny. Also, the female characters were risible). I still laugh a little when I think about the Hitler studies/Elvis studies scene.
I’m certainly not defending Franzen, whom I’ve never read and probably won’t. But if there were anything to the Elvis/Hitler bits other than HEY LOOK I’M VAGUELY FAMILIAR WITH BAUDRILLARD, I must’ve missed it.