Our good friends and blog-faves at Power Line have a nice write-up of the IWF’s forum last night on Tom Wolfe’s bestselling but elite-derided campus novel I Am Charlotte Simmons, on which both of us Other Charlottes have blogged ourselves (see here and here) and I’ve written about for the Dallas Morning News. Our distinguished panel of four–New York Times columnist David Brooks, IWF board member and former professor Christina Hoff Sommers, National Review contributor John Derbyshire, and Washington Post book critic Michael Dirda–split down the middle about the book, as Power Line noted, with Brooks and Derbyshire much admiring and Sommers and Dirda highly critical.
Here’s an excerpt from Power Line’s post:
“Sommers and Dirda both have the same primary objection to Charlotte Simmons. Both believe that the book fails to present an honest portrait of college life today. Sommers thinks that the real story on college campuses is not rampant sex, but rampant workaholism and resume building. Citing various studies, she noted that sexual activity on campus is declining and that, in general, the present generation of college students is more studious and less vice-ridden than were generation x and the baby boomers. Sommers also thinks Wolfe missed the real scandal on campus today — the strangeness and lack of rigor of the liberal arts professoriate. Dirda disagreed with the last point, but generally was in accord with Sommers about the rest. However, he based his disagreement with Wolfe’s picture of college life less on empirical arguments about what college students are actually doing these days than on his sense that Wolfe is too moralistic, too rooted in a 1950s sensibility.
“There’s no doubt (and Brooks and Derbyshire admit) that Wolfe has overstated the extent to which sex dominates modern campus life and has understated the seriousness of today’s undergraduates. But I believe, based on what I’ve heard from my college-age daughter and her friends, that what Wolfe describes is very real. That it amounts to a subculture rather than the culture does not, in my view, undermine the book’s worth. This is particularly true inasmuch as Wolfe does not claim to be capturing the entire culture and, indeed, presents a number of students who stand (rather sullenly to be sure) outside the sex-crazed subculture. More damning, I think, is the fact that Wolfe presents no happy characters and none, other than Charlotte, who is virtuous. As Brooks points out, however, this is standard Wolfe. Had he stuck to presenting businessmen in this light, who would have objected?
“To me, the point is that Wolfe’s book, in Derbyshire’s words, shines light into dark and very real corners and, in doing so, asks important and troubling questions.”
In short, the “Charlotte Simmons” panel, accompanied by wine and sumptuous hors d’oeuvres and ably moderated by The Other Charlotte, was a huge success in terms of both entertainment and intellectual engagement. We got a huge crowd, and we plan many more such book discussions, to which you, dear readers, are always welcome. Stay tuned to our home page.