Yesterday The Other Charlotte pointed out that Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons is not only on the best-seller list (despite being loathed by the critics) but on President George W. Bush’s reading list. (See TOC’s What is the President Reading? Why is the New York Times Sneering?, Feb. 9.)

And now, it seems, according to this New York Times story, Wolfe’s satirical-yet-serious novel about booze-soaked, sex-soaked life at our nation’s elite universities is a favorite of college students, too. Times book editor Rachel Donadio writes:

“The novel is at No. 8 on the Chronicle of Higher Education’s campus best-seller list — below Jon Stewart’s ‘America,’ ‘The Bush Survival Guide,’ ‘The Polar Express’ and ‘He’s Just Not That Into You.’

“Even some negative student reviews — and there are many, including some by readers at Harvard, Duke, the University of Michigan and the University of Oklahoma — have acknowledged a poignant accuracy in Wolfe’s portrayal of contemporary campus life.

“’It’s sort of amazing what this 74-year-old dandy has managed to pick up,’ Eve Fairbanks, a Yale senior, writes in a rigorous essay in the forthcoming Yale Review of Books, an undergraduate publication. Fairbanks says she was ‘fully prepared’ to hate the book, but ultimately she and her friends found it ‘pretty dead-on.'”

Well! The critics–most of whom are closer in age to Tom Wolfe than to Eve Fairbanks–had sneered at the book because it didn’t fit their picture of what a post-sexual revolution college campus was supposed to be like. The nastiest review came from Princeton professor emerita (!) Elaine Showalter, who called Wolfe’s novel not only “voyeuristic” but “bitchy, status-seeking, and dissecting — and this time, unfortunately, numbingly juvenile.” Showalter also twitted Wolfe for having attended Washington and Lee University for college instead of an Ivy League school (she omitted mentioning his doctorate from Yale) and faulted him for not writing about her own favorite campus topic, feminism.

Then came Slate editor Jacob Weisberg writing for the New York Times, who used the words “aging” and “peeping Tom” to describe Wolfe and said his novel presented a “comic-book version of college.” Weisberg asked:

“Is this hellish vision of sex, drunks and gangsta rap the real life of American college students today?”

And now the answer of the college students who have read the book turns out to be: Yes. Donadio writes:

“The book ‘successfully defines the intellectual and moral free fall of 21st-century academia,’ Benjamin Peisch wrote in The Bowdoin Orient, a weekly newspaper at Bowdoin College with no obvious political orientation. ‘Best of all, he skewers modern academia. Intellectual conversation has been smothered by rampant debauchery and political correctness. Wild parties dominate the entire campus. Athletes are given a free pass for four years. Professors are handcuffed by campus politics.’…

“In her review, Fairbanks says she was ‘chastened’ by the way ‘Wolfe considers college not as a pollutant that infects perfectly good people, but as a key player in the greater tragedy of human vanity.’ With ‘I Am Charlotte Simmons,’ ‘we see Wolfe’s real worldview, and it is bleak,’ she writes. ‘In the face of Wolfe’s black, black vision, what can we do but throw our own hands up in defeat? You got us, Tom. You got us good….The parties, the alcohol, the vomit, our sheeplike adaptation to it all.'”

Sure (and this is something several young people told Donadio), Wolfe’s novel leaves out some of the positive aspects of campus life, such as the hard work and idealism of many college students. But the problem of the reviewers–in contrast to the students themselves” is that they hail from the generation that created the sexual revolution, as well as the version of feminism that holds that women are sexually constructed just like men and so ought to behave like men at their most predatory. So the reviewers can’t believe that many colleges today, where healthy young people receive neither moral guidance nor moral supervision from their elders, aren’t the sexual utopias that were supposed to follow from the personal liberation that the Sixties and Seventies generations endorsed. So the reviewers just assume that Wolfe has got it all wrong, because he’s an oldster or a voyeur, or whatever.

The young people themselves know better.