9 years ago: David Brooks & Teenage Sophistication

March 29, 2004, on this blog: David Brooks & Teenage Sophistication

David Brooks’ description of Wayne in general was a bit strange for anyone who’s been there. “Over the past six years or so … a new culture has swept into town and overlaid itself” he writes, citing examples such as:

A fabulous independent bookstore named the Reader’s Forum has moved into town where the old drugstore used to be (it features literary biographies in the front window), and there’s a mammoth new Borders nearby where people can go and feel guilty that they are not patronizing the independent place.

Reader’s Forum is a gloriously idiosyncratic place where books aren’t so much shelved as piled and stacked seemingly at random, yet the proprietor seems to know exactly what’s in stock and exactly where it is. I just talked to him to confirm that what I remembered was accurate — the store has been in Wayne since 1986.

The proprietor noted that Brooks’ parents still come in once in a while, just as they did at the store’s old Ardmore location before it moved to Wayne. “Nice people,” he noted. “Teachers.” It seems odd to cite a store your parents have shopped in for decades as evidence of a new trend.

  • Magic_Cracker

    “What does the author want to be true?” is the question every critical reader needs to ask of any writer.

    What David Brooks wants to be true is for David Brooks to be the smartest, most thoughtful, most insightful popular social philosopher of our age. To that end, each column consists of a series of banalities, cliches, factoids, non sequiturs, buzzwords, fabrications, and laughably inapt and outdated pop-culture allusions presented as if they are earth-shattering, mind-blowing, game-changing revelations to fresh and so powerful that even the author is dazzled, and a little bit humbled, by his own brilliance.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Oh, I forgot, he’s Socrates now.

  • http://kingdomofsharks.wordpress.com/ D Johnston

    Wait, Kevin Drum defended Brooks?

    On the grounds that it didn’t matter that Brooks was lying like a rug, because we all know that stuff’s true anyway?

    I…I don’t even know.

  • LL

    Yeah, for awhile (years ago), I thought I was the only one who thought Brooks was an idiot. Or just an extremely poor writer. And then others started to come out of the woodwork and confess that they, too, realized it as well. It’s kind of like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” where you don’t realize who’s the alien invaders and who’s still human until they show some kind of emotion (or, in this case, the ability to recognize shitty writing and lack of logic).

    I have that same feeling now, observing the unfortunate popularity of those “50 Shades” books. The series has now sold something like 70 million copies and is one of the fastest-selling books in the history of book selling or somesuch. Depressing. “50 Shades” is to romance porn what “Left Behind” is to religious literature. It is, however, useful in determining whose opinion you should not be listening to. If someone recommends either David Brooks or the “50 Shades” books, you can safely ignore anything they say after that.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Alternate theory: fans of Left Behind are people who really want good writing and that’s the best their cultural pressures have let them see, and fans of 50 Shades are people who really want good BDSM porn and that’s the best their cultural pressures have let them see. Their opinions are not inherently wrong due to being opinions you disagree with. They’re uninformed opinions, but they’re not invalid opinions.

  • Magic_Cracker

    I think the difference between the badness of Brooks’ writing vs. 50 Shades is that the latter is a work of fiction meant to entertain, and so when one is not entertained by it, one can say “Different strokes…” (PUN!). Brooks’ purpose in writing , however, is ostensibly to educate and elucidate, and in terms of style and substance, it fails.

    As for Left Behind, it’s meant to educate and elucidate entertainingly and fails on absolutely every count.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Yeah, for awhile (years ago), I thought I was the only one who thought Brooks was an idiot.

    I never heard of Brooks until I saw him on News Hour and Washington Week and thought “Who is this idiot, and why isn’t Mark Shields ripping him a new asshole for all the bullshit he’s spewing?”

  • Jenora Feuer

    I think it was somebody else on here that described ’50 Shades’ as being the Twilight of BDSM: a book written in a genre, by somebody with no understanding of the history and conventions of that genre, for people with no understanding of the history and conventions of that genre, and which became popular purely on a social media/meme basis. The only real redeeming qualities of either is that some people who read it might become interested enough to seek out better quality books set in that genre.

    For Left Behind, the above is still true, but with the addition that people are actively kept ignorant of the history and conventions as opposed to it just being vaguely disapproved of as ‘not proper reading’.

  • Lori

    I think there’s a difference between readers who say, “I loved this book” and readers who say, “This book is so good.” The lack of culturally approved alternatives can explain the first group, but the 2nd group is another matter. In order to think that either LB or 50 Shades is a good book, for any value of good that goes beyond “I enjoyed it”, you have to be uninformed on a level not fully explained by cultural pressures.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    From what I hear, 50 Shades of Grey is a great book… to read in front of an audience, especially when taking turns reading passages and/or reading them in a variety of silly voices.

    The potential for audience participation and snark is delightful. :)

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    I still have no idea who this guy is and am honestly a little lost in this conversation.

  • Lori

    I can’t even imagine reading that book out loud in the group unless I was really, really drunk. It would cause my sympathetic embarrassment to flare up in a bad way.

  • Jenora Feuer

    Sort of like the competitive readings of Eye of Argon at some SF cons… you compete to see how much you can read without cracking up. One story I heard was that the winner at one con was a young lady who had worked as a professional dominatrix… and that she said that if you could keep a straight face through a balding businessman going ‘whip me, beat me, I’ve been bad’, you could keep a straight face through anything.

  • P J Evans

    I don’t think you’re missing anything that you really want to know.

  • LL

    No, their opinions are wrong.

    They’re free to have them and express them, but those people who say “Left Behind,” the “50 Shades” books and/or columns written by David Brooks are good are incorrect. None of them are good. In any respect.

    Thanks to Fred, we know the “Left Behind” books are neither well-written nor entertaining. Thanks to various reviews of the “50 Shades” books, we know that they present an abusive relationship as a “dominant/submissive” one and present the selfish, immature “heroine” and the selfish, immature “hero” as people to aspire to. Thanks to my past reading of David Brooks, I know that he has a decent vocabulary that he uses in service of stroking his own ego and demonstrating (poorly) how smart he is.

    People can consume whatever trash they want and I’m not all that invested in telling them they’re wasting their time. But when presented with the opportunity to say it, I don’t have a problem doing that. Obviously, some people might take issue with being told that their taste in fiction is crap. They’ll get over it. I’m pretty sure that the incompetent writers mentioned above don’t give a damn what I think about them, they’re probably too busy making more money than I’ll ever see in my lifetime.

  • LL

    Yeah, you’re not missing anything. The New York Times must keep him around as its token “conservative.”

  • Lori

    Whatever else Brooks is or is not, he is not the token Conservative on the NYT’s OpEd page. There are too many other conservatives there for that to be possible. The Times employs Ross Douchehat for crying out loud.

  • http://jesustheram.blogspot.com/ Mr. Heartland

    Yeah, he’s more of the token time machine I’d say. Representing proper white-collar white convention as it was in say the Bush Sr. and early Clinton era. More Washington Posty in that regard, or even USA Today-esque.

  • Edo

    Maybe that might have potential to possibly be the case with 50 Shades. Simply because it’s new enough. Not so with Left Behind.
    The first book of the series turns 18 this year; a lot of people grew up with it. Enough of them are both blogging and no longer subject to evangelical cultural pressures. Where are the retrospectives? the nostalgia? the confessions of guilty pleasure? Where are the people saying “Then I discovered [author] here, and put aside L&J like childish things?”

    Left Behind isn’t fiction, it’s strategic theology.

  • LL

    Well, I did put “conservative” in snotty quote marks. Whatever the hell “conservative” even means anymore.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

    a book written in a genre, by somebody with no understanding of the history and conventions of that genre, for people with no understanding of the history and conventions of that genre

    Heh. I’m reminded of one of the things that drove me away from becoming an English major.

    It seems like whenever an author of “literary fiction” tries their hand at “genre fiction,” this is what they produce. And it is almost always terrible. Then the literati fall all over themselves praising the “literary” author’s inept handling of themes that “genre” authors have been deftly exploring for decades.

  • bekabot

    Well, Stephanie Meyer, for one, isn’t ignorant of literary history or literary conventions. In fact she’s almost painfully aware of them both. (When I say that she’s not ignorant of literary history and/or conventions, what I mean is that she’s not ignorant of the literary conventions and history pertaining to the American, English, and French canons. I don’t know whether she’s ignorant of the literary history and conventions of BDSM literature or not, because I’m ashamed to say that I’m not well enough read in the genre to tell.)

    The problem is that she’s painfully aware, and extensively well read, in terms of the Anglo-American classics and sub-classics circa about the era of Elsie Dinsmore. Anybody who has ever read this book will recognize immediately the derivation of the Twilight novels. They are constructed strictly on the pattern of the 19th-century sentimental woman’s-book, and, like the 19th-century sentimental novel (which they don’t so much imitate as duplicate), they steal material from the canonical, serious, “male” novel of their time.* The thing to keep in mind is that though they were written in the 21st century, they’re still 19th-century sentimental women’s novels in everything but date, so the literary canon they steal from is not the 20th/21st-century male canon, but the 19th-century one. Consequently borrowings from Hawthorne and Fenimore Cooper are rife.

    I’m convinced that nobody other than me reads 19th-century American novels any more, so I’m not surprised that nobody realizes how totally at home the Twilight books are in their own groove. They are completely typecast, in every sense of that word. It’s just that the type has died out, so that when it now appears it’s regarded as a sport. Is all.

    *Although the thievery never went only one way. When Melville wrote Pierre he imitated the woman’s novel of his day and did it on purpose. Incidentally, Pierre is one of the bases on which Stephanie Meyer built Twilight.


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