Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Important Books Series

BCS, thanks for the suggestion about exploring the nature of beauty. Though it would be fascinating to address this question, I want to direct your attention elsewhere. For a while now I've wanted to quickly talk about some books that I've read recently that are culturally important. For the next little while I'm going to do so.

The first book is I Am Charlotte Simmons. Written by Tom Wolfe, published in 2004, the book is a 700+ plus page fictitious work examining the current state of the (elite) American university. Wolfe examines American undergraduate life through the country-bumpkin character of Charlotte Simmons who matriculates at fictional DuPont University, which smells and looks a great deal like Duke University. In fact, let's just cut to the chase: the book is basically about Duke University, albeit with some ideas and experiences Wolfe culled from other universities. Yes, to write this book, he actually went to a number of schools--Duke, Michigan, and others--and lived with students to get a feel for their world. The resulting portrait is quite accurate, if a bit sexualized.

That last line should catch your attention, because if you know anything about coed life, it's that it is sexually oriented in this day and age. However, even in an age drenched in sex, Wolfe overdoes it a bit. He makes it the motivating principle of nearly everything and everyone at college. While many students are driven by lust at college, not everyone is a frat boy or sorority girl. Many, in fact, are not. Wolfe portrays three of his four major characters--a jock, a geek, and a cool frat boy--as motivated almost exclusively by sex. I would agree that all of these stereotyped characters would in real life by sexually interested, but I do not think that all students represented by these characters are as obsessed with sex as their literary representatives.

With that one caveat, Wolfe nails so much of college life nowadays. As a recent college graduate (how long can you say recent?), I can say that Wolfe has well captured the stronghold liberal ideology has over college campuses, the social pecking order that does predominate at many schools, and the drunken debauchery that fuels the social lives of a good number of students nowadays. One should read Charlotte Simmons to understand what the typical coed's life looks like today. It's not a pretty picture, and there's a good deal of objectionable material, but for those who can read with discernment, the picture is quite revealing. In addition, one can read some rap lyrics penned by our very own Mr. Wolfe. They are quite hilarious.

I Am Charlotte Simmons is entertaining, insightful, and generally on the mark. It's over-sexualized, but it makes a powerful point: the postmodern student enters a world dominated by darkness in matriculating at academically excellent institutions nowadays. Where is the church in all this? Indeed, perhaps the saddest aspect of the whole book was this: Charlotte never meets a Christian. Noone reaches out to her as she spirals into moral ambivalence and worse. Perhaps this is because Wolfe cares little for Christians. Or perhaps it's because Wolfe did not encounter Christians engaging the lost people he met at the universities he visited. If so, this is a tragic thought. How sad that Christians would have their own fellowships and associations, conduct their own Bible studies, and go on their own retreats--and never even get to know a lost person. May it never be so with us, and may we not abandon those all around us who are, like Charlotte, plunging deeper and deeper into sin.


Anonymous BC said...

Actually, Owen, I think that Wolfe is exactly right about undergraduate life. Have you read his essay "Hooking up?" It makes some of the same points in about 15 pages (it's the first essay in a book of the same title).

I think that it could have been interesting had Wolfe described the young and devout in more detail, but the force of the book is really in the lack of redemption and the depravity of the contemporary university.

But the broader lesson is, I think, that even at such a great university such as Duke or Michigan (vel sim.) life is far from perfect. Or to be a bit more critical: these are the best and the brightest? O tempora! O Mores!


7:46 AM  
Blogger blake white said...

Never seen 'soul in the hole.' I think you'll like 1 love. Have a good week.

10:54 PM  

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