the time to read them...

Books I have read. More for me than for you, but I guess that depends on who you are. If you stalk me, than this will probably be more useful for you than me.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

I Am Charlotte Simmons

This was recommended to me as something everyone who works with undergrads should read. I live in undergrad cities, so I tried it out. I liked the other Tom Wolfe book I read, so I tried it out. I was repeatedly warned I would hate it, but should read it anyways.

Well, it IS longer than it needs to be and some of the description is unnecessary. Wolfe clearly comes up with some clever adjective phrases that he repeats OVER AND OVER. I now hate the phrase "fuck patois." Mainly a lot of it just makes me think, "nice try Tom, but this makes it clear you are SEVENTY!" I think the intended audience of this books is definitely over 40. If you are under 40 and went to college, or had an undergrad experience recently, none of this would be very surprising. Yes, girls swear and hookup. Kids pay too much money for ripped jeans. Big whoop.

The other side of that coin is that some of his characterization of the college experience are untrue. A large part of the SHOCK of the story revolves around the dorm the main character (Charlotte Simmons) lives in. Her dorm has coed bathrooms. OH MY GOD. First, my undergrad DID have college bathrooms and didn't really have any of the issues involved in this book. But mainly, no colleges have coed dorm bathrooms. I don't know anyone whose alma mater had them. More dorms will probably have them in the future, but not now.

The bigger problem I had with this book is that I hated the main character. And was also confused as to how she would get involved in the story in the first place. She is a big rural prude. She is very stereotypical, and a genius. Okay so it is briefly mentioned that she is evangelical. Yet the entire book, though she is SHOCKED by people saying "fuck" she never once goes to church or attempts to join a youth group. Yes, colleges are by and large not open to super religious conservatives, but every single college campus in the country (including my alma mater which is consistently voted as having the most students likely to ignore god on a regular basis.) has a bible study or religious group. All of them have non-alcohol related activities put on by the school that any student who didn't want to get into the frat scene could go to and actually make friends. But in this universe, none of these things exist.

The other confusing point was that Charlotte gets into being shallow and popular and fratty, but still hates drinking and sex. Huh? I thought the latter was the only good part about the former? For being so religious and high and mighty, this character is a total ass to all of the people who try to befriend her.

I had a theory that the reader is supposed to love and feel sorry for Charlotte in the beginning of the book, and be shocked by the state of colleges. And then, when Charlotte sort of assimilates, you're supposed to hate her, as she is relatively a prude, and you, the audience member have become one with the rowdy college students. After hearing an interview with Tom Wolfe though, I think we're just supposed to like her the whole way through.

I still agree it's a great book if you work in/near college students. I can't tell you how many times I have brought up the book to friends recently, and how often I will see something in real life that is so in sync with the book. I believe finishing this book on the weekend of Unofficial St. Pat's (our drunken made up holiday in this college town), was really the best time possible! Although I had problems with the character, I enjoyed reading this book, and got through it quickly! Even if you are only recently graduated from a college, you can learn something.

Our local version of "IMs" in the book:

(taken by Oldtasty)


  • At 7:10 PM, Anonymous Rikhei said…

    I just wanted to note that I did have coed bathrooms in college. (I went to Grinnell.) Not all bathrooms were coed - it was up to the people living on each floor. There were never problems on my floor when our bathrooms were coed, and I never heard about their being problems in other dorms, either.

    (By the way, you're probably wondering who I am; I found you through ...the thoughts are broken!)

  • At 1:47 PM, Blogger triumphantly, jenny said…

    Right--I went to Reed. i think only people who went to liberal arts colleges had this phenomenon. The character in question goes to a big ivy league. Also, in my case at least, if you were not comfortable with a coed bathroom, you could be in a different dorm, but thnat doesn't seem to be an option in the book.



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