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on February 22, 2002
If Tom Wolfe weren't already famous, he probably couldn't have found mainstream publication for many of these pieces. That is a compliment. In a world where the word "diversity" has become a catch phrase narrowly applied to a very select number of ethnic groups and political viewpoints, Wolfe has the cachet to put across opinions that would be unacceptable from an unknown, no matter how talented.
This eclectic collection is an excellent value -- pulling together new pieces, old gems and fiction. Most valuable in his rerun Tribune pieces lampooning the New Yorker was its context -- the original mission of its founder back in 1925 was to mimic a certain type of British literary periodical. It is hard to believe that this fairly harmless parody caused such a fuss back then -- but evidence that political correctness under another name was already alive and kicking. I would have welcome a P.S. Under Tina Brown, the New Yorker did change radically -- I would have liked to see Wolfe's comment.
Leftist academia, touched on in "The Land of the Roccoco Marxists" is an easy and popular target among conservative commentators. Here Wolfe likewise borders just a bit on a rant -- I would have liked to see him expand on the topic even more. I dabbled in Marxist/feminist literary theory in graduate school and am still utterly perplexed by the experience, being otherwise a citizen of the nonacademic, real world.
Several years back I remember Wolfe saying his next big book was going to be about the world of higher education. More please.
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on January 20, 2002
I'm keeping this book for future use. To follow all the avenues Tom opens up will take years, but it will be fun...
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on December 28, 2001
I have missed Tom Wolfe. I loved the time I used to spend with the reporter dressed in a white suit who spoke with the poet's voice.
Unfortunately his battle with the demons of depression has limited the opportunities he allows me to visit. As the old saw says, "Absence makes the heart grow fonder," and I welcome the opportunity even a collection of short stories affords. It is not five-star material, but I am grateful for the chance to experience one of America's great journalist's unconventional and outspoken thoughts on our culture.
In this collection, Wolfe travels this country, observing "the lurid carnival actually taking place in the mightiest country on earth in the year 2000." He focuses his keen eye and applies his sharp tongue to teenage sexual mores and the new sciences of genetics and neuroscience. He profiles William Shawn, the editor of The New Yorker, and Intel founder, Robert Noyce.
The stories may be short, but the satire and the observations that made vintage Wolfe a legend, remain honed. They may not rate five stars, but they offer an opportunity to re-experience a master.
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on November 11, 2001
This reviewer has read much of Wolfe's work beginning with Kandy Kolored and continuing to the present volume. He has frequently been awed and highly entertained with much of TW's output. The book under discussion, however,is not one of his better efforts.
Maybe things started to go wrong with the physical appearance of the book. The cover is OK but the nearly invisble page numbers (pale gray) and lack of identification on the copyright page of the original publication date and publication name is inexcusable. What this reader appreciates in any collection are specific dates so that he can fit the information being presented into a better context. "Late twentieth century" isn't good enough.
The animus of Wolfe toward New Yorker, John Irving, John Updike, and Norman Mailer was amusing when it originally happened but now reads like last year's news magazines. What you gentlemen share is an unstated fear that you and your work will be ignored or forgotten after your death or retirement. Instead of throwing verbal spitwads at each other why don't you just concentrate on doing the best work you can and let your audience decide on its staying power- if it has any. Also, Mr. Wolfe stop complaining how long and hard you worked on "A Man in Full." The typical reader (me) only has time to deal with the end product.
If any reader has read to this point and feels that this reviewer just went on a tangent, I apologize. Given the limitations on length of expression I'll conclude by saying that this is a typical anthology in that most readers should find one or more entries worthy of their attention. Maybe it will be the novella "Ambush at Fort Bragg." Or perhaps the essays on Edward O. Wilson and Frederick Hart. Reading them all might lead to a slight case of disappointment.
Thank you.
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on October 10, 2001
I have always admired Wolfe's ability to describe the social landscape in artful precision, and these essays (plus novella) are no exception. The parts I found most enjoyable were his takes on the evolutionary-biology-neurology rise, the bio of Silicon Valley's founder, and the fun he had with the New Yorker in his early days. One of the things that makes Wolfe great is his perpetual optimism and wonder about the new. I didn't care for the novella all that much (I'd already read it in Rolling Stone). It's a bit flat. Also the little essay about criticism and Updike, Mailer, and Irving was a bit disturbing. It seems to me that both camps are wrong: the modern novel should not be pigeon-holed; there are many different styles of writing a work of fiction and neither Wolfe or his critics have an appropriate stand to dictate otherwise.
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on September 3, 2001
I enjoy Tom Wolfe. His writing is sharp and has a power to it that much contemporary writing lacks. Why? Because he works hard to go out and get the background information it takes to tell the truth about something we all share. Most of us do not share the inner-self of a writer who is fixated only upon him- or her- self. That gets boring in a hurry.
But in this neat volume we get some wonderful essaygs, a response to the critical savaging Updike, Mailer, and Irving gave "A Man in Full", a cut scene from the same novel (here it treated as an independent piece and is called a novella), and a sweet telling of some events associated with The New Yorker of the past and present.
It is reasonable to like some of the works more than others and it is reasonable to agree with some views and disagree with others. But it is silly to simply bash Wolfe because you would prefer a different writing style. He is a stylist of the first order and has had a positive and energizing impact upon American letters for the past thirty-some years. He is beyond that type of carping.
I just wish he would publish more!
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on August 28, 2001
The "Rococo Marxists" piece is wonderful (except for his cruel dismissiveness of kids suffering from ADD). So are a lot of other pieces here. The "My Three Stooges" piece is a bit much, though, where he knocks Mailer, Updike and Irving for criticizing A MAN IN FULL. For one thing, it WAS a very flawed novel. The other thing is he keeps getting in digs about how old the three men are, WHEN WOLFE IS IN THE SAME AGE RANGE AS MAILER AND UPDIKE. And Wolfe is a LOT older than John Irving! Irving is in his 50's, whereas Wolfe is in his 70's. So who is Wolfe to call John Irving old? I found that part of the essay, frankly, bizarre.
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on August 20, 2001
Tom Wolfe provides much needed social commentary on the beginning of the new American Century and the fact that American "intellectuals" are too busy complaining to notice and appreciate the freedoms and contributions this county had provided to its people and the world. His writing style is excellent in all the short stories in this book. I truely admire Tom Wolfe especially after reading this book.
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on August 5, 2001
Like David Remnick, Tom Wolfe's background was journalism before he ventured into the novel territory. I heard so much about Tom Wolfe and the hooha that he generated (even featured in the Times magazine) when his much awaited novel (which took one decade to write) was released into the market few yrs back. Thru blind faith, I sourced this book & read it, hoping that his work did live up to his name. "Hooking Up" is a book with a mixed element comprises of social commentaries and a novella. Some of them highly interesting, some of them I just couldn't bother with but they all revealed America from the inside out, just as Tom Wolfe did for "Bonfire of the Vanities" by showing to us the rot within the American society. Highlights in this book, for me anyway, would be the changes of American society towards the sex issue, when sex is sex, the comparison of phases of intimacy between now & 30 yrs ago; the transformation of Santa Clara Valley into what's better known as Silicon Valley nowadays, the description of two men (Noyce in particular) who brought with them a new corporate culture, invention over brawn which projected America to be the ultimate self-made billionaires' haven; intriguing insight into the research which allows human being to see what the others are thinking and what their minds are functioning to, and questioning the validity of human's soul, whether it's the rite thing to be playing God; the novella about homophobia in the army; lastly, the parodying of The New Yorker being a living dinasour. The whole book is compelling to read, and for Americans that are within their own shorelines, perhaps, what's written here they could live without as they have already known the facts but for us out there who are clamouring to understand the American society better, this book is a revelation. Highly recommended.
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on July 7, 2001
From intro to the end of the Vita Robusta section (before the novella), this book should be mandatory reading for all college students in America. Absolutely brilliant essays on America, the future, intellectualism, technology and many other topics.
The rest of the book is a novella and a passage about his tirade against the New Yorker. Neither of these is quite as essential in my opinion, but the beginning parts of the book alone are INVALUABLE.
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