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Wednesday, 16 May 2018


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He always looked like a caricature of himself.

He was a real character and I loved his books. I will miss him.

I’m not an avid fiction reader but I have read Bonfire, Bauhaus, and Word and enjoyed each. But I gotta say Tom Wolfe was a very gassy guy who often seemed to write to write. But his was surely a large, flamboyant life well-lived. Resting in peace seems like the last thing he’ll want to do.

Love that cover which looks an awful lot like my red '59 Chevy Impala Convertible that made many of my HS teachers jealous in '67. It had a monster engine that drank gas like I drink Pepsi-maybe more so. It was a boat, and we often had 8 people riding around it-sans seatbelts-"the horror". Could put the top up and six people in the trunk as we drove into the Drive-In theater and then they could pop up through the convertible storage area into the car before we lowered it again. Them was the days-at least some of them. It's on my reading list for sure.

"The Bonfire Of Vanities" is probably the only novel by Tom Wolfe known here in Europe - at least outside certain circles.
I'm not so fond of contemporary American literature, which I find to oscillate between the inedible (e. g. Gore Vidal) and the shallow and ultimately pointless - I remember reading a short story by Raymond Carver in which a couple weeps over a freon leak from their refrigerator! -, but "The Bonfire Of Vanities" is a good attempt at creating characters with a modicum of depth and content. It's a cynical take on humankind - no one has anything really good inside them -, which is not unlike the rather bitter and angry Émile Zola. And many of the characters are quite cliché. I must say, however, that it was a pleasurable reading. While I wouldn't compare it to, say, Celine's "Journey To The End Of The Night", it's a close-up and humorous view into the weaknesses of people.

You might also cite,”The Painted Word”,Wolfe’s critical essay on the NY art scene circa 1975.

Don't forget the very approachable "The Right Stuff".

Pace David Douglas, I would have said of Wolfe that he was possessed of more hubris and vanity than the protagonists he describes. Have you read his contempt-soaked “criticism” of Darwin and Chomsky, and of the Big Bang? If you need a good laugh, read his alternative theories. Seriously, how much effort or insight does it take to do yet another piling-on on modern art/architecture by pointing at poor examples? No question that Wolfe has a knack for neologisms and sniffing out smugness in the odd corners of contemporary culture. However, I find it odd that a person who delights in holding up a mirror to society does not at least once in a while turn that mirror around and take a peek in it.

OUCH! That photo!

I think that photo reduced my respect for the subject by at least 10%. It shrieks "phony" at about 150 decibels, to me.

The Right Stuff is of course the book of his most noted in my social circles.

Wolfe also wrote about the surf culture. He spent some time at Windansea beach in La Jolla and interviewed the surfers. His book, The Pump House Gang, got its title from a city structure ( literally a pumping station) near the beach where the surfers gathered. I surfed there, but never saw Wolfe. My favorite Wolfe was the Acid Test. Who couldn't love Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters? Tom Walsh

I've only read two things by Wolfe: Acid Test, and the Rolling Stone articles that became The Right Stuff, or were re-used in the latter. Of those, it was the former that had the bigger impact. I was in my late teens in the UK and in the space of about 6 months I happened to read both Acid Test and On The Road. To me these books (along with much of the music of the time) shouted 'America!', and I desperately wanted to get there. Alas, not until the new millennium did I manage to do so, by which time both those books were curiosities; memories of a time already past.

I've never re-read any of these books. I'm happy with my memories - which are possibly of the experience of reading Acid Test, etc, rather than of the book itself. It's a bit like the Kennedy assassination - do you remember what you were doing when you read The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test?

I must get over my laziness about writing to write just a bit about Tom Wolfe. After all, as a native West Virginian, I owe him for his portrayal of another native West Virginian, Chuck Yeager, in “The Right Stuff.” Compare that with what we get nowadays with simplistic, shallow stereotyping stuff as “Hillbilly Elegy.”

I am not an expert on his work, but that which I have read I have thoroughly enjoyed. I love his ability to gore sacred cows and to irritate those who need to be irritated: “Radical Chick: That party at Lenny’s” is still relevant, today, methinks. And I had started reading “Bonfire of the Vanities” just a few days ago. I have never watched the movie and although I have only begun the book, I already know the movie would be a disappointment. The scene where the husband who says he is going out to walk the dog and while out mistakenly calls his wife and asks if his girlfriend is there. The surprise and humor and the knowledge that this is the sort of stupid thing real people do would never be shown as well on film. Later, couple living in a small, rather shabby apartment but with pretensions and a British maid are relieved to find that she is racist. Relieved because they had been worried that with her British accent and her past experience of working for wealthier people, she was judging them and looking down on them. Finding her a racist restored their sense of superiority. This seems so real to me. Yea, that’s the way some of our "betters" are.

I am sorry to see him go.

Wolfe certainly knew how to put together words for effect. I've only read two of his books, "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test" and "The Right Stuff." Both left me with the impression that he found great stories to tell and fascinating people to observe but while he reported and researched them exhaustively he was interested, above all, in impressing the reader with his style. And for me, his style interfered with the information and my desire to find out what happens next. Among Wofle's generation of writers of non-fiction in English, John McPhee remains my favorite.

It's been a long time since I read any of Wolfe's book. At the time, they were quite enjoyable and led to reading his Rolling Stone contributions while in college. As many have pointed out, he did have his controversies, but he will be missed. One of the good ones from modern literary times.

My favorite Wolfe book is "I Am Charlotte Simmons" where the 74-year old male writes from the perspective of a modern female college student with more grace and empathy than anything I've ever read from contemporaries. Wolfe emphatically did his homework whether he was writing about drug culture or aviation. And I think that future historians will value his works as the most important and best descriptions of what it was like to be American during 1965-2005.

You really should read all of his books, they are all accessible and great.

Sorry I’m late to comment. Tom would understand that. I readily admit to not having read books through my life. Read magazines etc, just not books. But The Right Stuff I loved. But I digress.

In the mid ‘80s I was a Court Reporter in New York Supreme Court working with Justice Michael R. Juviler. We had a jury deliberating on a murder case. The court officers made a lot of overtime pay back then when they would accompany deliberating juries overnight to a hotel if they couldn’t reach a verdict in the first day. This judge, in an effort to save the state money, would keep juries very late into the evening and we finally got a verdict st 11 pm. The officers were not happy that they didn’t get their overnighter.

I lived a few blocks from the courthouse. As I departed the building, I see his Honor standing next to his car with a flat tire. I said no problem, judge, I’ll fix it for you. I then noticed he had not one but two flats.

I drove him home. Thought he lived nearby. An hour later we pulled up to his home. He was very appreciative.

Next day he summoned me to chambers and handed me Bonfire of the Vanities and in it he inscribed “Glad our late night drive turned out better than this one.”

I read that book. Loved it.

It does appear that he became a curmudgeonly victim of Dunning-Kruger in his final years. "The Kingdom of Speech" is a fairly ignorant screed. Check out Jerry Coyne's review.

Funnily enough, I didn't find 'Bonfire of the Vanities' tough going at all but I did give up on 'The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test' because it was just a bit repetitive and, well, dull.

Sad to hear he has died, though.

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