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Tom Wolfe (Farrar, Strauss, & Giroux)

I Am Charlotte Simmons

vs. Wake Up, Sir!

Jonathan Ames (Scribner)

Judged by Danny Gregory

I Am Charlotte Simmons is Wolfe’s cranky new epic, the story of an innocent overachiever who enrolls in a fictional college and is reluctantly transformed by her encounters with various jocks, fratboys, and would-be intellectual revolutionaries. Wolfe depicts college life as a seething hotbed of binge drinking, jock deification, obscenity, and fornication, and academics are mere annoyances to various cheats and careerists. His trademark linguistic gymnastics are on a short leash, though he manages to knock out some awkwardly vulgar hip-hop lyrics and a few sex scenes cribbed from Gray’s Anatomy. Nonetheless, the book is compulsively readable, and its 676 pages go down like Jägermeister.

After winning a civil suit, the hero of Wake Up, Sir! hires Jeeves, a valet. Unlike P.G. Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster, Alan Blair is not a member of the British upper crust but a failed writer who lives with his family in New Jersey. Ames is an amusing, self-effacing writer and his new novel is a lightly comedic account of Blair’s alcoholic blackouts, failed attempts at reform, unproductive sojourn at a writer’s colony, sexual obsessions, and rambling neuroses. By the end, I felt much as I did when, as a teenager, I read through all 90-something Wodehouse novels: modestly entertained but unchanged.

Though I found both books less than important, I’m casting my ballot for Tom Wolfe because of the ambition of his effort and the thoroughly good time I had reading his curmudgeonly view of the (much) younger generation.

Winner: I Am Charlotte Simmons

Judge: Danny Gregory
Age: 44
Types of books you tend to read frequently:
Non-fiction, literary novels, suspense
Types of books you rarely read:
Sci-Fi, mystery, romance
Favorite book of all time:
Intentionally left blank.