[Paleopsych] NYT: (Wolfe) Bush's Official Reading List, and a Racy Omission
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The New York Times > Washington > White House Letter: Bush's Official
Reading List, and a Racy Omission
WHITE HOUSE LETTER
Bush's Official Reading List, and a Racy Omission
By ELISABETH BUMILLER
If you ask the White House what President Bush is reading these days,
the press office will call back with the official list: "His
Excellency: George Washington" by Joseph J. Ellis, "Alexander
Hamilton" by Ron Chernow and, not least, the Bible.
What the official list omits is Tom Wolfe's racy new beer- and
sex-soaked novel, "I Am Charlotte Simmons." The president, a fan of
Mr. Wolfe, has not only read the book but also is enthusiastically
recommending it to friends.
It is unclear exactly what Mr. Bush liked so much about the book,
which is told from the point of view of Charlotte Simmons, a young
woman from the God-fearing backwoods of North Carolina who is the
first in her family to go to college. Charlotte, who is at first
shocked by the booze and debauchery she encounters at Mr. Wolfe's
Dupont University, modeled on Duke among others, eventually succumbs
in a chapter-long deflowering scene at the hands of a drunken
fraternity rat. Then she sinks into depression.
Mr. Bush, who was the hard-drinking, hard-partying president of Delta
Kappa Epsilon, the jock fraternity at Yale, is also the father of two
partying daughters, Jenna and Barbara. Jenna graduated last year from
the University of Texas and Barbara from Yale, and on neither campus
is the milieu of Charlotte Simmons entirely foreign.
Does Mr. Bush like the book because it is a journey back to his keg
nights at Deke, or because it offers a glimpse into the world of his
daughters' generation? Or does he like the writing? Or is it all of
the above? The White House won't say. Scott McClellan, the White House
press secretary, did not respond to phone calls or e-mail messages
last week asking about Mr. Bush's interest in Mr. Wolfe's book.
So perhaps Mr. Wolfe had some thoughts. In relatively short order he
was located last Friday at a conference at his alma mater in
Lexington, Va., Washington and Lee University. He was asked if he
thought it unusual that a 58-year-old man, that is, the president, had
so embraced his book.
"Well, a 74-year-old man wrote it," Mr. Wolfe replied. He said he had
no idea why Mr. Bush liked it. "I imagine he responded to the blinding
talent," Mr. Wolfe added, chuckling, "but beyond that, I'm just not
Mr. Wolfe, who voted for Mr. Bush and was invited by the first lady to
the White House last year to speak at a salute to the authors Eudora
Welty, Flannery O'Connor and Truman Capote, said he had not talked to
the president about his book. But he said that Mr. Bush's father once
told him how much he liked "Bonfire of the Vanities," Mr. Wolfe's
novel about New York City bond traders and racial politics during the
excesses of the 1980's.
Friends note that the current President Bush has read every one of Mr.
Wolfe's books, including "A Man in Full," the behemoth about real
estate and social change in Atlanta in the 1990's.
Mr. Bush, who does his reading for pleasure on Air Force One, on
weekends and before bed at night, has long said he prefers books to
channel surfing, although he does watch television sports.
"I'm reading, I think on a good night, maybe 20 to 30 pages," the
president told Brian Lamb of C-Span in an interview at the White House
last month. "I'm exercising quite hard these days, and I get up very
early, and so the book has become somewhat of a sedative. I mean,
maybe there are some other old guys like me who get into bed, open the
book, 20 pages later you're out cold."
Mr. Bush added that "in this job, there are some simple pleasures in
life that really help you cope. One is Barney the dog, and the other
is books. I mean, books are a great escape. Books are a way to get
your mind on something else."
Friends say that Mr. Bush, who like most modern American presidents is
drawn to the biographies of those who governed before him, reads more
nonfiction than fiction and tends toward history. "It turns out that
the president better have seen the day that has gone in order to be
able to help lead to the day that is coming," Mr. Bush told Mr. Lamb,
paraphrasing the Texas writer and painter Tom Lea. "In other words,
history really matters for the president."
Mr. Bush noted that he liked the Hamilton biography because "it was a
very interesting history of how hard it was to get democracy started."
He also told Mr. Lamb that he reads the Bible daily every other year,
and in the years in between he reads a daily devotional by Oswald
Chambers, a Protestant minister of Scotland from a century ago.
Mr. Bush told Mr. Lamb that "Oswald Chambers was one of the great
Christian thinkers" and that "the easier it is to understand what he
writes, I think, the more understanding of religion a person becomes."
This year, the president said, he is once again making his way through
He did not utter a word to Mr. Lamb about "I Am Charlotte Simmons."
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