I am Charlotte Simmons

ISBN: 0312424442
ISBN 13: 9780312424442
By: Tom Wolfe

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Reader's Thoughts

Kelci Schmidt

I have never loved and hated a book as much as I did this one. As many critics complain, most of the characters and situations are admittedly exaggerated. However, the hyperbolization of the disgusting society of Dupont was not enough to prevent me from drawing parallels to our own non-fictive society. I deeply identified with Charlotte Simmons not as a stock university student, but as an individual who is unable to reconcile the conflicting expectations of adulthood placed upon her by both her family and her peers. Yes, I Am Charlotte Simmons is painfully tedious in its predictability at times. But I was completely won over by both the identifying and disidentifying experiences I had with the characters when I finally stopped whining about the staggering number of pages I had to cover by the next morning and actually started reading. Any text that has the ability to make even one reader stop and contemplate how the world inside the book is projected onto the world beyond it is a text worth something. I'm not going to say that this will be among my top five books of the semester. Nevertheless, I would not trade the experience of struggling through some unsavory memories and painfully recognizing myself in Charlotte's naivete for anything. The connection I saw between myself and Charlotte was the most poignant episode of identification I have ever had. For that reason, more so than because I think the entirety of the work is genius, Tom Wolfe's account of college life at Dupont deserves four stars.

Amy F.

This book kept me turning the pages but ultimately was pretty lame. Also, Tom Wolfe is a perv.


a 70-something year old man with an amazingly well-researched version of college life. SPOILER ALERT: the ending was stupid.


I got so much enjoyment out of this book. If you attempt to read it as an actual piece of literature (or, God forbid, actually purchase it) you will be incredibly insulted and possibly enraged. I wouldn't even deign to call these characters stereotypes because I think that would be giving them more credit than they rightly deserve. And if you read it as the desperate attempt of an aging writer to remain relevant, it might just make you sad (unless you are already enraged/insulted in which case feelings of hatred may render you unable to feel pity). This is the literary equivalent of Crossroads with Britney Spears. Instead, read it to revel in the hilariously awful (oh sorry, Mr. Wolfe, I meant "well-researched") writing. Especially enjoy the abundant use of the phrase "mons pubis." Seriously.


A friend once told me that the band Yes amounted to nothing more than musical masturbation.I punched him in the face and choked his neck until he relented and said "Prog rock rules."After reading I Am Charlotte Simmons, I feel bad about treating him that way. Because I see what he meant. I Am Charlotte Simmons amounted to nothing more than literary masturbation. Tom Wolfe seems to have absorbed everything he could about a number of subjects: college life, collegiate speech patterns, namely, "fuck patois," neuroscience, social climbing, and intellectual v. jock v. frat boy behavior. After absorbing said information, he ejaculated it onto 688 pages and called it a novel. I like books that leave an impact on my life. The only thing that changed for me after reading this was that I deleted a certain guy's name from my phone and replaced it with the label "Frat-tastic," so I would never forget he was nothing but a bad caricature of frat boy from a Tom Wolfe novel.

La Petite Américaine

Sigh.771 pages. Talking about college. How college is shocking for sheltered girls. How college (shocker) isn't really about academia, but sports, beer, sex, and pretty much everything that the university brochures lie about in order to protect their reputations and continue charging $30,000 a year for an "education." This could be written by ANYONE, and in less than HALF the pages.When a book is bad, and too long, there is a certain point in reading the same shit over and over when your mind just screams SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP!. This happened to me about half way through when I got sick of even the most random characters who appear only once in the story, having their entire family histories mapped out for the reader since the 1800's. Filler? Some sort of psychological explanation of the character? NO. BORING. EDITOR?? WHERE ARE YOU!? CUT THIS SHIT. Also, we don't need every single regional accent spelled out for us. Charlotte is from the South. We don't need to be reminded after the says "get" that she pronounces it "git." We don't need to be told that a dude from Brooklyn says "what do you want?" and then have it rewritten again after the quote as "whaddaya want?". Fuck me. If that wasn't enough, can we stop this shit of "shooting looks that are as if to say...."? He shot her a look as if to say fuck you, she shot him a look as if to say I hate you, etc. UGH. Granted, this book did get the Bad Sex Award in 2003. But since it doesn't even happen until page 2394875485723847, it's not just BAD, it's boring. How anyone managed to FIND this bad sex without skimming over it or simply falling asleep is completely beyond me. I'm shocked that this didn't get the Bad Book Award of 2003. If you want a good, engaging, and true-to-life story about a fish out of water in her academic environment, read Curtis Sittenfeld’s novel Prep. Use I am Charlotte Simmons only for expensive toilet paper or to stop a bullet. Sucked.


Yawn or cringe? Eye roll? So imagine your grandpa takes you out to the Dog 'n Suds for a root beer float. He goes on to tell you about what life was like at college - not for him but for you. He sprinkles in terms like "phat" and "shorty" and "rad" and "rutting" throughout his tale. Grandpa has been dipping into the Dictionary of American Youth Slang written by the Youth Minister at his church, who has covered the volume in a plain black cover lest it fall into the hands of the few blessed innocents out there, people like Charlotte Simmons, who would only become distraught at how _dirty_ and crude people are.The point of all of this? Grandpa wants to make sure you know that college is a place of wildly raging hormones, cliques one hoped would have magically disappeared once the threshhold of the high school's doors have been crossed one last time, and LOTS of liquor. You know, in case you missed it on your trip through. He also wants to be sure you know what kind of bullet you dodged at your alma mater and how relieved you should be about it. *ahem*Don't forget to let Grandpa know that he has dribbled ketchup all down his white suit while talking. You don't want him to be embarrassed by himself, now do you?________Disclaimer: The grandpa (Tom Wolfe-like)in this account is fictitious (sorta) and bears no resemblance whatsoever to the author's own grandpa, with the exception of the love of a good A&W root beer float.


This book is...horrible. Something about this novel bothered me the entire time I was reading it. Actually, a lot of somethings bothered me. For one, Wolfe's extreme stereotypical carictures of the characters in this novel are all abrasive and very unrealistic. Secondly, the book is entirely too long--he could have easily cut out at least 200 pages. The excessive length of the book has much to do with the fact that each character makes numerous unncessary very repetitive tirades of their thoughts. After a while I began to try to skim--or even partly skip over some of these such literary occurences, in the novel, because they did nothing but slow the story down. Most importantly, I did not feel any sort of attachement to any character in this novel, furthermore they did more of a job annoying me and repulsing me than anything else.Much of Wolfe's writing in this novel sounds more like someone from the oustide of college life looking in and satirically commenting about all the terrible horrible, immoral things that happen. Wolfe's potrayal of college life is far--very far---off base. He has no idea what he is talking about. I became especially annoyed at Wolfe's attempt to make a mockery of rap music throughout the novel. Wolfe has obviously barely ever listened to rap music and cannot even begin to fathom the diversity, cultural relevance and depth of thought that much of hip-hop music is about.The characters in this book are all very simplistic--in the fact that they have no depth whatsoever. I am an avid reader, and one of the great things about fiction novels is the ability of the author to be able to actually make you feel what the characters feel--to experience their emotions. This book did not do that. In fact, I was mostly annoyed by each and every character, and I did not feel for them at all. They were not layered, they did not seem all that human at all. Rather than being believable, I saw them more as puppets that Wolfe manipulated in a way that he saw fit to portray. Racism, sexism, classism and the like run rapid in between and all around every line of this book--and not in a good way.There is more to college than athletes, fraternities, academics and drug, sex and alcohol. It is true that these things do exist, but certainly not in the way that Wolfe portrays them. There is more to athletes than just sports. There is more to fraternities and the guys who are in them than just sex, parties, drugs and alcohol. There is more to academics than just the extreme outcast geniuses. AND there is more to those geniuses than academics. In simpler terms, Wolfe fails to portray the complexities of college life. The ability for students to exist in between the stereotypes and oustide of them as well.What is probably the worst part of the novel is the main character, Charlotte Simmons. She is entirely too pure and innocent to be believable. She puts herself on a pedestal and instead of feeling compelled by it and her ability to look at herself in such a positive matter is more so annoying and off putting because she places herself above EVERYONE else in the novel and above every bad thing she happens to encounter. No one is too good for EVERYONE. She thinks herself to good to experience the realities of life.Wolfe breaks no barriers here, or makes no achievments--he may in fact have set us back thirty or forty years in writing this novel and releasing it to the public. I surely hope that there are not too many people who take his potrayal of college life--and the students a part of it--as true to life.

Ron Charles

Halfway through Tom Wolfe's enormous new novel about contemporary college life, I finally devised a question to keep my interest piqued: "Is it humanly possible," I wondered, "to write another 100 pages - another 200 pages, another 300 pages - without describing a single surprising event?"It is.With "I Am Charlotte Simmons," Wolfe has ventured onto the university campus and sent back reams of hyperventilating testimony: College students are slovenly and crude. They drink way too much. They listen to obscene music. They engage in casual and exploitative sex. They put their feet on the furniture - even leather sofas and fine woodwork.But wait, there's more: College students would rather socialize than study. It's all right here, spelled out in tones of amazement, like George H.W. Bush telling us about those new scanners at the grocery store.If you haven't seen "Animal House" or anything on the WB, you'll be surprised to learn that collegiate society is divided between "jocks" and "nerds." The jocks are very athletic, but not very smart, whereas the nerds are very smart, but not very athletic.Am I going too fast?To write this novel, Wolfe claims that he "had only to reassemble the material he had accumulated visiting campuses across the country," a technique that may explain the book's superficiality. This isn't the anthropology of the Ordinary - a potentially revelatory approach; it's just a dramatization of clichés.Even the style lacks Wolfe's usual verve. He's particularly interested in the way modern Americans talk, but in his Rip Van Winkle voice, we get endless explanations and reenactments of what he calls the "undergraduate vocabulary," a discovery he highlights in a brief dedication to his children. Most of the dialogue is written in a profane patois that Wolfe spells out as though he's recording the grunts and clicks of a lost dialect from Inner Mongolia. But he has nothing to add to Norman Mailer's far more daring analysis of American profanity some 40 years ago in "Armies of the Night."Even more tedious than the affected slips of Southern and African-American dialects are his needless parenthetical translations: I can't (cain't) stand them('em). And when characters yell at each other, their words are written in caps so that we know THEY'RE SPEAKING VERY LOUDLY.The story follows the rise and fall of Charlotte Simmons, a brilliant country bumpkin from Sparta, N.C., (pop. 900), who wins a scholarship to Dupont University, one of the most prestigious institutions in the country. Charlotte's parents are simple folk, devout Christians, who have instilled in their daughter a deep sense of morality. They don't drink, swear, put on airs, or take no stock in your highfalutin citified ways. Along with a devoted teacher at school, they have instilled in Charlotte a sense of her exceptionalism that inspires the novel's title, which is also a sort of inspirational mantra for the heroine.Charlotte heads off to Dupont University expecting to enter the august halls of academe, but she quickly finds that it's a brothel, seething with vain, vicious girls and crude, drunken boys. Her snobby roommate won't have anything to do with her. The coed bathrooms are an abomination. Athletes on the basketball team don't take their classes seriously. And hunky frat boys pretend to be interested in your mind, but they're interested in only one thing. (I won't spoil it for you.)Poor Charlotte is consumed with loneliness and confusion. Everyone mocks her clothes, her naiveté, her virginity, her tee-totaling. Professors recognize her brilliance, but brilliance doesn't matter in this marketplace of drunken flesh. So, how can she resist when the hottest boy on campus asks her to the Spring Formal? (Wolfe Note: The term "hottest" is not a reference to the temperature of his body, but to the developed musculature of his body, which, along with a number of male bodies in this book, is described with slobbering attention.)Meanwhile, one of the nerds who works for the school paper (where else?) is pursuing a scandal that could rock American politics, but don't worry about that potentially interesting thread; it never leads off campus - or toward anything.The only issue that develops some traction in this novel is race. Wolfe explored that more profoundly in "The Bonfire of Vanities" and "A Man in Full," but his portrayal here of the racial tensions on the college basketball court is engaging. He shows a sport played largely by black men for the entertainment of white fans in an academic setting that contorts its principles to keep the whole industry going.The cynical coach reaps millions; the pasty professor growls about academic standards; the expedient college president maintains an uneasy truce. All these characters play to type, but at the center of this subplot is a white basketball star who feels threatened by the talent and aggression of black players all around him. Why, he wonders, do they have access to a whole range of words and stances that are forbidden to him? What's more, he's starting to feel attracted to a life of the mind that he can just barely imagine. But this minor development is buried in a variety of borrowed plot lines, including a climactic bit of satire about political correctness that might have been sharp 20 years ago.The problem isn't really the inclusion of so many cliché characters; sadly, there are plenty of real students who fall into these categories. What's galling about this novel is its persistent lack of nuance, its reduction of the whole spectrum of people on a college campus to these garish primary colors.Wolfe wrote a much discussed essay for Harper's in 1989, "A Literary Manifesto for the New Social Novel." Instead of the cerebral games that now pass for fiction, he argued, American novelists should "head out into this wild, bizarre, unpredictable, Hog-stomping Baroque country of ours and reclaim it as literary property." This is good advice. When he took it, he hog-stomped out two baroque novels, first about New York and then about Atlanta. But cooped up on campus with "Charlotte Simmons" he's too predictable and too late to reclaim anything of interest.http://www.csmonitor.com/2004/1109/p1...

Chad Wemyss

"I am Tom Wolfe... " and therefore I can write whatever I want. And people will still buy my over-long, thinly-developed, poorly-constructed tirade against 'kids these days.'It's called a stereotype, Tom. You should probably avoid making all your characters painfully simple cardboard cutouts of actual people. And I'm pretty sure I've seen all of these before, in EVERY movie and book about "college" ever produced.To inventory: - The main protagonist, the archetypical smart girl who's better looking than she realizes. - The big dumb jock who's smarter than he realizes - The beautiful-but-evil roommate - The nerdy reporter for the school paper - The obnoxious, privileged frat boy - And a whole host of minor supporting characters... as the secretary from Ferris Bueller put it, a cast of "sportos, motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, waistoids, dweebies, and d!ckheads." Along with rednecks, the new england rich, and a smattering of other cellophane-thin stereotypes.This book isn't quite satire, it isn't quite commentary, isn't remotely insightful, but it is awfully long. It has that going for it.

Katherine Kelly

This book was like a nemesis for me over the last few weeks I've been reading it. So many times I wanted to just put it down and forget I'd ever seen it, but then when I mentioned it to people I got this reaction like "what? Tom Wolfe? He's the best!" and so my curiosity piqued, I'd pick it back up. Now after careful consideration I have crafted the following critique. Note I have only ever attempted one other Tom Wolfe book (Electric Kool-aid Acid Test) and didn't make it all the way through. But here are my thoughts on Charlotte Simmons as it's own unique piece of work:Writing StyleNow people tell me that Tom Wolfe is this great writer. Reading this book though, I do NOT see it. It reads to me like a young author who is so hell-bent on sounding impressive, and hasn't yet learned how to edit. Some of that could be taste, I definitely enjoy a "show me" versus "tell me" style of writing, but I would argue that this critique is objectively true as well. Here are three key things I disliked about the writing:1. Colloquialism: I honestly don't mind colloquial dialogue in a novel. Done well (Twain) it can be a great device to further seed the reader's imagination with who this character is. Done right. To me, that means consistent. When not done consistently, it can read as a mockery (see points below re:racism.) If you're going to say someone says "dat" instead of "that" then it is unlikely that they also say "it does not" in the same sentence. "Dat's not wot we do, it does not work" - see how that actually doesn't sound anything like what a real person with that colloquial language style would say? It's because the first half is one way and the second half forgets about it. I'd also say, if you're going to write colloquially, do it, don't half do it and then have the narrator fix the other half? Like "'That's riioght, we're with them' they-am." Why not just put 'they-am' in the original quote? Why remind me how bad you are at this?2. Big words for the sake of big words: now, I realize that some of the characters in this novel were big word people. That's fine. Put it in their dialogue. We'll get to this more in the narration section, but big words don't fit when you're in the POV of the "dumb jock" but all of a sudden his thoughts read like a poet laureate wrote them?3. Treating me like an idiot: give your readers some kind of dignity. There was one point where two girls ACTUALLY had a conversation about what sarcasm was and what the different levels were and this went on for 3 pages. Give me a break. I didn't need that, the characters doing it (sorority girls) didn't need that - they were born knowing that. What is this? I physically rolled my eyes during that section it was so bad.NarratorThat last point actually rolls into another big gripe - the narrator. Man. It's like this guy has never read a narrated book before. There are two main types of narrators, the omnipotent narrator (knows all, sees all, is just reporting in third person) and the personal narrator (an actual character, reports in first person)Wolfe chose an omnipotent narrator, in that case you can either leave the narrator completely bland, or you have it reflect the personalities of the characters who's POV you're currently representing. In a multifacet book like this you normally go after #2. What did Wolfe do? a mix of both. The narrator never completely reflected the types of thoughts that would mirror the current character (you would be hard pressed to make me believe that any basketball star would spend THAT amount of time thinking about the slave / master symbology of their lives...) but it also never faded into the background. It was RIDICULOUS to the point of being painful.CharactersThis might be because the characters themselves were so painfully lacking in definition. Wolfe sets this book up like he's going to look at archetypes - right? So at first you're willing to give him some slack to set up these absolutely obviously awful caricatures of people. The dumb jock, the dweeb, the frat boy, the prissy girl, the sorority girl, etc. But then they don't come out...right. And not in a "oh they turn out to be more dimensional" way, but in a "they turn out to be a mishmash of his own thoughts apparently" way. I think this has a lot to do with the bleed-over narrator. He gives Adam-esque thoughts to Jojo and Charlotte-esque thoughts to Hoyt. So it just doesn't work.Sexism / Racism / Homophobia and other illsThis was the most painful of all. You get the sense the author is none of the above, but is so intent on proving that, that it doesn't work? You know? The whole thing with Charlotte LITERALLY LOSING HER MIND over a boy. Come on. I know girls can get a little cray cray but that was over the top. And the actual narrator quotes of how she responded so positively "the way girls do" to Adam asserting himself aggressively. What the ... is that?All the white vs. black player stuff, and the gay rights stuff, all missed the mark. Just poorly done.The EndProbably the only interesting part of the whole book is the end when Charlotte questions herself on whether she ever wanted a "life of the mind" or just to be recognized, at any cost, and where her intelligence got her recognized at home, that wasn't it at Dupont so she went another way. THAT was an interesting thought. Start there, with the almost double cross from the main character and move backwards rewriting the WHOLE thing. It's almost like the plot points could still work, with a little toning down in places, but just needs to be rewritten by a more skilled author. I know that's a hard line to take on someone so beloved but this was my honest opinion that I had before I realized (over the course of reading and hearing from other people commenting on what I was reading) that he was loved at all. If there's another book I should try instead I'm open to hearing it, but for now, I'm a big fat no to this book and this author.


On the topic of hoops fiction (w/ Boice), I decided to bust this dust gathering doorstop out of the bookshelf graveyard.Having read excerpts of this upon publication, I decided to skip two of the three plot lines - those of Charlotte (small-town every girl meets big time state school) and Hoyt (the Reede Seligmann model) for the story of Jojo (white hoops player trying to make good on a squad of aggressive, do-me, Adonis black dudes).I guess not surprisingly Wolfe succeeds greatly in portraying a top-notch D1 hoops program - and the politics that go with it.The only trouble I had with the team he imagines is the clear-cut distinction he makes between the white + black players (almost a sharks v jets rivalry) which I never found to be the case.


Here's the thing. I really like Tom Wolfe's books. Right up until his editor calls him and says, "Tom, I gotta have that final draft by the first of the month," and he writes some crap ending that just ruins the whole thing. Same thing with "A Man in Full". Frustrating.


Wolfe could not seem to decide whether he wanted Charlotte Simmons to be a satire or a legitimate zeitgeist piece. Thus, the characters come off as caricatures to ill effect. Wolfe should take a page from Sinclair Lewis, who somehow managed to write biting satire with still-believable protagonists at the helm. Wolfe could have also gone all out and just made this an absurd piece of literature, but he clearly intended to use this book as a revelation on modern college life.In Wolfe's defense:Though I think there are legitimate criticisms of Charlotte Simmons, the most frequent one, the "look at how this prude old guy is so freaked out by young people today" criticism is problematic on several levels. First: it is possible for an author to create an authentic protagonist with whom s/he has little in common. Take Mark Twain's feat of writing from the perspective of a boy in Huck Finn or Sinclair Lewis's believable boob Babbitt in the eponymous book. Wolfe may come from a different generation than his characters, but this does not preclude him from channeling universal emotions through his characters, emotions like self-doubt, alienation, etc.A favorable reviewer on Amazon rightly pointed out that those who criticize Wolfe for not getting this current generation are missing the point. Wolfe is asking the reader to step outside the decadent conventions of this group in order to question why it they are so blindly accepted. To dismiss him because he seems so shocked! by the generation he portrays is to buy into the legitimacy of this (my) generation's norms. Like so many American novels before it, I Am Charlotte Simmons indicts complacent conformity. Perhaps it's easier to recognize these themes in novels where the author is skewering the prudish, straight-laced yesmen rather than the indulgent, counter-traditional ones, but both societies signify rigidity and intolerance towards deviating norms. The pendulum has just shifted in the sense that polite conversation is now quite hospitable to the impolite, but now the diplomat is the odd man out. Being different is hard, whether you're a wandering musician in 1950s America or an intellecutally curious girl from a quiet mountain town in millenial America.My biggest issue: I am most disappointed with how unedited I Am Charlotte Simmons seems at times. Wolfe could have pared this book down a lot. He simply writes too much, sometimes mercilessly belaboring his point. Still, I think the generic criticisms of this book are ignorant of a novel's purpose.


Frickin' fabulous, can't put down, addictive read!

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