Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Anti-Totalitarian Camus, Trolling Progressives, and Tim Burton’s “Dumbo”

Also: The Trump tell-all book agents, making sense of the South, and more.

Bret Easton Ellis tries his hand at nonfiction and the results are terrible, Andrea Long Chu writes: “‘I never pretended to be an expert on millennials,’ writes Bret Easton Ellis halfway through White, and the reader desperately wishes this were true. Ellis is best known for American Psycho, the controversial 1991 cult novel about an image-obsessed Wall Street serial killer; the film adaption would star Christian Bale as psychotic investment banker Patrick Bateman. Following several increasingly metafictional novels and a few bad screenplays, White is Ellis’s first foray into nonfiction, and the result is less a series of glorified, padded-out blog posts than a series of regular, normal-size blog posts. Mostly, Ellis hates social media and wishes millennials would stop whining and ‘pull on their big boy pants’—an actual quote from this deeply needless book, whose existence one assumes we could have all been spared if Ellis’s millennial boyfriend had simply shown the famous man how to use the mute feature on Twitter.” Chu may be right; still, maybe this is exactly the sort of book we need right now, as bad as it may be: “But Ellis’s true purpose in the remaining two hundred pages of White, a rambling mess of cultural commentary and self-aggrandizement, is to offend young, progressive readers while giving everyone else the delight of watching. Bret Easton Ellis would like you to know that he thinks “boys will be boys.” He thinks #MeToo is pathetic. He thinks La La Land should have won Best Picture instead of Moonlight. He thinks HBO should make that Confederacy show. He thinks Tyler Clementi, the gay college student who jumped off a bridge after his roommate secretly taped him making out, got too worked up over a ‘harmless freshman dorm-room prank.’ He misses Milo, and he calls Leslie Jones ‘a middle-aged comedienne who couldn’t handle a vicious yet typical Twitter trolling.’ Even the title White is a provocation, designed to simultaneously anticipate, incur, and mock accusations of white privilege.”

Tim Burton’s Dumbo is “his best movie in years,” says David Sims.

I wrote about the John Shelton Reed’s latest book on the South for the March/April issue of the magazine. It’s now available online.

Katherine A. Powers reviews Saul Lelchuk’s first book: “Nikki Griffith, bookstore owner, private eye and avenger of battered women, roars into the world on a red Aprilia motorcycle in S.A. Lelchuk’s debut novel, Save Me From Dangerous Men. Nikki does not own a cellphone or a TV, but she does possess a wicked left jab and a crushing right hook, a Beretta subcompact, a Remington shotgun, a 20-inch spring-loaded steel baton, brass knuckles, pepper spray, a taste for Jameson and Kierkegaard and a knack for whipping up trout grenobloise and a mushroom risotto after a long day’s sleuthing. She is, in sum, what every woman would be if she had just arranged her life more sensibly and not dropped her membership in the NRA and Gold’s Gym. Her creator, Lelchuk, is a man who has obscured his gender with initials and doesn’t include an author photo in the book. Writing in the first person as Nikki, he has created a character who peppers the patriarchy with rapid-fire volleys of backchat.”

Revisiting Albert Camus’s 1951 book The Rebel: “Horrified by the crimes of Stalin and by the apologetics for his regime published by some of the Western Left’s most influential intellectuals, Camus sought to understand the justification of mass murder. It is a rich book, and not easily summarized, but two of Camus’s arguments proved particularly antagonizing to his peers.”

Essay of the Day:

In The New York Times, Jason Zengerle writes about Matt Latimer and Keith Urbahn, founders of the literary agency Javelin, and their work on Trump tell-all books:

“On May 10, 2017, less than 24 hours after President Trump fired James Comey as F.B.I. director, Comey received an email from a man he had never met. The correspondent, Matt Latimer, began by praising Comey’s ‘decades of faithful service to the United States government and to the cause of law and order’ and offering sympathy for the ‘tumultuous period’ he was going through. Then Latimer got to the heart of the matter. As the head of a Washington literary agency called Javelin, he wanted Comey to know that if he ever had any interest in writing a book — ‘and we’d urge you to consider the possibility’ — he wanted Comey as a client.

“‘Javelin is prepared to invest in you and your story,’ Latimer wrote. ‘It’s the least we can do for someone who has given so much to our country.’

“Comey did not want to write a book. He sent Latimer a polite response saying as much. But several months later, he began to warm to the idea, and he thought back on his correspondence with Latimer. ‘There was something about the tone of his email,’ Comey recently told me. ‘I just liked the tone.’

“Latimer and Keith Urbahn, Latimer’s partner at Javelin, went to lunch with Comey at his golf club. ‘Their pitch was, “We will be your partner in a way that’s unusual for the literary-agency business,”’ Comey recalled. Before they were literary agents, Latimer and Urbahn were Republican operatives, and they viewed a book project as akin to a political campaign. They told Comey that they would not only work with him on a proposal and shop it to publishers; they would also help him with the writing, social media presence, publicity and what they called the ‘messaging’ of the whole project. They promised to offer ‘brutal feedback’ at all times. ‘One of the big challenges in any place, but especially in Washington, is getting people to tell you the unvarnished truth, especially if you stink,’ Comey said. ‘I knew I could count on these guys to tell me when I sucked.’

“Comey had come around to the idea of writing a book because he wanted, he said, ‘to be useful in the wake of something bad happening and to make something good come of it.’ He envisioned not a memoir but a leadership book, reflecting on the lessons he had learned in the course of his long career. What he did not want to write was anything about his 109 tumultuous days as Trump’s F.B.I. director. ‘I was desperate not to be a “Trump book” writer,’ he told me.

“Latimer and Urbahn gave him the brutal feedback that it was too late for that.”

Read the rest.

Photo: Skyscrapers and the March equinox

Poem: Will Schutt, “Francesco Datini, Merchant of Prato”

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