Charlotte Simmons in the Tournament of Books

The First TMN Tournament of Books concludes Monday, and I think it has been successful. I suppose the goal is reader enjoyment, but maybe they are measuring the sale of the competing books at, in which case, I don’t know that it succeeded and they may not tell us. Did you read the results? Could you predict the winners? I couldn’t. From what I heard about I Am Charlotte Simmons in the other reviews, I didn’t think it would make it to the semifinals. In fact, the reason it lost to Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas confuses me a bit. Judge Rosecrans Baldwin rails against it’s ignorance of college life, calling the book a “sloppy, obese, enormously awful, loud-mouthed essay-fiction-mutant-whore with moments of insight and honest-to-God wisdom.” But he also says it narrowly lost to Mitchell’s book, which was “wonderful,” “extremely entertaining and frequently thought provoking.” I don’t quite understand that, but despite having not read IACS, I wonder if the root of the complaints lies in individual experience.

Round Two Judge John Warner says the character Charlotte Simmons, “an academically gifted but sheltered girl from Sparta, N.C., is also patently fraudulent. At one point, another character jokes that it’s as if Charlotte is from Mars. I’d say it’s more as if she’s from a small box on the surface of Mars. She is naive to the point of impossibility.” And Baldwin adds, “Charlotte Simmons is a big fat failure, so frequently ignorant of its own cast that it’s impossible to believe in the characters.” Maybe they’re right, but I wonder if Simmons’ naivety is the same genuine innocence I had growing up.

The people on my side of the tracks, as it were, thought innocence was a good thing. We called it purity. We knew, to some degree, that we were sheltered and wanted to avoid the pain or confusion of experiencing those things which were forbidden to us. Of course, we were a pretty small crowd, and we mingled with people who were unsheltered–that is, they were less sheltered than we were. But we could see the tracks. We chose to stay on our side. Maybe the same side Simmons came from. I don’t doubt we all look unbelievable, even freakish, to some on the other side.