I was down there on my knees and hands, scrubbing the expanse of the kitchen floor, a guest imminent, sipping my now cold coffee as I do, so it doesn't hurt me, when an alert popped up on my phone. Tom Wolfe dead at 87.
I remember Tom Wolfe. I remember I was living near Willesden Green tube station, in the giant shadows of Denis Nilson, and that summer or winter, the tube barely has seasons, and it's a while back, that summer or winter I remember The Bonfire of the Vanities, particularly in the hands of oh so many people on the tube. That was an ordeal. Like Star Wars or anything else that's popular, because of either it's brilliance, or a foisted luminance, I used to think that couldn't be for me, I think because, I worried simply, what if I can't react to this in the way that everyone seems to want to or want you to. What if I am not the same as them?
Anyways... Back then, books, mostly men. Mostly written by men for men I guess. The Bonfire of the Vanities, I didn't read it at the time, I was having a year, or a while or so, where I only read books by women who were getting going in that industry. Justifiably so or not, and it seemed at the time like there had to be a lot of qualification and justification for the women pushing open the doors, now many of them are prizewinners and so what if they're not now? They were good stories then. Mary Gaitskill's Bad Behaviour has stuck with me as only a few ever have. I was a writer myself at the time, a prizewriter. But even then a lightweight, or bantamweight, a flyweight even, my weight fluctuates the entire time. I was on the canvas. My story of a boxer who only existed in his bathroom was not a knockout. But I was interested in books, seminal books for whatever reason, and writing, and literature as an event. OMG was Bonfire of the Vanities an event.
Shortly after found it in a charity shop or somewhere, so often then case with those big books. At that time the UK public was subject to the Net Book Agreement. Where no one discounted books unless everyone did. Unless no one wanted it.
I read Bonfire of the Vanities, alongside Jacqueline Susann's Valley of the Dolls (OL approved recommended reading and oh what a life!) and other doorstop novels. Yeah, so that was that, the zeitgeist New York novel of an earlier moment. Right there with American Psycho I suppose. That kind of thing. The New York where only one type, the Sherman McCloy's mattered.
There was The Right Stuff about the Space Program. V.Good. And he'd hit the ground with The Electric Cool Aid Acid Test. Before my time.
I wore a signature white suit inspired Tom. Double Denim jacket and jeans though. Maybe more Mick Jones or even Tom Jones. I don't know. People will ask for evidence of course, of course there is no evidence and none needed.
Later on, but not much later on, I got to The Painted Word. All I ever needed to know about enjoying art was broadly despised by Artists and Critics alike. They had a nerve. Tom Wolfe touched it. Later even more hilariously and with a similar critical response he turned his attention to architecture with the great fun From Bauhaus to Our House. At least I knew what my architect pals were talking about at last. Really, go ahead, you may have been feeling unsure but it is okay to feel circumspect about the work of Walter Gropius. But when we started OL we took our cues from the International Style.
From Bauhaus to Our House inspired one of our favorite outsideleft office purchases, the best we could do in a furniture store in the Inland Empire. We had some spare money that year we published our first Hardy Annual and acquired a, I'd say not officially licensed as the dimensions are so fraught as to make no license necessary, version of Mies and Lily's Barcelona Chair. Today the chair is in the garden and it's empty and Tom's gone.
Anyways while he was around, Tom Wolfe was onto something about architecture. Look at all of those new London and Birmingham buildings built by people who won't listen to what the people want.
Does anyone love them.