Jeff Hobbs grew up amid the perfumy mushroom farms of Kennet Square, PA. He is the author of the novel, The Tourists, as well as dozens of grant proposals written on behalf of the African Rainforest Conservancy, for which he served as Executive Director for three years. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and the little girl within her ballooning belly, and he talks mostly to his dog, Noah.
Dear Mr. West,
On behalf of my daughter, who is due on October 8th and so thus far has been shielded by the womb from the loud, generally vacuous remarks of all current celebrity-cum-philosophers – and on behalf of every child living in America who has ever been negatively influenced by a “Kanye-ism” – I would just like to say: Shame on you, ‘Ye.
Sometimes people write novels and they just be so wordy and so self-absorbed. I am not a fan of books. I would never want a book’s autograph. I am a proud non-reader of books. I like to get information from doing stuff like actually talking to people and living real life.
These are your words that you employed, oddly enough, while promoting your own forthcoming book, Thank You and You’re Welcome. This tome of “theories” is reportedly composed of 52 pages and possibly fewer words, since many pages contain only a single almost-sentence, and others are left blank – perhaps a nod toward your blank sense of responsibility for those who pay attention to what you say. Your self-purported intent is to “end the confusion” of Kanye misquotes, which has apparently been plaguing the universe for some time now.
Just a heads-up here: Not only does the inherent irony at play in these words make you appear unintelligent, which you obviously aren’t, but you have also undermined the privilege of living in a country in which we can read anything and everything we choose or, as in your unfortunate case, nothing at all. Though you may be a self-proclaimed “proud non-reader,” surely you cannot be proud of rallying others to follow you in this non-ambition.
My understanding is that you are a remarkable musician and producer, termed by many a musical genius. You have sold millions of records, won the highest awards, started a respected charitable foundation to help underprivileged children stay in school, cultivated countless fans the world over, and become a bona fide voice of your generation. At the very least, you are that rare talent who appeals to a fan base as demographically diverse as it is ardent.
So how could you, the son of an English professor no less, say something so destructive, so moronically conceived, and so contrary to the vaguely youth-centric message of your own music? I ask this question in seriousness and with all the respect I can summon, which admittedly isn’t much at the moment.
With regard to the first part of your statement, I grant that the novel as a form, excluding your own, tends to be somewhat “wordy.” It is, after all, typically composed of words. And plenty of the greatest novelists – Hemmingway, Rushdie, Naipaul, and Mailer come to mind – could correctly be dubbed “self-absorbed,” bordering on self-obsessed. It does require a certain amount of arrogance to believe a work of fiction that originates in your brain might be worth a stranger’s time, let alone his money. You know this arrogance very well; in fact, you have coined your own special term for it: Flyness.
Incidentally, our president is wordy and self-absorbed, and he might turn out to be the flyest leader we’ve ever had. There are wordy and self-absorbed carpenters out there, and doctors and schoolteachers and, with you as a standard-bearer, musicians – all of whom have contributions to make to society. In many ways, America is a wordy and self-absorbed nation. We are no less fly for being so.
So while those two descriptive gems are ultimately harmless, what I shame you for is your presumption to take away, or at the very least discredit, the unique, valuable, and timeless relationship that a child can forge with the world through books.
The written word is the only art medium that necessitates a sincere, sometimes even arduous, effort on the part of its audience. Rather than enter instantaneously into the individual’s heart and soul via a direct, simple sensory channel – most commonly sight and sound, and, in the case of a great chef, taste and smell – a printed word must first be filtered, interpreted, and aligned with one’s consciousness through both the right and left sides of the brain; the sensations an inspired sentence brings to bloom within the individual’s interior represent a collaboration between author and reader, a synthesis of dual experience in this world. This special co-mingling can occur between two people who grew up neighbors in the same small Midwestern town, or between a 12-year old Catholic girl in the Bronx reading the words of an 80-year old Hindu man in Calcutta. Basically, what I hope to teach my daughter is that, though reading usually necessitates seclusion – not an easy concept to pitch to a kid, or, apparently, to a hip hop artist – the more you read, the smarter you become; opening a book is a completely self-generated means by which a child may grow more thoughtful, more worldly, more sensitive to others, regardless of what school district he lives in or what his standardized test scores are.
A novel takes you away like no other medium can, and while a multi-millionaire music mogul like yourself has no doubt lived an extraordinary “real life” – has experienced directly so many fascinating people and places most of us ordinary folks could never dream of – the majority of your fans, and 99.9% of Americans, do not have the time nor the means to emulate you. Most of us would very much like to “get information from doing stuff,” as you sagely advise, if only our access to the world beyond our immediate environment weren’t limited, basically, to books, television, and music. I venture that escaping into the work of Harper Lee, Jack London, Alice Walker – hell, even Stephenie Meyer, who can barely write an English sentence – is more worthwhile for American youth than, say, watching an MTV Cribs episode featuring Kanye West, or listening to such classics as “Dreaming of Fucking Lil’ Kim,” even in hi-def surround sound.
And yet, the written word is being slowly phased out of our culture, no thanks to comments such as yours; it is becoming increasingly apparent that the slow, solitary act of paging through a book has only marginal space on today’s manic, hyper-social canvass. Newspapers are streamlining one by one to cut costs, and the first step in that process invariably entails nixing the Books section. American publishers are faring little better than the auto industry, sans taxpayer bailout. We live in an era in which the first stories some kids read are penned by Madonna, Sesame Street is considered “unhealthy” (because the Cookie Monster promotes obesity, you see), Gawker is a premier source of literary news, snark reigns supreme, the vast majority of written correspondence involves progressions of three-letter acronyms ricocheted across cell phone towers, and, sadly but truly, the blurted opinions of Kanye West actually count for something.
Being as your charitable work is geared toward furthering the education of our children, being as the country reads less now than it ever has in its history at the same time as our school system falls behind those of other developed nations, being as you are technically an author now, and being as you are and will remain a role model to so many tens of millions of people – perhaps you, Mr. West, might atone for your statement by (just a thought here) finding a book that means something to you and then recommending it to your fans, thus investing your words in their future rather than your own.
To quote you once more, from your song, “Champion”: “‘Cause who the kids gonna listen to? Huh? I guess me if it isn’t you.”
Jeff Hobbs (Proud Reader)