So What if They’re Wordy?: An Open Letter to Kanye West

June 8, 2009 | 1 book mentioned 23 5 min read

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.

coverThese 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.”

Best Regards,

Jeff Hobbs (Proud Reader)

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.


  1. Did you know that West's mother was an English literature professor? How's that for irony?

  2. All I have to says as well is AMEN! And here I am reading Jack London for the first time, being taken into another world with stories that are over a decade old.

  3. Considering that Kanye West is a gay fish, I really don't find his remarks against reading books too suprising. He's too busy with other, more noble pursuits by, as he says, "living real life," i.e. putting fish dicks in his mouth.

  4. I'm hopeful that there are insightful, educated people like Jeff Hobbs out there who share the value of the importance of reading, and yet I am terrified by its necessity. Shame on Kayne…

  5. Umm, yeah. I agree with the sentiments and all, but you might want to purge your writing of words like "flyest" lest you appear to be one of those middle-aged white guys who is trying to use the kewl words that the kids are using (or were using circa 1988).

  6. Maybe Oprah needs to have him on as a guest and 'school' him on the value of reading.

  7. Mr. Hobbs is using terms like "fly-est" to mock Kanye West, Anonymous. Not in an effort to be "kewl." ANYWAY: Brilliantly said, Mr. Hobbs. But be careful what you wish for — Mr. West's favorite book might be "Niggaz Got To Keep It Real, Yo" or some such similarly titled publication, and I suspect you wouldn't like him recommending a work of this caliber to his more vulnerable-minded fans.

    Kanye West's comment (indeed, his entire body of "work") is representative of the acute anti-intellectualism that's been poisoning African-American "culture" for some time. It has literally ravaged the African-American community and shows little sign of stopping there.

    And yet, I remain optimistic. I believe in my heart that Barack Obama marks the beginning of the end of this long, dark chapter in African American history. I can almost hear brothers on the street, talking to each other right now: "We got a black president now, man. Pull up your goddamn pants!"

  8. I think it was Weird Al Yankovitch who effectively sapped the word "fly" of any non-ironic potential it might have had when he wrote: "and all the goyim say I'm pretty fly (for a rabbi)."

  9. Sorry, I don't know Kanye West but I'm wondering if he's dyslexic or if there are other reasons he might find reading difficult?

  10. I am a highschool teacher and can verify that this anti-reading/anti-intellectual trend is pervasive in the coming generation.
    But those of us who value reading should fight this uphill battle with everything we've got.

  11. It seems that the reason the battle is so uphill has to do with a couple factors:

    1) Books don't have a superstar, outside schools that kids see as no fun anyway, that potential young readers might identify with, a face and personality (like Kanye) who can do the media circuit on the national stage and "make reading cool." (Someone besides Oprah). As most champions of reading and writing tend to be reclusive and shy, dare I say smug, perhaps because they spend a lot of their time, well, reading and writing.

    2) A corollary to the last one: You can't invite a girl you have the hots for to come over to your pad and "read." No, you invite her to come over and listen to music or watch TV.

    3) Because reading requires time and, you know, intelligence, you're not going to get any coverage in the US Weekly's and In Touch's that have come to dominate the culture. Can you imagine? "Johnathan Franzen seen eating a bagel at his local Starbucks wearing jeans and a short-sleeve Marshall's button down!"

    So…anyone have any ideas?

  12. Very well expressed, thank-you. And if it's a source of optimism to anyone: The Teen section at the bookstore where I work have exploded over the last 10 years. When I was 12, you had to go straight from the YA novels to adult books, and while some kids (especially girls) make that transition just fine, there's a pretty big difference in length. So I'm encouraged that there are so many more teen books to act as a bridge to *adult* reading. And thankfully there will always be a Goosebumps or Rowling or Meyer to suck in the reluctant.

    I haven't thrown in the towel yet! :-)

  13. Terrific letter – I'd never heard of Kayne West before, but he clearly thinks it is cool to be a non reader…which is just sad.

  14. "You can't invite a girl you have the hots for to come over to your pad and "read." No, you invite her to come over and listen to music or watch TV."

    Why not? One of my ex-boyfriends read the Hobbit aloud to me. It was nice.

  15. >>One of my ex-boyfriends read the Hobbit aloud to me. It was nice.

    Ex? Does that mean he's single? My number is…

  16. Books require a certain amount of internal growth and it seems all Kanya is interested in is externally driven growth! Frankly, his statement does not surprise me, nor does the fact that he made such an ignorant public statement!! Kanya’s “career” is ephemeral and by saying an doing stupid things he can, unfortunately, linger around a little longer. He is at least smart enough to know this!

  17. What I find so ironic is that Kanye seems to be under the mistaken impression that experiencing the world physically and also through books are two mutually exclusive activities! What a simpleton! *Note to Kanye: Some folks are well rounded enough to do both!

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