OFF THE GRID

Jenny Sanford, Andrew Young, Gayle Haggard Tell Everything You Always Want to Know About Sex—Other People's

Feb 2, 10 | 8:32 AM   byMichael Wolff
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Maybe the problem is not so much with sex but with books.

The great thing (I mean the really great thing) about books (good books and bad books, alike) used to be that they had sex in them. They were just about the dirtiest thing going. I wonder when the last time was that anybody read a book for the dirty parts.

Anyway, this is about a certain kind of author of books about sex. Jenny Sanford, Andrew Young, and Ted Haggard’s wife, Gayle, have each written a book about someone else’s sex life.

These are sex lives that, in the books of a bygone era, would have as likely been portrayed as ribald, rebellious, and titillating. They are, here, sorry and lame.

But let us not argue about the character of the subjects, but of the authors. These are strange authors, because they are not writers. Nevertheless, they have appropriated books for use as instruments of revenge, self-justification, and self-promotion. Not, mind you, to promote themselves as writers, but as some sort of evangelizers.

Jenny Sanford is, to me, the most blood-curdling of the three. With hardly a moment for self-reflection, or even self-pity, she’s written (or had written for her) several hundred pages of very bad prose and very willful insistence that she was right-thinking in every way possible and wronged by a pitiful excuse for a husband and father. Her mission is simple: raise herself at her soon-to-be former husband’s expense. This is, for many women (but few men), a worthy and reasonable effort. Let’s not argue that point. Rather, ask the question: Is this what a book is for? Personal branding and repackaging? And people pay for this?

The pretense of Andrew Young’s book is that he has a story to tell. And quite a story it is. He has written a companion book to All the Kings Men and to Primary Colors. But Robert Penn Warren and Joe Klein are very good writers and Andrew Young is a very bad writer. Curiously, we believe that because he is a bad writer, he must be telling a truer tale. You can recognize reality, we have come to believe, not by its complexity but by its tawdriness.

Mrs. Haggard is doing her husband’s work. She’s the first-person narrator documenting her husband’s turnaround from homosexual to heterosexual. She is both the hero of her book, Why I Stayed: The Choices I Made In My Darkest Hour, and will be a beneficiary of her husband’s profitable rehabilitation. And if you believe that….

It turns out, many books should be burned.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at
VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.
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