Return of the Slate Audio Book Club

After announcing that they had “returned from a late-summer hiatus” in September, those swank sophists at the Slate Audio Book Club have, after a six week absence, returned for more shallow hijinks. Buddha help us all.

Regular Reluctant readers will recall that, the last time this intrepid trio graced the microphones, they let loose all manner of racist generalizations about Toni Morrison’s Beloved and, so far as anybody knows, only one brave listener (Powell’s Books blogger Lewis) was able to make it to the thirteen minute mark.

This time out, the book is Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. After an august introduction from a dour man named Andy Bowers and a “jazz” tune reminiscent of something I heard in an elevator last week, Meghan O’Rourke again returns to hosting duties, suggesting that the group should get ready to discuss “plot points.” (Go Team!) Never mind that Pollan has not authored a novel, but a nonfiction book, what O’Rourke refers to as “a complicated book,” perhaps because she forgot to set the fiction/non-fiction toggle switch in her head shortly before recording this podcast.

She then asks for reactions from Stephen Metcalf and Katie Roiphe. Metcalf refers to corn as the “the sort of binding, kind of guiding, you know, object in the book.” (Perhaps he intended “subject.” But then, given O’Rourke’s inability to separate fact and fiction, I suppose Metcalf was facing similar difficulties adjusting.) The corn, in Metcalf’s words, “gives the narrative some thrust and strength early on.” (One would hope so, if we view Pollan’s corn as a phallic metaphor, assuming that Pollan’s book can be read as fiction.)

Strangely, Metcalf points out that The Omnivore’s Dilemma can be categorized in a new nonfiction genre that concern food issues, including Fast Food Nation and Super Size Me, a book I must confess unfamiliarity with. Presumably, much as O’Rourke cannot distinguish between fiction and nonfiction, Metcalf cannot distinguish between books and films. (Although, Morgan Suprlock did, in fact, author a book called Don’t Eat This Book.) Even stranger, Metcalf near plaigiarizes the LBC term of art “in a flooded marketplace” by noting how Pollan’s book finds an audience “in a crowded marketplace,” leaving one to wonder if the Slate Audio Book Club is Slate’s airheaded rejoinder to the Litblog Co-Op’s efforts.

And then Katie Rolphe, the Elizabeth Hasselbeck of podcasting, emerges from the honeycomb, proudly announcing that the book “had a strong effect on my thinking.” Roiphe, never one to offer an example to support her generalizations, surprising given her Ph.D., then switches gears in seconds, finding the book “flawed, deeply flawed” — complaining not of the positions that Pollan takes, but of the book’s apparent sentimentality. Roiphe, perhaps unnerved by anything challenging her possible belief that New York is the center of the universe, then states that she found Pollan’s concentration on the farm “off-putting,” as if delving into how food is cultivated and manufactured was somehow bucolic instead of scientific. Given this bizarre logic, I am curious what Roiphe’s take would be on a quantum physics book. Would she find it “off-putting” because she doesn’t care for cats or multiconsonant names like Schroedinger? Would she rail similarly against subjects that are absolutely vital to the subject at hand?

But Roiphe’s objections become even stranger. Witness this grand morsel of stupidity:

“And I also found what I take as sort of fu…kind of almost like a yuppie fussiness over food that I just am…can’t get that interested in. And this is a 400 page book….and part of me, part of his argument and some of the places he takes his argument, I just couldn’t go along with it.”

And with affirmative susurrations by fellow dunces O’Rourke and Metcalfe, without either of these Two Great Thinkers asking Roiphe for specifics about what made Pollan’s argument so “flawed” or unpalatable, with assenting head nodding and thoughtful grunts, the podcast continues. O’Rourke then complains about Pollan setting a portion of his book in the San Francisco Bay, scraping salt from the bottom of the bay for his own homemade salt because of “yuppie fussiness.” Never mind that Pollan has written a book attempting to explain why Americans eat the way that we do and that examining why so much of our current food is laden with corn is far from “fussy” or “yuppie,” but more within the territory of scrutiny.

Indeed, I fail to understand what class has to do with ecological concerns. An equally disinterested and ignorant reader might very well apply “yuppie fussiness” to an environmental scientist investigating the melting polar icecaps. By what stretch of the imagination is investigation “fussy” or “yuppie?”

Disgusted by this myopic and anti-intellectual tone (and Roiphe’s eager Chihuahua-like voice), I Alt-F4ed my player at the 4:14 mark, unable to handle any more of this nonsense. And I now firmly believe that the Slate Audio Book Club is beyond repair. Keep in mind that this jejune conversation occurred with at least six weeks of preparation. Not since the film adaptation of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy have I seen a more stunning waste of time and resources.

Nevertheless, I put forth the challenge to you: can you make it longer than four minutes?

[UPDATE: It looks like Jessa Crispin listened to the whole podcast, thus making her the only person we know of on the Internet courageous enough to listen to the whole thing.]


  1. Roiphe and O’Rourke clearly don’t understand the book or the issues it addresses. sigh. I like how you’ve called them out on their, er, opinions.

  2. I got through about 10 minutes. It was….not enlightening at all. They seem obsessed with “yuppie fussiness/fetishism” of food. Perhaps they’re in denial about being yuppies. Having read the book, I think they’ve missed most of the points Pollan tries to make. What a waste of time.

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