David Kamp, Blog Snob

Ten years from now, we’ll all be inured to David Kamp. A whole generation will have grown up as his book, The United States of Arugula, has been long forgotten — the remaining copies pulped or perhaps used as oversized skeet shooting pellets, because they couldn’t even sell as remainders. For what imagination can one expect from a hack writer whose grand contributions to letters include The Food Snob’s Dictionary, The Film Snob’s Dictionary, The Rock Snob’s Dictionary, and The Wine Snob’s Dictionary? (One senses a trend. A writer so content to plant the word “snob” to his contributions in four different terrains, even satirically, must truly be an insufferable asshole.)

Right now, this great parvenu David Kamp has turned the prick of his pen to blogs. Using the finest epithets that 1999 had to offer, Kamp rails against the “untamed blogosphere” and the “Wild Web.” He displays his considerable ignorance in suggesting that the Smoking Gun is merely a place “best known for the documents it unearths via the Freedom of Information Act,” failing to understand that it was indeed the Smoking Gun that broke the James Frey scandal. This was the kind of lengthy investigative journalism that the New York Times once practiced, before it turned its resources to the women who New York governors were schtupping. (There’s also this neat little thing called the Internet Archive! Wow! That’s even better than the brand new 56k modem I bought last month from a guy on the street who said that it was “cutting edge.”)

He is content to cast aspersions about specific blogs based entirely on their titles (“cutesie-poo,” “mock-suave,” et al.), without bothering to cite any specific examples as to how the content lives up to these modifiers. (Look, I think the name “David Kamp” sounds like some cult member waiting for the big day when his shaky pyrotechnics knowledge will be enlisted in the jihad, or, failing that, the sad and klutzy moment when he accidentally blows off his hands and it’s all settled up as a dutiful sacrifice to The Leader. But you won’t see me belittling the man’s three syllables. Particularly when his piss-poor argument is so patently ridiculous.)

Indeed, Kamp appears so deaf to the idea of text that he compares Sarah Boxer’s post-excerpt pages to Johnny Carson. In this age of Quark and word processors, Kamp can’t seem to wrap his head around the concept of text being read on an LCD screen and later transposed to book form. It’s certainly bad enough that Kamp can’t even get his medium right. But in citing Johnny Carson, a dead talk show host who has been rotting under the earth quite well for three years and who hasn’t aired on a regular basis in sixteen years, Kamp demonstrates that he is as culturally au courant as a Deadhead who doesn’t quite understand that Jerry Garcia’s fat ass has been long chewed up by the maggots.

In Kamp’s view, a blogger cannot just have an “esoteric interest.” He feels compelled to add the word “obsessive,” as if those who compose their words for a screen are no different from Branch Davidians. He is quick to tell us that “[i]n the case of the blogger Benjamin Zimmer, a linguistic anthropologist, it’s language that turns him on.” That reminds me of the case of the quantum physicist who was turned on by quantum physics. Or David Kamp, the dumbass book critic who was turned on by dumbass observations.

Of course, reading sections of a 368 page book — composed of speedy prose, no less — was “a chore” for poor David Kamp. Kamp doesn’t report if he’s ever done a day of hard labor in his life, something like working on a farm or in a warehouse that might offer a sufficient comparative basis. (I’ll take a wild guess: no.) He doesn’t say what or why. That, of course, would involve actual thought. He merely says that what David Byrne does on his blog is a thousand times better than what Momus does on his. When Kamp resorts to ratios like this, he demonstrates that the true soporific wonkery on display here is not found within blogs, but in Kamp’s utter failure to provide any substantive analysis.

Leafing through much of David Kamp’s indolent and hastily assembled review — lightweight thought, lack of curiosity, comic misfires, recountings of personal travail (i.e., the “chore”) — I was reminded less of a book review than of a dreary speech delivered by a doddering conspiracy theorist for a Rotary International chapter. Sure, you want to encourage the man. But you would never expect his ramblings to be published in The New York Times Book Review. Not without a team of editors to rival a junta. And even then, there’s the old adage about cooks and broth.

And who is Kamp to speculate about Boxer’s vacillating motivations in writing the book? Can’t Boxer change her mind?

A thoughtful, and even critical, review of blog writing is by no means a dreadful idea for a newspaper piece. But this particular review goes well beyond a missed opportunity. If the NYTBR has any good sense, it will have a team of security guards punch David Kamp in the face if he ever tries to set up a lunch meeting with Sam Tanenhaus or Dwight Garner again.


  1. True to your URL, Ed. You may be right about Kamp, but I came to the same conclusion as he. If Lizzie weren’t in it, there’d be nothing notable about it for me as a blogger and an observer of the blog medium

  2. You are really losing credibility with these reviews of book reviews of yours where you prove to be far guiltier of the sins you purport others to have committed.

    I went and read Kamp’s review. It was well considered and eminently fair. It is clear that he did read the book and gave it a fair hearing. You jump on irrelevancies, such as the use of the word snob in the titles of Kamp’s books, and then conclude that he’s probably an insufferable asshole. Now that’s really unfairly jumping to conclusions.

    I happened to have read some sample entries from his film snob’s directory in Vanity Fair, and thought they were spot on and funny. I’m far more inclined now to read one of Kamp’s books than more of your hair-trigger tantrumy effusions.

  3. Fantastic, Peter! Have fun with the snob books! While you’re at it, you may want to look into this interesting new thing the kids are all talking about these days called “satire.”

  4. Now you try to backpedal from your failure by accusing me of being unable to recognize a satire. Of course I am quite capable of recognizing a satire, but only when it is intended as such and is successfully executed.

  5. No backpedaling at all. Either you get the point of this post (as others here did) or you don’t. I wish you the finest reading experience possible with Mr. Kamp’s less sophisticated offerings.

  6. Yes, Peter, while I don’t think this is Ed’s BEST work, I do think you need to improve your reading comprehension:

    “If the NYTBR has any good sense, it will have a team of security guards punch David Kamp in the face if he ever tries to set up a lunch meeting with Sam Tanenhaus or Dwight Garner again.”


  7. The new purple color scheme is terrific for your resurrected blog, Ed. It matches your prose.

  8. I know Kamp personally and his mother cut his meat for him until he was like 17. He’s a panty waist who fancies himself as some super didactic expert on all the things he touches from why we eat arugula, the sic American Dream or why Norman Rockwell somehow resonates more now than ever. The fact is, he is a stuck up snob and he doesn’t hardly ever nail his subject. If he thinks he’s some kind of keen observing Tom Wolfe of the new milleneum, he need get his head out of his ass. He mostly writes about himself up against a deadline bunching up his scribbles and I agree that he could use a punch right in the fucking face.

  9. It’s true. Kamp has never done a day of hard labor in his life. I think he probably blows Graydon because it’s hard to explain his arc as a writer otherwise.

  10. I know David Kamp personally as well zac. His mother cut his meet once when he was 17 and then he was confused by this. Also, he works quite hard all day and is quite intelligent. He is also righting many things at once meaning he takes all the time he has before his deadlines. Lets see any of you do that.

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