People are always recommending James Lileks to me, to others, to the internet as a whole. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune columnist is a darling of the internet, thanks to the tirelessness with which he runs his personal website, lileks.com, to which I am not linking, because, having read James Lileks off and on for a few years now, I simply cannot stand him.
It’s an interesting sort of dislike, because it breaks so many of my personal rules. I always say I will follow a good writer anywhere, whether I agree or not, because the journey is the point, and a good writer always makes the journey worthwhile. And while Lileks is unquestionably a good writer, a superb writer, even, I can rarely get through one of his pieces. It’s not his politics, which are predictably conservative and glib; it’s more his persona, his idea of himself, which is sort of Ward Cleaver crossed with Superman crossed with Elvis Costello. He’s trying so hard, all the time, to impress you with his virtues, his cleverness, his hipness, that he ends up painting a picture — a Thomas Kinkade, only if you look into the rose-covered cottage window, you can see a short man with a receding hairline playing wth a cute little girl in front of a brand-new Apple G5.
He’s very taken with himself as a stay-at-home dad; he reminds us constantly of how hard he works at it, while still not shirking a bit in his professional work. His daughter is perfect in every way, except when she’s imperfect in an adorable way, and maybe you like that stuff, but me? Honestly? I would rather read Erma Bombeck.
Anyway, what made me think of this was a spell with my favorite writer of small things, Jon Carroll. He’s on another one of his month-long vacations, and the paper is running his greatest hits. I thought I’d read every one in the catalog, but today’s was a surprise to me, and I couldn’t help but contrast it with Lileks, who would take the same subject — how much he loves his wife — and turn it into something dipped in treacle, albeit with many clever phrases.
Here’s the Carroll column. Maybe I’m being unfair. But you tell me.