One fine day.

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,, 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.

Posted at 10:31 am in Uncategorized |

11 responses to “One fine day.”

  1. michael golden said on October 17, 2003 at 12:49 pm

    I have my own mixed feelings about Lileks. It cannot be denied that he is a very good writer. He has some interesting things on his site. Beyond that I tend to agree with you, Nance. He does kind of force himself on you. I skip over his political or social stuff since it always has that facile use of half truths and the just a tad off the point way of arguing that is so difficult to refute in a few words and is so beloved by righties. And yes his perfect kid is annoying. But his relations with his wife are strange. He says almost nothing about her except to report when she is working and when not. I sense some kind of strained, difficult relationship there. If you want a cut rate version of Lileks, see John Scalzi. He wishes he was Lileks, but isn’t a tenth of the writer. He makes Lileks look good.

    Moving to another blog, I took your tip and checked out your friend and correspondent Alex’s offering. Good! I enjoyed it. I’ll keep reading it. I do feel sorry for him though, over his (yours, Alex, if you’re listening) hopes for the Cubs. The curse of the goat is too strong. They need to do an exorcism. Maybe get a macumba priest to sacrifice a chicken at second base at midnight during a full moon. No, a sacrifice fly won’t do.

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  2. Nance said on October 17, 2003 at 1:29 pm

    I have no inside information on this matter, Michael, but my guess is, Mrs. Lileks probably has a hands-off-my-life policy with her graphomaniacal husband, and he respects her privacy.

    But since you mention her, it reminds me of the last time a Lileks entry made me want to break crockery: Mrs. Lileks was laid off from her job as a lawyer for the state of Minnesota earlier this summer. This was reported by Lileks Himself as an economic calamity (even though only days before he’d casually mentioned that he banks one-third of his paycheck in straight savings). There would have to be belt-tightening, he said; they would have to let go “the woman who comes in to do the woodwork,” but the lawn service could probably be spared. I’m thinking, shoot me when I can write something like that about myself with a straight face, but OK, I guess everyone measures hardship in a different way.

    Well. None other than John Scalzi suggested we all hit James’ Amazon tip jar on his site, and this idea was picked up and trumpeted around the internet, and lo, it came to pass. There was so much hitting of the tip jar the system crashed. James wrote about it later, of course; he COMPLAINED about the crash, which deprived him of some of his money. But he was gracious. He thanked everyone, and said the mortgage on his enormous house was paid through the summer, so I guess we can estimate he netted a few grand of spontaneous donations to ease his poverty.

    OK? OK. So the thing anyone could have seen coming has come to pass — his wife is working again, at least part-time. And James just unwrapped a brand new computer, which he bought as soon as it came out. He buys most Apple products as soon as they came out. He bought a Stickley breakfront last year, and then there was the TiVo, and the enormous TV, and the this, and the that, all exhaustively catalogued on his site, aka the Shopping News. But has the woodwork-doer been spared? We want to know!

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  3. michael golden said on October 17, 2003 at 2:45 pm

    I hate to sound like your yesman — I mean yes person, but I saw the same things. And I agree. Lileks was pretty nervous there for a while. Except that somehow I was entertained by the happenings rather than pissed. The whole thing seemed so unreal to me that I never really reacted.

    OK, I’ll bite. What’s a Stickley breakfront? Some kind of china cabinet or something?

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  4. Nance said on October 17, 2003 at 3:21 pm

    A Stickley breakfront is a very, very expensive china cabinet, yes.

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  5. Chan S. said on October 17, 2003 at 4:16 pm

    If the blogosphere is like high school, which it might as well be since (sadly) life is like high school, then this must be like the time when [rapid devolution into high school syntax follows:] there’s this neat kid you hang out with from chess club and another neat kid you hang out with in marching band, and you really like them both but don’t think they know each other, and then when you mention Marching Band friend to Chess Club friend, first friend says ooh, can’t stand her. I suppose there’s no moral to this story except ‘chacun a son gout’. I’m just happy to be living in a time when I get to read all y’all (including the great Jon Carroll) daily in the comfort of a gently humming monitor and a steaming cup of morning coffee. Cheers.

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  6. danno said on October 17, 2003 at 5:06 pm

    Once again you hit it on the head! His writing is too much cream and decaffinated coffee!! It’s OK to have some cream, but atleast make the coffee full of flavor and something that let’s you get a bit jumpy afterwards. The Thomas Kincade comparison was priceless! What do they say about a picture being worth a thousand…!

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  7. Paul said on October 17, 2003 at 7:51 pm

    I can see why you’d dislike Lileks–interestingly, I always read NN.C before the Bleats, except today–but I find that he and I have much the same feelings about midcentury bourgeois Americana (although I suspect that Lileks would like to skip over that nasty stuff about racism and sexism).

    Plus, he is rather funny, although less so than he thinks, and less frequently than before his daughter was born.

    That being said:

    Hitting Lileks’ tip jar is like paying extra for Windows. You could…but why?

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  8. ashley said on October 17, 2003 at 11:15 pm

    He reminds me of the rich kids in high school that lived in the neighborhood you could only dream of. Of course, instead of being like the evil rich kids in every John Hughes movie, he’s the nice rich kid who wants to date Molly Rigwald because she has a beautiful mind even though she’s from the wrong side of the tracks.

    And he’s married to a lawyer, so he has no soul, and deserves the same fate as Steve Bartman.

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  9. ashley said on October 17, 2003 at 11:16 pm

    He reminds me of the rich kids in high school that lived in the neighborhood you could only dream of. Of course, instead of being like the evil rich kids in every John Hughes movie, he’s the nice rich kid who wants to date Molly Rigwald because she has a beautiful mind even though she’s from the wrong side of the tracks.

    And he’s married to a lawyer, so he has no soul, and deserves the same fate as Steve Bartman.

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  10. charles whittington said on October 19, 2003 at 9:58 pm

    I think Lilek can be and sometimes is funny. His book titled “The Book of Regrettable Food” is very funny at times, and the title is memorable. I think some of you folks are affected by his politics more than youm care to admit.

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  11. Randy Rummery said on October 20, 2003 at 11:23 am

    Somebody help me!

    I started reading Lileks in January 2001, and really admired his ability to make the mundane somewhat less mundane. As everyone has said, he does have the potential to write well.

    I noticed post-9/11 he really went away from that and used The Bleat as a place to rant and rave about the state of the world. I found this stuff off-putting and not particularly insightful.

    I keep trying to break the habit of reading The Bleat over my morning coffee, but like cigarettes I can’t stop even tough I know it’s no good for me.

    He wrote something about month ago, where he went off on a tangent about an Israeli suicide bombing victim, now his daughter has no daddy, but one day you’ll look at her and realize she has daddy’s eyes…

    It was awful, and I looked at my screen and said “Wow, that’s awful. Wow.”

    But of course the blogosphere hailed it as an example of “how it’s done”. Instapundit, et al. cannot get enough of this guy, and it just feeds the hype machine.

    Anyway, I still read him, in fact I’ll go there next. Is there a Lileks patch I can put on my arm?

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