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Partial Transcript Of Secret Presidential Debate On Contemporary Literature


[“You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this is going to remain an unsolved problem…”]

“…because you know, that sense that they’re getting a taste of the real, that’s what the audience eats up.  ‘My people’—heh, sorry—my people, your people, doesn’t matter whose people, this is a broader American thing, to need to see beneath the veneer of the public persona into some darker, messier private place that complicates the image.  The idea that the average American success narrative is just the glossy cover over a writhing field of neuroses and tics and dark hidden things.  In literature, unlike in public life, it’s much more complicated, though, right, because that sense, within the space of an essay or poem, of receiving a more unmediated or “real” transmission from the author, something that’s not supposed to be seen, has to be false; if anything, that “authentic moment” that thrills the reader just represents a higher level of mediation and fabrication, right?”

“Do you really think I want to talk about this right now, Barack?”

[“All right, we have a potentially volatile situation but we sort of live with it…”]

“And I guess, kind of related to that, one of the important questions of our current literary moment—think about, say, recent work by Ben Lerner or Sheila Heti or Teju Cole—is whether it’s possible for contemporary fiction to find ways to make use of the charge of the writer’s identity and the incorporation of materials from real life and journalism, to play with textual form and markers of authorial presence to create that frisson of the real that comes naturally to poetry and the essay, or whether, as a genre, it’s become fundamentally handicapped there in relationship to the others and it just has to cede that territory for a while and focus on what it can do better than the rest of literature.”

[“And we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen…”]

“Oh come on, are you really going to watch the clip again?  Can we please turn the TV off now?  This is a literary debate, for goodness sake.”

“Fine, okay.  Hey, Reggie, would you put down your Granta and get that already?  Thank you.  Listen, you’re the one who called for this debate, Mitt.  And you know, I believe that this is an important issue facing the American literary community today and we’d be remiss to not talk about it since one of us, after all, is going to be the President of the United States of America and, more importantly, the President of American literature, our most precious export, for the next four years.  And I mean, you already blew off my discussion of the resonances between conceptual writing and drone warfare, but fine, whatever.  What do you want to talk about, then, Jonathan Franzen?”

“Now what would be the problem with talking about Jonathan Franzen?  That’s a pretty elitist position for you to take.  ‘It’s popular, so it’s not worthy of consideration.’”

“Don’t get me wrong; Freedom was a great read.  The way that it tried to mediate between liberals and conservatives, obviously, that’s after my own heart, and the device of the neighbors was a pretty clever way of foregrounding that.  But that book was two years ago; aren’t there more important things to discuss here today?”

“I was Patty, for those pages.  I am Patty still.  I feel more like Patty every day.  And are you going to seriously tell me that you didn’t cry when Lalitha died?”

“Sure, I cried.  Even if she and Walter had a kind of weird daughter/father dynamic that was never going to work in the long run the way his relationship with Patty could, it was really sad, for a lot of reasons.  Why did you cry, though?  I’ve never figured you for a crier.  How could you even read that section of the book, much less cry, with your environmental politics being what they are?”

“Because she died and they were in love, darn it!  And because one of the most important things about imaginative literature is that it makes it possible for you to think and feel things you might not think and feel in your own particular everyday life, to explore subject positions outside your own identity.”

“Fair enough.  I’ve just never seen you this emotional before, I guess.”

“Fame is a mask that eats the face.  And I’ll reiterate that my environmental politics are based on a reading of current scientific literature, thank you very much.”

“Of course, I understand.  Any of the positions in your platform based on the writing of this brilliant young science writer Jonah Lehrer?  You should check him out if not, real bright guy.”

“If you’re looking to pull more educated women into the fold, you might also want to try the new Naomi Wolf book, Vagina.”

“Don’t swear.”

“Seriously, though, can someone like Franzen who is seemingly so out of touch with the place of technology in contemporary life and whose primary model is probably Tolstoy; can this guy speak to the YouTube generation?  The demographics are shifting; young people aren’t going to be reached by the big social novel, they need the social media novel—“

“That is such an awful phrase, Barack, you’re better than that—“

“—they need forms of fiction that fit their lives and their ways of processing information and if we’re looking toward the future instead of the past, I believe we should be talking about, say, Jennifer Egan, with that Twitter story or the PowerPoint chapter in Goon Squad—like, that’s work that’s talking to young people through discourses—technological forms, short texts, genre plotting—they can understand, that are their own, without, at the same time, abandoning what makes literature literature.  To me, that’s more worthy of our discussion than how someone was influenced by Anna Karenina.”

“David Foster Wallace was heavily influenced by Tolstoy and he’s the most important contemporary writer there is.”

“Oh my God, he was smart, he had a heart, he’s dead, can we please get over it already.”

“Him too?!  And gosh, what on earth is wrong with being influenced by Tolstoy?  I mean, I guess if you’re a Muslim, there could be some problems with that…”


“I’m kidding, come on.  What’s your problem with Wallace, then?”

“I don’t know.  I mean, I can respect Infinite Jest, even if I had to skip through the Quebecois parts, which were just such post-Barth language masturbation.  But I feel like, even if at times the book is very moving, Wallace didn’t engage in a very interesting or productive way with race or class or gender.  This overarching thesis of his, throughout the work, about basic existential suffering, about the seemingly impossible problem of “being human” and the complicated function of literature and mediated experience there, I know it came from an honest place of deep hurt and I’m not saying there’s no value to exploring societal problems using metafiction, of course, but I think such a broad claims as the one that he makes are too solipsistic and, more than that, problematic in how they miss the fact that for some groups of humans in particular, there’s much more suffering and much less possibility of any relief from it because of the way that our society is structured.”

“I completely disagree with that.”

“Of course you do, that’s your whole platform.”

“I mean in the context of the book, Barack.  Like, just to paint one example in the broadest strokes, think about the setup of the hierarchy of privilege between the tennis academy on the hill and the halfway house below it?”

“The equivalency of angst, you mean.  Yes, these people in the halfway house are much less privileged and, as Wallace can depict in such carefully researched “visceral” free indirect detail, so “gritty,” so  “real,” but you know, ultimately, we’re supposed to see them as dealing with the same problems that the people up at the tennis camp are dealing with.  The addictive quality of television and the problem of drug abuse, they’re the same thing, right, except there are only mandatory minimums for one of them.”


“To me it seemed like, because of the way he rendered their interiority and the page space he devoted to their narratives, Wallace saw himself as being deeply connected to both Hal and Gately, and you know, fundamentally, I just don’t know that that’s true, I don’t know that he could ever really fully totally understand what it would be like to be Gately, no matter how hard he overclocked his middle class tennis camp brain.”

“Wow.  I can’t even.  It’s like we read two different books, Barack.  And how can you say Brief Interviews With Hideous Men doesn’t have anything to say about the problems that arise, for both men and women, from the societal imposition of ethically problematic masculine gender roles?”

“Fine, you got me, I didn’t really read that one.”


“I’m the President!  I don’t have time to explore the back catalog of writers who I don’t even particularly like.  I’ve got some other things on my plate, you know.”

“A-HA.  I’m getting somebody to leak this to The Rumpus.”

“You don’t want this job, trust me.  I’m lucky if I get a half hour before bed to look at a novel.  The fall slate is going to kill me—I haven’t even gotten to the new Zadie Smith yet.  I’m so starved for lit I’ve got this kid who went to Iowa taking my briefs every day and rewriting them as pastiches of writers I like.”


“Yeah, he does a great Bolaño.  Anyway, just so you know, we’re two and a half hours into this summit about the whole of contemporary American literature and so far you’ve basically talked about seven or eight straight white men, several of whom are dead.”

“Well, I mean, I love Alice Munro, of course.  She’s a real treasure.  And a black—a friend of mine–gave me Sag Harbor to read and I took that to Wolfeboro on vacation with me a few weeks ago and devoured it.  Did you like that one?”

“Oh, so now I have to be some kind of authority on whether the black guy’s book is good?”

“I’m just asking your opinion—we’re having a conversation.  Don’t be so sensitive.”

“Well, it’s been a while, you know—again, I thought this was a contemporary literature debate—but, as I remember, the voice was fantastic and the details, even if they represent a pretty different African-American adolescent experience than my own—it’s possible, Mitt—felt really true and rich.  No sense of plot in that book at all, though; at least John Henry Days had the device of the time and point of view shifts between chapters to give it some forward momentum.  I haven’t read Zone One yet, I don’t know how I feel about the whole post-apocalyptic thing, even though I know I should have a stronger position on it.  Wait, how did we get here?”

“David Foster Wallace and you calling me a racist again.”

“Oh, right.  I like a lot of the essays, don’t get me wrong.  Can’t get enough of some of those, he was a great rhetorician—you could learn a thing or two from some of those essays about ethos and pathos, not to mention logos.  The McCain one in Consider the Lobster, I don’t know, that’s complicated, for both obvious and non-obvious reasons.  Did you read the DT Max book?”

“Not yet—the Kindle edition is on my Amazon Wishlist.”

“I skimmed it the other night when I couldn’t sleep and I would say don’t bother; you don’t learn all that much that you didn’t know from the posthumous articles and the prose is just, well, you know, I mean it’s a biography, need I say more?”

“I hear you.”

“The Lipsky one was much more interesting, in form and content, even if he seems like a real prick.  But we do learn from the Max book, among other things—like the fact that he and Franzen had this teenage boy rivalry thing going on or that this writer who you’ve got a big spiritual boner for knocked on doors for me in 2008—we learn that Foster Wallace tended to exaggerate or just plain fabricate a lot of the details in his nonfiction, including in that McCain essay.  And, I mean, to get back to some of what we were talking about earlier, it seems to me like you’re pretty okay with that kind of “play” with facts in a nonfiction environment but I have to say it makes me profoundly uncomfortable.”

“Sticks and stones, Barack.  It’s the environment we live in, I’m not ashamed about it at all.  It’s interesting that for all your talk of being contemporary, being of the moment, you still think you’re above it, not of it.  You can take a principled stand about the sanctity of the “truth” in the essay form right now if you want, but I know from experience that if your own self interest trumps that principle, you’ll break from it.  I mean, remember when you felt “profoundly uncomfortable” with being supported by Super PACs?”

“Fuck you, Willard, this is supposed to be about literature, not the campaign.”

“You started it.  And however little attention literature gets in the wider culture today, there’s no way to separate those, anyway, and you know it.  If the personal is political, the personal essay is political.”


“I read your book in preparation for this summit, you know.  The memoir.”


“I noticed how in the introduction, you talk about how, now let me get this right, ‘for the sake of compression, some of the characters that appear are composites of people I’ve known.’”

“Wow, you really want to do this thing, don’t you?”

“And what I’m wondering is what that feels like, especially for a bleeding heart like you, to reduce a number of real, individual human beings who you supposedly cared a great deal about to a single composite, to a pseudo-fictional archetype, ‘the white girlfriend.’  I’m wondering what the implications of a choice like that are.”

“Maybe if you’d actually written your own book, you’d know the answer.  Maybe if you had ever done the hard work required to create a piece of literary art, if you had grappled with the complexity of that instead of just getting a ghostwriter to churn out word chum for press releases, you would know.”

“I’m not trying to criticize you, here.  I think all the lies in your book are beautifully wrought; I’m just trying to outline the difference between your philosophy in theory and practice.”

“Listen, I know you’re down in the latest Gallup, that Ohio looks lost, I know you’re not feeling good about yourself, but there’s no need to take that tone here with me.  We’re here to talk about something a lot larger and more important than this petty bullshit.”

“I agree with that, but—“

“—and also, for the record, what I did in my book was very different than what you did, say, in your convention speech.  My use of compression was in keeping with the accepted conventions of contemporary memoir; your convention speech was full of what many impartial observers verified to be flat-out bald-faced lies.”

“There’s no such thing as an impartial observer.  And what I’m saying is that the accepted conventions of expression change with the times and they need to change now to fit our current time.  I’m not condemning what you did in your book; I think we should have more freedom to reshape facts so that we can better render emotional truth.  This is part of the philosophy behind my messaging strategy in this campaign.  What I’m saying is the difference between your approach and my approach to the truth isn’t a difference in kind, just a matter of degrees.”

“If it’s a matter of degrees, it’s the difference between the North Pole and the Equator.  I understand the need for literary compression in a memoir, having written one, and I can, in theory, accept some of the freedom with facts that someone like D’Agata wants to grant the lyric essay.  In theory, I like the idea that essayists can enjoy a wider-ranging sense of American freedom, of course, but then in practice, I see the potential for that “freedom” to edit reality to be applied to something that actually has an influence on law or public policy or the guilt or innocence of citizens or the outcome of an election and I just don’t like it.”

“But that freedom to edit the facts is a fact of life today.  Think about how much thought and discussion and writing during this campaign has made use of things that people have, for the sake of deadlines or laziness or just because it’s the way we live now, looked up on Wikipedia, a site which can be edited by anyone, without any credentials or certifications, a site which is littered with half and mis-truths.”

“I get your point, but I don’t think that’s quite right.  Do you have a cite on—”

“—emotional truth.  Think about the culture of “reality” shows that most of our electorate will follow more closely this fall than both our campaigns put together, which will be watched by millions more viewers than the debates, shows which have to have disclaimers about how heavily their producers are manipulating or fabricating the so-called reality that we’re witnessing but whose disclaimers don’t in any way diminish the devotion their audiences have to the shows.”

“It’s crazy.  I can’t deal with that stuff.  Clinton made me watch this episode of “Storage Wars” with him the other day in Tallahassee.  There was an obviously post-production computer-generated explosion in one of the storage units that the “real people” in the show then treated as having actually happened around them.  It’s crazy.”

“That’s what America is watching, though, for hours every day.  That’s what I’m saying: we expect the essay to be able to assert itself and be relevant and be read in a culture glutted with new and exciting forms and units of content coming from every which way all the time and to be, at the exact same time, some kind of holy sacred thing, floating with a golden halo above that culture.”

“Your image of the halo there makes me think of the ‘translation’ that a nineteenth-century American writer and treasure seeker did of a book of gold plates he was reportedly guided to in a vision by an angel.  A really experimental work, that, in the way it took aspects and tropes and vocal characteristics of traditional Judeo-Christian narratives and ‘edited’ them to create a fresh, accessible first-person narrative ready-made for an antebellum American market with an intense need to find meaning in their country’s rapid expansion.  It sounds to me like you and that guy and D’Agata would’ve had a lot to talk about with regard to ‘emotional truth.’”

“Don’t try to deflect my argument with your atheist Muslim bigotry.  I’m sure Jeremiah Wright would have some interesting things to say about emotional truth, too.   Anyway, my point is that placing those kinds of expectations on the essay are just not realistic or fair; I’m saying, and John D’Agata is saying, that we have to give it the freedom to be able to really compete.  To decry that freedom is, to my eyes, a top-down restriction imposed by elites trying to restrict the growth of the form to preserve a conservative hierarchy which artificially elevates the novel above nonfiction.  It’s protectionist aesthetics and it’s wrong; we need to deregulate the essay.  Do you get the point I’m trying to make?  ”

“I got it about ten minutes ago and yet you continue to make it – I feel like I’m listening to a panel discussion between David Shields and Jonathan Lethem.”

“Think about how any quote from an administration official in even a ‘journalistic’ newspaper or magazine article, which educated readers of Vanity Fair or the Washington Post or what have you will experience as a direct, authentic, reported transmission of fact from a real moment of dialogue in the hallowed halls of power, may well have been, invisibly to the reader, without breaking the illusionistic Gardnerian dream, carefully vetted and/or edited by that administration official before the writer is allowed to publish it.”

“You have no idea what it’s like to be President.”

“That’s why I’m running.”

“And some of what you’re describing about the general shape of our society today is true, though, again, I’d like to see a fact check of that Wikipedia assertion.  And like I said, my position on this lyric essay thing isn’t definite; I’m open to reevaluating things as evidence and arguments—real evidence and arguments—drive me to do so.”

“But that’s what—“

“—but if you want to talk about outlining philosophical differences, well, this is you doing it right here: you see all the problems that arise as a result of our rapidly evolving culture and technology as things that we just need to accept and live with, that the most important thing is not to try to improve things for our society as a whole but to prosper within a broken system as isolated individuals, to carve out our own slice of the pie by hook or crook, by any means necessary, and who cares if the rest of it is rotten or if there isn’t enough to go around?”

“Now that’s not—”

“—I see these moral complications of postmodern America, on the other hand, as a status quo that we can’t simply accept but have to keep working at, together, every day.  I believe that we have to try to suture the wounds and fuse the fragments of our shattered country, however impossible that task may be, because becoming a twenty-first century society doesn’t mean abandoning the values that got us here.”


“I mean, this just makes me think of our difference of opinion on the necessity of institutional support for little magazines.  Which, I know, you think my affection for it is just–”

“–based in nostalgia.  You published a couple of poems twenty years ago in the Occidental Review and had some sexual relations with your editor—I read the Vanity Fair story—and that means we need to keep alive this rotting stump on the body of literature.”

“Rotting stump?  Geez, Mitt, tell me how you really feel.”

“You heard me.  Are you familiar with the writer and critic Elif Batuman?  She’s a Turkish-American writer and a woman writer, if you didn’t know, both of Turkish descent and female.  I’m a big fan of her arguments about how academic institutionalization of creative writers has had a deadening effect on contemporary American literature and, in particular, on the aesthetic potential of the American short story.”

“Well, let me tell you a story.”

“I just told you the story was a dead form.”

“Let me tell you a story of how I was at a big state university in the Midwest a couple of weeks ago, just stopping in for morale at a local operation there, and I got to talking to some young people there who it turned out were on the editorial staff of the university’s literary magazine.  We were eating vegan pizza with arugula salads that some of the campaign volunteers had made in honor of my visit.”

“Socialist graduate students eating vegan pizza and arugula salads in a small Midwestern college town.  I cannot think of a story I am less interested in hearing about.”

“Yeah, the pizza wasn’t that great; I mean, maybe it’s the South Side guy inside of me, but I just fundamentally don’t believe you can have pizza without cheese.”


“Anyway, they were telling me about how they’d spent most of their free time in the last couple weeks proofreading their new issue, going over the same stories and poems and essays and book reviews they’d already read over and over again to make sure they were just right before they went to the printer.  They were telling me all this because they wanted to give me a copy of their previous issue and they wanted me to understand how hard they’d worked on it.”

“Oh, that’s almost as touching as if they had done work that was going to actually amount to something real.”

“And I asked them how much they sell them for, because, I was thinking, you know, if I really believe in supporting the hard work of literature, well, I better put my money where my mouth is.  The editor told me it was twelve dollars and so I got the money from Reggie and gave it to her and got the magazine.  Good magazine, by the way, from what I’ve read.  And the editor was telling me she really appreciated me buying it because the money to pay for my copy was going to have come out of her own pocket, because they’ve got no budget and do you want to know how much they net on each issue they sell?”

“Not really.”

“Fifty cents an issue.”

“But that’s exactly what I’m talking about!  Good lord, do you not understand the meaning of your own story?”

“The meaning of a story is defined by the reader, by how he or she receives and processes and interprets the text.”

“Yeah, I know, you read some Barthes in college thirty years ago, good for you, Barack.  But this is what I’m saying—if these kids can’t find a way to make their magazine actually profitable and self-sufficient, if they can’t stake out a place in the market for their little poems and stories and essays, then, I’m sorry, but I don’t think they should have a magazine.  If they can’t make the poem and the essay and the story relevant in a saleable form to a large enough group of American consumers in 2012, then I don’t think we should giving them bailouts and handouts and paying their salaries and stipends.  I don’t think institutional support, either in the form of federal grants or university dollars, should be offered to this thing that, to my mind, is being left in the dust by the Internet, that has no real hope of supporting itself in the future.”

“But see, there again is the difference again between you and me.  Because I believe they’re doing a public service and that the fact that maybe the profits aren’t there right now just goes to show that.  I mean, what you’re saying is not entirely wrong, Mitt, and I do believe that the young people staffing these magazines have to find ways to make themselves and their work more relevant within the wider culture they inhabit and not just by repeating the way things have been done for the last forty years but oh here’s a blog post too.  I mean, that’s pretty superficial.  One of the MFA students on staff I talked to that day said, when I asked him what kind of things they were trying to do to grow their audience, that he was thinking about writing a long blog post about his feelings about contemporary literature.  He told me, though, that he wonder, like, who cares what I think about all this stuff?  What’s the point?  What should I do? he asked me.”

“Get a real degree, is what I’d tell him.”

“Well, I told that he has to try harder than that to sell his work to an audience with so many other entertainment possibilities available to them, that he and his fellow editors have to work harder, to make something that feels both fresh and necessary, something that grabs a reader’s attention in a crowded marketplace without condescending too much to SEO or listicles, without sacrificing core literary values.”

“Yeah, nothing says fresh and necessary like a long, aimless blog post about minutiae of literary aesthetics.  Fail.  And what is the point of putting a trendier wrapper on content that doesn’t matter anymore?”

“Because even if you’ll probably fail, it’s important to try to stand up for what you think you believe in.  And because maybe in your desperation, by doing perhaps stupid or superficial things to play with presentation or style or to engage with other forms, by trying to reach across the aisle a little to the real world from the parochial, hermetic environment of most contemporary “literature,” maybe you can find a way to remind people desensitized by a constant stream of largely meaningless digital data that, say, the short story still has the potential to be pleasurable and powerful, that it’s still possible to get something from it, even in 2012, and that maybe people should keep seeking it out, by reading magazines and buying books and supporting work by new authors.”


“Or maybe you can at least just get them to read your work and engage with it for a few minutes before they go back to looking at cat videos and incrementally shifting polls and advertorials for products they don’t need.  That would still be something.  Listen, I’m not saying these are easy things to do, but all across this great country of ours  I’ve seen these magazines and their staff—whether it’s through bringing literary readings to underserved communities or teaching writing classes that connect a new generation of Americans with their own voices and the voices of those around them or even just trying to publish the very best work that they can in every issue—I’ve seen that they’re trying to do something to make literature important today, to make it and to get it read.  And because I see these young people working very hard for literature, despite knowing that they’re probably going to fail by most people’s metrics and that they’re probably not going to make any real money ever in their lives, I don’t think it’s time for government, for institutions, to abandon them, especially considering the microscopic portion of federal, state, and university spending that is devoted to these programs.  I think it’s time to support them and—”

“What was that?  Why did you jerk like that?  Are you okay?”

“Someone just died in Afghanistan while I was talking about literary magazines.”

“What do you mean?  Someone just died in Afghanistan while you were talking about literary magazines?  How do you know?”

“I have this device built into the watch I wear which shocks me with a small but powerful electric pulse every time there’s a report of an American death overseas.  It’s easy to get distanced from the human costs of this job and I want to feel it, in some small way, every time someone I’m responsible for dies.”

“That’s an interesting device.  Oh, are you—”

“Mitt, another person just died in Afghanistan while we were having this conversation about literary magazines.  We’re going to have to wrap this up.”

“Wait, it’s been three hours and we still haven’t talked about poetry.  We can’t not even mention poetry.”

“Oh yeah.  Um, okay.  I liked a lot of the poems in Tracy K. Smith’s last book.  I didn’t actually get to finish it because Sarkozy stole it last time he was here.”

“How did he do that?”

“I keep most of my poetry in the bathroom of the Oval.  I guess even the Secret Service doesn’t have surveillance in there, thank God.  Anyway, she does some really good things with couplets.”

“Yeah, no, just the other day I was rereading that poem of hers about Bush flying over New Orleans during Katrina.  I really love that poem, the way that it plays against the dominant characterization of him as stupid, how—”

“Well actually—“

“—she invests him with a depth of language and thought so beyond his media narrative and, most likely, beyond the reality of his own interior experience, but, at the same time, it doesn’t feel like some kind of easy reflexive literary empathy with an oppressor.  It still functions as a political statement, I think, but one that’s a little more complex than Will Ferrell on SNL.  And a lot more strange.  I mean, just the opening lines, just…’Aloft between heaven and them, I babble the landscape–”

“—what staunch, vicious trees, what cluttered roads, slow cars—“

“This is my country as it was gifted me—victimless, vast—“

“The soundtrack buzzing the air around my ears…’  Yeah, Mitt, you know, actually that’s a poem by Patricia Smith, not Tracy K. Smith.”

“Oh, I could’ve sworn…”

“All poets look alike to you, I guess.”

“They have the same last name!  Come on!  Give me a break…”

“Whatever.  Anyway, I’ve got to get out of here, Mitt.  Someone just died in Afghanistan while we were talking about literature, like I was saying a minute ago.”

“Okay, thanks for doing this, Barack.”

“It was my pleasure, truly.  You know, we don’t agree about a lot of things, but I can at least acknowledge that you’ve got much better taste in books than your running mate.”

“Is that a compliment, really?  That’s like saying I’ve got much better taste in books than an obnoxious teenage boy who thinks he understands how the world works on the basis of having read one bad novel.”

“Haha, burn.  God Bless America.”

“God Bless America.”