A Further Perspective

Is Our Children Learning?

A "defining" literary war comes into its own.

By 2.22.10

"You're the guy who said I should never write another book!" the young Jonathan Krohn said to me at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel on Saturday.

We were both there for the annual CPAC convention -- Jonathan to introduce Bill Bennett, yours truly to report. I had come up to him in the book signing area, notebook and pen in hand, to ask the so-called child pundit about his future literary plans. He recognized me from my name tag.

"Yes, I did," I told him.

"Well, my latest book just sold 5,000 copies," Jonathan said and walked away in what sure seemed like a fit of pique.

The thing he was referring to was an article that will live in infamy. It was a review for The American Spectator that I wrote of his first book, Define Conservatism, after his appearance as one of the "two minute activists" at last year's CPAC.

In the review, I called the book "terrible," "riddled with typos," "shallow," and "awkwardly phrased." I also said that it would be "cruel to quote this book at great length" and gave readers only one short paragraph to back up that point.

It would be cruel, I argued, because of the age of the author. He was 13 then, 14 this year.

That instantly earned me a reputation as the guy who beats up child authors, and cue the correspondence from irate readers. However, the real target of my wrath was not Jonathan but his parents. I argued that they should not have let their still young son publish such a bad book.

I thought about this for a few minutes after the confrontation, as I stayed in the book signing area, waiting for a friend.

Then Jonathan unexpectedly returned and handed me a signed copy ("To Jeremy Lott, Jonathan Krohn") of his new, really rewritten, book Defining Conservatism. 

Jonathan explained to me that his first effort had minimal editorial input and that it was indeed problematic. (He used a more colorful word.) He said that the new effort, published by Vanguard Press, went through five drafts. He asked me to give it a read. "I think you'll like this one better," Jonathan said.


Here's the one paragraph of his first effort that I shared with readers last year:

Now that we have finished our discussion of old school conservatism and the constitution, let's move on to the next major aspect of the conservative belief system: the life issue. The life issue is near and dear to all conservatives. Does not life keep all of us alive? If it wasn't for life would we not surely be dead? Conservatives believe that life is something that everyone should have.

To which your reviewer replied, "[T]hat specific answer is the sort of unrefined thought that we expect young people to throw out there for adults to respond, 'Isn't he cute?' or 'Well that's not quite right, son. See...'"

I take back not a word of that judgment, but now we have Krohn 2.0. The life chapter in Defining Conservatism begins:

In the summer of 1822, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley worked on what would be his final poem, The Triumph of Life. With some of the last strokes of his pen Shelley wrote his ultimate question, "Then, what is life?" We have had more than 185 years to ponder this question, but it still remains unanswered in many people's minds.

Okay, that's undeniably better. And as I page through Defining Conservatism, I see that level of improvement is evident throughout.

It is still not a great book. It shows evidence of a young mind trying to understand and articulate things that are difficult and not always succeeding. It could have used a sixth or seventh draft. Some of the goofiness of the first volume remains and would probably have gotten knocked out if Jonathan had waited another year or two to publish this.

But this is not an embarrassment and the kid has clearly picked up a few tricks along the way. Jonathan told me he was working on another book but wouldn't say on what. And for some reason I'm curious.

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About the Author

Jeremy Lott is managing editor of The American Spectator, a contributor to EconStats, and the author of several books and a haiku.