Future of Elections in America
by Dan Balz
when I saw that it’s already time for the presidential election recap books to
book—and heck, this election—had a lot to live up to. Because my benchmark for
this type of thing is the spectacular Game Change: Obama and the Clintons,McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime.
was probably the best I’ll ever see, and Heilemann’s and Halperin’s take on it
was so blasted fun to read.
it. And, given the material offered by 2012, it was unlikely to reach the level
of bliss-inducement offered by Game
Change. And, sure enough, it just didn’t get there. But it wasn’t the fault
of the author; the 2012 election just didn’t get as thrilling as 2008, and the
cast of characters was way less quirky. We can blame history, guys.
when this book almost seemed dry. But then, I was glad about its serious
approach to the topic, once I began reading Mark Leibovich’s This Town—because I needed to cut his
snark with some solemnity. I craved hard data about election returns, and Collision 2012 offered it up.
books actually pair quite well, if you’re into this kind of thing.
is all seriousness. Call me shallow, but the thing I’ll most remember is this:
On the morning of election day, Mitt Romney cleaned out the refrigerator
because it was trash day. I find that completely endearing.
2012 was no 2008. And without the zippy material, the story just kind of loses its oomph.
There you have it: the technical analysis from a poli sci major — that election cycle lacked oomph.
Nevertheless, I’m on the waiting list for Halperin and Heilemann’s Double Down: Game Change 2012. (Due out November 5! [I confess: my stomach just did a little flip of anticipatory joy. I know: sick.])
Plenty of Valet Parking!—in America’s
Gilded Capital by Mark
Yeah, I know we’re all ticked off about the government shut-down, but even as it raged on, I was reading delightedly about Washington, D.C.
|Real-life motorcade I saw with my own eyes as it
rolled through Georgetown; I almost passed out from joy.
When I started
reading this book, I was completely blissed out. Even though it starts at a
funeral. Turns out, Tim Russert’s funeral was the social event of the year.
easy, like a hot fudge sundae. The tone is light and funny, even though much of
the content (politicians and journalists are in bed together, and really,
they’re the only ones who benefit) is not.
funny guy. He’s also a complete smart-aleck. Sometimes the irreverence is
almost a bit much. But then I’d read a sentence like this: “Romney seemed to
acquire an instant lightness after his Ryan selection—like a shy eight-year-old
transformed by a new pet turtle.” (p. 316) And then I’d be all: That’s priceless.
lines: “It was for this reason hard to dislike Biden, a joyful campaigner
who—unlike the introverted Obamneys—was not someone you imagined reaching for
the Purell as soon as he escaped the ropeline.” (p. 296)
whole big long chapter about a congressional staffer who got himself fired and
re-hired, and Leibovich was involved in the situation, and I got so darn bored
by all the details. It was too much. And I didn’t care. It was a relief when
that chapter (finally) ended.
found myself feeling the slightest bit like the book was too much, and it
didn’t feel like it was really very good for me. It felt a bit self-indulgent
and a little flip to be reading it, and I fled back to my other
2012, for some whole wheat goodness.
This Town felt like eating a large
hot fudge sundae when I should’ve gone for a small. It was deliciously decadent, but there was a bit too much of it.
Things about Women & Notes on the Media by Nora Ephron
Ephron readers, this book is good news. Even though I consider myself a big old
fan, I’d missed Scribble Scrabble (1979) earlier, so this felt like a new release, even though both books were published
journalism geek, I was pretty sure I’d be liking her essays on the media.
they’re a 1970s extravaganza: H.R. Haldeman; Daniel Schorr and his fall from
grace (I’d always wondered what happened there); and Theodore H. White, author
of the “Making of the President” books, who eventually was as disenchanted with
his series as Agatha Christie was with Poirot. (Be careful what you invent,
that Ephron’s writing is smart and witty; the woman had perfect pitch. I mean,
listen to this, as she writes about People
magazine: “My problem with the magazine is not that I think it is harmful
or dangerous or anything of the sort. It’s almost not worth getting upset
about. It’s a potato chip.” (p. 267)
still got her words. And man, that lady could write.
Felt Became Deep Throat by Max Holland
flagrant snubbing of the law; he was ticked because Nixon didn’t name him
director of the FBI after Hoover’s
death; he didn’t like Nixon’s interference with FBI business; he thought it was
the right thing to do.
posits that Felt did all that leaking because he was attempting to discredit
his rivals for the top job at the FBI. He makes quite a good case for this
the facts I learned that completely blew my mind:
at Time. Who knew?!
(say it with me now) Who knew?! And Nixon didn’t dare fire him, lest Felt
spill even more secrets. (Oh what a tangled web we weave, Mr. Nixon.)
be the story of how they discovered
the truth, rather than simply what they
discovered. The result: a literary masterpiece.
|The dauntless Unruly one, in the
*actual parking garage where
Woodward and Deep Throat met*
own purposes. But it’s never before been so baldy stated as it is in this book.
Roger L. Depue, the former chief of the FBI’s Behavioral Sciences Unit, studied
the depiction of Deep Throat in All the
President’s Men for NBC’s Dateline program.
Depue concluded from the way Woodward wrote about Felt that he had very mixed
feelings toward the man… ‘I detected that not only was Felt an angry man,’
Depue said, ‘but that Woodward didn’t particularly like him. It seemed like
more of a utilitarian relationship…. There wasn’t much mutual respect there.’”
all shot to hell, you know?
and wiser. I’ve kinda had enough of that for a while.
Crazy Salad by Nora Ephron
Oh, Nora Ephron. What is this ridiculous world going to do without
essays for myself, and this book was sitting on my shelf, just waiting for me
to pick it up, when I heard her name at the beginning of a news update on NPR
(never a good sign: the name being mentioned first), and I thought, “Please
don’t let her have died.” And damn it.
world needs more of her humor and more of her humanity.
humanity, because this world needs it. And we can kickstart our systems by
reading Ephron’s wry, funny, occasionally scathing, always smart writing.
This collection of short essays, which begins with one about bras,
is freaking hilarious. The woman had a way with words, and it was unusual for
10 pages to go by without my laughing out loud.
’70s, and lots of the essays have that First Wave Feminism thing going on—and
it’s the positive kind of feminism that needn’t be scaring the menfolk.
Seriously. In that essay about bras, she wasn’t wanting to burn hers—she was
writing about her agony in wanting to actually need one as a teenager.
Mary Woods (subject of my most favorite political cartoon ever) in an essay called “Rose Mary Woods—The Lady or the Tiger?” and Martha Mitchell (“Crazy Ladies: II”). And there’s a remarkable little thing about Julie Nixon Eisenhower being the perfect political daughter. (See: scathing, mentioned above.)
own voice. That lady was funny. And
smart. And funny.
Bus* by Timothy Crouse
witty William McKeen mentioned it in his audio lecture series about literary journalism.
is that Timothy Crouse was overshadowed by his much more audacious colleague at
Rolling Stone, Hunter S. Thompson. (Seriously:
how could you not be overshadowed
that that guy?)
Boys on the Bus is a terrific piece of work. It captures the 1972
presidential campaign season and the journalists who
covered it. (Sure, go ahead: Groan if you like. But 1972 is the year that
brought us Watergate, guys. It was a zippy little year!)
So we hear about Richard Nixon (and his much-despised press
secretary Ron Ziegler), and we hear about George McGovern. (“Since Richard
Nixon was declining nearly all invitations to share the pleasure of his company
with the electorate, the only real Presidential campaign belonged to George
McGovern.” [p. 320])
book. And they are a weird and wonderful crew.
campaign, Jules Witcover appeared at a White House briefing in his black,
funereal raincoat, looking like a cut-rate version of the bad fairy.” (p. 243)
kind of bus to which most bus-fanciers would give three stars—the windows were
tinted and there was a toilet in the rear, but the seats did not recline. The
time was 7:30 A.M. and two-thirds of the seats were already filled with silent
and bleary-eyed reporters who looked as cheerful as a Georgia chain
gang on its way to a new roadbed.” (pp. 11-12)
Bernstein at the dining room of the Hay-Adams hotel and talked with them about
their Watergate reporting. That chapter of the book allows us to be a fly on
the wall during their conversation, and really: what could be better than
“His sprints to the phone booth were legendary. He trampled
anything or anyone in his way; he once slipped and dislocated a shoulder on the
way to the phone but dictated for an hour before passing out from the pain.”
I tell you: they don’t make reporters like they used to.
Debates, from Kennedy-Nixon to Obama-McCain by
And since this book of his is
about presidential debates (one of my most favorite things upon this earth),
we’d really be expecting that I’d be over the moon about it.
Well, guys, I liked this book just fine. But for me, it didn’t
really take off until the very end. (I’ll get to that in a minute.)
The bulk of the book analyzes the debates from 1960 to 2008. And
since Lehrer moderated several of those debates, he can provide some really
One of the things that surprised me is that the moderator gets
all jittery before the debate, too. I’d always thought of the candidates being
all keyed up before a debate, but it turns out the moderators are also “shaking
like a leaf,” as Bob Schieffer put it.
interesting enough, but it’s the book’s final chapter that really sings. It’s a
wonderfully congenial treatise on the importance of both freedom of speech/press
and civility in public discourse. (I liked it so much, I read it twice.)
and views, the better. Always, the better. I do not want anybody shut up. The
addition of new and varied and multiple voices in the public mix is terrific
for our democracy. I am, in fact, a purist on the First Amendment guarantees of
everyone’s right to speak, no matter how disagreeable or ridiculous the words
is about a right, not a requirement. It says nothing about requiring people to attack or inflame others to get ratings or to
be notice, or to take positions only for votes or to insult people for
entertainment value.” (p. 194)
And here, even more
succinctly: “… I believe as a moderator and as a citizen in the virtue of civil discourse as strongly as
I believe in the right to uncivil
discourse.” (p. 198)
Truly. I’d like to
just shake that man’s hand.
he’s on NPR (talking about sports) every Wednesday morning while I’m cruising
to work, so he’s part of my little world and I’ve become wickedly fond of him.
sports I completely don’t care about (we’re talking: football, basketball,
baseball, tennis, soccer, golf… let’s just say: most sports), I’m always all
excited to hear what he has to say. He’s got that kind of talent.
the added benefit of being able to hear his voice reading the book to you in
stands out to me most is Arthur Ashe. It’s refreshing to hear that some people
really are good people, in a world
where so many of the stories we hear are about the disappointments and lies.
(Roger Clemens, we’re looking at you.)
I love that stuff. It’s a very different work life from what most of us
experience, and it’s fascinating.
give Robert Lipsyte’s An Accidental Sportswriter a whirl.
Fiction: The Art of Literary Journalism by
to an audiobook lecture series about literary journalism, address her as “fun-seeker.”
Professor McKeen, the dear man, does this precise thing, and it gladdened my
heart. Here’s how he starts out some of his lectures: “All right, fun-seekers…”
I’m not the life of the party, but being told I’m a fun-seeker when listening to something semi-academic… oh, this
makes me a happy one.
engaging as all hell to listen to.
suit) and Truman Capote (in his purple cape) and George Plimpton (playing football with the Detroit Tigers) and Hunter S. Thompson (getting pummeled by the Hells Angels) and Gay Talese (who would churn
out a whopping single paragraph each day, and then stick it on the wall and
read it from across the room using binoculars). These are some odd ducks.
to one another in a way that is completely fascinating to learn.
lots of titles I need to read. Instead, I did the thing where I repeat it to
myself incessantly, “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold, Frank Sinatra Has a Cold…” to
try to remember it upon disembarking from the car.
And: happiness. In the final lecture, McKeen gives a list of recommended further reading.
“Stranger Than Fiction” lectures are my favorite of the bunch.