Friday, August 7, 2015

This Town is Not Our Town, It is a Completely Different Town: Reading During Presidential Political Campaign.

With the presidential race in full swing, I find myself unable to avoid being drawn into reading about politics. I was just talking to my fellow Boswellian Jane about this, and she said she liked the presidential races as it gave her a chance to recommend not just the last political platforms, but books that offered insight into Washington and the political process.  I remember one season she was very hot on Kati Marton's Hidden Power: Presidential Marriages that Shaped Our History.

I don't really think about me reading politics but I do like books about media, which is not surprising since I am an On the Media Junkie. The confluence of these two areas was Matt Bai's All the Truth is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid, which is coming out in paperback on September 15. You can read more about my thoughts on that book in this earlier post.

And that sort of seques into another recent read. Just over two years ago, I went to the District of Columbia for me nephew's wedding. Of course I paid homage to Politics and Prose with Kirk and my brother-in-law. I feel naked if I don't leave a bookstore I like with something, and what better a souvenir than a quintessentially Washington book like Mark Leibovich's This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral - Plus Plenty of Free Parking - In America's Gilded Capital.*  While that subtitle may be amusing, it's a pain to write out correctly.

Like any book lover, I get more books than I can read, and my feeling that I should make a purchase at any bookstore I enjoy visiting means the night stand can fill with books that are not necessarily my highest priority to read, namely upcoming event books, in-store lit group selections, and advance copies with Indie Bound deadlines. I always get at least one call or email from a self-published author after an appearance on Wisconsin Public Radio, asking me to read their book. I can frankly say that I can't do it; did I mention that I'm down to reading five books a month? It just seems pathetic.

So I'm trying to work my way through older books on my shelf, sort of a "read me or else" moment, and I decided it was time to read Leibovich. Political season is one reason, and I was also aware that the book is also about politics and the media, and the third point of the triangle, lobbying. Plus I had just finished Sarah Vowell's Lafayette in the Somewhat United States, which is coming out in October and as I result I hadn't much talked about yet, but because we're doing an event with Vowell at the Milwaukee Public Library (on Halloween!), it's time to at least start chatting about it--it's free but we're going to have a program called "preorder signing priority," where folks who special order the book in advance will get an early line letter when they purchase their book.

Vowell had me thinking about the myth of increasing polarization in Washington, One of her points is that it's always been around. But Leibovich almost takes a an opposing but complimentary point; much of the polarization is for show! In fact, there's no way to get around the insularity of Washington.

One of the problems with politics books is that they can date fast, but This Town's point is that the verses change but the melody stays the same. If nothing else, the triumvirate of politics, media, and lobbying have become more incestuous. There is far more jumping from one point of the triangle to the other, as Leibovich pointed out in the dramatic increase of politicians of all political stripes who wind up staying in the DC area after their term of office to talk a private interest job.

This Town turned out to be both amusing and gossipy on the surface level, but also a reminder to take grand political pronouncements with the grain of salt. It certainly doesn't hurt to schmooze and it doesn't even hurt to be caught in a scandal.

As one of the working titles pronounced, "You'll Always Eat Lunch in This Town Again."

*Kati Marton, whose book is referenced above, turns out to be a player in Leibovich's tale, as she was married to Richard Holbrooke, who was in Obama's cabinet. We also hosted her at Boswell for her Paris: A Love Story, which is about life after Holbrooke.

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