Sunday, November 21, 2010

Presidential Reading

Sixty years ago when I was a newspaper copyboy, my friend (but I've forgotten his name) cracked me up with his jab about Dwight Eisenhower: "The only book he ever read was Crusade in Europe."  Explanation for readers under 60: Eisenhower wrote ((it says here) Crusade in Europe.  The idea that a President might not have written the book he wrote still struck one--or, at least, me--in those days as shriekingly funny (sports biographies, of which I was a happy consumer, used to bear the qualifier "as told to...").

So far as I recall, nobody actually asked Eisenhower what he did read (be happy to accept correction on this point if somebody can show me otherwise*).   So it seems that we are in a different world when a candidate tells us (defensively?) that she keeps Ronald Reagan "on my bedside," and we wonder why she isn't reading My Pet Goat.

With that woman as with George W. Bush (as with Dwight Eisenhower) the topic of "reading" usually entails the not-so-subtle suggestion that that they don't read anything at all; or that, if they laid their hands on a copy of My Pet Goat, they'd hold it upside down. Still, for me the most cringeworhy moment in the modern history of Presidential reading involves a person who undoubtedly does read books, and that may be part of the problem.  I'm thinking of Al Gore, who let slip that his favorite book was Charterhouse of Parma.

Oh dear.  Well: actually my favorite book is Charterhouse of Parma (caution, exaggeration for effect, but it's probably in the top ten).  But I'm not running for President.  For Gore to say it in mid-campaign was either (a) a lie; or (b) an impossible piece of Mrs. Thistlebottom showoff; or (c) both (I incline to (b) but could accept (c)).  Whichever way, it's a useful reminder of why President Gore never made it to the Oval Office after all.

Afterthought: Ike may not be Churchill or deGaulle, but Crusade in Europe is actually a pretty good book.

*Joel, Underbelly's crack archivist, reports (channeling Democratic Underground) that Ike read Zane Grey.

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