Politico recently surveyed 40 so-called “political heavy hitters” about what books they plan to read this summer. The answers were greeted with any manner of chortling and a whole lot of skepticism: “I like book lists like this because it is fun to see who is a liar,” quipped one Twitter wag.
But there’s a far more disturbing possibility than the scandalous notion that 40 of our nation’s leading political leaders lied to the public to inflate the public’s appraisal of their intellect. Even worse: They could actually be telling the truth.
Many people read books to expand their horizons; to learn about faraway places and times, or, if they read novels or literary non-fiction, to inhabit the lives of people whose experiences they can scarcely imagine.
Not so these politicos. Like the legions of budding memoirists who spill out their life story yet read few books themselves, the Politico 40 display a literary taste that is remarkably parochial. Their main interests seem to be well, themselves.
Gretchen Carlson, a former TV news reader who famously decried the culture of sexual harassment at Fox News, is reading “The Moment of Lift,” by Melinda Gates, which she describes as “inspiring stories from around the world about women rising up and the greatness that happens when we do.”
Alicia Garza, an activist affiliated with Black Lives Matter, is reading “How to Be an Antiracist,” by Ibram X. Kendi, which she describes as “a powerful follow-up to his first book, ‘Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.’” Another anti-racism activist, Shaun King, is also reading “How to be Antiracist.”
Retired general and former CIA honcho David Petraeus, who worked closely with the late diplomat Richard Holbrooke, is reading “Our Man,” by George Packer, he says about the book “reviewers have praised for its enormous insights not just on Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, with whom I was privileged to partner during his final mission as a diplomat, but also on the three wars in which he played significant roles.”
Charlie Sykes, a former conservative radio host turned anti-Republican pugilist, is reading Tim Alberta’s “American Carnage,” which is about GOP dysfunction.
Colin Powell, the former general and diplomat, is reading “The Back Channel” by Ambassador William J. Burns and “Presidents of War,” by Michael Beschloss.
Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas, meanwhile, whose presidential race is crashing in flames, is reading “The Fall of Carthage.”
And another congressman, naturally, is planning to read the latest book by “his friend” Doris Kearns Goodwin.
Our politicos also display a weirdly 19th century prejudice against the novel, wherein reading fiction is somehow deemed a “guilty pleasure.” William Darity, for instance, a public policy professor at Duke University, lists his “guilty pleasure read” as Adrienne Maree Brown and Walidah Imarisha’s edited volume “Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements,” which he describes as “a collection of short stories paying homage to the late Octavia Butler.”
That this is labeled a guilty pleasure — Butler is one of the most celebrated science fiction writers of the 20th century — reflects only misplaced anti-fiction prejudice. Neal Katyal, meanwhile, the Georgetown University law professor, says “The Firm” by John Grisham is his guilty pleasure. This reflects actually, never mind, he should feel guilty about liking Mr. Grisham. (NB: I do too sometimes.)
Leave it to Marianne Williamson, the new age guru and breakout star from the Democratic debates a couple of weeks ago to be the only candidate to openly embrace real literature. She said she plans to read “War and Peace” this summer. Oh, wait — I actually read that too quickly. It turns out she will actually be reading “War on Peace” by Ronan Farrow, the former MSNBC news reader.
It could be worse, though: At least she didn’t cite one of her own books.
• Ethan Epstein is deputy opinion editor of The Washington Times. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ethanepstiiiine.
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