Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Politician's book club

Election Day will be so anticlimactic, compared to last year. Be that as it may, we are preparing to vote in our local elections here in Charlottesville and people are fired up about various local issues. I like the intimacy of local elections, when the candidate himself (or herself) will turn up on your doorstep, or you bump into him at a neighbor's party, or your kids' school's open house, and you exchange the URLs of your respective blogs. Charlottesville is small enough that the local politicians are truly accessible to the people.

Anyway, our weekly paper does a mini interview of each candidate, and I was happy to see that one question they asked each person was "What are you reading now?" I love to hear what other people are reading--or in this case--what they want us to think they are reading. But who knows, maybe these books are what they are actually reading, although I noticed that no one admitted to Three Nights of Sin by Anne Mallory or even something by John Grisham (who lives here).

I tend to judge people by what they are reading. It's not that I can't forgive the occasional mindless book--I like brain candy as much as anyone--but there are some books it is best to distance yourself from. For example, this same paper once interviewed a man who, at the time, was the principal of Charlottesville's only public high school. He was asked to name his favorite book of all time, and what did he say? The Bridges of Madison County. Eee gads. Of all the books in the world, he picked that one? He couldn't have said the Bible, or War and Peace or even freaking Pride and Prejudice? Luckily, he was no longer principal by the time my kids got there.

So, what are Charlottesville's political candidates reading now? I present a list:

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton
Rant: An Oral Biography of of Buster Casey by Chuck Palahniuk
Lift Every Voice: The NAACP and the Making of the Civil Rights Movement by Patricia Sullivan
The One Minute Manager by Kenneth Blanchard
The Bible
Moon Shot: The Inside Story of America's Race to the Moon by Dan Parry
Thomas Jefferson on Leadership by Coy Barefoot
The Facebook Era by Clara Shih
The Steel Wave by Jeff Shaara
Biographies of Cicero and Winston Churchill
Shoveling Fuel for a Runaway Train: Errant Economists, Shameful Spenders, and a Plan to Stop them by Brian Czech
Keeping the Faith by Richard McKinney
The Lost Symbal by Dan Brown
The Lords of Finance by Liaquat Ahamed
A biography of Stonewal Jackson
The Hemingses of Monticello by Annette Gordon-Reed
Game Plans: Sports Strategies for Business by Robert Keidel.
The Restorative Practices Handbook: Building a Culture of Community Schools by Costello & Ben Wachtel
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
Leaderless Jihad, Terror Networks in the 21st Century by Marc Sageman
Five Minds for the Future by Howard Gardner
Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Heavy on the non-fiction and a lot of dull business books, but maybe this is what we want our politicians to read. I'm not even sure what use I am getting out of this information. At least no one is reading The Bridges of Madison County. Wouldn't it be fun if Obama had an online book club?

What am I reading?
The Wedding of the Waters: The Erie Canal and the Making of a Great Nation by Peter Bernstein
and The Wild Colonial Boy by James Hynes, which is about the IRA.

The Erie Canal book is good, although I realized--and this fact actually kept me awake for a considerable time the other night--that I have never really seen the Erie canal. This would be excusable if I were from Kansas, but since I'm from Buffalo, it is not. Oh, I've seen it from the New York State Thruway, whizzing past at 65 mph, and when I did crew we used to row down the Black Rock Canal, which I always assumed was the Erie Canal, but I I'm not sure if that's correct. Part of the book's interest for me was the rivalry between the two small villages of Buffalo and Black Rock, NY, each of whom wanted their town to be the terminus of the canal. Buffalo won, and became a great shipping city, and Black Rock was eventually absorbed by the city. My brother lives there. It's a gritty neighborhood of 19th century cottages, railroad tracks, drawbridges, abandoned shopping carts, and weedy sidewalks. The sort of place where you can be pregnant and smoke publicly, and no one will bat an eye.

That's part of the Black Rock canal in this picture. I used to love rowing under that drawbridge when it was up. It's kind of exciting to be in a skinny shell, with a lake barge looming over you.

Anyway, one of the most impressive parts of the Erie Canal, according to Wedding of the Waters, is in Lockport, NY where a series of five steep locks haul boats up the cliff down which Niagara Falls plunges. I grew up thirteen miles south of Lockport and I have never been there. According to Bernstein, these locks are still functioning today, much as they did 200 years ago. I think that may be a project for next summer: to take my kids to Lockport and view the locks. Maybe we can take a cruise down the canal, and I can bore my children to death by rhapsodizing about western and central New York.


  1. That is a great question--very insightful! I imagine my admitting I'm reading Philippa Gregory's "The Virgin's Lover" would raise eyebrows:) Here's to rocking the vote EVERY election!

  2. Come and visit me, we have a wonderful nature preserve that is on the Erie Canal. Parts of the canal are open to canoeists during the summer as well.
    Lockport has Canal Fest but that is about as trashy and obnoxious as Old Homes'Day, but with more Lockport flair. I'd say it's good you haven't been to Lockport.

  3. I'll have "Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal" in my head for the rest of the night.