A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
by Bob Sommer
One of the great things about books is sometimes there are some fantastic pictures. -- President George W. Bush (U.S. News and World Report, January 3, 2000)
So many books, so little time. Just over two years remain and the president still has a lot of reading to do before he's off the world stage and won't have to quote Albert Camus to impress foreign dignitaries any more.
But he's clearly shown some intellectual mettle by breezing through The Stranger while on vacation in Crawford.
Bravo, Mr. President! Personally, I'd have gone with Bram Stoker or Robert Ludlum.
Of course, this isn't the first evidence of W's literary ability. When the daunting 9/11 Commission Report came out, he commented that it "reads like a mystery, a novel. It's well written." And he added a tasteful pun, "I'm gleaning that it was a well-thought-out plot by the enemy." Such verbal wit!
Now that the Crawford vacation is over, it's back to work, where even the newspapers can be a challenge for a busy president. As he told Brit Hume, "I glance at the headlines just to kind of get a flavor for what's moving. I rarely read the stories, and get briefed by people who are probably read the news themselves."
So, with less time remaining in office than it takes the average English major to retool for the real world, I thought the president might appreciate some bullet points on a few other titles he could drop next time he's out with the intellectual crowd, just some crib notes on a handful of dull old classics the profs at Yale might not have covered-books that, as Mark Twain liked to say, everybody talks about and nobody reads.
A Tale of Two Cities: Don't be put off by the "old Europe" theme, Mr. President. It's really more about how the rich get richer and the poor get...well, you know. They're a pretty scruffy and vindictive lot. Madame LaFarge started the whole French Revolution just because her child died. Talk about a whiner.
See, things like this couldn't possibly happen if you had been king back then because, just as you did for Terri Schiavo, you would have dropped all the other state business, called the legislature back into session, written a special law just for Madame LaFarge, and with the Marquis de Frist on hand, that little rascal would have been saved.
But he shouldn't have been playing in the street in the first place. You can't blame that on a wealthy noble tearing through town on important business. Speed limits and government regulations wouldn't have replaced good mothering.
But really, don't worry about this book, probably won't come up in polite diplomatic circles. Too many poor people. There are a lot of poor people in Chuck Dickens' books. This is not your base. In fact, just cross old Charlie off the list. Most people wouldn't understand the ownership society if it smacked them in the head-or ran them down in the street, so to speak.
The Odyssey: Two thousand years of liberal media bias is the only way to explain why this book is still around. A genuine war hero makes a left turn once the fighting stops with disastrous results. Sound familiar? Think John Kerry and you'll see why lefties picked up on this one.
But instead of heading straight home, our man hit the road for ten years. (Now think Hunter Thompson meets Jack Kerouac in the Aegean Sea and you end up with Fear and Loathing on the Road to Ithaca. In fact, never mind. That analogy requires another set of bullet points.)
Anyway, our hero shacks up with a woman who changes men into animals-some pretty sick stuff here. Meanwhile, his wife is at home knitting and turning down suitors; his son is out looking for him; and his poor old dad just pines away worrying.
Our "hero" racks up quite a record too. He leaves his crew behind to be eaten by monsters and then makes up a lot of stories to cover his tracks. Swift-boating this guy would have been child's play.
Oh, and you can skip The Iliad, Mr. President. It's just a lot of really gory battle scenes with primitive weapons. As you said, "nobody likes to see dead people on their television screens"-or in polite literary conversation either.
The Wasteland: Talk about a downer! I mean, "April is the cruelest month"!? Come on, Tommy Boy! Lighten up! Help is on the way, to borrow a phrase.
What you need to know about this one, Mr. President, plain and simple, is that since God has told you that you belong in the White House spreading democracy, and Jerry Falwell has confirmed your mission there, you are the solution to this whole wasteland threat thing. First off, unlike the Bible, don't take the wasteland image literally. It's what literary types call a conceit. (There's a word that should roll off your tongue pretty nicely. Pull that one out next time you're talking books with Monsieur Chirac.) And second, this poem is not liberal propaganda to keep ANWR off the drilling agenda. Now there's a wasteland!
Just keep your eye on the "moral values" ball with this poem. You're the man! The old Tomster was looking for a guy like you to come riding over his wasteland horizon. Consider the evidence: he was a banker! So don't let anyone steer you off course with this poem. It might have a lot of footnotes, but straight shooters like you can cut right through all that gibberish. This one's a winner, Mr. President. Keep the Tom on your short list.
Walden: This book has been spun out of shape by tree-huggers and hippies ever since the sixties.
Here's the real scoop: Thoreau was a poor man who had no use for welfare or Social Security. The whole book is really about how he got by without a lot of the cumbersome stuff that people today think they need. You know, indoor plumbing, electricity, that sort of thing. Just give him a table, a chair, and a shack in the woods. He doesn't whine about his problems. Instead, he celebrates his resourcefulness.
Too bad he wasn't around to attend one of your "town hall" meetings back when you still wanted to change Social Security. Remember that? Seems like forever ago. He could have been a spokesperson for "personal" accounts. Unfortunately, he died of consumption at forty-four, but then, he wouldn't have tapped much into Medicaid either.
Moby Dick: Save the whales? Ha! Not in this book. That liberal conspiracy was never about the whales anyway. It was just another effort to stifle business growth, like Al Gore's notions about so-called "global warming." What a hoax! Michael Crichton can give you the bullet points on that.
Anyway, don't get too caught up with all the details in this book. Delegate someone to read the chapters on whaling ships and all the different types of whales, just as you do with the newspapers. If you've seen one whale, you've seen them all.
As to Ahab-here's a guy you might like. The whale took a bite out of him, and now he's gonna smoke that whale out of his hole, or ocean depths, or wherever. And Ahab's a real leader, too. Bangs a gold coin into the main-mast for the first guy who spots the whale and then gets the whole crew hootin' and hollerin' to find that freaky albino beast. Nobody's going in any other direction on this ship, no sir-sort of like the Republicans. You'll like this crew. Never mind about how the story ends. These writers-sometimes they're worse than the news media, always emphasizing the negative, never the positive. Anyway, you won't be the first person who didn't finish it.
Hamlet: Well, Mr. President, we know where you stand, but we sure don't know where this guy stands. His father, the king, has been murdered-our boy learns it straight from the ghost's mouth!-and Hamlet can't even make up his mind to take revenge. Not a straight shooter like you after Saddam tried to kill your dad. Ought to give him a good nick name: "Waffler" or "Flip-flopper" come to mind. No doubt, Karl can come up with something. How about "Hamster"?
Paradise Lost: Don't take this the wrong way, Mr. President, but you might actually like the hero. Now this may be a little confusing, but the hero in this book is not God, but Lucifer. Here's a guy (or angel, at first anyway) who stands up for what he thinks. As you'd say, you might not like him, but you know where he stands. He risks more than plunging poll numbers just to be his own man (or angel), and then he gets the boot from heaven for all his trouble. "It is better to rule in hell than serve in heaven," he says. Talk about being a leader! Bring it on!
Another thing we can thank him for is the free market system. Without him taking a stand, Adam and Eve never would have tasted the fruit of free will. The details get a bit knotty on how this all works, but suffice it to say, here's a case where you can have it both ways. Main take-away point: free will = free market.
Well, these are just a few! I tried to get them down to note-card size. Your staff might even be able to condense them further on to a shirt cuff or two.
Happy "reading"! (wink, wink)
Bob Sommer is writing a novel. Under the pseudonym Rob Driscoll, he wrote American Holidays: Short Stories (2002).
A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION