Friday, December 26, 2008

GWB, Voracious Reader

From Karl Rove at the Wall Street Journal:
It all started on New Year's Eve in 2005. President Bush asked what my New Year's resolutions were. I told him that as a regular reader who'd gotten out of the habit, my goal was to read a book a week in 2006. Three days later, we were in the Oval Office when he fixed me in his sights and said, "I'm on my second. Where are you?" Mr. Bush had turned my resolution into a contest.
By coincidence, we were both reading Doris Kearns Goodwin's "Team of Rivals." The president jumped to a slim early lead and remained ahead until March, when I moved decisively in front. The competition soon spun out of control. We kept track not just of books read, but also the number of pages and later the combined size of each book's pages -- its "Total Lateral Area."
We recommended volumes to each other (for example, he encouraged me to read a Mao biography; I suggested a book on Reconstruction's unhappy end). We discussed the books and wrote thank-you notes to some authors. . . .

His reading this year included a heavy dose of history -- including David Halberstam's "The Coldest Winter," Rick Atkinson's "Day of Battle," Hugh Thomas's "Spanish Civil War," Stephen W. Sears's "Gettysburg" and David King's "Vienna 1814." There's also plenty of biography -- including U.S. Grant's "Personal Memoirs"; Jon Meacham's "American Lion"; James M. McPherson's "Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief" and Jacobo Timerman's "Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number."
Each year, the president also read the Bible from cover to cover, along with a daily devotional.
The reading competition reveals Mr. Bush's focus on goals. It's not about winning. A good-natured competition helps keep him centered and makes possible a clear mind and a high level of energy. He reads instead of watching TV. He reads on Air Force One and to relax and because he's curious. He reads about the tasks at hand, often picking volumes because of the relevance to his challenges. And he's right: I've won because he has a real job with enormous responsibilities.
In the 35 years I've known George W. Bush, he's always had a book nearby. He plays up being a good ol' boy from Midland, Texas, but he was a history major at Yale and graduated from Harvard Business School. You don't make it through either unless you are a reader.
There is a myth perpetuated by Bush critics that he would rather burn a book than read one. Like so many caricatures of the past eight years, this one is not only wrong, but also the opposite of the truth and evidence that bitterness can devour a small-minded critic. Mr. Bush loves books, learns from them, and is intellectually engaged by them.
For two terms in the White House, Mr. Bush has been in the arena, keeping America safe and facing down enormous challenges, all the while acting with dignity. And when on Jan. 20 he flies from Washington to Texas one last time, he will do so as he arrived -- with friends and a book nearby.

BTW: The President typically reads 50 to 100 books per year. I wonder how many of his "highbrow" critics can make the same claim?


Radu Gherman said...

I can. Although I read the Count of Monte Cristo about 4 times a year. I also try different versions of the Bible. So maybe I fall a bit short.
But I have a question; it's a bit off topic.
When, exactly, does one become an "elitist"? I'm confused. Does a Harvard education make you one, or where you live, or your paycheck? I'm so darn confused. Am I an elitist?
I reflect on these things because work is slow today. I also don't have anything to read.

Dan Cirucci said...

I'm flattered that you would come to this site when you don't have anything to read. I suppose (he said, modestly) this would suggest that you do not appear to be an elitist but that you nonetheless appreciate good writing.
Anyway, The American Heritage Dictionary of The English Language describes elitism as: "The belief that certain persons or members of certain classes or groups deserve favored treatment by virtue of their perceived superiority, as in intellect, social status, or financial resources."
Bacically, an elitist believes that some people are better than others and more worthy of his or her attention, admiration, interest, etc. based on perceived intelligence, social standing, wealth, etc.
An elitist is a snob.
And, it's appropriate that s-n-o-b is a four letter word. Let me say it: I hate snobs. I've always felt this way. In my high school yearbook, under my photo it says: "Snobs of all kinds make up his black list."
Other synonyms for elitist: highbrow, name-dropper, pompous ass, pompous person, social climber, stiff, stuffed shirt.
Elitists are narrow-minded, self-absorbed and ultimately boring.
As far as I can tell, you, Drago are not an elitist. But as one gets older (and often, more cynical) one must guard against creeping elitism.
Remain curious about all things. Talk to all kinds of people. Use public transportation and strike up conversations with people you meet. Engage seemingly ordinary people. Sit on a park bench and listen to what someone else has to say. Seek out those you might not otherwise commiserate with. Don't reject sources of information or engagement out of hand.
I tell my students: Read the INquirer and the ENquirer.
BTW: It doesn't hurt to shop at Wal-Mart once in awhile either.

Radu Gherman said...

Thank you for taking the time to explain the concept so thoroughly. So naturally, I have another question:

The dictionary uses "perceived superiority" in its definition; you explain it as "better than others". To me, as far as I've been exposed to the term, elitist carries a connotation of wealth. Now, my question is: can a relatively poor person be an elitist? For example, as in your previous post, is it elitist to call rural parts of America the "real" parts? Does the apparent or real lack of wealth or status negate the idea of elitism, or does it have another name when used to describe the "real" comments?
It's easier to imagine the exclusive nature of rich society, than to imagine what aspects of rural life may be thought of exclusive. And in those cross-translations of "elite", both sides lose sight of the qualities that make both poor and rich important to the whole of our country. In your blog, you move from defending the rich and their impact on our economy to calling some out on their lifestyles or relationships. You can point to people like President Bush and say that he's rich, but not elitist, simply because his vacation home is modest. But that still doesn't address the fact that he, or people like him, have a disdain for "east coast" types, simply because they think of themselves as "real".
And yes, I appreciate good writing, but I appreciate a good debate even more. Hence the constant questions.

Dan Cirucci said...

It often happens that elitists are phony (not "real").
Now you are getting into the topic of genuineness or what we call authenticity.
I have written and lectured on this topic extensively.
Here's what I wrote more than a year ago ago in the Philadelphia Daily News:
The philosopher Kierkegaard said: "No authentic human life is possible without irony." In recent times, what then is more ironic than the emergence of Ronald Reagan as an authentic American hero? Reagan was a movie star, steeped in the artificiality of Hollywood. But he understood and wisely embraced the yearnings of small-town America.
He not only knew how to tap into something deep within our collective soul but he also trusted us with that soul. At the same time, he always remained true to his core beliefs. And over the long haul, this combination of confidence and constancy proved comforting. It won our affection and, more important, our trust.
Being authentic is hard work.
It takes discipline. Authentic leaders know who they are. They are comfortable in their own skin. Their own quiet, practiced belief in themselves is what moves them to inspire others.
And they do that by first spending lots of time really listening to the people they hope to inspire. In a world full of cowards, genuine leaders are called on to chart new paths, take risks and even show a bit of old-fashioned courage now and then.
AUTHENTIC leaders are imperfect. They're distinctive, quirky and even eccentric.
And because they aren't afraid to trust their instincts, they can surprise us as well. There's little doubt that Churchill was authentic. So, too, was Harry Truman.
But what about those who aspire to lead us today? Is Mitt Romney really too good to be true? Will Barack Obama be able to find his own voice and summon the maturity to lead?
Is John McCain truly unique or just plain cranky? When Rudy Giuliani accepts a phone call from his wife in the middle of a speech, is that real - or simply rude? And in the end, is there anything at all about Hillary Clinton that's genuine?
Right now, we don't know the answers to these questions.
We only know that we yearn for authenticity.
But always, we must be careful what we wish for. And we must pay close attention to all that we see and hear and experience while the spinmeisters and image-makers toil away.
For while we continue to crave authenticity, some of us suspect that George Orwell may have been right nearly 60 years ago when he said: "We have a hunger for something like authenticity, but are easily satisfied by an ersatz facsimile."