Monday, December 29, 2008

Bush the Bookworm

From about first to third grade, I read books at an impressive clip. Especially when compared to my classmates. Impressive enough, in fact, to win myself dozens of little personal pan pizzas from Pizza Hut.

But it would seem soooo elementary school, I'd think, for adults to brag about how well read they are. Unless, of course, you're Karl Rove talking about his annual reading competition with President Dubya.

A glutton for punishment, Mr. Bush insisted on another rematch in 2008. But it will be a three-peat for me: as of today, his total is 40 volumes to my 64. 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.

Great, so Rove and Bush are the readiest readers out there. Good for them.

But the days of measuring their intellect by the quantity of tomes read should have ended in their schoolboy days. Reading a lot of books means nothing if you take nothing away from the texts.

Ta-Nehisi sez:
Anyone who actually reads books knows that reading the words off the page is half the job, at best. The hard part is digesting the book, getting to its essential themes and then weighing them against your own body of knowledge. Look I love books, was raised in the business of publishing books and printing books. But watching a pundit- or president--brag about reading a book a week, is like watching a freshly-minted 21-year old get smashed at a wine-tasting. Only a rookie would set that sort of goal- and then brag about it. Either that or, you know, someone who doesn't really read...
But it really doesn't make much of a difference to me whether Bush is hacking his way through Tolstoy or Baldwin or Dr. Seuss. He'd have been better off doing the actual work of being president than burying his nose in a book. In fact, we'd all have been better off.

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