Summer’s a particularly good time to hit the books. Longer days (early mornings, late nights) and salubrious weather while on the deck. Three books of note:
• The funniest man in the U.S. Senate, according to Sen. Al Franken who made his bones in comedy, is Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina. Graham’s keen wit, Franken says, can skewer with the best of them and is a gifted story teller. Franken’s new book, “Giant of the Senate,” a best seller on The New York Times list, is the best political read in years.
— Because of his experiences as a comedian and a founding writer of “Saturday Night Live,” Franken, a Democrat from Minnesota, had to convince party elders that he was a serious candidate in 2008. He unseated an incumbent Republican by the narrowest of margins. He won re-election handily six years later. Franken illustrates how difficult a campaign and holding an office can be. Franken prefers to do much of the exhaustive open committee research himself. And Franken explains how a great deal of legislation still gets done in the Senate out of the public eye because Republicans and Democrats do work together.
— Franken notes how Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) called the party’s leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell, a liar just four months into his term. Virtually all of Cruz’s colleagues loath him, Franken writes, mostly because of his smarmy nature, which is geared to his personal advancement. Franken likens Cruz to the employee who rats out another co-worker for a $5 Super Bowl pool, or puts fish in the break room microwave. (Sen. Graham once said of Cruz: “If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you.”)
— Franken writes candidly and tenderly of his family and friends. He and his wife, Franni, met as students at Harvard. Married 40 years, she’s a recovering alcoholic and they have two kids and two grandkids. Their closest friends in Washington are Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming and Diana Enzi. He covers his years at SNL as well.
— Lastly, it’s laugh out loud funny.
• Going in another direction is the new biography of William F. Buckley, “A Man and His Presidents” by Alvin S. Felzenberg. Upon the 30th anniversary of the National Review, a magazine that Buckley founded in 1955, President Ronald Reagan said Buckley was the “most influential journalist and intellectual in our era.” Buckley, who died in 2008, is cited often as the founder of modern conservatism. Felzenberg’s book covers new ground is and smoothly written. Many know Buckley’s life: founder of the NR, host and founder of “Firing Line,” which ran for 33 years and more than 1,500 episodes. Buckley performed Bach at Carnegie Hall, he wrote spy novels, was a widely-read author, newspaper columnist and sailor. His wit and vocabulary were of legend. Felzenberg reveals how Buckley was at his core a political strategist, bent on changing the political direction of the U.S. What makes the book sing is Buckley’s opinions and insights into the people who were in the Oval Office from Eisenhower to George W. Bush. Once, on a lark, he ran for mayor of New York City and received 13 percent of the vote. Asked by a reporter what he would do if he won, Buckley replied, “demand a recount!”
• ‘The Potlikker Papers’ by John Edge is a gem. Potlikker is the substance, or broth, left over from cooking greens and pork and whatever else during the antebellum south. Rich in nutrients, it fed slaves and the working poor for generations. (There’s quite a debate over do you drudge your biscuit through the bottom of the pot, or poor it over crumbled cornbread. My mother always went with the latter.) Entrepreneurial black businesses took root in small kitchens with the movers-and-shakers of the civil rights movement meeting in kitchens. In time, these culinary traditions evolved and Edge’s book, wonderfully researched and written well, illustrates why southern cooking, and its famous chefs, embraced change and reconnected farmers and cooks and consumers.
All are recommended and are available from our Main Street bookseller, Sheridan Stationery, Books and Gallery.