Friday, October 3, 2008

The Presidential Candidates' Favourite Authors And Me


I am convinced that what did Mitt Romney in was a confession that his favourite novel was Battlefield Earth. Those of us who have read B.E. can only speculate on the depth of Romney's madness. Without a doubt the worst book I've ever read and a good candidate for the worst book ever written; if it was shorter it could be so bad it's actually good, but eventually the sheer volume of its horribleness gets you down (more from me about that here); but unless McCain drops Palin and calls for Mitt, that's the last we've heard of him for a while so what of the actual final four candidates?
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Governor Palin recently revealed that she's a fan of Belfast born polymath CS Lewis. Lewis favoured Christian allegories both in his superior science fiction and his Narnia books. His Christian apologia essays aren't my taste but they're well written and sometimes funny. My Lewis connection isn't just that he's from my own fair city, but also my local in Oxford was his local - the fabulous Eagle and Child pub, where Tolkien and Lewis and the other 'Inklings' used to drink real ale, smoke pipes and read bits of their novels at each other. Somehow I don't think this was as fun as it sounds.
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Barack Obama's favourite author is Herman Melville (though he also likes Tony Morrison according to his MySpace Page (which also, BTW, reveals impeccable musical taste: Miles, Coltrane, Dylan etc.)) Me and Herman go way back. I used to visit his grave in the Bronx on a regular basis. (The grave had pussy willows growing on it which for Moby Dick fans is pretty hilarious.) And once I drove out to his house in the Berkshires, a gorgeous farm, that was filled with memorabilia. Clive James is one of the few critics I've read who has admitted that he doesn't like Moby Dick but I sense that the book isn't quite as popular on the right hand side of the Atlantic. I love Moby Dick though and read it about every two years in a lovely Norton edition which has a plan of the ship and lots of extras. Funnily enough the moral centre of the book is the exotic black guy. The villain? A grizzled maimed navy veteran. Coincidence? Er, yes.
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Joe Biden is a slippier customer. On Facebook he says that his favourite books are Irish America (a title with no Amazon listing) and American Gospel a history book from 2005, but with a little further digging I found that that Biden is a massive Seamus Heaney fan. Heaney was the Professor of Poetry when I was at Oxford but more importantly he's from Toomebridge only a hop, skip and a jump from Carrickfergus. Biden quotes Heaney's Cure at Troy with approval and who can blame him? Heaney is not only Ireland's greatest poet but he's kicked the door down for a whole coterie of brilliant followers: Muldoon, Carson, Paulin, Mahon, the Longleys etc. (All of whom, of course, speak in the silky diphthongs of Ireland's wettest, dourest, most northerly province.)
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Speaking of dour - John McCain's favourite writer is Ernest Hemingway and his favourite book is Papa's For Whom The Bell Tolls. I too am a huge fan of EH. About nine months ago I was in a taxi heading to Hemingway's house in Cuba the Finca Vigia (reading Declan Burke's The Big O funnily enough) a house Hemingway bought from the proceeds of FWTBT. While I was there a Cuban secret policeman offered me for sale, cheap, any of the books in the crumbling Hemingway library. I refused out of moral decency and because I'm a big chicken. (The rest of that story is here.) Anyway FWTBT is a terrific book about a bisexual American Communist who commits terrorist acts against a right wing central government. Wait a minute, that's McCain's favourite novel? That's freaky enough to send a chill through Cindy McCain's hair extensions. Better move on to my conclusion.
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Ok, so what have we learned from this troll through the candidates' favourite authors? Two of them are from Northern Ireland, I urinated in another one's toilet and the final one is buried near Duke Ellington. Does that help you make your choice on election day? No? Well, just for that, I'm going to vote Nader.