Non-Fiction: “All The President’s Men” by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward

all the president's menThis was the title that originally brought me to the library for the first time in 2017. I mean, gee, I wonder why I’d want to learn more about Watergate? That time when the United States had a President that was actively encouraging crime and misdemeanors? The second-to-last time a President was impeached? (Some would argue, the last time a President was impeached for good reason?) The last time in history when elections were so blatantly manipulated? GEE, I WONDER WHY

I mean, there are other reasons. But the primary reason I decided to read All The President’s Men was because the DVD wasn’t available, and I couldn’t stream it on any of my platforms. The secondary reason is, much like Jake Tapper said recently on Late Night With Stephen Colbert, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it [often] rhymes.” (This quote, according to Google, has been attributed to Mark Twain.) So while Russiagate certainly may look like Watergate, it isn’t exactly the same thing.

(One could argue that Russiagate is inherently worse, and I would be one of those doing the arguing on that side, but again, I try very hard, you guys to keep politics out of this blog as much as possible. Having said that, this entry is going to be one of those times I try not so hard.)

Here’s another reason I was drawn to All The President’s Men: it is, at its heart, a story about reporting. And before I get into some key quotes, let me tell y’all about Spotlight.

Spotlight won Best Picture at the Oscars back in 2016, which, thank God, y’all, because its main contender that year was The fucking Revenant, and it has been almost three years but I am still fucking mad at that movie’s existence. Thankfully, I watched Spotlight first, and I loved it. But not for reasons you may think.

For those who may be unfamiliar with Spotlight, a brief overview: the movie talks about the Spotlight team of reporters, working for the Boston Globe. A team of four to five reporters with an editor in charge, they dig deep into investigative reporting: chase down leads, interview people, do research, the whole thing. It takes this team months to develop a story, and they do not publish anything until the information has been verified by multiple sources and the editor knows it is worthy of print. The story the team is working on in the movie is the bombshell that dropped in Boston back in 2001, about the massive coverup employed by the Catholic clergy in protecting priests who had molested children in their parish.

Boston is hugely Catholic. It shook the entire city. But additionally, victims came pouring out of the woodwork and the impact reverberated all the way back to the Vatican. It was a huge discovery. And it was accomplished by the sheer doggedness of the reporting team.

When I originally went to college, I wanted to go into communications: I wanted to be a journalist. I imagined myself reading the news (by the way, this is before Anchorman came out, so I can’t even say I was inspired by Veronica Corningstone). But I started college in September of 2001. Eleven days in, the entire face of news reporting changed overnight. News became 24-hour driven, and everything was breaking news. And I’m not talking about just the September 11 attacks and the aftermath. Even today, everything becomes breaking news. And the praise for long-form reporting is practically gone: if you don’t have a story right now goddammit, you don’t have a story. The news can’t wait for facts to be confirmed, and the news can’t wait for an entire story to be revealed before go time. Look at the unfortunate reporting circumstances around the death of Tom Petty; I saw on Twitter that he was dead, but when I checked the Washington Post, they stated he was in critical condition. But people can’t wait to fact-check anymore.

People also have a much shorter attention span nowadays, but that’s a different story altogether.

So I loved Spotlight because I really tuned into the love of the reporting that went into that story. I admit, I was one of the very lucky individuals who was far enough removed from the Church that I don’t have a personal story about a priest. But many of my friends did. Maybe not to them, but they heard about a thing happening and then a priest moving away and no one ever talking about the thing ever again. It was a hard film to watch for someone with those circumstances, and my heart goes out to each and every one of them. So when I say “oh my god, I loved Spotlight,” please know I’m coming at it from a much different angle than you may originally think.

Taking that into consideration, I was intrigued on what All The President’s Men would look like. Was it just reprints of the articles? Or was it the story behind the stories? (It was the latter.)

Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward were junior Metro reporters who happened to get assigned the story of a “third-rate burglary” that occurred on June 17, 1972. Woodward got the call at 9 a.m. that morning and was asked to cover it, and his first thought was that he was being returned to piddly-assed stories he used to cover. Little did he know what would unravel.

I’m not going to get into a lot of the plot (mainly because I copied some quotes almost seven months ago, and I can’t really recall a lot of the context); the book actually ends before Nixon’s resignation. Eventually, I’ll rent the DVD and do a tie-in to Movies Alaina’s Never Seen (I’d check to see if it’s on my List, but I’m writing this in a Word doc because I’m still without power following the massive wind storm from earlier this week) (Note From the Future: I just checked; it’s not on the list). But here are some quotes that really stuck with me, for one reason or another.

Early in the investigation, Woodward contacted Ken W. Clawson, deputy director of White House communications (Sam Seaborn on The West Wing) to discuss the address book in police inventory following the arrest of the Watergate burglars, which contained the name of Howard Hunt.

An hour later, Clawson called back to say that [Howard] Hunt had worked as a White House consultant on declassification of the Pentagon Papers and, more recently, on a narcotics intelligence project. Hunt had last been paid as a consultant on March 29, he said, and had not done any work for the White House since.

“I’ve looked into the matter very thoroughly, and I am convinced that neither Mr. Colson nor anyone else at the White House had any knowledge of, or participation in, this deplorable incident at the Democratic National Committee,” Clawson said.

The comment was unsolicited. [p. 24-25]

Seems innocuous, right? But when you’re a reporter and the person you’re asking information for just volunteers information like that (“Mr. Colson nor anyone else at the White House had any knowledge of, or participation in, this deplorable incident at the [DNC]”), chances are there’s a shade of someone protesting too much, methinks.

(“Also, there is NO COLLUSION!”)

Woodward and Bernstein investigated the burglars, and learned that one of them had a neat sum of $89,000 deposited into one of his bank accounts. They found other checks, one written out to Kenneth H. Dahlberg. Bernstein went to Miami to view the cashier’s check, and asked about the check.

The president knew Dahlberg only slightly as the owner of a winter home in Boca Raton, and as a director of a bank in Fort Lauderdale. That bank’s president was James Collins.

Yes, Collins said, Dahlberg was a director of the bank. As he was describing Dahlberg’s business interests, Collins paused and said, “I don’t know his exact title, but he headed the Midwestern campaign for President Nixon in 1968, that was my understanding.”

Bernstein asked him to please repeat the last statement. [p. 42]

Now, Bernstein’s on the phone at that point; but can’t you just see him sit up in his chair at the mention of the Nixon campaign, and ask disbelievingly, “Say that again”?

This is one of my favorite passages, because it gets to the heart of one of my favorite things: editing:

At about 11:00 p.m., he got another call from [Powell] Moore [Deputy press director of the Committee to Re-elect the President {CRP}, former White House aide], who had talked to John Mitchell [campaign director CRP, former Attorney General] and had a new statement:

There is absolutely no truth to the charges in the Post story. Neither Mr. Mitchell nor Mr. [Maurice H.] Stans [Finance Chairman, CRP; former Secretary of Commerce] has any knowledge of any disbursement from an alleged fund as described by the Post and neither of them controlled any committee expenditures while serving as government officials.

Bernstein studied the statement and underlined the soft spots. The charges in the Post story. What charges? Disbursement from an alleged fund as described by the Post. There was no denial of the fund’s existence, or that money had been disbursed, only of the way it was described. Neither of them controlled any committee expenditures. Technically correct. [Hugh W.] Sloan [Treasurer, CRP; former aide to H.R. Haldeman, White House Chief of Staff] had controlled the expenditures, Mitchell and Stans had only approved them.

It was the cleverest denial yet, Bernstein told Moore and tried to go over it with him. Moore wouldn’t play. [p. 104]

I know, there’s a lot of names in that paragraph. But look at the way Bernstein parses the White House’s denial of the story, and how much more the White House gives away in its denial! I would say that a certain White House could learn from such a response, but I don’t want them to learn how to be professional; it would almost make things that much worse.

(“If you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that that’s something highly inappropriate.”)

Oh, gee, I wonder why I decided to copy the entirety of this next quote, back in March, months before the Nazi uprising in Charlottesville, and also, the first proclamation of fake news, no, Donny, you didn’t make up the term, that was Clark McGregor, you asshole:

[[The following is all taken from a speech Clark MacGregor, John Mitchell’s successor as director of the Nixon campaign, makes at a press conference, trying to steer the tide from George McGovern, Democratic nominee for the President:]]

Lashing out wildly, George McGovern has compared the President of the United States to Adolf Hitler, the Republican Party to the Ku Klux Klan, and the United States Government to the Third Reich of Nazi Germany . . . .

[…]
Using innuendo, third-person hearsay, unsubstantiated charges, anonymous sources and huge scare headlines, the Post has maliciously sought to give the appearance of a direct connection between the White House and the Watergate – a charge which the Post knows and half a dozen investigations have found to be false.

The hallmark of the Post’s campaign is hypocrisy – and its celebrated “double standard” is today visible for all to see.

Unproven charges by McGovern aides, or Senator Muskie [he was from Maine!], about alleged campaign disruptions that occurred more than six months ago are invariably given treatment normally accorded to declarations of war – while proven facts of opposition-incited disruptions of the President’s campaign are buried deep inside the paper. [p. 164]

Guys – history doesn’t repeat itself, but it sure as hell rhymes.

Oh, hey, speaking of fake news – this is from one of the conversations Woodward had with Deep Throat, and this is Deep Throat talking about Nixon:

“Nixon was wild, shouting and hollering that ‘we can’t have it and we’re going to stop it, I don’t care how much it costs.’ His theory is that the news media have gone way too far and the trend has to be stopped – almost like he was talking about federal spending. He’s fixed on the subject and doesn’t care how much time it takes; he wants it done. To him, the question is no less than the very integrity of government and basic loyalty. He thinks the press is out to get him and therefore is disloyal; people who talk to the press are even worse – the enemies within, or something like that.” [p. 269]

Man … like, I don’t really have a pithy remark right here. I’m just going to play The Propellerhead’s “History Repeating” over and over again and cry into my bottle of water (it’s after 10 p.m. and I’m taking a short sabbatical from booze for no reason other than I want to).

This next quote is a good reminder that common sense should —

Okay, you want to know something sad? I was going to say “common sense should trump all else,” but I didn’t want to write the word ‘trump’. It’s a perfectly cromulent word*, but it fills me with such distaste to use it as it should.

Fuck you, Donny, for forcing a perfectly good word out of my vocabulary.

*Before I get back into the introduction for this next quote, I should remind you that I’m writing this in Word because I have no internet, but guys – Word recognizes ‘cromulent’ as a word! It’s not misspelled! HOLY SHIT, you guys, ‘cromulent’ has become cromulent!!

ANYWAY. This next quote is a good reminder that common sense should always come first:

[Woodward] recalled a lesson he had learned in his freshman year at Yale. The instructor had assigned the students to read some medieval documents that gave somewhat conflicting accounts of Henry IV’s famous visit to Canossa in 1077 to seek Pope Gregory’s forgiveness. According to all of them, the King had waited barefoot in the snow outside the Vatican for days. Woodward had pored over the documents, made notes and based his paper on the facts on which most accounts agreed. All the witnesses had Henry IV out there in the snow for days with his feet bare. The instructor had failed Woodward because he had not used common sense. No human being could stand for days barefoot in the snow and not have his feet freeze off, the instructor said. “The divine right of kings did not extend to overturning the laws of nature and common sense.” [p. 230-231]

The divine right of kings – or given rights of elected officials – should not extend to overturning laws of nature or common sense.

(“This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!”)

In conversation with an associate of John W. Dean III (Counsel to the President, and if you haven’t seen him recently on Full Frontal, you should), Bernstein learned that John D. Ehrlichman (Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs) wanted to have some files “deep sixed”.

Bernstein was more shaken by all of this than by anything since June 17. It was the language and the context of Ehrlichman’s remark to Dean that troubled him. Just as if they were a couple of Mafiosi talking to each other in a restaurant, the President’s number-two assistant had said to the President’s consigliere: Hey, Joe, we gotta dump this stuff in the river before the boss gets hurt.

Howard Simons [managing editor of the Post] slouched in a chair, drawing deeply on a cigarette, the color gone from his face. “A director of the FBI destroying evidence? I never thought it could happen,” he said quietly. [p. 306-307]

HEY HOWARD – would you believe that an FBI director could be fired without notice and then that same FBI director would leak his unclassified memos to a friend so as to install a Special Counsel? Is that believable?!

This quote is how the book ends (and remember, this book was originally published on June 15, 1974; Nixon wouldn’t resign until August 9 of that year):

To those who will decide if he [Nixon] should be tried for “high crimes and misdemeanors” – the House of Representatives –
And to those who would sit in judgment at such a trial if the House impeaches – the Senate –
And to the man who would preside at such an impeachment trial – the Chief Justice of the United States, Warren Burger –
And to the nation …
The President said, “I want you to know that I have no intention whatever of ever walking away from the job that the American people elected me to do for the people of the United States.” [p. 336]

I meant to point out something before I talked about this last quote … OH. So, the version of the book I read back in March was probably originally published in 1974 – it was one of those library books with the generic cover, all one color, and the spine had the title printed on it but there was no imagery or dust jacket. It reminded me of every book I ever took out of the USM library, because the USM library probably hadn’t had any new purchases for it after the year I was born. But between then and now (probably some time in May, because I felt I’d need it again after the Fucktard’s first version of his own Saturday Night Massacre), I ordered a paperback copy off of Amazon. The version that came to me is the 40th Anniversary Edition, and it includes a short afterward written by Bernstein and Woodward. I’m not going to get into it fully, but the Afterward brings up the question posed by Senator Sam Ervin, chair of the Senate Watergate committee: “What was Watergate?”

Bernstein and Woodward attempt to answer that question here, albeit briefly. It wasn’t merely the burglary that occurred on June 17, 1972. And it wasn’t merely the cover-up and obstruction of justice the White House engaged in following the burglary. Bernstein and Woodward posit that Watergate consisted of the five wars Nixon waged while in office:

The war against the anti-war movement;
The war on the news media;
The war against the Democrats;
The war on the justice system;
and the war on history.

And without getting too deep into discussing the Afterward (which is well-written, and definitely worth your time), I leave you with this last quote from a well-placed CRP official, talking to Woodward:

The man seemed disaffected, disgusted with the White House and the tactics that had been used to re-elect the President. “If there was an honest and a dishonest way to do something,” he said, “and if both ways would get the same results, we picked the dishonest way … Now, tell me why anyone would do that.” [p. 265]

History doesn’t repeat itself, but by god, does it fucking rhyme.

Grade for All The President’s Men: 3.5 stars

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Non-Fiction: “The Race Underground” by Doug Most

race undergroundFor this year’s selection for American History Month (because yes, I am making that a Thing and no one can stop me), I went beyond the Presidents that I don’t know and Teddy Roosevelt, and went for a moment in history that, to my knowledge, hasn’t been discussed: the inception of the subway system.

Occasionally, I think deep thoughts.  And some of those deep thoughts occur while driving.  For instance, I could be driving to Boston to see my friend Jen (don’t forget to buy her book!), and all of a sudden, I’ll realize that a hundred years ago, the road I’m driving on didn’t exist.  There was no I-95 in 1914.  There were barely cars during that time!  And it’ s not like Boston built its city up, around and over the existing T – those tracks had to be created.  Basically, sometimes the things we take for granted scare me.  But then I listen to the next episode of Welcome to Night Vale and I feel a bit better.

This book was shown in one of my Goodreads newsletters, and luckily, my local library had a copy for me and I was able to read it in time for American History Month.  According to the subtitle, the book is supposed to talk about the rivalry that occurred between Boston and New York with regards to their subways, but while the story was interesting and intriguing, I wouldn’t say it was a rivalry.  I mean, the greatest rivalry between Boston and New York is between the Red Sox and the Yankees.  I’m not even from Boston, and I’m not even a big Red Sox fan, and I grew up with a deeply-ingrained hatred of the Yankees — y’know, when I bother to think about baseball.  If there was a true rivalry between Boston and New York while they were building their subways, I would have expected to have seen some Bostonians down in New York, booing the tunnel diggers and telling them they suck.

What really happened was that, between bureaucracy, red tape, and a monopoly on the cable-car system of the day, New York wasn’t as quick to adapt to the concept of a subway as Boston was.  Therefore, Boston’s subway opened up first (in 1897) and New York’s subway didn’t open until 1904.  That’s it.

The book talks a lot about the different inventors and innovations that occurred leading up to the first American subways.  London had the first Underground system, and in its first inception, was steam powered.  That meant a lot of disgusting air and smoke in the tunnels, which made the rides very uncomfortable.  The American cities wanted to avoid that, so they kept going with their above-ground trollies and cable-cars.  But eventually, between population growth and the width of the streets, traffic jams were horrible (imagine your daily rush hour commute.  Now imagine that with horse poop.  You’re welcome) and something needed to be done.

Two brothers from Brookline, Henry and William Whitney, were instrumental in both Boston and New York in creating the subway systems.  Henry stayed in Boston and was one of the first men to consider a subway as an acceptable alternative (imagine, if you will, Boston full of elevated train lines.  I mean, yes, the Green Line is above-ground from Lechmere to North Station, but imagine that ALL OVER).  William married into the New York scene, and in-between being assistant secretary of the Navy (before Teddy Roosevelt – I just can’t quit him!) worked very hard in the transportation department of New York City, monopolizing cable-cars and eventually, getting the required charter for the team that would actually build the New York subway.

I enjoyed the book – I thought it was very thoroughly-researched, but it wasn’t boring.  Unlike The Story of Ain’t, this author was able to keep the narrative through-line throughout the book; I didn’t feel confused by all the “old white guys” that populate its story.  As someone who rides the T at least once a month (I live in Maine, I’m not a native Bostonian), I love that I’m able to recognize landmarks like the Park Street Station, and Tremont Street, and the Common, and know about Somerville and Brookline – all of those words mean something to me.  I can also appreciate how god-awful old the Green Line actually is, which is why I hate riding it.  (And now Government Center is closed for two years.  Because yes, it needs an update, but two years?!  That’s crazy!)

I do not have any familiarity with the New York Metro, however.  It is on my list of Places to Go, but as of yet, I have not gotten any closer to New York City than driving I-95 through it at 5:30 in the morning coming back from Florida two years ago.

If you’re from Boston or New York, or are just interested in the engineering behind building a subway system, then you’d probably like this book.  If you don’t fit any of those qualities … you probably won’t read it.  And that’s okay, too.

And before I go, here’s the true difference between New York and Boston:

becausefuckyou

Grade for The Race Underground3 stars

Non-fiction: “Island of Vice” by Richard Zacks

island of viceHoly crap, I spent entirely too long on this book.

First, the setup. See, I had just finished Nerve and as I was wondering what I was going to pick up next, I remembered a throwaway statement I made last year when I reviewed Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. I had commented in that review that since the April before that (2011), I had read The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, and now I found myself reviewing another book about a different US President (with some fictional vampires thrown in), that it appeared that April had turned into American History Month here at That’s What She Read.

Flash-forward to me in April 2013, remembering that throwaway statement. Then cut to me completely taking that throwaway statement and running away with it. Because for about a week, I was popping in and out of Bull Moose and (shudder) Books-A-Million, looking for a book about American History that I could read and review, because if I sarcastically say something one year out of the corner of my mouth, apparently it becomes incontrovertible fact the next?

I picked up a few books at both places, and when I got home, I realized that there was no way I could spin the complete history of MI-6 as American History. I mean, I can spin some shit, but let’s get real. So after Round 2 of shopping, I did finally pick up this book for two reasons: 1) It went into depth of Teddy Roosevelt’s time as Police Commissioner for New York City, and I like Teddy Roosevelt, and 2) it was called Island of Vice. That sounded awesome! I love vice! It’s my second-favorite sin.

(Wait … vice isn’t … y’know? Don’t correct me. It’s fine.)

And don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I didn’t like the book; I did. It had its moments. I think my biggest complaint about the book is that for something entitled Island of Vice, it really should have been called something like Boardroom of Bureaucracy instead. There was entirely too little vice and too much paperwork and interpersonal problems that involve wording around laws for something with this title.

The book details the fight between the laws governing New York City (then, just Manhattan) and the saloon-owners and brothels of the island. See, saloons and whorehouses brought in tons of money. Problem was, they were illegal. Well, saloons were legal, they just had to be closed on Sunday. Except the saloon-owners said ‘fuck that shit’ and served alcohol to everyone on Sundays, same as the rest of the week. A reverend, Dr. Parkhurst, got sick of all the drunkenness, the prostitution, and the corruption of the NYPD that allowed these institutions to function – as long as the kickbacks and protection money kept flowing into the cops’ hands, of course. So the reform Republicans created a Commissioner’s Board, which was supposedly bipartisan, and it included Teddy Roosevelt.

Roosevelt focused on upholding the letter of the law, and wanted all policemen to do the same. Whether he believed that saloons should be shut down on Sunday or not, it was his duty as commissioner to ensure that the law was upheld. He and I agree on this one issue: if you don’t like a law, you enact to change the law. But you can’t break the law just because you think it’s stupid.*

*Except speeding. But this was written before automobiles, so. Also, I operate under Aladdin’s Law: You’re only in trouble if you get caught.

In the end, due to the pressure put on him by New Yorkers who just wanted to get their drink on, Roosevelt ponies up to President McKinley and manages to get out of the failing Commissioner’s Board position and into the Assistant Secretary to the Navy position, wherein he nearly single-handedly gets the Spanish-American War started. New York goes back to its vice-ey ways, and not even Prohibition can stop them.

Hm. So this review feels a bit disjointed; probably because it’s taken me five days to write it. In the time since I finished this book and today, I have read the entirety of The Great Gatsby. I just … I feel confused about the book. I liked it, and yet I didn’t like it?

Here’s my problem with the book: I wanted there to be more vice. The book starts off with Rev. Parkhurst’s tour of New York’s prostitution houses, and saloons, and other places. And it was HILARIOUS to me to see how offended he was! Now, granted, I am not exactly a God-fearing Christian woman. And society is much different today than it was over a hundred years ago. But being able to look at history from today’s perspective can sometimes be hilarious.

FOR INSTANCE: Here’s a menu of what could have been offered in a brothel back then: [UH MOM DON’T READ THIS NEXT PART]

– “Common old fashioned fuck” [man on top]: $1
– “Rear fashion”: $1.50
– “Back scuttle fashion” [anal]: $1.75
– “French fashion with use of patent balls” [elaborate oral]: $3.50
– “All night, with use of towel and rose water”: $5 [[p. 285]]

SEE? Inflation ALONE makes that funny!

I wanted more of that! Funny stories where vice was happening! I don’t care about paperwork! If I wanted to read about paperwork, I’d read a book about business! *sigh* But it was also about Teddy Roosevelt, and I love Teddy Roosevelt! See? All conflicted.

If you’re a die-hard TR fan, then go ahead and read the book. It is interesting; I just wanted more sexy escapades. THAT DIDN’T DIRECTLY INVOLVE ROOSEVELT, I feel that needs to be EMPHATICALLY CLEAR.

Grade for Island of Vice: 2 stars

Fiction: “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” by Seth Grahame-Smith

I think it’s been pretty well established at this point that I am not a historian. As much as I’d love to have a business card that proclaims me to be a “Master of the Occult and Obtainer of Rare Antiquities,” what I don’t know about history — both American and non — would fill about a frillion books. So while it was — oh wow, coincidence — this time last year that I spent the entire month of April reading about the first third of Theodore Roosevelt’s life, apparently April became American History Month over here at That’s What She Read, because this month I read Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.Now, as you can tell by the title, it’s not exactly actual history. After all, while it would be freaking amazing for our sixteenth president to have been a vampire hunter — and Mr. Grahame-Smith does make a convincing argument for it — it probably didn’t actually happen. Probably.

So anyway. I was proud of myself — I didn’t look up anything about Lincoln on Wikipedia until after I finished reading the book. And I was pleasantly surprised at how many events in Lincoln’s real life could be explained (and, in some cases, better explained) by events in Vampire Hunter. For instance, Lincoln’s mother died when he was nine of something called “milk sickness.” In the book, however, “milk sickness” is merely a synonym for “drained by a vampire.” Lincoln learns from his father everything about vampires and the chaos that vampires have brought to his family. Lincoln’s grandfather was killed by vampires and his father observed the death; Lincoln’s father borrowed money from someone that turned out to be a vampire, and when he couldn’t pay the guy back, the vampire killed Lincoln’s mother as repayment. At that moment, Lincoln vows to devote his life to killing vampires.

He meets Henry Sturges, who is a very old vampire. But Henry is … well, he’s like … Angel, I guess? If Angel was fully devoted to ridding the world of evil vampires and less devoted to a perky blonde vampire slayer who’s too young to realize when she’s in love with the wrong person. Anyway, Henry sends Lincoln names of vampires that he wants exterminated, and Abe does his bidding.

What I found both interesting, appropriate, and trite was that the Civil War (and therefore, slavery) was fought over vampirism. According to this worldview, slave owners were typically vampires, and they would buy up poor, unhealthy slaves along with stronger slaves and use the latter in the fields and feast on the former. As time marches further along towards 1861, Lincoln learns that the vampires of the South want to enslave the human race, much like the human race enslaved … well, slaves. He and Henry get a Union together to fight the South, and thus, the Civil War is born.

Much like Titanic, you know what’s going to happen at the end of the story. And you can probably guess what Mr. Grahame-Smith does with John Wilkes Booth, so I’m not going to go into that here. I will say that while the climax is expected, the denoument was not, and pleasantly surprising at that.

Now, I loved Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but I think the main reason why I loved PPZ was because I had read Pride and Prejudice a couple of times and always put it back on the shelf in a wistful manner; I always felt something was missing. And PPZ made me realize what was missing: zombies. Pride and Prejudice always needed zombies, and Seth Grahame-Smith gave me Pride and Prejudice and Zombies! It was perfect! And while I really enjoyed Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, I guess I didn’t have a need for Abraham Lincoln to be a vampire hunter, and that’s why I didn’t love it as much as PPZ.

Don’t get me wrong: I love the idea that Abraham Lincoln could have been a vampire hunter. But I didn’t open the book — or finish it, for that matter — thinking Yes; this is what Abraham Lincoln needed.

Grade for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter: 3 stars

Biography: “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt” by Edmund Morris

You can blame this one completely on Conan O’Brien.

See, over a month ago, I was watching the Ash Wednesday episode of Conan. I know it was the Ash Wednesday episode because the first guest that night was Pee Wee Herman, and he and the Conan gang put on a skit to tell the story of Ash Wednesday, where Pee Wee was an angel, Conan played Jesus, Andy Richter dressed up as the Devil, and then La Bamba (La Bamba!) came out dressed as an Easter egg, and also, Frankenstein was there. And at the end of the skit, still wearing his Jesus wig, Conan looks to Camera 2 and says, “Coming up next, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edmund Morris. [laughs loudly] God, I love my job.”

So Edmund Morris comes out and starts talking about Teddy Roosevelt. Apparently, this is the first title in a series of three that he’s written about our … uh … (quickly goes to Wikipedia) 26th president! He was our 26th President! Yes, I totally knew that, as my birthday is on the 26th of something! Don’t look at me like that.

Actually, go ahead and look at me like that. Because once I picked this up from the library (and directly after I went, “holy shit, this is 741 pages of Teddy’s life, and he doesn’t even get to be President in this one?!”) and started reading it, the major a-ha moment I took from this book is that I am not as smart as I think I am.

For instance: Theodore (he apparently didn’t like being called ‘Teddy,’ which I’m pretty sure I knew before-hand) attended Harvard. And as a freshman, he attended a political rally for a candidate named Hayes. And my first thought was, “Aw, that’s too bad – the first guy he backed didn’t make it.” Then, a few pages later, I read this:

About the time he turned nineteen in October 1877, Theodore was informed that his father had been appointed Collector of Customs to the Port of New York by President Hayes. [93]

And I stared at the page, confused, until I remembered five minutes later that yes, there was in fact, a President Hayes.

My next thought, which I uttered out loud and have taken as a new credo, was: “GODDAMN PUBLIC SCHOOL EDUCATION.”

(PS – it took me another five days to remember that it was Rutherford B. Hayes, which is ridiculous – “Rutherford” is my go-to fake middle name for my friend Brad when I get mad at him [“Bradley Rutherford {last name omitted}, DON’T leave your damn time-off requests on my damn keyboard!”])

And look, I don’t know about how your high school taught American History, but here’s how I learned it junior year:
– Our teacher took three class periods — three! — to tell us his life story, including is tour in ‘Nam, and how he only married his long-term girlfriend so they could buy a house
– A lot about the American Revolution and the ratification of the Constitution
– We watched The Star Chamber and Amistad
– Some junk about the … Reformation? Recombination? The stuff that happened to the South after Lincoln was shot. (back to Wikipedia) RECONSTRUCTION GODDAMN PUBLIC SCHOOL EDUCATION

But it’s difficult to remember that year, because ALL of our tests were open-book! I was not held responsible for knowing and/or retaining anything — I just needed to make sure I could find that piece of paper for that question! And then when I started taking English classes in college, I focused on the 19th Century British novel, not American liturature (which is why I know all about Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and some of the Renaissance and stuff with Cromwell and James). I can kind of talk about the Roaring Twenties and the Jazz Age (thanks, Great Gatsby), and I know that it was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand that began World War I, but other historic details from the 20th Century? If I haven’t seen the movie, then I don’t know it, because we never got past 1869 in American History back in High School.

For instance, other things that I probably should have known or may have known and forgotten:

The assassination of President Garfield was only the latest in a series of political explosions that shook America in the spring and summer of 1881… [147]

Being from Maine, I should have known that the James G. Blaine that was Roosevelt’s constant political opponent during the early part of the 1880s was the same Blaine that our governor’s mansion is named after. Dear Maine Studies teachers: isn’t that more important than studying the poems from Edna St. Vincent Millay again? Again?!

But enough about how dumb I am. For those like me who didn’t get to study Theodore Roosevelt in school, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt goes into incredible detail about his life leading up to his Presidency. The only President to be born on Manhattan island, Roosevelt was a force to be reckoned with throughout his life. He was originally interested in biology and science, and to my surprise, was able to perform taxidermy on animals from about the age of ten. He was a sickly child, and it seemed that he was always trying to overcompensate for it in later life.

He attended Harvard, intending to become a biologist of some sort. But a professor suggested that maybe he consider politics. Upon graduation, he began attending a local Republican meeting, and was elected Assemblyman in his first election. From there, his career rose meteorically.

Aside from politics, he was an avid reader and writer. In addition to daily correspondance, he wrote three or four biographies, four volumes of The Winning of the West, and his first book, a Naval history of the War of 1812, quickly became required reading for the U.S. Navy. He was always writing, and I especially loved this passage:

The sight of snow tumbling past his study window, and the sound of logs crackling in the grate, combined to produce that sense of calm seclusion a writer most prizes — when the pan seems to move across the paper almost of its own accord, and the words flow steadily down the nib, drying into whorls and curlicues that please the eye; when sentences have just the right rhythmic cadence, paragraphs fall naturally into place, and the pages pile up satisfyingly … [391]

Being a part-time writer (and a full-time frustrated writer), when I get into that grove, I do everything I can to not throw it off.

His many careers included: Assemblyman, rancher in South Dakota, Appointee to the Civil Service Commission (under President Harrison), Police Commissioner of New York City, Assistant Secretary to the Navy, Colonel of the Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War, Governor of New York, and finally Vice-President. In each case, he worked against corruption and inequality (although, to be fair, when he was in the Navy Department, he really worked inciting the Spanish-American War — thank goodness they sank the Maine before he could do something on his own).

Other facts of note: he once met one of my favorite authors, Bram Stoker. And Stoker saw what he was about to become:

After watching Roosevelt in action at a literary dinner-table, and afterwarad dispensing summary justice in the police courts, Stoker wrote in his diary: “Must be President some day. A man you can’t cajole, can’t frighten, can’t buy.” [514]

And this just made me laugh:

Aware that his audience contained a large proportion of college boys, he warned against the seductions of “the visionary social reformer … the being who reads Tolstoy, or, if he possesses less intellect, Bellamy and Henry George, who studies Karl Marx and Proudhon, and believes that at this stage of the world’s progress it is possible to make everyone happy by an immense social revolution, just as other enthusiasts of a similar mental calbier believe in the possibility of constructing a perpetual-motion machine.” [553]

I know, I know, not particularly funny by itself, right? But if you’re me, and you can recite the history of The Simpsons better than you can that of the Presidents, then you immediately cut to Homer, sitting in bed, and then calling for Lisa to lambast her perpetual-motion machine. (Hey! There’s a video of this on the internets now!)

Finally, here is the best description of Roosevelt’s personality I think anyone would ever be able to find:

[Roosevelt’s] personality was cyclonic, in that he tended to become unstable in times of low pressure. The slightest rise in the barometer outside, and his turbulence smoothed into a whirl of coordinated activity, while a core of stillness developed within. Under maximum pressure Roosevelt was sunny, calm, and unnaturally clear. [603]

He was a man to admire, and honestly, I am looking forward to reading the other two books in the series.

But not right now. Dudes, it was 741 pages long! It took me a whole month to read it! This was the only book I read last month, I have to do something to get my numbers back up.

Grade for The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt: 4 stars

Non-Fiction: “The Lost Continent” by Bill Bryson

It’s important, first up, to state the subtitle (which didn’t fit in the title line above): Travels in Small-Town America. This was the last book I brought with me on vacation, and the book I snuck in under the wire to be completed in March. And not only is this the best March I’ve ever had with regards to number of books read in a single month, but March 2011 is the best month on record. Ever. So congratulations, March 2011, with your total of seven titles: you are awesome.

Anyway. Why I brought this book with me on vacation: my plan for vacation was to fly out to California, drive up to San Francisco*, stay with a friend for a couple of days, and then drive back to the airport I flew into over the course of four days by taking the Pacific Coast Highway, and spending the nights in cute towns in part to find out if I wanted to relocate to one of those towns someday. I stopped in Monterey (not really the nicest place to visit, interestingly enough), Morro Bay/San Luis Obispo (very pretty), the afore-mentioned Santa Barbara, and holy crap, Newport Beach. Oh, Newport Beach. I have not seen such a pretty town in my life. It’s just too bad that the day I flew out, a chunk of the Pacific Coast Highway fell into the ocean outside of Carmel, forcing me to skip the entire Big Sur part of the PCH.

Uh, right. The book. I brought it because I’ve heard Bill Bryson is funny (he is), and also, because I adore road trips. I totally plan on returning to California someday to pick up some of the pieces I missed, but also, one of my bucket list trips is to start the PCH at the border between Washington and Canada and drive it to Mexico. And I want to do the same thing with US Route 1: that one goes between Fort Kent, Maine, and Key West.

It took me half the book to figure out that it was written in 1988, so some of the references are a bit dated. But Bryson, who had relocated to Britain upon graduating college, returns to his hometown of Des Moines following his father’s death. And he decides to return to some of the places his father would take the family on vacation growing up, and what was supposed to be a mini trip turns into an epic that lasts more than a month and covers 38 of the lower 48 states.

He starts out in the Midwest and moves south to Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and then heads north through the Carolinas. He travels like me: in a zig-zag fashion across states, going back and forth, only staying one night and then moving on. What Bryson really enjoyed doing was going to these small towns to partake in whatever local claim to fame the town lays claim to.

One of my favorite things about the book was that he’s been to some of the same places I’ve been. Some, quite recently. Remember that asterisk up there, about driving to San Francisco?:

My plan was to drive up through the hidden heart of California, through the fertile San Joaquin Valley. Nobody ever goes there. There is a simple reason for this, as I was to discover. It is really boring. [252]

It’s actually not that boring. Of course, I was gawking like an idiot at the farmland and the rain and the oil pumps, and there wasn’t really any traffic to speak of, and I had the best CDs ever and it was a little rainy but I was flying at 80 miles, and it wasn’t the entire Interstate 5, and okay, yeah, maybe it was a little boring, but not as bad as how Bryson tells it.

He also visited Colonial Williamsburg. Now, I have gone on many vacations with my family, and like the Brysons, the Pattersons are also a frugal clan. So when we went to Colonial Williamsburg the first time, we experienced what Bryson went through:

I had lived in America long enough to know that if the only way into Williamsburg was to buy a ticket there would be an enormous sign on the wall saying, YOU MUST HAVE A TICKET. DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT TRYING TO GET IN WITHOUT ONE. But there wasn’t any such sign. I went outside, back out into the bright sunshine, and watched where the shuttle buses were going. They went down the driveway, joined a highway and disappeared around a bend. I crossed the highway, dodging the traffic, and followed a path through some woods. In a few seconds I was in the village. It was as simple as that. I didn’t have to pay a penny. Nearby the shuttle buses were unloading ticketholders. They had had a ride of roughly 200 yards and were about to discover that what their tickets entitled them to do was join long, ill-humored lines of other ticketholders standing outside each restored historic building, sweating in silence and shuffling forward at a rate of one step every three minutes. I don’t think I had ever seen quite so many people failing to enjoy themselves. [109]

Now, what happened to the Patterson family that did not happen to Bill, here, is that when we went, my sister and I were, what, 12 and 8 respectively? I think? Well, we were young. And young kids passing those lines of people waiting to get into those restored historic buildings but not allowed into those buildings because they don’t have a ticket? That’s heartbreaking. And we whined like crazy. Mom was then forced to buy us each quills and other completely useless trinkets to shut us up. (Mom also had to promise Dad that yes, we would be going to Busch Gardens and he could ride the Loch Ness Monster as many times as he wanted.)

But it’s true – if any of you ever want to go to Colonial Williamsburg, you can get practically the same amount of information for free as you can for paying what is most likely now a $40 admission fee. So remember, kids — always check for a way to sneak into things.

As you travel this great country of ours, there are certain truths we always encounter. First and foremost, nothing — nothing — is free. (Colonial Williamsburg, I’m sure, has since instilled at the very least, a parking fee.) Secondly, if you go to any science museum, public park, or aquarium — grr, the aquarium; curse you, Monterey Bay Aquarium — there will be kids running around everywhere, tripping you, cutting you off in pedestrian traffic so they can get a good view of that really large whale, and, worst of all, blocking your “arty” “photography” shots.

But, thirdly, there will also be old people.

The old people were noisy and excited, like schoolchildren, and pushed in front of me at the ticket booth, little realizing that I wouldn’t hesitate to give an old person a shove, especially a Baptist. Why is it, I wondered, that old people are always so self-centered and excitable? But I just smiled benignly and stood back, comforted by the thought that soon they would be dead. [75]

I ran into this a couple of times on the 101 in Central California: old-timey movie theaters.

Downtown movie houses are pretty much a thing of the past in America, alas, alas. [79]

The one in Salinas is closed, which made me sad. It gave me the thought that that could be something I’d want to do — y’know, when I get that bajillion dollars I keep talking about — buy an old-timey movie theater, renovate it, and tap into the nostalgia factor and get it to be popular. But the one in San Luis Obispo was still working, which made me happy. But it was showing Battle for L.A., which promptly made me sad again.

Another item that hit particularly close to home for me was this piece about the highways running through Boston:

Boston’s freeway system was insane. It was clearly designed by a person who had spent his childhood crashing toy trains. Every few hundred yards I would find my lane vanishing beneath me and other lanes merging with it from the right or left, or sometimes both. This wasn’t a road system, it was mobile hysteria. Everybody looked worried. I had never seen people working so hard to keep from crashing into each other. And this was a Saturday — God knows what it must be like on a weekday. [154]

Bill Bryson, I see your “what must it be like on a weekday” and raise you “driving through Boston during a blizzard while still hungover after your New Year’s party.”

Remember when I said that this book was written back in 1988? Well, doesn’t this seem eerie?:

I spent the night in Dearborn [MI] for two reasons. First, it would mean not having to spend the night in Detroit, the city with the highest murder rate in the country. In 1987, there were 635 homicides in Detroit, a rate of 58.2 per 100,000 people or eight times the national average. Just among children, there were 365 shootings in which both the victim and gunman were under sixteen (of whom 40 died). We are talking about a tough city — and yet it is still a rich one. What it will become like as the American car industry collapses in upon itself doesn’t bear thinking about. People will have to start carrying bazookas for protection. [180]

Before I leave you with my final thought, here are Bryson’s rules for eating on the road:

1. Never eat in a restaurant that displays photographs of the food it serves. (But if you do, never believe the photograph.)
2. Never eat in a restaurant attached to a bowling alley.
3. Never eat in a restaurant with flocked wallpaper.
4. Never eat in a restaurant where you can hear what they are saying in the kitchen.
5. Never eat in a restaurant that has live entertainers with any of the following words in their titles: Hank, Rhythm, Swinger, Trio, Combo, Hawaiian, Polka.
6. Never eat in a restaurant that has bloodstains on the walls.

Finally, here’s how Bryson describes Wyoming:

Wyoming is the most fiercely Western of all the Western states. It’s still a land of cowboys and horses and wide open spaces, a place where a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do… [272-273]

And when I read that, my head went to this, from the masterpiece Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog:

And that’s how we got a Bonus!Nathan Fillion.

Grade for The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America: 4 stars