Book review: Off Script by Josh King

Title: Off Script: An Advance Man’s Guide to White House Stagecraft, Campaign Spectacle, and Political Suicide

Author: Josh King

Publisher: St. Martin’s

Published: 2016

Version reviewed: Audiobook from Blackstone Audio, read by the author

Politicaldictionary.com defines an advance man as, “A staffer sent ahead to prepare for the arrival of a politician at a campaign rally, media appearance or other large event” (http://politicaldictionary.com/words/advance-man/). In Off Script, advance man Josh King takes the reader through the good, bad, and ugly of presidential advance work in what he calls the Age of Optics, from Michael Dukakis’ failed campaign in 1988 through the early days of the Trump campaign in 2015.

King started his career in advance work with the Dukakis campaign, served as Director of Production for Presidential Events in the White House Office of Communications during most of the Bill Clinton years, and created the Sirius/XM radio show Polioptics. He shares his wealth of experience and war stories in Off Script and lets readers (and voters) go behind the curtain to see how campaign events are scripted and candidate images crafted. Spoiler alert: if you think every move a candidate makes is carefully planned, you’re right. King will show you how and why those plans are made. He will also show you lots of instances when a seemingly small incident had a huge negative impact: Dukakis’ tank ride, George H. W. Bush’s encounter with a supermarket scanner, the Howard Dean scream, and John Kerry’s windsurfing–to name a few. Having followed politics since the late 80s, I’ve often found it disturbing how silly things like these could make or break a campaign for the highest office in the land. King’s book helped me understand why that happens–though I still find it disturbing.

The biggest downside of Off Script is its slow start. King spends the entire first section of the book–at least 2 or 3 hours of the audiobook, maybe more–on Dukakis’ tank ride. Yes, really. It may have been the biggest campaign failure in modern presidential history, but I’m not convinced it warrants that much page time. But if you’re interested in either politics or marketing (and sadly, they’re becoming so intertwined, it’s hard to tell them apart sometimes), it’s worth persevering through the seemingly-endless tank ride. King’s book will help you understand how optics trump (no pun intended) substance in modern presidential campaigns and therefore make you a more informed–if also possibly more disillusioned–voter.

And if you’re wondering who the heck Dukakis was and what the heck he was doing in a tank, congratulations on not being older than dirt. Here’s a little history lesson, courtesy of Politico:

And here’s the infamous George H. W. Bush campaign ad that effectively ended Dukakis’ chances:

One final note: you’ve probably guessed that King is a Democrat, since he worked for Dukakis and Clinton. In the book, though, he is refreshingly unbiased. He speaks respectfully of presidents and candidates from both parties; if anything, he’s more critical of his own party’s candidates. He shows no partisan intent in Off Script–just the intent to explain and educate.

Advertisements

Book Review – Stand Tall Molly Lou Melon

With her TITLE: Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon
AUTHOR: Patty Lovell
ILLUSTRATOR: David Catrow
FORMAT: Children’s
PUBLISHED: 2001
MY VERSION: 2017 for Imagination Library

 

As you may remember, my boss is 3 1/2, and he brought this to me the other day to read to him.

Molly Lou Melon is ridiculously tiny (the illustration reminded me of Cindy Lou Who), has huge buck teeth, and a terrible voice, which the author describes as “a bullfrog being squeezed by a boa constrictor” in the book (and which every review on the internet quotes – lol).  Her grandmother is The Most Amazing Influence, of course, and has always told her to be proud of herself and carry herself accordingly.
She moves away from her friends and her grandmother (ANYTHING BUT THAT!), and goes to a new school, complete with bully.  Ronald Durkin is every bit the turd we expect a bully to be, and she shows him up by simply being better/smarter/faster/whatever than he is at everything they have to do.  With her grandmother in heart, she stands tall and everything’s right in the end.

So, we know I have a soft spot for grandmothers, so of course this book got me because she had to leave her grandmother behind.  (My grandmother died in 2009, so anything that has a strong connection between fmc and Gramma gets me in the feels hard…)  So the book seriously resonated with me, which I’m sure added to my enjoyment.  But I loved that there was a character that happened to be a girl, but who wasn’t judged for being one.  It was kind of nice/refreshing, you know?  She’s a great strong character (regardless of gender) because her entire existence was ‘you know what?  this is me, and I’m totally okay with that.’  And that’s a lesson that we all need to keep close to heart, you know?   Be okay with you.  Everyone else is already taken.

I didn’t like the illustrations at all.  I guess they’d be much better as a stand alone piece of artwork, but I found them distracting, so they detracted from the story, and certainly from my enjoyment of them.  So there’s that.

The toddler’s reaction means more than mine, so I’ll tell you that he liked it, although he cared more about the illustration than the story sometimes, which is a little sad.  This book had a great message and he was too busy pointing out frogs to hear it sometimes.

But, I’ll give the book a 4/5 and the illustrations a 2/5.  I really wish the artist had a less-is-more approach, but it’s definite a story with reading, and I’ll certainly read it again if the boss wants to hear it.

Book Review-The Justice Riders by Chuck Norris et al.

Title: The Justice Riders

Author: Chuck Norris, Ken Abraham, Aaron Norris, and Tim Grayem

Format-Hardcover, Broadman and Holman Publishers

Published: 2006

 

thejusticeriders

Things to look for that should raise your concerns about the quality of a book…

One-When a celebrity is listed as an author of a fiction work. Granted, this is not always a bad sign, pointing out Kareem Abdul Jabar’s recent work or the novels by Steve Allen as solid examples of good writing. With that said, though, a celebrity from tv or film penning a fiction work usually doesn’t read well.

Two-When said celebrity appears on the cover of the book, or at least an image obviously meant to be said celebrity graces the cover.

Three-And this is the biggest red flag-When there are four authors listed on one fiction novel that isn’t a round robin or a collection spotlighting each author.  When it takes four authors to write a singular novel, there may be issues with that work.

Such is JUSTICE RIDERS.  Riding on the prestige of not only Chuck Norris alone, but also the much loved WALKER, TEXAS RANGER tv series, Chuck, his brother Aaron, and the Canon Group decided that this book was a good idea. Focused on Ezra Justice, a Southerner in the Union Army, this book sees Justice commissioned to form a multicultural group of men dedicated to secretly ending The Civil War.

Not a bad premise, but every opportunity to do it right was missed.

The dialogue is ham fisted and heavy.  The descriptions of the characters are not only stereotypical, they’re either loaded with sweetness like syrup if they’re white hats or reek of sulphur if they’re black hats.  History is also played with fast and loosely throughout the book, although it hangs its Stetson on being loosely based on real events.  There is nothing redeemable about JUSTICE RIDERS, except perhaps that it didn’t ever become something other than a book to ignore.

One page out of five, and that’s only because there’s not a ‘Hell, No, Don’t Read This’ ranking. But please, don’t read this…ever.

Book review: A Life on the Road by Charles Kuralt

Title: A Life on the Road

Author: Charles Kuralt

Format: Hardback, Putnam

Published: 1990

File_000

Some of us are old enough to remember when most people got their news from the evening news on one of the big 3 networks. We trusted anchors like Walter Cronkite to report the news of the day–wars, political scandals, natural disasters–with truth and gravitas. Charles Kuralt was a newsman of this era, but he was best known not for the big serious stories but for for finding the unique and fascinating people and stories hiding in small towns all across America. In A Life on the Road, Kuralt tells the story behind the stories, chronicling his career as a newsman in the glory days of TV news as well as some of the people and events he discovered on the back roads of America.

It’s fitting that I found this book serendipitously–specifically, on a dusty shelf at an estate sale in Phoenix–since Kuralt and crew relied on plenty of serendipity (he called it dumb luck) when searching out stories. In a time before cell phones and the Internet–heck, some of us didn’t even have a private phone line (raise your hand if you’re old enough to remember party lines)–Kuralt and crew would roll up to a farmhouse in a rickety old RV and ask to do a story about whatever interesting thing the family was involved in. No appointment, no string of emails explaining exactly what and where and how, in some cases no advance planning at all beyond, “Look, a story!” and off they would go, RV trundling down a country road toward the nearest local color.

The stories themselves were (and are still) interesting, but part of what made them so was the warmth and wit of Kuralt the storyteller. Those traits are evident in A Life on the Road. Kuralt blends his own story and that of his crew with the colorful characters he encountered. Here’s a sample:

We went to Sopchoppy, in the Florida panhandle, to look into a story about worm grunting. Worm grunting is not practiced just everywhere. Maybe I’d better explain it.

You go out into the woods and pound a hardwood stake into the ground, preferably using a heavy truck spring to do the pounding. Then, you rub the truck spring sensually, but with a certain pressure, across the top of the stake. This sets up a vibration in the ground which you can feel in the soles of your feet. Earthworms must find the vibration disagreeable, for to escape it, they wriggle to the surface; whereupon, you pick up the worms and go fishing.

I didn’t believe this when I first heard about it, but it turns out that some people around Sopchoppy make a living at it, selling their worms by the canful to Mr. M. B. Hodges’s bait store. It will not surprise you to learn that if you go worm grunting in the National Forest, you have to have a federal Worm Gathering Permit displayed in the window of your pickup truck. (p. 149)

If you’d like to see as well as read, some of Kuralt’s pieces are on YouTube–just search for charles kuralt on the road.. Here are a couple to get you started (unfortunately the one about worm grunting doesn’t seem to be available):

 

So if you get a chance, pick up a copy of Kuralt’s book and lose yourself in another time, a time when people still watched the same news–and some of them even made a living selling worms. Kuralt’s pieces may have seemed like fluff next to the tumultuous events of the late 1960s-1980s, but they are a reminder–then and now–that the United States is a rich tapestry of quirky places and resourceful, creative, diverse people. 4 out of 5 pages.

 

%d bloggers like this: