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Posts in "Getting Lit-erary"
August 6, 2014
“Watergate,” a novel by Thomas Mallon, is a hoot, a fictional interpretation of the political saga that ended the presidency of Richard M. Nixon and irrevocably altered the lives of those around him, not to mention the American political system.
Mallon, who can see the infamous office and residential complex easily from his perch as director of the George Washington University creative writing program in Foggy Bottom, has a boatload of honors and credits to his career as a novelist, essayist and academic. In “Watergate,” though, he takes it all to another level in giving voice to everyone from Nixon to first lady Pat to break-in perps E. Howard Hunt, Committee to Re-Elect the President chiefs John Mitchell and Fred LaRue to forgotten ghosts of Washington’s past like Alice Roosevelt Longworth.
Witness Pat Nixon desperately avoiding a drunk Martha Mitchell at a Hollywood fundraiser, or the president groaning in his sleep in Moscow, freaking out the eavesdropping KGB agents, or Hunt’s aggrieved anxiety in the aftermath of a botched black bag job he wanted no part of but nevertheless went through with anyway.
It’s those individuals, and Mallon’s ability to make us empathize with each and every one of them, that gives this novel a unique place in the canon of Watergate history. With the 40th anniversary of Nixon’s Aug. 9 resignation almost upon us, this is a critically acclaimed book worth adding to the reading list.
July 30, 2014
If “All The President’s Men” is about the chase, the follow-up by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, “The Final Days” is about the long, slow, bleeding out and death of the hunted. A denser, complicated, multi-layered, sad descent into resignation, both literal and figurative, the recounting of the last few months of President Richard M. Nixon’s presidency is a master telling of the slog of a White House staff who knows that time is running out.
“[Press Secretary Ronald Ziegler] was exasperated. He only wanted the President to understand how dire things were, to recognize the hard choices fast closing in on him. But the President would not even accept the meaning of the words on the tapes and refused to believe that his lawyers were acting in his interest,” they write.
It’s just one of scores of examples of the sclerotic intransigence that gripped the Nixon White House in its final days. At the center of it is White House Chief of Staff Alexander Haig, the man in charge of the sinking ship, and White House special counsels for Watergate James D. St. Clair and J. Fred Buzhardt.
It’s a fascinating read, and an important, if quirky and somewhat neglected, part of the Watergate canon.
July 23, 2014
“I’m a work in progress myself,” Bridgid Schulte, the author of “Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has The Time,” says. The Washington Post scribe is well aware of the pressure people are under, because she lives the same D.C. vida loca.
“Different groups want to talk about different things. But the big things, everyone wants to talk about,” she says, singling out that “busyness is a huge thing people want to talk about.”
Schulte is quick to point out her book is not all doom and gloom, with busy people all ending up with smaller brains because they’re stressing themselves to death. She details bright spots both domestic and foreign, whether it’s flex-time at the Pentagon or a cultural watershed in Denmark.
She says the biggest change between the time she began the book and when she finished were her own expectations about what she could accomplish, what she could blow off and what she could share. “I’m still working on it,” she says.
What about life in Washington, D.C., where what she dubs the cycle of responsiveness is particularly acute? She encourages people to do their best to change the culture of where they work and how they live. If it’s not a situation where the culture can readily change, to consider changing oneself. This might mean some emails don’t get returned late at night, which is probably OK. Consider what’s a priority and what isn’t. Most of the time, expectations come from within, not a boss or spouse.
Perhaps we could all benefit from taking a page from another book, Douglas Adams’ “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” Rule No. 1, you may recall is simple: Don’t panic.
“I do take time to step out of the craziness,” Schulte says. “I really try to just be where I am.”
Sounds like a good Rule No. 2.
Schulte drops by the Roll Call Book Club on Wednesday from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Hill Center at the Old Naval Hospital at 921 Pennsylvania Ave. SE. Complimentary copies of the book are available first-come, first-served. Register for the event, sponsored by Hooks Books Events and Sprint, at roll.cl/schultebookclub.
July 18, 2014
Theoretically, we still have the same 24 hours in a day our grandparents and their grandparents had. But it sure doesn’t feel like it. We’re “busy, busy, busy,” as the late, great Kurt Vonnegut Jr., wrote.
A city such as Washington is filled with strivers and striving, filling every conceivable moment with constructive, career-related activity. But that sense of compressed time is not just the purview of places like Washington. People have their hair on fire in Fargo, N.D., too, as Brigid Schulte tells it in her new book “Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time.” The problem, she writes, is spreading as we divvy up our days into a thousand pieces.
So what’s a person to do if they’d like to live a fulfilling life but still feel like they have enough time to shower in the morning and read the occasional book? Schulte will discuss just that, and her book and the research and, ahem, time that went into it on Wednesday at the latest Roll Call Book Club.
Some of the more eye-opening nuggets from Schulte’s book include studies that show that being pressed for time can actually make us dumber, by shrinking the prefrontal cortex of our brain; that Pat Buchanan, after helping sink a universal child care bill while in the Nixon White House, never had kids, and that “rough-and-tumble play” can actually make us smarter. She also delves into why — far from there being something rotten in the state of Denmark — the Danes are the happiest people on the planet.
One big note of appreciation for the book is its embrace of the finite nature of our lives. This isn’t always the cheeriest of topics, and you could probably hear book agents and publicists thinking to themselves, “can’t she lay off the we’re-all-going-to-die stuff?” — but it’s a necessary, bracing reminder of what’s a stake in our busy-busy-business.
“Whey we die, the e-mail in-box will still be full. The to-do list will still be there. But you won’t,” Schulte quotes Terry Monaghan, a time management and organizational expert, as telling a group of people looking to find a way out of what Schulte dubs “The Overwhelm.”
Things get under way at 6 p.m. and will run until about 7:30 at the Hill Center at the Old Naval Hospital at 921 Pennsylvania Ave. SE. Complimentary copies of the book will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis, and Schulte will be on hand to sign them. Heck, we’ll even feed you and provide something to drink. To register, go to roll.cl/schultebookclub.
July 16, 2014
Baseball’s All-Star Game break provides us with a respite from the churn of the 162-game regular season, as well as an opportunity to check out a great baseball book, Barry Svrluga’s “National Pastime.”
The Washington Nationals are in first place in the National League East at the break, a nice position for a team that was up-and-down and replete with injuries at the beginning of the season. Amid a so-far successful current season, last year’s winning season (which saw the team miss the playoffs) and 2012′s dynamic division-winning team, it’s worth remembering that the Nats’ first year in the District was anything but auspicious.
There was no owner. The team’s transitional home, RFK Stadium, was barely ready for prime time. The team was a collection of injured or unproven or washed-up players. The staff had almost completely turned over from the team’s previous year iteration in Montreal as the Expos. The manager was a crank. And yet, the team finished 51-30 at the halfway point and contended for a playoff spot deep in September before ending the season 81-81.
Svrluga, a Washington Post sports reporter, was there from soup to nuts, covering the last-minute glitch in negotiations with the District Council that almost caused the deal to move the Expos to D.C. to crater, all the way to the last homestead against the Philadelphia Phillies. The writing is briskly paced and has an eye toward the human story that went with the business story.
It’s also a great reminder that the Nationals’ current success on the field and with the city — as the area around Nationals Park fills up with breweries, condos and bike lanes — were never guaranteed in those rough-hewn first days at RFK.
June 18, 2014
Do you know which Koch brother wanted to date Marla Maples, but thought better of it after Donald Trump picked her up?
How about which Koch brother donned a “Captain Koch” costume at the Wichita Gridiron Club?
Do you know which Koch brother wrote a play that provided source material for the film “Shakespeare in Love?”
How about which Koch brother opened up a bookstore, a John Birch Society bookstore?
Did you even know there were four Koch brothers? Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., only talks about two of them, Charles and David, while leaving Bill and Frederick largely out of the equation.
Mother Jones Senior Editor Daniel Schulman tells the tale of the K-Bros masterfully in his new book “Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America’s Most Powerful and Private Dynasty,” and he’ll drop by Roll Call Book Club on Thursday night to discuss not just the history of the Koch family and its behemoth Koch Industries, but the people behind it.
Be prepared. These folks play hard ball, especially with one another for control of a vast enterprise. How else to explain the Koch brother who subpoenaed his own mother, after she’d had a stroke, to testify in a lawsuit?
Drop by our free event at Hill Center at 921 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, starting at 6 p.m. Wine, snacks and books included. Register at Hill Center’s website.
June 15, 2014
Think it’s going to be a busy week in the Capitol, what with a full legislative calendar and House leadership elections? There’s just as much going on in the outside-work calendar, including a throw-down between members of Congress and the media and a telling of the Koch brothers’ tale.
The 6th Annual Congressional Women’s Softball Game is Wednesday night, and the trash talk is flying, including a radio “Softball Smackdown” featuring Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md., and Huffington Post scribe Jennifer Bendery on the Bill Press Show. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at Eventbrite. Proceeds benefit the Young Survival Coalition. The opening pitch is at 7 p.m. at the Watkins Recreation Center at 420 12th Street SE.
One of Washington’s high-profile film festivals, AFI Docs, gets underway Wednesday, with an opening night show at the Newseum of “Holbrook/Twain: An American Odyssey,” by Scott Teems. Actor Hal Holbrook, who has been portraying Mark Twain on stage for more than six decades, will be on hand to introduce the film. The festival, which as a full slate of 84 films, runs through June 22 at various venues in D.C. and Silver Spring, Md. For tickets and showtimes, visit the festival website.
Roll Call Book Club returns Thursday night, when we’ll sit down with Mother Jones Senior Editor Daniel Schulman to discuss his new book, “Sons of Wichita, How the Koch Brothers Became America’s Most Powerful and Private Dynasty.” In case you don’t check in on the Senate floor every once in a while, the Koch brothers are kind of a big deal. However, the K-Bros that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has made into Democrats’ bete noire, Charles and David, are only half of the brood. Schulman’s biography serves up juicy bits on the eldest, Frederick, who’s a patron of the arts, and Bill, David’s fraternal twin, an America’s Cup winner and to this day a bitter rival to Charles and David. This free event, complete with wine, cheese and a book giveaway, starts at 6 p.m. at Hill Center at 921 Pennsylvania Ave. SE. Please register on Hill Center’s website ahead of time.
Friday is the day we wrap the voting for the annual Roll Call Taste of America contest. Pulling for the deep-sea heavyweight, Maine’s lobster rolls? Want to make sure Iowa bacon wraps itself in victory? Trying to make sure Maryland crab cakes scuttle to victory? Then vote at rollcalltasteofamerica.com. The winner will be announced at the following week’s 53rd Annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game at Nationals Park.
June 6, 2014
Twenty years ago, Washington, D.C., was a very different place, and it was artfully chronicled, from success to failure, by Harry Jaffe and Tom Sherwood in their seminal book, “Dream City: Race, Power, and the Decline of Washington, D.C.”
Now the duo is back with a re-issued e-book version of their opus, complete with an afterward that surveys the massive changes of the last two decades, and they’ll be discussing it Monday at Hill Center. Full story
May 12, 2014
Are you or your boss on an enemies list? It’s not as paranoid as you might think to wonder.
More than 40 years after President Richard M. Nixon’s list of political opponents and enemies made headlines, political reporters Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes detail an undertaking by aides to then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., to chronicle what they call a “political hit list” in the aftermath of her defeat in the presidential primary to Barack Obama.
Obama, of course, went on to win the presidency and tap Clinton as his secretary of State, but political battles leave scars, particularly in the halls of power. On Thursday, the Roll Call Book Club will be back in action at the Hill Center to discuss the book, as well as to feed and water the book-hungry political masses.
“There was a special circle of Clinton hell reserved for people who had endorsed Obama or stayed on the fence after Bill and Hillary had raised money for them, appointed them to a political post, or written a recommendation to ice their kid’s application to an elite school,” Allen and Parnes write. The list of people with the highest ranking, compiled by Kris Balderston and Adrienne Elrod, includes such luminaries as the current secretary of State, ex-Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.; the Senate President Pro Tem, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt.; and House Budget ranking member Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.; as well as some senior Democratic elder statesmen like Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.
But that was so 2008! Think so? Just look at whom the Clintons bestowed favors upon in the 2012 election (Howdy, now-Rep. John Delaney, D-Md.!) and take a look at their current political activity. Allen, now Bloomberg News’ Washington bureau chief, and Parnes, White House correspondent for The Hill, look deeply not just at the aftermath of the 2008 election, but Hillary Rodham Clinton’s tenure at Foggy Bottom, with particular attention to the Benghazi, Libya, attacks, where Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three others were killed on Sept. 11, 2012.
Benghazi has popped up again, with Republicans in the House revving up a special committee and prepping lines of attack for 2016. Hillary Rodham Clinton has already testified on the Hill about the attacks. But this party, and the 2016 race, is just getting started, so don’t be surprised if the nascent Democratic frontrunner gets another invitation to go under the microscope again.
So there should be plenty to discuss with Allen and Parnes. Things get started around 6 p.m. on Thursday at 921 Pennsylvania Ave. SE. It’s free, as always, and we’ll supply the food and libations as well. The authors will be there not just to discuss the book, their reporting and to answer questions, but also to sign free copies of their book on a first-come, first-served basis. To register, see the listing on EventBrite.
April 8, 2014
Former South Dakota Sen. Larry Pressler, who served in the House and Senate as a Republican and trying to return to the Senate as an independent, stopped by Monday night’s Roll Call Book Club at Hill Center, which happened to be discussing Charles Wheelan’s “The Centrist Manifesto,” a book arguing for the need to elect centrists not affiliated with the two major parties to Congress.
“It’s tough running as an independent. You get classified as someone who can’t win,” Pressler said.
The match of aspiring lawmaker to book discussion couldn’t have been a better fit. Wheelan’s call for more pragmatic lawmakers hinges on a Senate-first strategy. He argues that with the Electoral College rigged against third-party candidates and the House an ungovernable and gerrymandered mess, centrists should focus on elected a handful or so to the Senate where they could help dictate the agenda in a closely divided body.
“Angus King proved this could be done,” Wheelan said of the Maine independent elected in 2012. “Now he needs some more people to play with.” Wheelan, a Dartmouth professor of public policy, isn’t just theorizing. He’s putting some sweat equity into it with The Centrist Project, a 501 (c) (4) set up to help elect centrists to the Senate.
Pressler wants to be one of those such independents. “I’m enjoying the race,” he said. “My wife is my driver. We’re adding volunteers.” However, he bemoaned the lack of independent polling in South Dakota, which he said would vindicate his desire to run, predicting he would finish ahead in a survey. One example of the challenge facing him, though, is funding. Commissioning a poll, he said, was something he didn’t have the cash for at this point.
One avenue of support available to him, though, might be those inclined to support The Centrist Project. After the event, Wheelan and Pressler headed to dinner on Capitol Hill, at Acqua al 2 near Eastern Market. Perhaps a vetting, perhaps just a friendly dinner.
April 7, 2014
For political junkies, it was all there — President Barack Obama’s relationship with Congress, the future of Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the 2014 midterm elections, the Republican field for the 2016 presidential race and much more — during our Roll Call Book Club discussion with “Double Down: Game Change 2012″ co-author Mark Halperin on March 26.
Some of the highlights in three minutes include those topics:
Couldn’t attend? Lucky for you, we have video of the full discussion with Halperin, Roll Call Editor-in-Chief Christina Bellantoni, Capitol Hill Editor Jason Dick and a lively and engaged audience at the Hill Center:
April 4, 2014
A ‘Naked’ Writer’s Manifesto
Charles Wheelan, the scribe behind “Naked Statistics: Stripping the Dread From the Data” and “Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science” swings by for Monday’s Roll Call Book Club to talk about his latest offering: “The Centrist Manifesto.” Wheelan, a Dartmouth professor of public policy, is a bit fed up with the gridlocked shenanigans of the Republican and Democratic parties and calls for a centrist third party that can focus on the big issues, instead of just run for re-election and trade partisan snipes. If you think this isn’t exactly a novel idea, hear Wheelan out. He is, after all, the guy who successfully marries nudity and statistics. “The terminology may sound intimidating, but Wheelan handles it well and is a patient teacher. If you’re the kind of reader whose flagging interest can be revived by cracks about the Kardashians or the author’s faux self-deprecation, you’ll enjoy Wheelan’s style,” our own Randolph Walerius wrote of “Naked Statistics” last year.
“People ask me if I put ‘naked’ in the title just to sell books. The answer is, ‘yes!’” Wheelan cracked. He’ll discuss his book at Hill Center at the Old Naval Hospital at 921 Pennsylvania Ave. SE starting at 6 p.m. We’ll serve snacks and adult beverages, and give out free copies of “The Centrist Manifesto” on a first-come, first-served basis. To register for this free event, click here.
Most Best of D.C.
The Washington City Paper’s Best of D.C. shindig is Wednesday at the historic Carnegie Library at 801 K St. NW, a block-party-worthy soiree of the city’s favorite beer, wine, burgers, oysters, bar, chocolate, gelato — you get the picture. Tickets are $80 for general admission. The $125 Very Important Person tickets are already sold out. Lots of local artists, performers and that admission fee gets you the open bar experience. For more information go to Washington City Paper’s website.
Undocumented Screening, Redux
Former Washington Post reporter Jose Antonio Vargas returns to the District for another screening of his compelling documentary “Undocumented,” which chronicles his uniquely American journey as an undocumented immigrant and his push for an immigration overhaul. On Thursday, he’ll host a screening of “Undocumented,” which has been updated since its initial release last year to reflect current events, at the Newseum at 555 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. The movie starts at 7 p.m. and will be followed by a panel discussion with Vargas, executive producer Janet Yang and FWD.us founder Joe Green. To RSVP, go to Eventfarm.
March 28, 2014
Amazing what a couple of days above freezing will do for everyone’s disposition!
Whether it’s planning some fun runs, mussing about among the cherry blossoms or gearing up for the return of the Washington Nationals, it’s nice to be able to go outside without cold weather gear, finally.
Run, Run, Run
One of the biggest outdoor activities of the season brings together not just the Cherry Blossom Festival crowds but members of Congress and the physically fit. April 6 is the annual Congressional Federal Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run, a massive foot race that raises money for charity that contains the Capitol Hill Competition race-within-the-race. Race organizers on April 3 will present the a check to the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals in Room HVC-200 at the Capitol Visitor Center. Expect current and former members of Congress to attend. Congressional Federal CEO Charles A. Mallon Jr., is touting the 41 senators and 189 House members who are serving as honorary co-chairs of the race, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio. The event starts at 10 a.m. Capitol Hill Competition runners can pick up their race packets from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the same room. Full story
March 25, 2014
Mark Halperin, co-author of “Double Down: Game Change 2012,” swings by the Hill Center (921 Pennsylvania Ave. NE) Wednesday in a rescheduled Roll Call Book Club event that was snowed out last month.
Co-hosted by our partners at Hooks Books, the festivities get under way at 6 p.m. with some adult beverages and nosh, and our discussion with Halperin about the 2012 race, and possibly the 2016 one, will get started around 6:15 p.m. He’ll be on hand to sign some copies of the book until around 7:30 p.m.
Come hungry, thirsty and curious. Free copies of the book are available while supplies last.
March 17, 2014
PHOENIX — Monday’s snow is a reminder of why Major League Baseball long ago decamped for Arizona and Florida for its spring training schedule. With snow on the ground in Washington, Opening Day seems a long way away on the East Coast.
Here in the Valley of the Sun, teams are starting to make preparations to return to their home cities — or Australia for the season opener in the case of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Dodgers — but there are still plenty of exhibition/tune-up games to go, including at Roll Call After Dark’s favorite locale, Phoenix Municipal Stadium, where the Oakland A’s have long made their springtime home.
But if you’re not fortunate enough to be soaking in the rays in Arizona or Florida, there’s still plenty to do in Washington, even as it throws off the last vestiges of winter storming. Full story