Tuesday, February 17, 2009

My friends, the dumbest book ever written

If you were ever a kid, you probably remember the Scholastic Book Club or school book fairs. They offered paperbacks and other fun stuff you could buy, such as Mad Libs or books about trucks with actual functioning wheels. One year, I got Bucky the Bookworm, who you controlled throughout the story as a finger puppet. Imagine that; a book you could actually finger! Hot. These fairs and mailers were my absolute favorite time of the school year, because I loved books then and still do today.

One favorite of both my older brother and myself were the biographies. Marketed toward children, these tend to skirt controversy and go for the feel-good stuff, which would perhaps explain why our book on Bruce Springsteen had him quoted as saying he keeps his presidential vote a secret. Regardless, even in these sanitized little fanbooks, you could glean some fascinating and true information about your favorite stars. (For example, in the WWF book Kings of the Ring, we learn that Hulk Hogan is a saint, Big John Studd has some lessons to learn and George "The Animal" Steele is in no way putting on an act and you should avoid him on the street.)

Dumb the kiddie-bio genre down by a factor of 1,000, and you have Sarah Palin: A New Kind of Leader by Joe Hilley. It's published by Zondervan, which is apparently run by Charles Colson, which means Jesus is the real hero here.

This biography is a very worthy of the woman who was only a landslide away from being vice president. And what I mean by that is, it's inarticulate, half-assed, unjustifiably worshipful and (surprisingly, given that last one) completely unauthorized.

I've had this book on loan for six weeks now, and I just cannot bring myself to mock everything that needs mocking in it. After all, it's 204 pages, and every sentence deserves a brutal breakdown. Unintentional comedy lives even in the index (Jet, luxury, 176; PTA gets almost as many references as John McCain) and sources ("Sarah Barracuda's 1982 State Championship"; some guy's amateur gun blog with "blogspot" misspelled as "blogspost" in the citations; other things Sarah has never read). Oh, and don't forget chapter names: "True North Never Changes," followed soon after by "Change Constantly"; "Weakness is the New Strength"; glorious nonsequiturs such as "Sacrifice Ambition to Get Ahead" and "Mean It Like You Say It"; and my personal, irony-free favorite: "Leadership Isn't A Beauty Contest."

One early passage encapsulates the true essence of this tome: John McCain's announcement of Sarah Palin as his running mate at the aptly named Nutter Center at Wright State University. Apparently, the announcement was as much a surprise for Palin as it was for everyone else. I guess she just thought she'd scored a free trip to Dayton, Ohio, for no reason, and not because she suspected she was a candidate for the job or anything.

A few feet away, the woman in the stands behind McCain continued to watch. Above her dark and glistening eyes, tiny wrinkles creased her forehead as she listened, anticipating the next line, trying to figure out whom he was describing.

It takes literally seven pages for McCain to complete his short speech. Why? Because passages like the one quoted above pack the chapter like chaw in a redneck baseball player's cheek. And is just as pleasant to read.

Lest you think I'm exaggerating, here's how Hilley describes the setting:

Located in America's heartland, Wright State was named for two of the nation's most innovative minds, Orville and Wilbur Wright.... [McCain], like the Wright brothers, was an aviator. What better place for a pilot to enjoy a momentous occasion? The Wrights had been first in their century. He was about to be the first in his. It was a hint no one in the audience seemed to catch.

I too had a hard time catching on, and I'm in the future, with the book right in front of me!

The unintentional thesis of the book opens Chapter 3: "When Sarah Palin walked into her first meeting of the Parent Teachers Association, she had no idea where life would take her. One can only imagine how she must have felt."

Well, you could have asked her, but then again she probably would have answered it with, "I feel all of my feelings with a great appreciation for my ability to feel feelings. Some people think, in Alaska, that it's too cold to feel." So perhaps Hilley did the right thing.

Subsequent pages are relatively unremarkable, except that they follow this template: 1) Her grit, moxie, pluck, spunk and determination in running for some chair or office; 2) Several philosophical paragraphs about what it takes in general to run for chairs or offices; 3) A few sentences about what she did once in office; 4) Several philosophical paragraphs about what someone in office needs to be able to make tough decisions. Within this book is a pretty decent civics-class-level booklet on how to be a leader; too bad the occasional Palin bits have to break it up.

There are also anecdotes on basketball games and Trig. As you might expect, these are given the same exceptionally rapturous weight as the McCain announcement. One assumes that the excised "paper or plastic" chapter will appear in the 2012 sequel, "Sarah Palin: Still a New Kind of Leader."

On page 164, Hilley deconstructs Palin's appeal and the seismic cultural phenomenon not seen in GOP circles since Ronald Reagan:

Since she is authentically herself, what voters see in Sarah Palin is what they get. The thing that surprises people is not their assessment of her - that assessment is rather accurate. On paper, she has been in over her head in every office she has held. Rather, what surprises people the most is the connection she has made with voters. With hand-lettered signs and a band of volunteers, she took a town and then a state by storm.

This, surprisingly, is followed by a mild criticism of her "Bridge to Nowhere" remarks: "The notion that she would describe that incident with a nuance that glosses over actual facts," - be gentle now, Joe - "in an apparent effort to gain points with her constituency, leaves a hint of doubt about the authenticity and transparency of her other policy statements." The ethics scandal over attorney general Gregg Renkes, furthermore, "suggests once more a question about the accuracy of the way in which she portrays herself as 'just a hockey mom who showed up and got involved.'"

Still, as Hilley concludes just two pages later, "Sarah's story is truly American. A story of a small town girl making good." Oh, OK. So I guess it was accurate, then?

After reading (and sometimes skimming) through Sarah Palin: A New Kind of Leader, I've decided I want Joe Hilley to write about my experience writing this review. I think it'll go something like this:

"When Ian McGibboney first cracked into Sarah Palin: A New Kind of Leader, he had no idea where life would take him. One can only imagine how he must have felt cracking those pages. He obtained the book from the Springfield, Missouri Library Center. Center is also a basketball position, and the 2008 Republican National Convention was held at the Xcel Center in Saint Paul, Minnesota. These signs of destiny would be apparent to Ian only much later. At the time, however, he wasn't sure if he would make it all the way through the book. On paper, the book seemed over his head. But for anyone to make it through a book, they have to know how to read. They then have to learn how to achieve goals, such as making it all the way through a book. Ian was able to do that, having learned from his many years of book fairs. Like the wheels of his truck-book selection in kindergarten, Ian's drive kept spinning. Soon enough, he delighted in the end of his creation, a review that would wow the Americans who read it. Jesus Jesus Jesus."

Oh, and the book also features a transcript of Sarah Palin's acceptance speech to the GOP convention. Pre-spittled for your convenience.


rhonda said...


i still can't help but think back to john mccain's concession speech, when he tried not to furrow his brow as he said "i'd like to thank sarah palin..." i understood what he might have been feeling in those seconds, and i smiled to myself. i thanked her profusely, too, for all the hard work she put into helping the republicans lose the hell out of that election :)

Michael said...

Regrettably, the kind of leader that Sarah Palin represents is anything but new. Older than dirt, in fact. The pages of history are chock full of people like her--and the colossal screwups they make. In fact, if it weren't for crappy leaders like Sarah Palin and all their mistakes, historians like myself would have a lot less to write about.

Pete said...

This doesn't have anything to do with Sarah Palin, Ian, but I taught you "Intro to Newswriting" (or whatever it was called) in the fall of '99 at the School Formerly Known As USL.

I was going through some old boxes this week and came across my class roster. I decided that you were the student most likely to have become a writer/journalist, so I Googled you. It looks like I was right. Do I win anything?

So you work at the Springfield paper and blog on the side? Cool.

Anyway, hope you're doing well. Just wanted to say hi.

Geaux Cajuns,
Pete McEntegart

yournamehere said...

At least it wasn't written by Sean Hannity.

Ian McGibboney said...

Hi Pete! Great to hear from you. I enjoyed your class and am glad to see you online. Stay in touch!

You win my company and a link, if that's what you can call a prize. Ha ha.