- Brian Jackson/Sun-Times Media
- We know Mayor Emanuel has read some books, including many without pictures. But how often does he have the time for long philosophical novels about the dystopian state of modernity?
For the last few days I’ve been lying in bed, fighting a cold and ruminating over the reading habits of Mayor Emanuel.
I know that may seem like weird thing to ruminate over—so blame it on the cold.
I wasn’t even aware that Mayor Rahm had reading habits until I got a Facebook message alerting me to the fact that the Chicago Public Library had posted a list of the mayor’s 28 favorite books.
In particular, my Facebook friend wanted me to know that one of the mayor’s favorite biographies was Zealot, a biography of Jesus Christ that was deemed anti-Christian by some right-wing commentator on Fox.
Not having read the book, and generally doubting anything I hear from right-wing commentators on Fox, I was gearing up to congratulate the mayor for having an exceedingly open mind.
Then I went to the CPL website and saw his list of favorite books. And, well, my immediate reaction sort of went like this:
No way! I mean, no freaking way did the mayor read all these books!
Okay, let’s consider the evidence.
On the one hand, the mayor says he read them. C’mon—that’s got to count for something.
On the other hand, have you seen these books? I mean, we’re not talking breezy vacation reads.
These are hefty tomes. He’s got, let’s see, all three volumes of Taylor Branch’s history of the civil rights movement and all four volumes of Robert Caro’s biography of LBJ as well as biographies of Lincoln, Bolivar, and Lawrence of Arabia, a few novels, and tons of really long military histories. I’m getting exhausted just listing the list.
Here, read it yourself.
I’m not saying these books aren’t worth reading—I’m sure they are. I’m just saying Mayor Rahm probably didn’t read all of them.
Look, our mayor is a man of many talents and traits. But he’s not known as the kind of contemplative guy who likes to step away from the fray and dedicate himself to the solitary time required to read a hefty novel like, oh, Underworld, which is also on the list.
No, Mayor Rahm has the reputation of being an amped-up guy who hops out of bed before sunrise to call his police chief before spending the rest of his waking hours plotting strategy, training for triathlons, and whizzing from one press conference to another—sometimes through red lights—with his ear pressed to his cell phone.
My sources tell me he even spends his summer vacations pacing the beach with that phone pressed to his ear. So much for vacation-time reading.
Unless he’s given up sleeping altogether, I don’t think the mayor has the time to read any books, much less the massive mamas on this list.
In the case of Underworld, by Don DeLillo, we’re talking about a modernistic maze that jumps back and forth in time and features long and convoluted sentences like this one that I randomly selected from page 11:
“This is just a kid with a local yearning but he is part of an assembling crowd, anonymous thousands off the bridges and trains, people in narrow columns tramping over the swing bridge above the rivers, and even if they are not a migration or a revolution, some vast shaking of the soul, they bring with them the body heat of a great city and their own small reveries and desperation, the unseen something that haunts the day—men in fedoras and sailors on shore leave, the stray tumble of their thoughts, giving to a game.”
Okay, everybody, let’s have a show of hands. How many of you think Mayor Rahm has the patience to sit through 800 pages of sentences like that?
Look, I’m not saying the mayor hasn’t read any books. If I had to guess, a short list of the mayor’s favorite books might include Catcher in the Rye, Jaws and The Godfather. As a child of the ’70s, he definitely read The Godfather—hell, every boy in the ’70s read that one.
But none of these books—as great as they are—made the cut. If I were a cynical guy, I’d say that this list was put together by an aide who wanted to divert attention from the fact that this administration has fired librarians and tried to yank Persepolis out of the public schools.
Now, I bet a lot of you are thinking that I’m just jealous because the mayor’s reading list is a lot more impressive than mine.
I confess—there’s a smidgen of truth to this point. After all, I’ve spent the better part of this summer wading my way through the collective works of Michael Connelly, a novelist who specializes in hard-boiled mysteries about a tough-ass Los Angeles homicide detective named Harry Bosch.
Sample plot: there’s a serial killer on the loose and Harry’s on the trail, when he’s not breaking from his investigation to make love to a sexy evidence technician for the FBI.
Sample quote: “She straddled him and started a gentle rocking motion with her hips. Her hair hung down around his face until he was in a perfect darkness. He ran his hands along her warm skin . . .”
Sorry, I forgot—this is a family newspaper. But Mr. Mayor, if you want to borrow my copy, let me know.
There will be other critics who say this is not a subject worthy of commentary and that I should instead be dedicating my every waking hour to more pressing concerns, like the Mayor’s infrastructure trust. (Whatever happened to that thing, anyway?)
I must disagree. As we head into a mayoral election, character is an important issue. If the mayor isn’t telling the truth about his favorite books, how can we trust him to tell the truth about having reformed the TIF program?
On second thought, I doubt even Mayor Emanuel believes he’s telling the truth about that.
Happy Labor Day, everybody!