Commentary: COVID Reading | KBIA

Commentary: COVID Reading

Mar 16, 2021

It’s a good thing I like to read because I’ve done a lot of it in the last year.  Jane and I get four daily newspapers and read another online.  I always have two or three books going, and that doesn’t count audio books.


This year, reading has been more escapist than usual.  I have favorite fiction authors – Michael Connelly, John Grisham and Scott Turow for police and courtroom procedurals – and recently discovered David Rosenfeld, whose obnoxious criminal defense attorney Andy Carpenter is hilarious.  I was so desperate that I tried a Daniele Steele novel.  Whew.  How has she “sold a billion books,” according to information on the book jacket?

The coffee table book of Bob Dylan’s lyrics was a Christmas present.  I can see why he won a Nobel Prize.  Among other things, he was composing and recording rap music in the 1960s.

For non-fiction I read Bill Bryson.  Anything by Bryson is worth reading.  He is one of the few authors who uses adverbs and adjectives effectively.

I read several books about female American spies in Europe and female codebreakers during World War II.  I read several David Sedaris collections – entertaining and disturbing.  He’s come a long way since “Santa Land Diaries.”  

I read humorist P.J. O’Rourke’s latest.  He tried his best to be funny about the last five years.  He does win the Best. Description. Ever. Award, though.  He once described former President Jimmy Carter’s smile to resemble “a raccoon eating fish guts off a wire brush.”

I read several non-fiction books about the early Cold War, one of modern history’s true inflection points.  From a memoir from that time here are some passages that could be written today:

·      A president needs political understanding to run the government, but he may be elected without it. (198) (Italics in original.)

·      The ideal situation would be for all the candidates – local, state and national – to be heard on a fair basis by all the people of the country over the communication facilities of the nation, so that there would be no political advantage to anyone for reasons of personal wealth . . . .  People do not like the idea of a purchased public office and this applies particularly to the presidency.  That is the reason for the limitation on contributions to campaigns. (205)

·      A yes-man on the White House staff or in the Cabinet is worthless! (416)

·      It was distressing that even in a period of crisis these men could not see that a two-party system, in order to succeed, needs a responsible opposition as much as a working majority. (430) (Italics in original.)

These quotes are from volume two of Harry Truman’s memoirs, published in 1956.  Everything I read about, and now by, Harry Truman increases my admiration for him.

Dr. Terry Smith is Political Science Professor at Columbia College and a regular commentator on KBIA's Talking Politics.