The New Kamala Harris Political Biography – A Review
In this episode, Dr. Andy reflects on the joys of knowing so many authors. He welcomes all the implied reading assignments!
Happy Martin Luther King Day! I hope you enjoy the holiday with your family / pod.
I feel lucky to know so many writers. Creative, thoughtful, witty, aware, writers make for good conversationalists. As friends, they sometimes disappear for long stretches at a time, and we must be patient with that, for we will all eventually benefit from their self-imposed separations. Some of them, I warrant, are appreciating the particular brand of isolation they have found in the Covid era. Fran Kafka once said “I need solitude for my writing; not 'like a hermit' - that wouldn't be enough - but like a dead man.” Though his friends might have thought him strange Kafka certain advantages as a writer, such as not knowing the distraction of TikTok.
Because I host a lot of writers at my events (more than 75 in 2020, despite the challenges), I feel tempted, even persuaded, to buy all their books. Some of the authors I introduce are intense vendors of their work, all but insisting that everyone at an event go home with a copy of their latest publication. And as host and Master of Ceremonies, I have felt great gratification in discovering that an author’s load of books is lighter at the end of the evening. This dynamic is particularly notable for authors who write with the reader and the book buyer in mind. Mickey Spillane once said, “Nobody reads a mystery to get to the middle. They read it to get to the end. If it’s a letdown, they won’t buy anymore. The first page sells that book. The last page sells your next book.”
Others authors are like secretive spies, mentioning a website URL or even book title only when pressed. That might be because at the end of a fine poetry reading, one feels that the performance itself was the prize. After seeing a play at The B Street Theatre in Sacramento, I relish the memory of the experience, and don’t feel the need to go buy the play afterwards. Similarly, a well-performed poem can be an embodiment of a cascading series of emotions, rather than just a recounting of words on a page. As Thomas Howard once said, “Everything depends on what is being enacted.”
So I try not to collect to many physical copies of books, as I did rather obsessively in the 1980s and 1990s, but I am reading more unassigned works than ever before, averaging more than 30 books a year, and that doesn’t even include all the poetry books I read. I’m grateful for this opportunity to read so much, for all the intellectual adventures I get to sample through the works of great authors. William Styron said that "A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading."
So although I can’t buy all the books of the poets who appear in my reading series and the authors who appear on my radio show (the way I just assume Terry Gross does when preparing for the interviews on Fresh Air), I do try to buy and read the books my friends write. Such was the case with the book published last week by Dan Morain, Kamala’s Way. This political biography of the Californian who becomes our Vice-President Wednesday calls upon not only Morain’s lunchtime meetings with the onetime California Attorney General, but also upon the significant journalistic coverage that Morain’s newspaper (for many years, Dan Morain was the Editorial Board Editor at the Sacramento Bee) and other mostly California newspapers have devoted to Harris as she played increasingly important roles in law enforcement and political leadership in California and as our junior U.S. Senator in Washington DC.
I was encouraged to discover that Kamala’s Way also reviews the important political (and criminal) challenges and controversies of the last 30 years, providing me historical and legislative context for many of the more prominent political figures who I learned about in local newscasts in the 1990s (back before cable when Kate and I used to watch the local news), and in the Sacramento Bee, a newspaper that we read daily during that same period. We lived just two blocks from the Old Governor’s Mansion when we moved to Sacramento in 1991, and thus about ten blocks from the state capitol, so we felt connected to the political life of the city. Also, culturally, there was much less going on in Sacramento in the early 1990s than today. State government was the main game in town. Kamala’s Way helped me connect the names I knew back then to the work of that same era’s most prominent political export: Kamala Harris.
The book explores the complexities of a political leader who has been seen as some as too ambitious and others as too calculating. Kamala’s Way explores why some people have been led to those conclusions, but it also presents anecdotes that attest to Harris’s humor, work ethic, and compassion. Many times Kamala Harris met with crime victims, aged activists in local hospitals, and disabled children to discuss their concerns and aspirations, usually with no reporters or even witnesses nearby. This sort of extra-political empathy raised my regard for our future-looking public servant who resigned from the U.S. Senate today, and who will take the oath of office on the west steps of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday afternoon.
Dan Morain’s book is worth your time – I read it in just a few days. Kamala’s Way is available now at the Avid Reader bookstore in my hometown of Davis, California (which gets a few mentions in the book) and anywhere fine books are sold. Support your friendly neighborhood writers!
Speaking of writers, thanks for reading this far, and thanks to all the supporters of the Pub Quiz on Patreon. If you enjoy these newsletters, I’d appreciate it if you showed your support with other fans of the weekly Pub Quiz I run / distribute. On Patreon, visitors and especially patrons will find bonus Pub Quiz questions, almost always with photographs!
P.S. Dana Gioia, the former California Poet Laureate and former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, will be my guest at Poetry Night this coming Thursday, January 21st, 2021. I’ve known Dana for 25 years, so I have convinced him to join us to read some poems, read from his new book, Studying with Miss Bishop: Memoirs from a Young Writer’s Life, and answer some of your questions. We all gather in my personal Zoom room this coming Thursday night at 8. Check out the Facebook event, and mark your calendar now!
P.P.S. Here are three questions from last week’s Pub Quiz:
U.S. States. The 981 mile long Ohio River finds its way into the Mississippi River at the southern tip of what state that starts with the letter I?
Pop Culture – Music. What singer/songwriter wrote these lyrics in a song released in 1983? “You're a vegetable, you're a vegetable / Still they hate you, you're a vegetable / You're just a buffet, you're a vegetable / They eat off of you, you're a vegetable.”
Sports. In what state did Michael Jordan attend high school?