Wednesday, November 5, 2008

An open letter to President-elect Obama from Mark Troy

Dear President-elect Obama,

Congratulations on your victory. While most people wait for your list of appointments to various cabinet and government posts, some of us are waiting for your presidential reading list. What books you will be reading while in the White House?

Presidential reading lists tend to be heavy on history, philosophy and biographies of famous people, fitting subjects for the president of the United States. But not all presidential choices need to have such gravitas. What do you read on the long flights aboard Air Force One? What books will be in the seat pouch?

President Kennedy was a huge fan of Ian Fleming. His list of favorite books included From Russia With Love. Did it in influence the policies of the leader of the free world at the height of the Cold War? I don’t think anyone knows, but it did spark a reading frenzy in my circle of friends. So you see, Mr. President, your choice of reading matter has power.

President Clinton made a point of reading for enjoyment at least thirty minutes every day, a good habit for any president to encourage. A self-proclaimed mystery addict, his favorite authors were Walter Mosley, Sue Grafton, and Jonathon Kellerman. All of them, great choices.

Mysteries are the most contemporary of genre fiction. They tend, more than any other genre, to reflect the attitudes and mores of the times in which they were written. If you want insights into attitudes of Americans, it would be worth your while to acquaint yourself with some mysteries.

If you are a mystery fan, Mr. Obama, you undoubtedly have your own favorites, but if you are not, I would like to suggest a few that I think you would like.

Washington D.C. is a city you won’t learn about from the windows in the oval office, nor from the people around you, most of whom don’t live in D.C. For that, I recommend Hard Revolution by George Pelecanos. Pelecanos has been called the poet laureate of the D.C. crime world. Hard Revolution tells the story of two D.C. cops struggling to do their jobs in a city short on hope. Derek Strange is a young black cop trying to hold his family together and protect his older brother from the bottom-feeders he hangs with. Frank Vaughan is an older white cop investigating the vicious hit and run of a young black man. Their paths collide on the eve of the assassination of Martin Luther King, an event that set off a chain of events that left Washington D.C. burned, divided, and the dreams of many thousands of people destroyed. I don’t need to say that you represent the revitalization of those dreams

Mystic River, Dennis Lehane’s tour de force, is set in a neighborhood of Boston, a city you may have gotten to know while at Harvard. The novel is about a community and how the lives of the people are shaped by their surroundings. This is not one of the communities you
organized in Chicago, but the people are probably not unlike the people you worked with. Jimmy Marcus is a small business owner, a family man, and an ex-con. When his daughter is murdered, he sets out to solve the crime and administer his own justice. On the way, he becomes a community organizer in his own right. It’s not the path you took, Mr. President, and Jimmy Marcus would never make it to the White House, but his story belongs there for its honesty and emotion.

As president, you will have responsibility for the Department of Justice and the FBI so here’s a twofer for you. The Poet and its sequel, The Narrows by Michael Connelly introduce FBI agent Rachel Walling in pursuit of a serial killer. Walling is one of the best women crime-solvers in a crowded field. She is courageous, competent, smart and sexy. Memo to President: The FBI should be staffed with agents like her. Maybe even director? After The Poet, we had to wait a long time for her return in The Narrows, but it was worth it.
This time she teams up with the inimitable Harry Bosch, LAPD’s maverick detective, now working as a private eye. Don’t be put off by the “maverick” label. Bosch is competent, though he doesn’t always follow the rules, a trait that puts him in conflict with Walling.

The list would not be complete without a mystery set in the state of your birth, Hawaii. Delicious by Mark Haskell Smith gives you the Hawaii that the Visitor’s Bureau hopes you don’t see.
This is not the seven-day, six-night, mai-tais at sunset trip to paradise. This is a dark, uproarious, over-sexed romp. Smith has the comic sensibilities of Carl Hiaasen and the weird world-view of Joe Lansdale. Delicious tells the story of a young Hawaiian chef, Joseph, whose family business comes under attack from a Las Vegas catering company that tries to muscle into it. Joseph’s father considers this an invasion equaled only by that of Captain Cook and this time the outsiders must be stopped at all costs. This is a laugh out loud book. You will wake up everybody else on Air Force One when you read it.

These are my suggestions, Mr. President, but there are many more, equally good books in the genre. I’m sure that readers of this blog will have their own suggestions for you and I hope they contribute them here.

Happy reading.


Morgan Mandel said...

Based on his promise in the acceptance speech, I believe he'll need a book on the care and feeding of puppies!

Morgan Mandel

Anonymous said...

Great post. I had no idea what the reading habits of former presidents were. You did your homework on this one, Mark!

Marilyn said...

Good post.

Because I'm old enough to remember when Kennedy was president, I also remember reading all those books he was reading.


Mark said...

Yes, Kennedy was such a Bond fan, he got to see Dr. No before the rest of the world.

So, Morgan, maybe he should be reading Robert B. Parker? There's hardly a story without a dog. Pearl in the Spencer stories and Rosie in the Sunny Randall stories.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Excellent post, Mark. I recall that Tom Clancy's career was launched by President Reagan. Clancy's first book was published by a small military press and someone liked the book and sent it to Reagan. The luck of the Irish. :)

Mark said...

I hadn't heard that about Clancy and Reagan. Thanks for that bit of history.

Carolyn said...


Great insight. I think you should forward this column to Obama's website. He needs to see this. I enjoyed it, and wrote down titles and authors to add to my list.

You're a great writer and should have added your own book set in Hawaii.

Anne Carter said...

I really enjoyed this post, Mark. I even read the whole thing! Always appreciate the research that goes into this kind of message. Creative idea, too. Thanks for all the info, and if Barack doesn't respond, cut him some slack. This time.


Earl Staggs said...

Well done, Mark. He should hire you as his Literary Advisor.

Dana Fredsti said...

If he DOES hire you as his literary adviser, please include a few female authors in there too, Mark! You betcha! :-)

Mark said...

Sounds like a part two coming up sometime. But maybe some readers of this blog will suggest a few.

Mary Welk said...

Great post, Mark. But you forgot to mention mysteries set in Obama's hometown of Chicago. I recommend Michael Harvey's THE FIFTH FLOOR, a political wheeler-dealer involving the men who work in Chicago's Mayor's Office. And for something lighter, I recommend A MERRY LITTLE MURDER, an amateur sleuth mystery set in a rural Illinois university town.


Mark said...

I need to get both of those. Political wheeling and dealing in the Chicago mayor's office? I'm shocked! And that rural Illinois university might just be my alma mater. Thanks for the suggestions.

Neil Plakcy said...

Great post, Mark-- I hope Obama or one of his staffers reads it.

Well, I can't resist suggesting my own books, the Mahu series, because my hero, Honolulu homicide detective Kimo Kanapa'aka, is a graduate of Punahou, the private school in Honolulu that Obama himself attended.

Mark said...

Aloha Neil,

Thanks for dropping by. I wish I had room to list all the great Hawaiian mysteries including your Kimo Kanapa'aka. Go Buff n Blue! For readers of this blog who are not familiar with Hawaiian mysteries, please visit my other blog, where you can read a great interview with Neil.