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Readings for West Virginia Primary day

May 13, 2008 | 11:10 am

Mountaintopremoval

With West Virgina voters going to the polls today, my thoughts turn to West Virginia literature, about which I know, well, not that much. But last fall I did hear Ann Pancake read from her novel "Strange as This Weather Has Been." It's a character-driven tale about a West Virginia family coping with living in the shadow of a mountaintop removal mine (like the one pictured above). "Black floods" of dirt and debris are an ever-present threat. Children play among the felled trees, and coal miners are at odds with the mine owners. You can read an excerpt at Narrative Magazine (free registration required).

What I do know a bit more about are narratives of presidential campaigns. A few favorites after the jump.

photo from www.stopmountainremoval.org

"The Making of the President, 1960" by Theodore H. White. This behind-the-scenes look at the seven major candidates, from their first stirrings to the Nixon-Kennedy showdown, is insightful, informative and a whiplash read. White won a Pulitzer Prize for it.  The book is a model for campaign narratives and became something of a franchise for White, who went on to pen similar studies about the 1964, '68 and '72 elections.

"What It Takes: The Road to the White House" by Richard Ben Cramer. Following White's format, Cramer traces each party's candidates from the pre-primary season through the general election in 1988. President Reagan's vice president, George H.W. Bush, defeated Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis in that race. Cramer writes with passion and a sense that personal history matters; he made me admire former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, who went on to become the GOP nominee in 1996.

"Miami and the Siege of Chicago" by Norman Mailer. The protean novelist and essayist turns a sour eye toward candidate Richard M. Nixon's doublespeak at the Republican convention in Miami in 1968, then looks with equal skepticism at the antiwar protests and resulting mayhem outside the Democratic convention in Chicago that same year. As in any book by Mailer, there's a heaping dose of Mailer along with the history, but that's fine by me.

"Primary Colors" by Anonymous. This novelization of the 1992 (Bill) Clinton campaign took enough from real life that it was originally published anonymously -- later the author was revealed to be Joe Klein, then a political writer at Newsweek. (Klein, who at first denied authorship, is now a columnist for Time.) Juicy in its details of opposition research and the strengths and failures of charisma, the novel is far better than the clumsy film made from it.

"Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72" by Hunter S. Thompson. This is, for me, Thompson's best gonzo work, a balance of smart analysis and bombed-out madness. It's subjective, strange and unbalanced -- but the book also captures some essential truths about a campaign that occurred during turbulent times on our political landscape.

What have I missed?

Carolyn Kellogg

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