Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Game Change: Book Review & Movie Mention

    I have a lot to say about this book, but the bottom line is that while enlightening and challenging in some ways, it is not necessarily the King James of modern politics I expected it to be. And regarding the barely related HBO movie, it's just apples and oranges. This is absolutely not a time when you can skim by with the movie and say you've got the content of the book. Not the same at all, you guys.

Game Change Book Review

   Julia and Gen suggested this book to me about a year ago, and I finally got around to reading it. Actually, it was quite by accident that I snagged it on clearance while grocery shopping and have thoroughly enjoyed every chapter since. Woohoo! Anyway, these smart, sassy ladies described Game Change as sort of a behind the scenes analysis of the 2008 Presidential election story, supposedly a well researched and scrupulously documented and verified truth telling of what really happened between the biggest candidates, both Democrat and Republican. 

   Okay. Let's get something out of the way first. The nature of truth telling or truth accepting is that you have to trust the source, and while I love and trust my sister and friend, I don't know these authors at all. And, you guys, I have seen that old Dustin Hoffman movie Wag the Dog, so I am skeptical enough about media motivation to read everything with big, chunky grains of salt. 

   That said, I will pay dues to the writers and publishers for beginning this book with a description of how to interpret it: Their use of quotation marks meant one level of exactness; their use of italics meant another. Sometimes they were patching together stories from multiple sources; other times they were offered detailed accounts first hand but could not name their sources. And so on. I read it with a general understanding of their "map legend." So for the rest of this review, just periodically insert the words if this book is to be trusted.


   At first blush, do you know what I liked about this book? The fact they it tells a really important, complex story about a chapter of our nation's history, but from an intimate perspective. The reader is offered a fairly solid description of key events leading up to the election of our first African American President, and this is something that will be studied for generations. We get to watch the election process unfold beginning with the candidates' decisions to run in the first place. We get to see how the campaigning affected the candidates and their spouses. We get little glints of true light off of some of the characters that media coverage tends to either sanitize or demonize. And I just plain groove this you guys. Public decorum is good and necessary of course, but how fascinating is it to explore not the train wrecks but the contradictory realness of our movers and shakers? Love it.

   Specifically, and this was a big surprise to me personally, the book displays an incredible wealth of understanding about Hillary Clinton, a woman whose story is equally important to our history, even if she was not elected then. I have to say, nothing I have ever seen before sheds as much light and humanity on her than this book did. I may not agree with much of what I know about her politics, but as a woman, as a human being, I gained a lot of respect for her after absorbing what she has endured over the years and what her motivations seem to be. I stand among those guilty of judging her for her rigidity and failing to appreciate her "big picture."

   But I cannot say that Game Change reads as unbiased.

   For all of its fact loving and even tempered delivery, I felt more and more like the book was guilty of exactly what the book itself observed of media during that election: favoritism toward Obama. In an overarching, pretty obvious way too. I got the feeling that the writers were fourteen year old girls fawning over a Twilight actor.

   Game Change repeatedly describes a troubling perception on the part of the Clinton campaign, the McCains, and others that the press and general public were so immediately and thoroughly enamored by Obama that they became a bit hypnotized by his speeches, regardless of the surrounding facts and regardless of the fitness of his opposition, etc. As time passed, the complaints certainly grew about the press' blindness and tendency to be manipulated. Yikes.

   Again, this is something that can only be proven by a perfect bird's eye view of all facts and considerations, but I can tell you that this book seems to have been very soft and very comfy toward our soon-to-be new President. It seems to be equally critical and equally unforgiving toward every other candidate, though to a slightly lesser degree Hillary Clinton.

   Even when peppered with unflattering or downright infuriating facts about Obama, story after story is told with a lyrical, almost fairy tale tone that glows softly and brightly against the grittiness lent toward every other main character. That was frustrating for me as a reader expecting something more encyclopedic. If this was a fiction novel, the hero was made clear from the beginning.

   This is not to say I don't grasp and appreciate the emotional significance of these historic events; just that the epic is not told from quite the neutral position it claims.

   On top of this, the HBO movie that recently aired was a complete disappointment to me. It was all about Sarah Palin! As much as I enjoy just for entertainment purposes watching her speak (and by the way, Julianne Moore delivered an uncanny performance, WOW!), Palin's appearance in the book was fractional at best. The meat of the story was between Clinton and Obama, and it was almost fully accomplished by the time Palin was introduced toward the end. So for the movie to be made so unrepresentative of the book is, to me, more of the tail wagging the dog. I also cannot help but notice that the same week that Game Change was aired on HBO, they also began promoting a new series called Veep, in which Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays an attractive but laughable female Vice President. Ouch. And shame on you HBO, for not trying harder to resist transparency.

   Perhaps now I'm the one who sounds a little biased. Maybe. But I can appreciate the book for what it was and use it as a jumping off point for looking more deeply into interesting characters. 

   Game Change, if not vettable* as a complete, true, and unbiased story, is at least a well written drama unto itself. It serves up a layered and rhythmic collection of interesting stories about truly fascinating people. The authors provide a little less scrumptious detail than a fiction writer might, for obvious reasons I suppose, but that little deficiency is more than compensated for by the substance of the stories and their implications.

   I have so very much more to say about this you guys, pages and pages of notes I intended to share, but the horses are hungry and I need to mix some bread dough for dinner then possibly do a Jillian Michaels workout video. Have you read Game Change? Do you have time to talk about it? This is not a book club selection, so I am kinda flying solo here and  would love to hear others' reactions and insights! Thanks for another excellent reading recommendation, Julia and Gen! Love you like crazy!

Be Skeptical. Seek Truth. Vote.

* Vettable is one of about a million words in this book which I have been dying to use myself since reading it. Another of the many gifts of Game Change is a dramatic spike in my vocabulary! I started keeping track of words I had to understand from context but look up for definition and came up with a pretty healthy list! LOL


  1. Hmmm. I have not read the book because *sheepishly* I only ever heard of it after the movie came out and I have no interest in Sarah Palin whatsoever. Maybe I'll have to revisit this. Such a great review!

    1. Thanks for stopping in you nest feathering lady! Yes, definitely do NOT avoid the book just because the movie turns you off. Palin has a part to play in the book, of course, but only at the end. And the whole book is not ONLY Obama and Clinton; plenty other characters are woven in too! Let me know what you think if you get around to it in all of your "spare time!" LOL Hey speaking of, how goes Infinite Jest?

  2. I'm so much more interested now that you've posted this review. Hm, if only I could have a month off work and read ... Hm ...

    1. Yes, indeed, indeed... perhaps instead of tromping through Europe you should just stay home with a big stack of books and a few pounds of coffee beans... and tend those veggies... HEAVEN! xoxo


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