By their reading list ye shall know them

I am sure that those of you who follow politics have heard about Mitt Romney’s incredibly significant and newsworthy gaffe. When asked to name his favorite book, he cited Battlefield Earth by L. Ron Hubbard.

Cue a whole lot of snickering and mocking overanalysis by every blogger and pundit in the universe–all of whom no doubt curl up each night in their favorite cozy chair to read from a dog-eared copy of Crime and Punishment. A presidential candidate who likes a book about (snicker) aliens? A candidate who appreciates a nice pulp sci-fi story? God forbid a candidate respond to that question with a title that falls outside our vaguely-remembered high school Intro to World Literature syllabus. Thank goodness the pretentiati is on hand to assure us that anyone who would read, let alone enjoy, such a novel is, obviously, unfit for any sort of serious position in government. Can’t have our betters and those Europeans snickering at a U.S. President, can we?

Fortunately, Romney was quick to recant, assuring a worried public that his favorite novel is really Huckleberry Finn. Clearly, that’s an answer straight from his heart, and isn’t just a book title deemed by his political consultants as the Book Most Likely to Evoke a Positive Response from the Most Potential American Voters. (Let me guess: other Romney favorites include apple pie, the Bible, the soulful poetry of Maya Angelou, and freedom; and his heroes include Jesus, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr.) Good save, Romney, good save. For a minute there I was worried that I’d spotted a glimmer of an actual interesting personality beneath the soulless political mask, an honest-to-goodness quirk that hadn’t yet been sanded down into inoffensiveness by focus groups and asinine political cliches.

I exaggerate a little; Romney has not completely renounced his enjoyment of pulpy sci-fi. And a few brave defenders are standing up to the literary snobs. But this shocking scandal has got me on the defensive, as I enjoyed Battlefield Earth as a teenager and did not grow up to be Scientologist or an illiterate. Whether or not you think that presidential candidates should be reading B-grade sci-fi, mark my words: Romney’s Battlefield Earth answer was the most honest thing you’re going to hear from any candidate for the next 18 months; and it was us who, at the first sign of deviation from the predicable norm, mocked him into repenting (so we could then mock him for flip-flopping). Xenu help us–it’s going to be a long and stupid campaign season.

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6 thoughts on “By their reading list ye shall know them

  1. KDC

    Uh, I think it was the Scientology connection that got more people (at least those who might have a chance to vote for him before the general election) upset. Or so it seemed to those of us for whom, until shortly, he was our absentee governor.

  2. KDC

    And yes, we know the book is not about Scientology, and yes, I _do_ happen to enjoy curling up in my favorite chair to read a dog-eared copy of – well, the Idiot, not C&P, but close enough. Myshkin just appeals to me, can I help it?

  3. Andy

    Hey, I liked C&P too. But it was nice for a minute to see a politican acknowledging that he reads the same mediocre-but-fun books that the rest of us do.
    Most of the critiques I’ve seen of Romney’s book choice have mostly quoted and mocked turgid prose passages from BE. With Romney’s well-publicized Mormon faith, I didn’t think anybody was seriously worried that he was a closet Scientologist. But perhaps we’re reading different pundits.

  4. kim

    The jokes/criticisms I heard were all from the Scientology angle rather than the pulp fiction angle, as in, “wow, does someone from America’s second zaniest religion really read a book by the founder of the zaniest religion of all? Could Mary Baker Eddy be on his nightstand as well?” Romney is perceived as being outside of the American religious mainstream, and this just draws even more attention to that. And considering most of the calculated replies that have come out of Romney’s and every other candidate’s mouth, I agree that it is refreshing for him to admit his love of bad fiction. And he didn’t claim that he liked the John Travolta movie, did he?

  5. Andy

    Fair enough. Perhaps this story just set off my sci-fi fandom persecution complex. And yes, even I would have had to condemn him had he claimed to enjoy the Travolta movie…

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