The Bush vs. Rove Reading Challenge December 29, 2008 – Tags:

Thanks to Adrianne’s comment below for informing me that the photo I refer to below of Bush holding a book upside down is not authentic. The details of this doctored image and the original image are discussed at
My apologies for the error.

In his latest weekly op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal, “Bush is a Book Lover“, Karl Rove shares his thoughts on George W. Bush’s reading life.

There is a myth perpetuated by Bush critics that he would rather burn a book than read one. Like so many caricatures of the past eight years, this one is not only wrong, but also the opposite of the truth and evidence that bitterness can devour a small-minded critic. Mr. Bush loves books, learns from them, and is intellectually engaged by them.

Since 2006, Rove and President George W. Bush have been engaged in a reading contest. Not only were they keeping track of the total number of books each of them read “but also the number of pages and later the combined size of each book’s pages — its “Total Lateral Area.”

Here are the results:

2006 – Rove 110 books to Bush’s 95
2007 – Rove 76 Bush 51
2008 – Rove 64 Bush 40

Here is a sampling of Bush’s 2006 reading list according to Rove:

Biographies of Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Carnegie, Mark Twain, Babe Ruth, King Leopold, William Jennings Bryan, Huey Long, LBJ and Genghis Khan.
Andrew Roberts’s “A History of the English Speaking Peoples Since 1900,”
James L. Swanson’s “Manhunt,”
Nathaniel Philbrick’s “Mayflower,”
Eight Travis McGee novels by John D. MacDonald,
Michael Crichton’s “Next,”
Vince Flynn’s “Executive Power,”
Stephen Hunter’s “Point of Impact,” and
Albert Camus’s “The Stranger.”

Rove also added, “Each year, the president also read the Bible from cover to cover, along with a daily devotional.”

In 2006, with Bush’s post-Katrina approval rating at 37%, Rove and company devised the George Bush Man of Letters strategy to try and improve his image and the Bush vs. Rove reading challenge was born. On August 20th of that year U.S. News & World report ran a story, “A humbled presidency,” in which the new intellectualized George Bush is introduced. In the piece White House aides claimed that President Bush had already read 60 books and Rove had read 50.

As Pierre Tristam noted in his November of 2007 post Behind Charlotte Simmons’ Burqah: What Bush Reads, Bush would have to be reading more than two books a week. “At 350 pages for the average book, that’s more than 700 pages a week. Assuming the man reads 30 pages an hour, that’s at least three hours a day of book-reading.”
Tristam calls it “the myth of Bush as a one-man Library of Alexandria.”

Also, according to the 2006 final results, Rove read 60 books from the middle of August to the end of the year to get to his 110. He would of had to average more than 3 books a week to get there, a mere 3x his stated goal of reading a book a week in 2006.

Well maybe I am, as Rove suggests, a small-minded critic devoured by bitterness but this just doesn’t add up. If Bush and Rove truly wanted to share their passion for reading and love of books they could have been a lot more vocal about it. Think of the online book social network and community building possibilities? Think of all that potential and needed revenue for authors and publishers that could have been had if they would have shared their reading lists with the public.

Then there is the interview with NBC’s Brian Williams that I keep coming back to whenever there is a story about Bush’s supposed literary prowess. You know the one where Williams asks Bush about his reading life and he says that on his recent Crawford vacation he read Camus’s The Stranger and three Shakespeare’s and that “The key for me is to keep expectations low.” Bush looks like he is jumping out of his skin trying to sound literate.

Lastly, Rove also says that “in the 35 years I’ve known George W. Bush, he’s always had a book nearby.” How come we hardly ever see him with one in his hand, and one of the few times we did it was upside down?

With three weeks left in Bush’s failed presidency the focus of the Rove machine seems to be shifting towards Bush’s Presidential Library and the legacy it will attempt to manufacture.

Previously on Book Patrol:
BibliObama : The Coming of a Literate President

A Payne in the Bush : Fundraising Scandal at the Bush Presidential Library
The Dark Side of the Bush Presidential Library
And the Envelope Please: Designs for the George W. Bush Presidential Library

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