Inside Politics: Your Idaho Summer Reading List | Columnists
Last month, Rep. Ned Burns wrote a column lamenting efforts to ban books from Idaho schools and libraries. I couldn’t agree more. Books are to be read, not banned. With that in mind, I thought I’d offer an Idaho summer reading list that will give Idahoans of all political persuasions a little fun. I admit this is an ambitious list, but feel free to choose. After all, summer playlists are meant to be fun.
‘Big Trouble’ (By J. Anthony Lukas): About a century before OJ Simpson arrived, America’s “trial of the century” took place in Boise, Idaho, in 1907 for the murder of former Idaho Governor Frank Steunenberg, allegedly at the request of union leader William “Big Bill” Haywood. If Governor Steunenberg is unfamiliar to you, look across the street from the steps of the Idaho Capitol and you will see a large old statue of him. One thing this book taught me: do NOT mess with the mining unions in Idaho. The trial featured famed defense attorney Clarence Darrow on one side and legendary U.S. Senator from Idaho William Borah on the prosecution side. I won’t tell you who wins, but the verdict is perhaps the least exciting part of the story. If you care about the history of Idaho and the people who created this state, you must read this book.
People also read…
‘Theodore Rex’ (By Edmund Morris): Among the many big names who passed through Idaho during the time of the Steunenberg murder investigation and trial was none other than President Theodore Roosevelt. Besides being my all-time favorite president, he’s also the subject of a three-volume trilogy that follows him from birth, to president, to South American explorer, and to death. I understand that you may not have time to read all three volumes, so I would suggest the middle one – Theodore Rex – which chronicles his tenure after the assassination of President McKinley in Buffalo, NY. Although not covered in the book, Idaho has a literal blood connection to the Roosevelts. According to her diaries, Alice Roosevelt – Teddy’s eldest daughter – had a daughter with “Idaho Lion” William Borah.
‘The Blacker the Berry’ (By Wallace Thurman): It should be noted that Idaho actually contributed to the Harlem Renaissance with Wallace Thurman’s fictional account of a young black woman from Idaho who travels to New York in search of work, adventure and , of course, love. The opening scene of the book takes place at a graduation ceremony at Boise High School and ends in Harlem passing through Los Angeles. The Blacker the Berry is significant in the Harlem Renaissance canon in that it explores the complexities of darker and lighter-skinned African Americans and the discrimination the former face from the latter. If you’re a book banner, this may be out of your comfort zone, but The Blacker the Berry is a notable and unexpected part of Idaho history.
‘The Natural’ (By Bernard Malamud): What would summer be without a baseball book? Especially one with (sort of) an Idaho connection. I would recommend this as a “dual feature”. Read the book, then watch the movie. It’s amazing how much Robert Redford resurrects Roy Hobbs’ reputation in the film, as the prodigy baseball player is a sketchy character in the book. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll remember that Hobbs – a bright-eyed baseball player from a small town in the Midwest – started his career as a pitcher. Famously, he gets off a train and punches baseball’s biggest star (The “Whammer” – based on Babe Ruth) outside a carnival in three locations. Baseball historians believe that this aspect of Redford’s character is based, at least in part, on the “Big Train”, Walter Johnson. Like Hobbs, Johnson came from a small town in the Midwest (Humboldt, KS) and first made waves as a semi-pro pitcher in Idaho. Before winning 417 major league games, Johnson cut his teeth on the Idaho State baseball league pitching mound for the Weiser Kids. So when you read/watch The Natural, imagine Roy Hobbs modeling his pitching motion after “clean Idaho” Walter Johnson.
This summer, let’s take the time to enjoy books rather than banishing them. You never know what you might learn and enjoy.
Jeremy J. Gugino is a Democratic communications volunteer.