Sunday, November 4, 2007

Book 6 of 52: The First Campaign by Garrett M. Graff

Book 6 is a political title: The First Campaign: Globalization, the Web, and the Race for the White House.

I will be the first to admit that while, yes, I do have an interest in politics (I think anyone who votes should educate themselves about it, and everyone who can should vote -- good cycle, right?), I get most of my information from the news, whether that be from TV, newspapers or the internet. But pick up something book length? Not likely.

So how did this book end up as part of my project? Simple: I know Garrett.

Before Garrett ever put pen to paper for this book, he helmed FishbowlDC, one of Mediabistro's city blogs. I was new to freelancing then and educating myself about the business by poking around content on the site. From the day FishbowlDC launched, I was hooked. I liked Garrett's informal yet informative style, and his knowledge of what seemed to be everything going on in the media world down there. I was also writing for DC STYLE magazine and, being located in New Jersey, relied on his updates to see how the magazine was being received by media folks in the city (not too well if you consider that it's no longer in print).

Anyway, Garrett decided to get himself credentialed as part of the White House Press Corps, arguing that he was a valid member of the media. He recorded his attempts to, as a blogger, be seen as such. It was hysterical. His run arounds with the friendly-sounding interns who did everything they could to keep him out read like a "Who's on First" routine. But it was real, which made it that much funnier.

Garrett did make it into the White House, and got himself a lot of media attention. It was also around this time that I went to DC STYLE's launch party (I wrote for the Philadelphia version, and my brother lives in that area). I had no idea what Garrett looked like, but I wanted to meet the man behind the blog. So I made friends with the PR person for the restaurant where the party was being held, and she pointed him out. I went up to the tall blond man from Vermont, said hello, and we've been friends ever since. I even wrote an article about him, which you can read here.

When Garrett told me about this project, I was shocked. Not because someone would buy this kind of book from him, but by what a really big deal it was. It's a major title being published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux -- one of my favorite publishing houses -- and Garrett's only 26 years old. For him to leapfrog to the head of the pundit pack is amazing but, in retrospect, not a shocker. He worked for Howard Dean when he was 14 years old. He was part of the campaign, and started his own company soon after. He used FishbowlDC to get his name out there, and he eventually landed an editor job at Washingtonian (full disclosure: I write for him and that magazine).

After reading The First Campaign, I can say that FSG made the right call in bringing Garrett on board.

The First Campaign is about how technology will effect the 2008 presidential election, and all the issues that surround that election. This might sound like simple statement, but those issues, like healthcare, education and the environment, are biggies. Each one would be tough to tackle in one book each, but Garrett has managed to boil each one down to its core and how the 2008 presidential candidates (and we're talking everyone in the primaries right now) will have to address these issues. He also delves into the history of the blogosphere and its affects on politics -- something he's been a part of for a long time.

I really liked the book, and no one's more relieved by this than I am. Not only would I hate to have to tell Garrett that I didn't like The First Campaign, but I will admit that I was intimidated by its heft. When I scanned my shelf looking for what would be book 6 in this project, I kept skipping over The First Campaign. It's not that I didn't like Garrett's writing, but he's so damn smart and so mature as a writer that I thought the book would go over my head, and that reading it would be a mental struggle. With all that's happened to me this year (between a death in the family, heart break and a long bout of "where do I want this writing thing to go"), I didn't want to feel like the kid who got left behind. I breathed a sigh of relief when I got through chapter three and wanted to keep going. I stayed up late three nights in a row reading the book because it's so interesting, and so well written. He has a writing style that makes me a pinch jealous, but not entirely since we don't write the same things. I called him last week, too, to tell him my opinion, and I'm so glad that it was an easy call for me to make.

He's not going to get off scott free, though -- it's not a perfect book. He writes about his involvement on the Dean campaign, but does not write about "the scream." I would have liked to know more about how the campaign collapsed even though Dean built up such a presence in the minds of the American people, largely aided by the web. I also don't like the cover. I know that's not Garrett's fault but I hope that FSG will change the cover from the galley to the final version, as they did for Cathleen Schine's The New Yorkers. And if you're a die hard Republican, you will probably not like a lot of what Garrett has to say, though it might change your mind. Or at least get you to look deeper into the subject, which is what any good book on politics should make you do.

I think this will be the first step in a long career for Garrett. I wouldn't be surprised to see him as a regular on cable TV news shows. I remember the first time he was on CNN because of FishbowlDC. It was so exciting to tune in and see someone I knew. I don't know if I ever could have guessed the roads that either of us would travel after we first met at that magazine party. But you know what? It's better than I could have imagined, for both of us.

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