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So, there was an election south of the border, if you weren’t aware. Little thing, barely mentioned on the news *deactivates sarcasm filter*. Which gets me in the mood for presidents from history and from the world of fiction. And so, to add another distraction log onto the fires of 2020, I plunge into the backlist and think about past and pretend presidents of the elephant in the room.

 

How to Fight Presidents Daniel O'BrienA few weeks back, I mentioned one of my favourite comedy/history books, How to Fight Presidents: Defending Yourself Against the Badasses Who Ran This Country by Daniel O'Brien. This book, from a former Cracked writer and current writer on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, breaks down the reader’s ability to take every deceased president in a fight. It includes insights like, Grover Cleveland “was 5'11" and 250 lbs of president and his fists were described as “ham-like,” which might be delicious but is probably just scary and painful. He loved hunting and often carried around a rifle that he nicknamed “Death and Destruction” which isn’t a nickname a rifle earns for being pretty.”

 

It is a helpful guide should you ever travel back in time/be confronted with zombie presidents. It might be very important one day to know that you could have definitely taken Millard Fillmore in a fight, a man so hated that upon assuming the presidency after Zachary Taylor died (you also could have beaten Taylor in a fight) his entire cabinet resigned, his party abandoned him, and ultimately caused the downfall of the Whig party. “Please know”, O’Brien writes, “that after his presidency he also formed the Know Nothing Party, a political party that was sort of okay but mostly racist, and during his presidency he causally protected slavery. Because Fillmore wasn’t just boring and a bad president, he was a d**k.”

 

The Bully Pulpit Doris Kearns GoodwinStill on the historical side, but less on the funny is presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. I first came to know Goodwin from her many hilarious appearances on The Daily Show and the Colbert Report. While most know her work from her Lincoln biography Team of Rivals (which Spielberg later used as a source for the film Lincoln), I prefer The Bully Pulpit, her biography of the rise and fall of the relationship between Teddy Roosevelt and William Taft. Roosevelt is one of my favourite US presidents, and Goodwin makes a solid case that Taft is one of the most misunderstood. But the focus of the book is on their friendship, and the betrayal that Taft felt when Roosevelt put his ego in front of that friendship. It is also a fascinating glimpse into the world of the media, the titular bully pulpit, of the time, and seeing the first awakenings of a mass media that has evolved to become all-encompassing in our own time.

 

Hope Never Dies Andrew ShafferOne of the best pieces of surreal fiction in the past few years has been the Obama/Biden mysteries novels Hope Never Dies, and the sequel Hope Rides Again, by Andrew Shaffer. Described by Penguin Random House as "part noir thriller and part bromance", and "a mystery worthy of Watson and Holmes with the laugh-out-loud bromantic chemistry of Lethal Weapon’s Murtaugh and Riggs," the books see the democrat duo become a mystery solving team in the streets of Delaware and Chicago. With Biden the President-Elect as of this writing, I wonder if we'll eventually get an addition to the series seeing Kamala Harris join the team, like Rene Russo in Lethal Weapon 3.

 

Superman: President LuthorDid you know that in the world of DC Comics, Lex Luthor ran for and won the presidency back in 2000? The long time billionaire industrialist and Superman villain, an avowed anti-alien racist, who filled his administration with yes-men and people of questionable ability, had ties to corrupt and terrorist organizations worldwide, and is unable to escape his greatest motivation: his hatred of Superman. Eventually, before the end of his first term, his conspiracies and criminal activity while in power are revealed and his is removed from office, becoming a fugitive. I don’t know what made me remember all that. Weird. Anyhoo, Luthor’s term of office is chronicled in Superman: President Luthor.

 

The American President Aaron SorkinI think few could argue that the greatest fictional president is Josiah Bartlet, played by Martin Sheen in The West Wing. And while I am a huge WW fan, I am equally a fan of writer Aaron Sorkin’s previous political foyer, The American President, which starred Michael Douglas as President Andrew Sheperd. If we’re talking film presidents, than you also have to mention Kevin Kline in Dave, Terry Crews in Idiocracy, Harrison Ford in Air Force One, Bill Pullman in Independence Day, and Morgan Freeman in Deep Impact. Digging real deep into the long-forgotten box is a mid-nineties movie called My Fellow Americans, in which Jack Lemmon (fresh off his Grumpy Old Men resurgence) and James Gardner play bickering former Presidents who are the target of assassination, and hijinks ensue.

 

A Ballad of Songbirds and SnakesYoung people should definitely have options about at least one fictional President, that being Coriolanus Snow from the Hunger Games series. Snow, far from being anyone's favourite, having presided over the Games for multiple decades. The recent A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes covers Snow's early life as a mentor and his rise to power. For other less savory politicians, there are likes of Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Selina Meyer in VeepTony Goldwyn as Fitzgerald Grant III in Scandal, and Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood in House of Cards. But I think most people have had enough of unsavory politics for a while. 

 

Which fictional presidents are your favourites? More than that, which fictional characters would you love to see run for president? Send your answers to mclark@lsc.on.ca.

 

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Fictionally Yours,

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