Monday, August 7, 2017

Al Franken, Giant of the Senate

by Senator Al Franken
 Twelve 2017
416 pages     Nonfiction/Memoir/Humor
Audio Book

As we were planning our long road trip earlier this summer, I asked my husband what book he would like to listen to in the car. My regular readers know that my husband is a lifelong Republican (albeit currently a very disillusioned Republican). He suggested Al Franken, Giant of the Senate. Not surprisingly, that was the book I was thinking about, so I jumped at the chance to add it to our audio collection. Might I suggest that this is the perfect book for audio, because Franken reads it himself and is able to add all the nuances that make it both incredibly effective and incredibly ironic—irony being his comedic modus operandi.

These are his words to introduce the book: "Senator Al Franken has represented Minnesota in the United States Senate since 2009. Before entering politics, he was an award-winning comedy writer, author, and radio talk show host. He's been married to his wife, Franni, for 41 years — many of them happy. They have two children, Thomasin and Joe, and three grandchildren. Senator Franken graduated from Harvard College and received his doctorate in right-wing megalomania studies from Trump University." Admittedly, the book was written just as the election was decided, so his comments about Trump are only a small part of the narrative.

Primarily a memoir, Franken tells the story of how he got to where he currently is—a two-term Democrat Senator from Minnesota. His first career, of course, was as a comedy writer, for Saturday Night Live and the movies. When he decided to run for the Senate in his home state of Minnesota, he found that his constituents were not interested in having a comedian for a Senator. After all, they had already lived through a wrestler as a governor. So, in order to be elected, he had to work extra hard at being serious, all the while repressing joke after joke in his brain. He says that it was the hardest thing he ever had to do. His brain bleeds humor, such as the time he got in trouble for rolling his eyes at Mitch McConnell. His staff monitored his comments for the entire first term in office.

Now, well into his second term, he is able to let it all out. Al Franken, Giant of the Senate is funny but also very true. During his first campaign, his opponents mined material from his career to attack him. At first he was offended because the offensive remarks they were using had been his job, and he felt that to have to apologize for work he had done as a comedy writer was to sell out his career. Eventually, however, he was able to show Minnesotans that he was very serious and after an extremely close election and months of recounts, he was able to take his seat in the Senate.

Besides being funny, the book also shows Franken to be very serious about his work and extremely well-prepared. I was impressed by that, but I was also impressed by Franken's understanding of the value of humor in political discourse. He discusses which members of the Senate have a sense of humor, and which do not. He says, for example, that Lindsey Graham has the best sense of humor in the Senate and Ted Cruz has the least. He believes that a well-placed quip can ease tension in any room, and now that he has been in the Senate for 10 years, he can occasionally add a note of humor to a discussion. There is some talk of Franken running for President in 2020. Imagine that—someone who could make (and take) a joke.

My husband and I really enjoyed our time with Al Franken, and we heartily recommend the book. We have read several political books, including Being Nixon: A Man Divided and books about the Obamas, and Orrin Hatch. None of these had any laugh lines in them, so Al Franken, Giant of the Senate was refreshing in its candidness. The reviewer in the New York Times thinks that there is a lot of "stale recitations of liberal talking points" throughout the book, but that as political memoirs go, it's a "whole lot funnier" than most. 

You will find Franken's interview with Stephen Colbert about his book interesting.

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