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November 02, 2017

Know Your History

Most of my political views developed from one book: “Crazy Salad” by the late and marvelous Nora Ephron. The book contained a collection of her essays from Esquire in the seventies, which I read in the eighties. I didn’t dig through a bin at Goodwill to find this treasure, but I found it somewhere almost as good, on a bookshelf in my grandparents’ beach house on a rare rainy afternoon. I was around eleven years old and we were on a family vacation. “Crazy Salad” is one of the first books I remember devouring, and I reread it over the years because there were other rainy days at the beach. If you’re a reader, rainy days are a gift.

The book is a collection of essays about events that were in the news at the time, everything from the Pillsbury Bakeoff and Margaret Court’s tennis match against the insufferable Bobby Riggs to Rosemary Woods’ role in the Watergate scandal and period extraction. I learned a lot of things I didn’t know! And some of them were probably very inappropriate! One of the greatest things about my parents was that they never censored anything we read. They wouldn’t let me watch MTV, but Nora Ephron’s essay about Linda Lovelace? No problem!

History was never my thing because I’m terrible at memorizing facts and dates but Ephron’s essays lent context to history. Her take on those events made a lot of sense to me. “Crazy Salad” also taught me how I like to learn about the past, through stories. History textbooks didn’t help, but funny, timely, and opinionated essays taught me more.

A lot of those books never make it to the bestseller list, but perusing shelves of used books can tell you what other people were reading at the time. You’ll have to get past all the copies of “Eat, Pray, Love,” but you can find some real gems. You can find treasures like “The Transformation of Southern Politics” by Jack Bass and Walter DeVries. The book covers southern politics from 1945 until the seventies, when it was published. And if you want to read about a specific politician or moment, you can use the convenient index in the back of the book. Sure, there are charts and facts, but also stories. South Carolina politics is nothing without anecdotal evidence and colorful characters. (If you’d like to learn about another fascinating slice of South Carolina history, I highly recommend Jason Ryan’s “Jackpot: High Times, High Seas, and the Sting That Launched the War on Drugs.” Governor Henry McMaster plays a crucial role, and the book is hard to put down.)

But I digress. How do you get your history? I like reading an assortment of books, chock full of varying degrees and varieties of bias. History makes more sense to me when I get a window into how other people lived it. Besides, don’t you want to know how these guys feel about politics in South Carolina? I mean, they look smart!

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