No, they aren’t all about Presidents. I read about everything. Most of my books are non-fiction, but there are a lot of different subjects besides Presidents — all types of U.S. history, all types of World history, Papal history, space, biographies, autobiographies/memoirs, linguistics, neuroscience, some sports, it’s a wide variety. There is some fiction in there, too, but mostly non-fiction.
I’ve never really collected anything else throughout my life. My one passion has been reading, and I’m a self-educated guy, so I’ve been building myself a library for as long as I’ve been buying books. It’s great because not only do I have enough books to always keep me busy, but I have a one-stop research library that I can turn to if I’m writing something and need the source material.
I can’t even buy bookshelves quick enough to stock my books on, let alone organize them. I am only half-joking when I say that I need an intern. Here’s what part of my living room looks like:
I have a grand total of one shelf that is somewhat organized, and it really happened somewhat accidentally. Earlier this year, I received a bunch of books about my favorite person on Earth, Pope Francis, and I wanted to make sure I kept tabs on which ones I had read and which ones I hadn’t. So, I started a Pope Francis section that basically morphed into a Papal history/Popes section. So, this one Papal shelf (the middle shelf, below the Obama bumper sticker) is about as organized as my books get right now:
I would like to note that I am accepting applications for a life partner (a young woman preferably), who would like to share a life of literacy and history and help organize my books. I cook and do dishes and really don’t mind doing laundry, either. It’s not an easy life, though. As we have established, I am a bit of an ass. In fact, if I placed a single ad, it would be like the old Pony Express recruitment posters, “Orphans Preferred”:
I don’t follow many blogs at all. In fact, I’ve been looking for some new blogs to follow. I’m pretty picky, though.
What most appeals to me is good writing. My Tumblr is obviously writing-intensive (let’s put it this way: if you looked up “long-winded” in the dictionary, instead of finding my face next to the definition, you would find a ridiculously unnecessary amount of words) and longreads — like the aptly named “Longreads” site — alway make me happy.
There are some individuals that I follow — some are people who I know in real-life (sirsamurai; calispeaks; dividedbyframes; narimonk; bllsmk) and some are people that I’ve met here on Tumblr over the past few years and find interesting or funny and would love to hang out with “in real life” (totaldrivel; jheath and irish-mexi; la-fraude-belle; giantsquidandlocomotives; caitlinfaith; imathers and nudewave; neutralangel; ghost-al-qaeda; thebombbag; notnadia; littlebrownskinnedgirl; dyslexianature; carveher; kaiyves). I know that I’m probably missing someone that I am a fan of, so I apologize.
I also follow some publishing companies with really solid Tumblrs, like the Oxford University Press, Little Brown, W.W. Norton, Knopf, Doubleday, and Vintage Anchor just to name a few. Then there are certain publications or content providers that I like to follow: The New York Review of Books; The Missouri Review; Stadium-Love-; The Paris Review; Millions Millions; L.A. Review of Books; LIFE; The-Feature, Lapham’s Quarterly, and Colonel Chris Hadfield.
And, of course, last but not least, there are some history sites that I really enjoy here on Tumblr beginning with the always-awesome Tuesday Johnson (tuesday-johnson; drtuesdaygjohnson; heckyesamericana). The Presidential Libaries are well represented with a great jump-off point at Our Presidents. The LBJ Library is one of my favorite places in the world and on Tumblr! The Archivist of the United States has a wonderful site, and Today’s Document from the National Archives never fails to live up to its name with a great post.
Although I do tend to be picky when it comes to the blogs that I follow, I actually really am in the market for some new additions. If I don’t follow you, please don’t take it personally — I can’t even get make a noticeable impact on the questions in my inbox, so simply following everybody who follows me would probably result in epileptic seizures whenever I scrolled through my dashboard. However, if you think your Tumblr fits in pretty well with the ones I listed above — especially if your posts are heavy on the writing and easy on the GIFs — give me a heads-up. Or, if you know of a site that you think I’d enjoy, who is it?
Okay, well first, let me note that I am not usually a proponent of throwing your vote away. I think it’s a silly form of protest. However, I was very frustrated and angry about the 2003 recall campaign against Governor Gray Davis because I really liked Governor Davis. His 1998 campaign was the first campaign I ever worked on and he had been reelected less than a year earlier. He wasn’t corrupt and nobody ever accused him of corruption. It was a partisan hijacking of the political process, financed by the man who is now chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Darrell Issa (who was hoping to become Governor himself but stepped away when Arnold Schwarzengger jumped in).
I used to take my daughter with me when I would vote so that she could see the process and hopefully it would resonate with her and encourage her to vote when she got older. So, she went with me on the day of the recall election. I voted “no” because I was against recalling Governor Davis, but it was very obvious that the recall was going to succeed, Governor Davis was going to be recalled, and Arnold Schwarzenegger was going to win. So, I explained everything to Sabrina as best as I could, and let her vote because she wanted to fill in the bubble.
If it were up to me, I would have voted for Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante, the top Democrat in the election. (Bustamante had to run a weird, confusing campaign that said, “No on the Recall, Yes to Cruz!”) Sabrina had other ideas. She voted for Arnold Schwarzenegger — and here’s the great thing — because she’s been a smart-ass since she was five years old she didn’t vote for Arnold because she liked him; she voted for him because she thought it would be funny to have him as Governor and because she knew it wasn’t who I would vote for. What a sweet little child — not her, everybody else’s kid.
What’s up, little brother?! Our birthdays are coming up. (Calispeaks is my “little brother” because we were born one day apart in the same year — 1992, ahem.)
I’m getting my news from a distance, but from everything I hear, Vivek Ranadive, the new owner of the Kings, has been incredible. I love the dude’s creativity and enthusiasm. And I was pleasantly surprised to read Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, David and Goliath, which spends the first chapter focusing on how Vivek found what works to his advantage to find success (not with the Kings, FYI) against the odds. I’m very thankful for Vivek Ranadive, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, and NBA Commissioner David Stern — they not only saved the Kings, but they saved the city of Sacramento.
From what I’ve heard of the arena plan, I’m excited. I really hope it revitalizes downtown, which has so much potential and has been such a disappointment for so long. I’m getting local, but it’s surprising that the sites that have always been rumored for a new arena — the railyards and Cal Expo — were passed over for Downtown Plaza. But it makes a lot of sense because it could turn K Street into something really special and Old Sacramento could be reborn. (By the way, I always thought the former McClellan Air Force Base was the perfect spot for an arena. Cleanup of the site would be tough, but it would be the best place in the city when it comes to traffic on gameday from every direction.)
I don’t know when I’m coming back! I need to visit. I miss everybody and I miss my city. I miss walking around Capitol Park, grabbing some food at the Esquire Grill, or sitting in the lobby of the Sheraton Grand and drinking like a gentleman. Honestly, I’d love to see another game in ARCO Arena (I’m not calling it by its new name) before it closes. I’ll miss that place, especially since we (me and you) had the run of it so many times when the Monarchs were playing! Are there plans to bring the Monarchs back? Little known fact: everyone’s favorite Tumblr Presidential historian (that’s me, I hope) was a huge fan of the WNBA when the Sacramento Monarchs were in the league and rarely missed a game.
I miss you, Cali! The state and my friend. We’ll catch up on the phone sometime soon.
Alright, alright, alright. A reader asked me a long time ago if I would answer the Proust Questionnaire and sent me the questions via e-mail. I copied and pasted them here so that I could answer. I’m kind of bummed because I thought that they were going to be the same questions James Lipton asks on Inside the Actor’s Studio, but apparently Marcel Proust wasn’t interested in my favorite cuss word (it’s “goddamn”).
Here we go:
•What is your idea of perfect happiness?
A pile of books, a cool breeze, and the ocean.
•What is your greatest fear?
•Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Wow…years of studying history and I’ve never really thought about this question! I’m certainly not as smart as him, but Bill Clinton to an extent — particularly the compartmentalizing of the more reckless aspects of his life that got in the way of his greatest accomplishments.
•Which living person do you most admire?
•What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
•What is the trait you most deplore in others?
•What is your greatest extravagance?
Rare or difficult-to-find books.
•What is your favorite journey?
Road trips with no particular destination, a full tank of gas, all the time in the world, and great music.
•What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
•On what occasion do you lie?
When I need to.
•What do you dislike most about your appearance?
When people mistake an intensity or thoughtful look in my eyes with anger.
•Which living person do you most despise?
It wouldn’t be right to name names here. Some things belong to me.
•Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
"Dude", "Awesome", "Great"
•What is your greatest regret?
Wasting time when I knew damn well that I was wasting it. Continuing to work at something that I recognize isn’t working.
•What or who is the greatest love of your life?
•When and where were you the happiest?
A place that always seems to be somewhere other than where I happen to be.
•Which talent would you most like to have?
I wish I could play the piano.
•What is your current state of mind?
•If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Almost everything that happened in 2004.
•If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?
I’d want to have asked more questions of those who I can’t ask questions to anymore.
•What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Writing a federal grant for an afterschool program in Sacramento that I ran for six of the happiest, most productive years of my life.
•If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
Hopefully a human with a chance to remake certain choices.
•If you could choose what to come back as, what would it be?
Myself, but with all the answers and experiences I need within me from the beginning.
•What is your most treasured possession?
An external hard drive with backups of everything that I have written in the past 15 years.
•What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Disappointing people who counted on me.
•Where would you like to live?
A beachside villa in either Cuba or Southern Oregon.
•What is your favorite occupation?
•What is your most marked characteristic?
The important things that I have learned.
•What is the quality you most like in a man?
Loyal friendship, no matter what. Ride or die.
•What is the quality you most like in a woman?
Someone that I can love AND like.
•What do you most value in your friends?
•Who are your favorite writers?
John Steinbeck, David McCullough, Erik Larson, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Robert Caro.
•Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
Omar from The Wire.
•Who are your heroes in real life?
Anyone who can teach me something.
•What are your favorite names?
Names? I don’t really have any favorite names.
•What is it that you most dislike?
Doubt. I hate it when someone doubts me or doesn’t believe in me. Not necessarily someone who doesn’t believe me, but someone who doesn’t believe in me. There’s a big difference. I dislike having to explain myself to someone who doesn’t deserve or need to know what they want to know.
•How would you like to die?
•What is your motto?
"He vivido días magnifícos" ("I have lived magnificent days") — a phrase used by Ché Guevara in his farewell letter to Fidel Castro and the Cuban people. When I am depressed or feeling unworthy, that sentence reminds me of what I have done in the past that is worth being proud of.
I finally finished the Proust Questionnaire! Seriously, though, thanks to the reader who sent me the questions months ago and was incredibly patient while I went month-after-month without answering them.
I’ve been in total Jack Torrance from The Shining mode all day. I didn’t sleep last night, I’m crabby, and I caught myself just standing in my living room for about 10 minutes, staring out my window, with my eyebrows like Jack’s. I decided not to leave the house anymore because everytime I’ve come across somebody, I’ve immediately imagined how they need to be — as Grady would say — “corrrrrected”. It’s probably a good thing that I don’t have an axe and a hedgerow maze outside.
(It probably hasn’t helped that I’ve been doing The Shining quotes all day to keep myself entertained. Like: "Wendy, darling? Light of my life! I’m not going to hurt you. You didn’t let me finish my sentence. I said I’m not going to hurt you — I’m just going to bash your brains in!")
Basically, if I don’t get some sleep tonight, Mr. Hallorann might need to hop in a SnowCat and come check on things.
When I click on “Create Post”, this will become the 7,000th post that I’ve made here on Dead Presidents — a pretty cool little milestone that I imagine adds up to a whole lot of words when you think about how unnecessarily long-winded (“Tobias…you blowhard!”) that I can be at times.
I could have let the 7,000th post pass by unnoticed like the other milestone posts have passed by in the…ummm…past. After all, it is just another post and it would have been just fine if post #7,000 was the answer to a question or a short piece on some aspect of Presidential history or one of my ridiculously lengthy essays.
Instead, I wanted to make note of it by saying thank you. I have been posting here for over five years and I doubt that I would have reached 7,000 posts if it wasn’t for you. I started Dead Presidents because I wanted a place to write about the Presidents and the Presidency whenever and however I wished. I was amazed when people started following me and remain absolutely stunned when I see the size of the audience that I have. I would write about Presidential history if nobody read it, but I genuinely enjoy being able to share my interest with others who also have a love and fascination with this subject.
There are times when the feedback that I get is annoying or frustrating, but what happens far more often is that my readers — you guys — inspire me to explore a certain person or subject or issue. Answering your questions and hearing about the aspects of Presidential history that you find interesting makes me want to do my best to create content that I am proud of and that you enjoy and appreciate. What I strive to do is make sure that each of the 7,000 posts are as good as they can be and that’s because you keep me focused on and top of my game. Without you, Dead Presidents would still exist, but it wouldn’t be as fun, I wouldn’t work as hard, and I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today. And I mean that from the bottom of my long-winded, sometimes mean when people ask dumb questions, history-loving heart.
So, thank you for keeping me on my toes, helping me be my best, making this something fun and productive rather than a simple vanity exercise, and for inspiring the content that has filled 7,000 posts so far and which I don’t intend to stop creating anytime soon. You guys are pretty awesome (except for those of you who aren’t and totally know it) and I appreciate you and your support.
First of all, thank you. I appreciate all of the kind comments.
I don’t know exactly what triggered my interest in the Presidents, but it’s something that I’ve been drawn to ever since I was a little kid. In elementary school, when we would go to the library and my friends would pick out normal books for our age or books about Joe Montana or Magic Johnson, I would seek out the books about George Washington or Abraham Lincoln. It started out early, too. It was just something I was drawn to — maybe the fact that my birthday is on Inauguration Day (January 20th) gave me some strange connection to the subject or something.
I became even more interested when I was in 2nd grade when I got a book about John F. Kennedy’s assassination. I actually remember being fascinated by the idea that not only did somebody actually kill one of our Presidents, but that there were still questions about who did it. It was just a book about the JFK assassination written for kids, but I read that thing over-and-over again.
By the way, that little book that I got when I was in 2nd grade became the first addition to what has now become a pretty solid personal library of Presidential history books. And the coolest thing is that I STILL have that book:
A couple of years later (I think it was 4th grade because George H.W. Bush had just become President), I got another Presidential history book that really opened my eyes because it featured every single President up to that time and gave me a chance to study Presidents other than Washington and Lincoln and Kennedy. That’s when I got really nerdy with it and started memorizing facts and dates and all of that stuff. I still have that book, too!
As I have gotten older, that interest in the Presidents and Presidential history has only intensified and matured. I’m always fascinated by the personalities first, but now, of course, I’m also interested in their policies, their accomplishments and failures, their relation to one another and how they fit in the context of their own times.
I don’t think I’m drawn to the subject simply because they are powerful. I’m always most interested in the people who hold the office. If you read some of my lengthier essays, I think you’ll see that the stories about people are the ones I most enjoy telling. I probably won’t ever write a piece about President McKinley’s views on tariffs, but I’ve written about his assassination and it wouldn’t be out of the question for me to write about his service during the Civil War or his caring relationship for his epileptic wife. The actual people who have held the job always capture my attention more than the job itself (as fascinating as that can be).
The funny thing is that I was never one of those kids who grew up wanting to be President. As much as I studied it and read about it and was basically obsessed with the Presidency for a little kid, it wasn’t something that I wanted to do myself. I just wanted to learn about it and know everything about it. So, that’s basically what I’ve done for the past 25-30 years.