What I’m Reading | Brian Schatz
President/CEO Helping Hands Hawai`i
I just finished a book called Boomsday a comedy by Christopher Buckley about a violent revolution over the social security issue. It starts out believable and then quickly walks off a cliff and gets hysterically funny. It’s actually the first piece of fiction I’ve read in three or four years. It takes a certain mindset to read fiction and unless it’s a gift I tend to select autobiographies or collections of essays or political books.
And then the two that I’m in the middle of—one is “Means of Ascent” by Robert Caro, about the beginning of Lyndon Johnson’s political career. It’s part of a 3-part series and this one is very difficult to get through for me because it’s a part of his career when he—he’s a bad man, he steals elections and ruins other people’s careers and, you know later in his life he accomplished important things like the passage of the Civil Rights Act, but for 800 pages you’re watching him ruin everything that he touches.
The other is “The Man Who Ate Everything” by Jeffrey Steingarten, a collection of essays about food. Steingarten just goes across the globe and eats, and describes his experience eating—and so that’s a lot of fun. That’s the one I’m reading for fun but in terms of hours a day I spend reading, though, I probably spend the most time on the New York Times and gathering information about politics. That’s a daily ritual even before my coffee. I check the New York Times, Washington Post, and a few blogs before I brew the coffee.
–How did you discover them?
The novel was given to me by a friend in politics, and in fact all of them were. I’m not the kind of person who goes to Amazon or to the bookstore. I get recommendations from people who have read certain books and then I go pick them up. I’m not a browser.
–What do you like about them?
The Johnson book is excellent, but it’s like watching a very well-made but depressing movie, because the author puts you in the room, effectively, and what goes on in Lyndon Johnson’s early years is nauseating.
–So why do you keep reading it?
Because it’s important and there’s always a point of no return when you get most of the way through the book—then it becomes a matter of principle that you finish. This is the biggest reading project of my life because I tend to read books in the 200-500 page range and these are in the 750-1200 range. I’m giving myself plenty of time but want to finish all three in my lifetime.
–If this is the first novel you’ve read it years you must like it a lot?
Whether it’s fiction or nonfiction I want the characters to be relatable to me and most of the main characters in Buckley’s novel are sympathetic and passionate but they have their flaws. That’s what I like to see.
–Is that your approach in politics and at Helping Hands—be passionate and driven but recognize your own flaws?
I think that nobody’s perfect and that the more aware you are of your flaws the better leader you can be. And so sometimes looking at other people’s flaws in a literary context helps me to reflect on what I need to work on. I think we need to understand that we’re all varying degrees of imperfect, and even perfection is its own problem. … I’m very happy with Helping Hands Hawai`i. We’re having a good year expanding our services. And I will continue to look for opportunities to be involved in public service through politics. It’s too early to tell exactly how.