I’ve never been much for writing book reviews. Mainly because I don’t know how to write book reviews. Call this one an appreciation. (If you feel you have to call it anything at all.)
The new memoir follows Sen. Al Franken’s path from kid to comedian to politician to public servant. From somewhat humble (?) beginnings (he claims to be the first in his family to own a pasta-maker), to Harvard, then “Saturday Night Live,” Hollywood, more “SNL” and finally, the U.S. Senate.
For those who worry that Franken has lost some of his sense of humor in becoming Sen. Al Franken, don’t. He’s every bit as funny as he always was. In fact, over the past decade or so, he seems to have been saving it up.
For starters the book has some of the funniest footnotes ever. Pretty much all of them. Here’s an example. “A note on style from the author: Because I’m a United States senator, I can’t use the word ‘bull__.’ Even though Washington is indeed awash in bullshit.”
(Apologies for use of the b-word. It will never happen again. On the other hand, it’s nothing you won’t hear on “Conan” every night. Anyway, the quote wouldn’t make any sense without the full word.)
The centerpiece of the book is Franken’s retelling of his 2008 Senate win in a particularly nasty (even by today’s standards) Minnesota election race against incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman. A race in which his Republican opponents tried to paint him as a “Tax-Dodging, Rape-Joking, Pornographer.” The razor-thin win, the recount and the appeals process that lasted for half a year kept Franken from taking his Senate seat until July 2009.
There’s a chapter on how the comedian had to suppress his humor once he got to the Senate, so as to be taken seriously by voters and the press.
There’s a chapter on the mistakes he has made there, especially early on, about which he is brutally honest. He’s made some good ones. Like getting caught, while presiding over the Senate, rolling his eyes and smirking at remarks being given by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on C-SPAN. Not good.
There’s a chapter on how Franken made friends with Republicans once he got to the Senate. Real friends. His technique: First, make them laugh. Then make them friends. Those Franken friends include the likes of former senator, now attorney general, Jeff Sessions, of all people. I didn’t see that one coming.
There’s a chapter, that’s probably gotten the most press, devoted to Ted Cruz, not universally loved in the Senate, to say the least. “I like Ted Cruz more than most of my other colleagues like Ted Cruz. And I ‘hate‘ Ted Cruz.”
Franken and friends have some pretty good reasons for their Cruz hatred. Among them, a freshman senator, two months into his first term, lecturing a 20-year Judiciary Committee veteran on the Constitution and calling McConnell a liar on the Senate floor.
Reading “Giant,” I actually learned some things about government in Washington. Like, how a bill becomes a law. How a bill “actually” becomes a law. (This is not your father’s political memoir.)
All in all, “Giant of the Senate” is far and away the funniest 400 pages I’ve ever read about politics and government. It’s a flat-out terrific read for political junkies and nonjunkies alike, from an exceptionally dedicated member of the Senate, a little short of infallible, but like his friend and political mentor Paul Wellstone, extremely long on heart and soul.