A Massachusetts governor has to read when he can. If Deval Patrick is prepared for his next appearance and no memos need his attention, he reads in his car as he crisscrosses the state. Or better yet, some times after a family Sunday supper he reads for a couple of hours. “That is luxury,” he says.
BOOKS: What are you reading currently?
PATRICK: “City of Thieves” by David Benioff, a great novel about a son’s relationship with his Jewish father, a refugee during World War II. Before that I read “In the Garden of Beasts” by Erik Larson. It’s about William Dodd, who was the US ambassador in Berlin during Hitler’s rise. He was the one who kept saying, “This Hitler is a really bad guy.” I also just started the long-awaited third volume of Winston Churchill’s biography by William Manchester and Paul Reid. I have a mild obsession with Churchill. I’ve read about everything written about him.
BOOKS: When did that start?
PATRICK: I was introduced to Manchester through “Death of a President,” his account of the Kennedy assassination. I started grabbing everything by him, such as “American Caesar,” his biography of General MacArthur. Then I read his first Churchill biography, and I couldn’t put it down. I read the second. While I was waiting for the third one I started reading Churchill’s own writing.
BOOKS: What did you think of that?
PATRICK: It’s florid, early 20th-century writing, but his speeches are just extraordinary. I can’t remember who it was, maybe JFK, who talked of how Churchill enlisted the English language and sent it into battle.
BOOKS: Any other person you’ve read a lot about?
PATRICK: Nobody that deep. On the fiction side, I’ve read more Mark Twain than anything else. My favorite is “Life on the Mississippi.” It’s magic, no other word for it.
BOOKS: Were you introduced to Twain in college?
PATRICK: Yes. I was an English major at Harvard University, where the required American literature course was a blend of literature and history. I never experienced literature like that. We read “Huck Finn” as a comment on that period in history and on American aspiration. It was extremely poignant when read that way.
BOOKS: Have your tastes in reading changed?
PATRICK: I would have been surprised if you’d told me in high school or college that I would read so much history. I started reading history when I was living abroad, in Sudan particularly. I remember a little shop in a souk, which consisted of some old books on a blanket on the ground, where I picked up a condensed history of the US. You know what it’s like when you live overseas. You reflect differently on home. You devour stuff about home.
BOOKS: Was anyone a big influence on you as a reader?
PATRICK: My ninth-grade English teacher at Milton Academy. He was the first person I met who had a library at home with proper bookshelves and lots of books. I thought it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.
BOOKS: Have you always been a voracious reader?
PATRICK: I’ve always loved to read though I didn’t own a book until I was 14. We didn’t have much by way of books at home. A customer for whom my grandfather cleaned gave him an old set of encyclopedias. There was a library four or five blocks from our house in Chicago Southside. I got books about cowboys and Indians there.
BOOKS: Do you have a favorite place to read?
PATRICK: I have a chair with an ottoman and a really good light over my left shoulder in our study in our house in the Berkshires.
BOOKS: When did you have the most time to read for pleasure?
PATRICK: Probably when I was living overseas in Africa. There was no TV or movies so in the evening I frequently read by candlelight or kerosene lantern. I would read longer and later and probably with greater care than ever because it was such a complete escape.