February 17, 2018

Gail Collins Talks Texas With LJ’s Margaret Heilbrun | LJ Day of Dialog 2012

Nearly 230 librarians, authors, and publishers gathered for the 15th annual LJ Day of Dialog at McGraw-Hill on June 4. Designed to foster better communication and relationship building, the event also emphasizes the strength of the library market, not only for book purchases but as an engine for book sales and author discovery. This year’s Day of Dialog featured five presentations: Two author panels, a conversation with New York Times columnist Gail Collins, a conversation on digital collection development and best practices, and a perennial favorite, Editor’s Picks. See more from Day of Dialog.

It was not until well into the conversation between New York Times columnist Gail Collins and Library Journal senior editor Margaret Heilbrun that there was any mention of Collins’s absorption with Mitt Romney’s dog, but the audience didn’t want for amusement as Collins discussed her latest book, As Texas Goes: How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda (Norton, 2012).

The issue, explained the columnist to an audience of public librarians who had gathered at the McGraw-Hill building in Manhattan for Library Journal’s annual Day of Dialog, is that while Texas is huge—if it had the population density of New York, the world’s population could fit into the state—its population is now mostly urban. But they don’t feel urban. They cling to the idea that they live in one of this country’s empty spaces, and generally act accordingly, prompting Heilbrun to ask, to gales of audience laughter, whether that was what caused “the decline of facts.”

As well as questionable curricular, energy, and financial mandates emanating from Texas, explains Collins, a decline in the level of public discourse is just one of the many cultural upheavals caused by Texans at home and on the national stage. While Texans increasingly set the national agenda, puzzlingly, “they’re the ones who are ticked off,” says Collins, a discontent that began during the beginning of the Obama administration. They like minimal government, and yet, she says, “are obsessed with controlling the sex life of everybody else in the empty spaces.” They also foist their political dysfunction upon the rest of us by putting forward (except, she said, for the Bushes, who weren’t originally from Texas) “the worst presidential candidates in the history of the universe,” such as Phil Gramm.

Collins often veered from the book, too, offering tidbits on her beliefs as a journalist and her habits as a reader and writer. People always ask, she said, why, among current New York Times journalists, only she and Maureen Dowd frequently use humor in their articles. Though she suspects, she admitted, that many of those asking think it must be a function of gender, she doesn’t chalk her writing style up to biology. It’s because of her background in writing about the Connecticut state legislature, a subject, she explained, that required humor to make it at all palatable. But while she writes funny material, there’s no “snarky first draft”; in fact, explained the columnist, early drafts of As Goes Texas were so earnest that her editor thought it didn’t sound like Gail Collins, and it needed a humor overhaul.

Answering the eternal question—print or electronic?—Collins revealed the reading habits of a busy writer and researcher. As well as this book, she has also recently completed William Henry Harrison (“The American President” series, Holt, 2012), and so for several years has been writing a book and a column at the same time. Her research, she states, is all done using electronic resources, including a Nook for books. The only title she has been able to read for pleasure lately is Rachel Maddow’s Drift, she says, while also recommending Hannah Rosin’s Atlantic article The End of Men. The readers present were glad when Collins shared her opinion of the planned changes at New York Public Library—she would prefer that things stay the same.

The question-and-answer session was lively. Two audience members mentioned that the recent impossibility of having a civil political disagreement has cost them friends, a development that Collins explained is cyclical: historically, during times of declining funding of communication, it’s necessary to screech in order to be heard.  Mainly, though, audience questions mainly concerned how Collins will face visits to Texas after this book. At this and many points during the talk, the author was at pains to mention that, while she wasn’t necessarily trying to be impartial as she had a thesis in mind for the book, all of the Texans she met were extremely charming and helpful.

While it might have been less burning to those gathered than the print-or-e dilemma, one audience member did venture to ask Collins’s prediction for the November 2012 election. Throwing up her hands at the unpredictable nature of politics (“Barack Obama could save a planeload of tourists or Mitt Romney could run over a dog”) she concluded that it’s anyone’s guess.

Henrietta Verma About Henrietta Verma

Henrietta Verma (hverma@mediasourceinc.com, @ettaverma) was formerly reviews editor at Library Journal. Etta, who is from Ireland, has also been a reference librarian and a library director and is the mom of two avid readers.

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  1. Sherry Rhodes says:

    If there really was such a thing as dogs communicating through Twilight Barking (anyone else remember 101 Dalmatians—the book by Dodie Smith as opposed to the Disney movie?), every dog in the U.S. would know to stay at least ten miles away from wherever Mitt Romney is at the moment.