Dad, I Wrote Me a Book!

Over the years, Bob Lanier has occasionally dismissed some criticism or other from George Greanias by noting that Greanias is a "playwright." That's true: The ex-controller has two plays to his credit, Wilson and Hello, Hamlet, in addition to authoring or co-authoring several public policy books.

By pointing out Greanias's avocation, Lanier, obviously, is suggesting that Greanias is prone to constructing fictitious narratives, at least about Bob Lanier. On a more subliminal level, he's probably also stretching to portray Greanias as the type to waste time putting words on paper when he could be out doing something more useful, like paying off a debt to the RTC.

Now that Greanias is officially running for mayor, Lanier will have futher occasion to call attention to Greanias's talents as a dramatist. But while Greanias is easily the most accomplished wordsmith in this year's mayor's race, he's far from the only one. In fact, a veritable Algonquin Round Table will be on the November 4 ballot. Although not noted for his verbal dynamism, Lee Brown, for one, is credited with writing an entire 11-page monograph on community policing. Compared to Brown and Greanias, though, Rob Mosbacher is a regular Renaissance man of the semi-fine arts. Not only does he play drums at charity balls and such with his own little rock and roll combo, he, too, once found time to write a book -- one that can actually be purchased at the local Bookstop or Barnes & Noble. The man's a walking vanity production!

Well, it says on the cover that he wrote it. I believe that Mosbacher's longtime aide-de-camp, Mark Sanders, once told me he actually drilled the words onto paper or into the word processor. And he's indeed credited by Mosbacher in the preface for helping "research, organize and edit" the manuscript (which just about covers it), while Ron Lindsey, who was commissioner of the Texas Department of Human Services when Mosbacher chaired that agency's board, and several others are also thanked for their help. Now Sanders tells me that Mosbacher actually tapped his thoughts into a laptop and that he just firmed them up into a readable form. Whatever the case, Mosbacher wasn't sitting alone in some dank basement, smoking French cigarettes and pecking out his inspiration on the old Underwood. When you're a multimillionaire like this guy, you can convene a whole committee before you write your book.

But life is short, and despite Mosbacher's noblesse in bestowing his thoughts on the world, you shouldn't feel obliged to waste any of your allotted threescore and ten reading his book. Like another Rob, that would be Channel 2's Johnson, I'm willing to go the extra mile to help the customers navigate the complexities of modern life, even if it means submerging myself in a rapidly flooding car or tying myself to the track in front of an oncoming train -- or reading Mosbacher's book. There is one thing I won't do, however, and that's fork over the $9.95 ($13.25 Canadian) list price for it.

Fortunately, somebody has deemed Mosbacher's book to be of such local significance that you can find a copy in the Texas Room of the downtown library, along with other archival documents and books pertaining to Houston's history. Unfortunately, if you're doing research for one of Mosbacher's opponents, or simply seeking an afternoon of guaranteed stupefaction, you'll have to spend several hours sitting upright in a hard-backed chair, because it's against library policy to check out anything from the Texas Room. I myself needed a free copy I could take to the john, and finally found one at the Looscan library branch (near River Oaks, natch). "Is this the Rob Mosbacher?" asked the librarian before flipping the book over, spying his mug and declaring, "Yes, it is!" Guess he doesn't attract as many patrons as Michael Crichton.

Still, Mosbacher's book was issued by a real, honest-to-God publishing house, Summit Publishing of Fort Worth (other hot titles: 1001 Most Asked Texas Gardening Questions and Dallas Cowboys: Our Story), and according to a publicist for Summit, it's sold about 10,000 copies, a fairly respectable number for "this type of book," as she put it. So why would 10,000 presumably sentient Texans fork over ten-plus bucks for this type of book? There are many good reasons, my friend:

1. Title: Deep in the Heart: A Remedy for an Ailing Texas. Kind of catchy. I guess it's meant to convey the painful malaise and dreary state of affairs in Texas that has caused at least one person to abandon his home in West U and move into a River Oaks apartment to run for mayor of Houston. It's a hurtin' world, ain't it?

2. Cover: A drawing of a steer lying on its back, hooves aloft -- it's croaked, apparently -- with a Lone Star flag motif imposed on its carcass. A much, much hipper cover than you'll find on the average public policy tome. From it, I deduce that the author is an ironist.  

3. Dedication: To his wife. He's no Drew Nixon!
4. Number of pages: 198. It's no Mason & Dixon, but I was worried that Deep in the Heart might stretch my limited attention span. Not to worry, though: It's printed on real small pages in a good-sized typeface, and plenty of the space is eaten up by charts and graphs and the filler devices we in the word biz call "pull quotes." Plus, the blank pages between Mosbacher's chapters are included in the total count. So even non-Mensa-affiliated readers should be able to plow through Deep in the Heart in two hours, tops.

5. Pictures: None whatsoever, except the mug of the smilin' author on the back cover. As mentioned above, lots of easy-to-grasp graphs and charts, though.

6. Typos: Just one that I could find, on page 165, and in the library's copy someone's thoughtfully corrected it with an ink pen.

7. Style: Short, straightforward sentences that always advance toward a point. A very well-written, easily digestible book, whoever wrote it.

8. Contents: After losing two campaigns for statewide offices, serving four years as a Bill Clements appointee on the board of the Department of Human Services and forming an unsuccessful statewide term limits organization, Mosbacher decided to set down his thoughts for posterity in advance of a third bid for a statewide office. But he ended up not running for governor in '94 -- one reason, he writes in what's obviously a late addition to his text, was because he wanted the arguments in his book to be considered on their merits "rather than in a partisan political campaign." Yeah, right. The real reason, not cited in the book, was the entry into the race of another scion of country-club Republicanism with an even more salable name, our current governor.

So, on its merits: Deep in the Heart is a compilation of fashionable "reformist" prescriptions (vouchers, charter schools, privatization, reining in the tort system, etc.), most of which were on their way into being when the book was published. The author does offer a few sensible if less than revelatory musings on the inefficiencies of the gubernatorial appointments method and the various systems of higher education in Texas, and he calls for a modest and reasonable-sounding initiative to loosen credit to small businesses. As for what's ailing us, he lines up the usual suspects: teachers' unions (bad), government bureaucrats and "poverty pimps" (worse) and, of course, plaintiffs' lawyers (the hydra-headed beast of the apocalypse). The cure, naturally, is more market.

But partisanship aside, what's truly notable about Mosbacher's book is the breadth and depth of his expertise reflected therein: There's hardly an issue pertaining to state government on which the boy refrains from making a pronouncement. For instance, he holds forth on the many deficiencies of our public schools with all the surety of someone who rarely sets foot in one, and at another point he proudly relates that while he obtained a law degree, he's never actually practiced law a day in his life. Must be nice.

Curiously, though, there is something missing from Deep in the Heart: There's not a word anywhere in it on municipal government -- a sure indication that being the head of one is only the latest of his many, many enthusiasms.

But don't worry too much about that omission, because that's valuable time you otherwise could be spending on the book produced by the true literary light of the Mosbacher family. That would be Rob's stepmom and generational contemporary, Georgette, whose Feminine Force: Release the Power Within to Create the Life You Deserve was a national bestseller at about the same time that Rob's book made its very limited appearance on the Texas racks. (You're asking, what does her book have to do with the mayor's race? Well, she's registered to vote in Houston, so it could have some bearing on the outcome, right? And there's always a chance she might try to use this feminine force, whatever it is, to drain Lee Brown of every last volt of his personal magnetism.)

I couldn't in good conscience waste more than five minutes "reading" her book, but I can report that it contains plenty of pictures, in color and black and white, of Georgette with various fellow writers of autobiography -- Nixon, Kissinger, Kenny Rogers -- and, of course, with her preternaturally youthful husband, Mosbacher Senior, the former commerce secretary. After scanning the photos you can skip straight to the back, where Georgette graciously enumerates all 72 "Feminine Force Principles" (No. 1: "I love being a woman") to save you the trouble of having to focus your eyeballs on the previous 280 or so pages (a trick Rob might want to remember when he writes that book on municipal government after the mayor's race).  

Our honest conclusion? Judging by sales, availability and impact, Georgette's got it all over Rob as a writer. Sorry, bub, that's the market talkin'!

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