This is gonna be one of those book reviews that’s more about me than the book I read, so buckle yourself in for that.
The strongest single-sentence recommendation I can issue for the book my mayor wrote, Shortest Way Home, is this: Pete Buttigieg made me proud to be from South Bend.
(In case you’re wondering, he wants you to think his name is pronounced “BOOT-edge-edge,” but “bootyjudge” is also acceptable, because I’ve voted for this dude four times so far and I get to poke gentle fun at his name if I want to.)
It is rather difficult to express just how unlikely a sentence that is for me to have written. I grew up here, y’all. I escaped to Bloomington for college and to Chicago for nine years after college and then … well, my wife is amazing, I totally married up in the biggest way possible, and I literally would not trade her for anything, but my one and only reservation was how the hell did I move to a city with 3,000,000 people and end up marrying someone I went to high school with?
Which, yeah, that’s what I did. And there’s a whole story there, and I’m not sharing it, but if you had asked me even two years before we got married what the chances were of me marrying someone from high school I’d have told you zero and not been kidding, and I’d probably have been slightly offended by the question. I moved back to South Bend because one of us had to move and I hated my job and she didn’t want to live in Chicago; it just made more sense for me to come back to where my family was. (And I’m not complaining about my family! I hope that’s obvious! It’s just that they all lived somewhere I didn’t want to live in.)
And then we elected a dude who wasn’t even thirty yet to be Mayor, and I think I competed against his ass (and probably lost) when I was on the Quiz Bowl team in high school, and I voted for him because everyone else running pissed me off and he won by default … and then the guy turned out to be way more Mayor than South Bend ever deserved, and he turned the fuckin’ city around in two terms, running against and crushing by 80-20 the parent of one of my former students to win his second term.
And there was that time I almost killed him. And now he wants to be President, and I’d rather have him as my Senator or my Governor than my President right now, but I gotta admit I’m coming around. And Goddammit he’ll be a good President when he gets around to it but I’d still prefer he take over for President Harris when her second term ends in 2028.
So here’s the thing. I’m pretty sure I liked this book more than most people will because, well, I live here. And this is a memoir written by a still relatively young mayor of a mid-sized city. It may be that the appeal is somewhat limited, especially since it really is about mayoring, for the most part, and about revitalizing a city that basically none of you live in. But Buttigieg really genuinely is a smart, fascinating guy, and this is a ridiculously compelling book given what it’s actually about. It’s the second “I’m running for President!” memoir I’ve read this year– Kamala Harris’ was first– and it’s a better book than Harris’ was. (It’s also much less of an “I’m running for President!” book, for the record.) But Pete Buttigieg loves the hell out of South Bend, guys– the book is drenched with it; I thought I loved living in Chicago but it pales in comparison to how Pete feels about being mayor of the town he grew up in. And my curmudgeonly THEY PULLED ME BACK IN nonsense just couldn’t stand up against it. I’m this close to ordering a damn flag, for God’s sake.
(Shout-out to the graphic designers, who incorporate elements of South Bend’s flag throughout the book but never call direct attention to it, in a way that I find clever. The current flag was a product of his administration, and looks like this:)
I still really don’t think Buttigieg is going to be President in two years. For the record, he hasn’t officially announced yet; he’s still in the exploratory committee phase. But there’s a townhall on CNN tomorrow night at nine, and maybe you ought to watch that? And maybe if you watch that, and you think, hell, Luther’s right about this dude, then you should probably check out this book. If nothing else, for the chapter about meeting and courting his husband, which is the most ridiculously fucking adorable thing I think I’ve ever read.