#REVIEW: SHORTEST WAY HOME, by Pete Buttigieg

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.

In which my mayor runs for President

It’s a good video. It’s a real good video. I’ve mentioned recently how wild I think it is that my life keeps intersecting with Democratic Presidential candidates– not that I can find the post right now, but I swear I have– and now my mayor Pete Buttigieg has announced that he’s forming an exploratory committee to run for President.

I, uh, don’t really want to be in a position where I have to vote for him. This is a weird thing to write, right? Hell, I didn’t think Barack Obama was ready to run for President early on in his run, when he’d only been in the Senate for two years, and he very quickly proved me completely wrong on that front. Pete Buttigieg passes one of my first smell tests for someone running for President, which is do I think this person is smarter than me, and he also passes my second smell test, which is do I think this person would be a better President than I would. He is, and he would. However, I would be a pretty terrible President, so that second one in particular is kind of a low bar. I do not think that being mayor of a town of 100,000 for, what, six years or so adequately prepares you for the Presidency no matter how good of a mayor I think you were– and don’t misunderstand me, I’m quite fond of the guy. I just don’t know what the hell he’s thinking right now, because even if he’s essentially trying to run for VP he’s up against Mike Pence, and frankly as much as I despise Mike Pence I think Buttigieg is not enough to move Indiana back into the blue column given that a former Governor is the VP right now.

(Fun fact: there have been more Vice Presidents from Indiana, at six, than any state other than New York. There have been two just in my lifetime.)

If I had my druthers– and the world working the way it does, I have actually told him this– Buttigieg would have his eye on the Governor’s mansion or a Senate seat right now. Indiana has had both Democratic Senators and Governors in the not terribly recent past; while the state is pretty uniformly red right now, it’s not going to last forever, and I think we have another wave election or two potentially headed our way at the moment. I think eight or twelve years down the line we will be looking at him much more seriously as a Presidential candidate– again, my main objection is to him running now.  I can very easily imagine a world where I’m happier to vote for him further on down the road.

But hey, I’ve been surprised before. Maybe the dude is even savvier than I think he is and he’ll find a way to light a fire under his candidacy. That would be damned impressive, close to impossible, but maybe. At any rate, it’ll be fun to keep an eye on.

(I am, at the moment, on team Kamala Harris. My affiliation is loose; I haven’t bought a jersey yet or anything, and of the currently declared candidates the only one I really have genuine problems with is Tulsi Gabbard. But just so y’all know where I’m coming from.)

In which I appear

Sorry for the super last-minute notice (because I know y’all work your weekend schedules around what I’m doing), because I just found out about this event yesterday and they managed to fit me in anyway, but:  

I will be at the Read Local Author Fair at the main branch of the St. Joseph County Public Library THIS SATURDAY, from 1:30 PM to 4:30 PM.  I’ll have all of my books with me except for Searching for Malumba.  It’s a quick event, free to the public– as far as I know, you don’t even have to have a library card– and featuring a couple dozen other local authors in addition to me!  

(In fact, I got added so late, my name’s not even on the list.  I promise I’ll be there, though.)

If you are nearby you are commanded to come.  If you aren’t you are also commanded to come.  So I’ll see ALL OF YOU there, right?  

In which my ambitions exceed my talents but not my sense

fb image-finalIt’s old news by now, I know, but I’m still grooving on the fact that I don’t work weekends any longer, and whenever I get to go do something that I haven’t been able to do for a while– like the zoo last weekend, or Art Beat with my wife today, I’m still enjoying it just that much more than I might have otherwise.

So, yeah, today’s excursion: Art Beat, South Bend’s annual one-day outdoor art festival, held in South Bend’s rapidly revitalizing downtown area.  Your town probably has something similar; local artists of varying stripes rent booth space, there’s live music, a bit of food, everybody shows up and spends money and goes home.  I got to see Michelle Wern and Melina Sapiano, my booth buddy and across-the-aisle buddy from IndyPopCon, and showered both of them with well-earned moneydollars.

“Why weren’t you at Art Beat, Luther?” you might be thinking right now.  Well, apparently wordwritin’ ain’t art.  I actually tried this year.  They won’t let me in.  There was a table for a local used bookstore there, but the used bookstore is actually downtown, and they only had a very small table and weren’t selling their own books.  And they aren’t even the good bookstore downtown, and that bookstore didn’t have a booth.

I have actually bugged the mayor on more than one occasion about letting authors into Art Beat.

South Bend needs a literary festival, guys.  And I have spent all goddamn day thinking about how I might bring such a thing about myself.  Which is a fucking terrible idea, because I have no idea how to run any such thing and I have read enough horror stories about nightmare failed cons to know good and well that this is not something I want to try and do myself.

But.

Maybe if I just got the ball rolling, by finding out how many other authors, independent or otherwise, South Bend and northern Indiana in general, actually has?  I mean, Notre Dame is here.  There are plenty of people who have written books.  I just don’t know of any other fiction people– the closest other author I know used to live in Elkhart and I believe has moved to Indianapolis since I’ve known him– and I’m not sure how to find more of them/us.  I did a couple of elementary Facebook searches and there don’t appear to be any relevant groups; there is probably more to be found with Google-Fu but I haven’t quite gotten there yet.

But yeah.  This needs to happen.  And I’m probably not the guy to do it.  But maybe if I put some legwork into it I can find that person.

Feel free to do my work for me by volunteering, y’all.


There will be a new short story– not a microfiction, a full-blown, downloadable and e-readerable short story– posted to my Patreon by tomorrow.  That makes two short stories, a bunch of microfictions, a WIP excerpt, and an audio story, all accessible for just $1 a month, with more getting added all the time!  Come join us, dammit.

In which I’m ahead of the game

800px-PeteButtigiegI’d like to point out that I was calling the Mayor “Mayor Bootyjudge” way before he came out of the closet today, and I can’t decide if amending his nickname to Manbootyjudge is homophobic or not, but at least for the time being I find it hilarious.  Is “lovingly homophobic” a thing?

At any rate, I’m glad to have played a part in allowing him to live long enough to make his big announcement today by not hitting him with my car back in December.  Keep an eye on this kid, y’all– and I can call him that, because he’s still like twelve years younger than me, even if he’s got a gray hair or two now– because while I don’t doubt any of what he says in his statement to the Tribune, Mayor Pete Buttigieg is Bill Clinton-level scary-smart, and he knows full and goddamn well that this is only going to raise his profile.  He’s still the youngest mayor of a city with more than 100K inhabitants in the country, and now he’s one of only a handful of openly gay mayors.  He picked up a profile in the WaPo today, ferchrissakes.  You know when the last time was that the Washington Post mentioned South Bend?  I do.  It was the last time they wrote a profile on Pete Buttigieg.  It’s happened more than once.

You watch.  I don’t know if he’s planning on ending up in Washington through the Senate or the Governor’s mansion or both, but by 2032 everybody in America is gonna know this guy’s name.

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