John Dickerson at Slate wants to know why GW was reading the Stranger on his Vacation:
On his summer vacation in Crawford, Texas, George Bush read Albert Camus’ novel The Stranger. I’m not sure what to make of this. It’s usually college freshmen who suddenly take up the French existentialist’s slim volume, and then usually to impress some literature major with wavy hair.
[...] Whatever the reasons, Camus’ story line is ripe for geopolitical literary misinterpretation. The main character, Meursault, spends much of his life as the young George Bush did, engaging in escapades that demonstrate little drive or motivation. On a visit to the beach with friends, he gets into a fight with some Arabs. Later, he finds one of the Arabs and without much further provocation shoots him repeatedly. During the circus-trial that follows, and the long hours Meursault spends in jail, he is remorseless and unable to engage in contemplation. On the day of his execution, he has a flickering thought that he might have lived another life. But mostly he’s excited about the day and hopes that everyone will cheer for his death.
[...] This is no time to be vague. The president uttered the word “crusade” a single time when talking about fighting terrorists and critics in Europe and the Middle East still use it as proof that his war aims are motivated by 11th-century wide-eyed religious zealotry. Surely someone is going to think that Bush read the book because he identifies with Meursault. There’s got to be another explanation. Does his experience in Iraq push him to read works replete with themes of angst, anxiety, and dread? Was the president trying to gain insight into the thinking of Europeans who are skeptical of his plan for democracy in the Middle East, founded as it is on the idea of a universal rational essence that existentialists reject? Did he just want to read something short for his truncated vacation? This may be the first time that national security demands an official version of literary criticism. We want a book report!
One can only speculate. The cynic in me wants to say that he was just going for a short read. He thought it was the cliff notes to a much longer work (something involving sexy strangers who like leather boots and stern looks, dropping by a ranch to pay a lonesome cowpoke a visit?) The navel gazer wants to believe that, after fifty years of aimless drifting, he is having a late life awaking. That his mind, suddenly sober with the sight of all the carnage it has wrought in the Arab world, craves introspection and so he reached for the one familiar piece of introspective literature at hand (perhaps one of the twins left it laying around after scouring their old college books, looking for booze money tucked between the pages?) Or maybe he didn’t read it at all, just carried it around in the hopes of lookin’ smart to all them French folk that are trying to clean up his mess with the help of the UN over in Syria? We may never know. And it is probably fruitless to even ask.