“I basically want to be Sam Seaborn,” I said.
“Don’t we all?!” he replied.
I was being interviewed for a job a a church Communications Director, and the question had been something along the lines of ‘Wouldn’t you rather be doing some kind of political communications role instead?’
Absolutely I would, but only if it could be in President Bartlett’s White House, and only if I could be as supremely brilliant a writer as Sam Seaborn. Since both were fictional and the second was, if not an unattainable dream, at least far beyond my current ability, something more realistic had to take its place.
I got the job. It’s a part time role which allows me to keep my freelance writing and editing on the go at the same time, in the hopes that by regular practice and investment of effort and learning I’ll some day be able to get close to the writing skill of a Sam Seaborn (or rather, of his creator, Aaron Sorkin).
Was The West Wing responsible for getting me where I am today? I’d say that was somewhat overstating it, but it was certainly an influencing factor. The show gave me a renewed love for language, the power of words and the beauty of a well-formed sentence.
It also gave me the dream that maybe, just maybe, politics could be better than it is. That perhaps somewhere there was a group of passionate, energetic, hopeful people who were willing to put aside the partisan mud-slinging that we laughably call ‘political debate’ and find new solutions to old problems.
It has also provided me with countless quotes and examples for blog posts, articles and interviews. I could quip to strangers that I wanted to be like a fictional character with a reasonable certainty that my interviewers would at the very least recognise the reference, and would most likely resonate with it. And they did.
Walk With Us
Claire Handscombe* had a hunch that for many people the political TV drama that ran for seven seasons a decade ago had a far bigger impact than that. It did for her, after all, leading her to actively develop her writing skills, write a novel, and eventually move from London to Washington DC and become a political intern.
As she talked (OK, raved), to friends (and foes, colleagues, total strangers, the internet at large…) about the show, she noticed that she wasn’t the only person to have made significant life changes based on what she had watched. And eventually she compiled a book about it. This book.
Walk With Us is a collection of essays and shorter quotes from people who love the show and have been changed by it. For some it changed their family relationships – being about the only show on TV they could all watch and enjoy together. For others it changed romantic relationships, career choices, the way they approach work and life, and of course their political engagement. The stories are all well-written and well edited, and come from across the US, as well as from the UK, Europe and Australia.
For fans of the show this would make a great birthday gift or stocking filler. It’s a quick, light, easy read, with a great balance between short quotes and longer pieces, and would make a good bathroom book (for those who aren’t grossed out by such things) or handbag book. You’d probably get through it in two average London commutes, though (I’ve no idea how long a Washington DC commute is. But I do know that if you’re driving you should watch out for Dupont Circle – it’s tricky. Apparently.), so it’s probably not a summer holiday book – you’d have finished it by the time you reached the airport.
I also wouldn’t advise reading it until you’ve finished all seven seasons. There are some references in it that will spoil your unfolding discovery.
Other than that, if you’re a fan, and you want to geek out over the show all over again, this is a great little way to do it.
You can buy it here or from your favourite book retailer.
My rating: 5/5
Full disclosure: Claire is a friend and sent me a free review copy of her book. Thanks Claire!
Main picture credit, Warner Bros. Television