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The reading life of Sam Liebert
Sam Liebert
This month's column is an interview with Sam Liebert, assistant city administrator for the city of Monroe. Sam grew up in Janesville and received his undergraduate degree in public policy and administration at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. He's currently finishing his master's degree in public administration at UW-Oshkosh. Sam kindly took a moment from his very busy schedule to talk to us about his reading life.

What are you reading now?

Well, nowadays it seems like a lot of things I'm reading actually are more mandatory. So unfortunately, I don't get to read as much in the present, when I'm going to school. I feel guilty if I'm reading something for pleasure when I could be or should be reading something for school.

But one book I'm actually reading right now is an autobiography about Arthur Wellesley. He was the Duke of Wellington. He's most famous for beating Napoleon at Waterloo. I'm kind of a history nerd, so I like to learn from past leaders and people who have done things. Just because I'm interested, but also to pick up on the way they did something or processed data or information.

Do you usually tend to enjoy more

nonfiction books

versus fiction books?

You know, I'd probably have to say it's probably a pretty even split. I do like fiction. I'm a big sci-fi Trekkie nerd, so I read a lot of "Star Trek," "Star Wars" novels. I grew up on fantasy too, so I mean I grew up on J.R.R. Tolkien, "The Hobbit," and "The Lord of the Rings," and all that. I've got multiple copies of those, because I read them so much I've worn them out and they're falling apart. So once the spine sort of starts to fall apart, I'll find an excuse to buy the newest, cool copy or edition.

So did your family read to you while you were growing up?

Yeah. I remember reading books with my mom growing up. I was raised by a single parent, so when we could we'd spend a lot of time at the library. I remember going to the library once a week or every other week to rent out a couple books for the week. And then in a week or two we'd come back, return them, and so we sort of went through that ritual.

Do you remember any favorites from when you were small?

"Where the Wild Things Are." I love that book. I read that a ton. I read a lot of Richard Scarry books growing up and "Clifford the Big Red Dog." Up in the '80s and '90s, there seemed to be just a lot of options. And as I got older, I actually started to get into more scary books. I started reading a lot of the "Goosebumps" books. I actually had a subscription through Scholastic, where every month I got a new book. There was one called "In a Dark Dark Room And Other Scary Stories," which had a really interesting drawing style on the cover. It was a collection of short stories. For some reason, the one I remember is about a girl who had a ribbon around her neck, and she kept pulling it tighter and tighter over her life. And eventually she took it off when she was old and then her head rolled off.

Can you share a book that inspires you?

Well, my favorite book is "The Great Gatsby." It's a really good tale of American greed and exceptionalism and self-worth and regrets in life. It's just one of my perfect books. I think I get some of my philosophy from that book. I actually have it on tape and I listen to it at least once a year.

But a book that's inspired me, I'd probably say "Dreams from My Father" by Barack Obama. After I saw his convention speech in 2004, I bought the book and I read it. And that inspired me to get into politics. I actually went on to eventually work for him. I worked on his presidential campaign. I worked at the White House for a little bit. And so it was powerful, because I related a lot to it being raised by a single, white mom, not knowing my father. Sometimes doing things to like - if he were here - trying to impress him. But it's sort of this fictional, made-up person that I don't really know. So I was really able to relate to the book a lot. And I actually got him to sign my copy a few years later, which is really neat. I keep it in a Ziploc bag, and my mom has it in a safe somewhere.

If you could be a character in a book that you've read, who would it be?

Probably one of my favorite childhood stories was "Peter Rabbit." I always thought it would be cool to be Peter Rabbit, running around a garden and causing mischief. Because I think I'm curious sometimes, so that would be a character I would like to be, I suppose.

Can you tell us about a book that you were disappointed in?

I bought Bernie Sanders' book - I really like him and have met him a couple of times - so I started reading it. I was hoping it would be more autobiographical, the whole book. But just the first few chapters were about him growing up in New York and then moving to Vermont. And that was all really neat. And then it just sort of started to go off the deep end, like a how-to guide on running for office. It feels like he wrote the first few chapters, and then a ghostwriter did the rest. I actually didn't even finish it. So I have a bookmark in it. Actually, I have a lot of books like that, where there's a bookmark somewhere where I stopped. And I'm like, "Ah, I'll finish it later." Then three years later, it's still there.

If you were stranded on a desert island with one book, what would it be?

Oh man, that's hard. I'd probably go back to "The Great Gatsby." I never get bored reading that book.

Do you have a fairly big library at home of books that you've kept over the years?

I have a bookshelf that's full of books. But I ran out of space, so there's a pile of books on the floor. I also collect the "Wisconsin Blue Book." It has every legislator, a copy of the state Constitution, and then they'll have a theme for that year. So I have every Blue Book from the last 30 or 40 years. They even did them in the 1800s, so I have a couple from the 1880s. The part I found interesting in the state Constitution is under eligible electors, who can vote, and it says that you have to be a male of Caucasian decent in order to vote. So I keep that to remind myself how far we've come as a society. And just to see some of the arcane laws, but also some of the old style of writing and things like that.

But yeah, I have a lot of books. I've read probably most of them. But sometimes you buy a book with the intent of reading it, and it just becomes part of the collection. So I'm hoping to be able to find some time this summer to do some more reading.