Poor Lenin's Almanac
Wisdom for the age
By Steven Martinovich
Pity the poor writer who sees their work become known enough to be parodied or used as inspiration by those far less talented at pushing words around a piece of paper. For every clever entry in Ambrose Bierce's Devils Dictionary, for example, must exist one thousand regrettable efforts by others. So to it must be with Benjamin Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanack, a brilliant annual effort which included a generous helping of his maxims and proverbs.
Given the number of failed attempts at aping Franklin's genius, it's a pleasant surprise that Bruce Walker's Poor Lenin's Almanac: Perverse Leftist Proverbs for Modern Life, is not merely a success but a rousing one at that. A collection of several dozen expressions that are corruptions of well-known proverbs, inspired by song titles and popular modern sentiments, among other sources, Poor Lenin's Almanac casts a scathing eye on the progressive leftist legacy of Vladimir Lenin, a man Walker argues "laid the practical groundwork for much of the mischief in the world today."
Back in the mid-1700s when Poor Richard's Almanack was a perennial best-seller, Franklin's proverbs on thrift and hard-work found a receptive audience. According to Walker, many Americans today accept a wisdom of reliance on government, extravagance and sloth. Where once Americans might have counselled each other that "God helps those who help themselves", today they're more likely to believe "Our Father, who art in Washington." Walker argues that change in attitude is largely thanks to the progressive left and the grandfather of their thought, Lenin.
Walker parodies those beliefs with 2-3 page essays under the title of a proverb or stating whose genesis we're likely to immediately recognize. "Birds of a feather vote together" tackles the issue of interest groups while "All the news that's fit to hide" argues that ideology has trumped any attempt by the media to explore issues to find the truth. Everything from celebrity, taxation, the role of parents, marriage and the legal system, among dozens of other subjects, is tackled by Walker with a mix of wit and wisdom from the conservative perspective.
It's difficult to find much fault with Poor Lenin's Almanac. Doubtless a reader will find some essays better than others, whether in content or quality, but the overall effort is hugely entertaining. If one was determined to make issue with Walker's work one could point out that the nature of his book doesn't lend itself to a considered exploration of how Lenin is responsible for what is progressive liberalism today. Granted, one can find a thorough exploration of the subject in his writings at the web sites that publish his essays but someone new to Walker's work might wonder at the connection he's made between a man and a time a century apart. It's a criticism, but one that does not detract from what Walker has accomplished.
Given Walker's decade long association with Enter Stage Right it would be understandable if one thought this reviewer's critique of Poor Lenin's Almanac was coloured by friendship. It is a reasonable thought but unfair to what Walker was able to accomplish. This is a hugely enjoyable effort that combines insightful commentary and humour. Walker's essays have long been known for their quality of thought and writing and it's time to include his larger literary efforts as well. One could certainly say that Poor Richard himself wouldn't be offended by what Walker has managed with Poor Lenin's Almanac.
Steven Martinovich is the editor in chief of Enter Stage Right.
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