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The Opinionators

Two books from the new school and old school of Virginia's political chatter.


Steven Sisson works in the Coors brewing plant in Rockingham County and ran for the state Senate in 2003. He campaigned as an anti-tax Democrat against a well-known Republican incumbent. At the time, Gov. Mark Warner was laying the groundwork for a major tax increase in 2004.

The day after Sisson's defeat, an online newspaper offered him a column, and he started writing his own blog under the handle The Valley Blue Dog. He cultivated a following and eventually wrote a book, "Adventures in Warnerland" (Augusta Free Press, $17.74). In it, Sisson suggests his opponent had already privately committed to supporting the tax boost. He laments not being given financial support by Warner, a fellow Democrat.

In "Warnerland," real-life political figures get fanciful nicknames, but the book does not stick to the Wonderland theme beyond that. It does, however, maintain some bloggy habits. Sisson reprints a lengthy e-mail from a reader, and the text is peppered with wrong words, like a reference to Tim Kaine's "family valves" campaign.

"Warnerland" is not cohesive, and while concise, the writing is not particularly compelling. The book's greatest significance is as an artifact. If history is written by the victors, "Warnerland" is notable for detailing a loss. More importantly, though, in a time when newspaper content and advertising dollars are moving online, this book came out of the Internet, through the looking glass and onto the page.

Both Sisson and Barnie Day, who edited "Notes From the Sausage Factory," (Brunswick Books, $19.95) with Becky Dale, contribute to a popular policy e-zine called Bacon's Rebellion, but Day says his book represents "the antithesis" of a blog.

"If you can imagine the universe of political commentary in Virginia as the Plains of Serengeti, the columnists, the op-ed folks … are the lions who move the political herds," Day said in an e-mail. "They pay attention to the yipping, squalling fray jackals sometimes engage in, but they don't fear them."

Day is a banker in Southwest Virginia who served two terms in Virginia's House of Delegates. He started writing print op-eds for papers around the state after he left office, and his book is a compilation of original essays and op-ed pieces on Virginia politics gleaned from newspapers.

A few pages ruminate on the Internet's contribution to the demise of the essay and therefore of thoughtful debate, but the book is mostly a good introduction to history and the players in Virginia state politics. You can get nine different opinions on the state's transportation problems and read pieces from seven governors and be reminded that Katie Couric's late sister, Emily, was a state senator.

"Notes" is not just a who's who in Virginia politics, but a primer on who's writing political opinion. Whether the next edition of "Notes" will have to include more jackals remains to be seen. S


Kid-Friendly Book Events
It is Earth Day. You are surrounded by Girl Scouts, librarians, Richmond Ballet dancers, James River Writers, the first lady of Virginia, Anne Holton, and the Children's Museum's friendly dinosaur, Seymour. You must choose between becoming a Wild Thing or Clifford the Big Red Dog. Are you in a psychedelic dream or a choose-your-own-adventure book? Neither! You are at Read and Romp! — an over-the-top family event hosted by Reach Out and Read Virginia at the Children's Garden at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. On Saturday, April 22, from 1 to 4 p.m., you can enjoy live music, crafts, parades, door prizes and, of course, lots and lots of storytelling. Bring new and gently used kids' books as a donation to supplement this nonprofit's promotion of literacy as a standard part of pediatric primary care. Read and Romp! will be held rain or shine and is free with garden admission.

Mini Junior Leaguers now have a Book & Author event all their own. On Saturday, April 22, at 10 a.m., Anthony Horowitz, author of the famed Alex Rider series, will host a Q&A and book signing. The second annual Junior Book & Author event will be held at the Glen Allen Cultural Arts Center. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 643-4886 or visit

— Valley Haggard

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