Jack Cashill, author of the fine book What`s the Matter with California?, speculates that terrorist and Obama colleague Bill Ayers ghostwrote Dreams from My Father based on stylistic similarities between Obama`s memoir and Ayers`s own memoir Fugitive Days, especially in the more literary flourishes.
Cashill counts up a lot of nautical verbiage in both books, which makes sense for Ayers because he had once served in the Merchant Marine. Perhaps, though, Obama just read a lot of Melville and Conrad (He read Heart of Darkness at Occidental.)
Having read a few pages in the excerpt of Ayers` book available on Amazon, Cashill`s idea sounds less crazy than I first thought. Cashill underrates the literary quality of other things Obama has written. Moreover, most of Obama`s paying jobs have been writing related — copy editor at a newsletter shop, briefwriter at his civil rights law firm. Obama`s tests for his law school classes were extremely lucid.
Still, I could imagine there is a connection between the two memoirs. Maybe it`s there, maybe it`s not, but it`s a possibility.
Still, Ayers`s prose style tends to be breezier and easier to read, while Obama`s is more consistently verbose and poetic/pompous. Here are similar ideas on the unreliability of family anecdotes from the opening of each book expressed in somewhat characteristic language. Ayers writes:
As the journey to my birth was told and retold, stretched and exaggerated, it was as if the young couple had arrived by dogsled having crossed the Alps in a blinding blizzard.
The first half of Ayers` sentence sounds rather like Dreams, but the second half is too Erma Bombeckishly plain-spoken for Obama, whose literary dignity always accompanies him.
In contrast, Obama writes:
... as a child I knew [my father] only through the stories that my mother and grandparents told. They all had their favorites, each one seamless, burnished smooth from repeated use. ... Thatâ€™s how all the stories went-compact, apocryphal, told in rapid succession in the course of one evening, then packed away for months, sometimes years, in my familyâ€™s memory.On the other hand, it is the same thought.So, I certainly wouldn`t rule out that one influenced the other. But, if so, which way? Obama`s book was published in the middle of 1995, after he had begun working with Ayers on the Chicago Annenberg Challenge money machine. So, Ayers might have influenced Obama`s book in some way. Perhaps he read over the rough draft?On the other hand, Ayers`s book didn`t come out until 2001, so it might seem more plausible that Ayers was more influenced by his old colleague and neighbor than vice-versa. After all, Ayers surely read the well-reviewed memoir published by Obama, the Chairman of the Board of the Annenberg Challenge boodoggle that Ayers more or less dreamed up. Obama was in charge of Ayers` plan of handing out 50 or 100 million simoleons to Chicago "community organizations," so certainly Ayers read Obama`s book to help in the buttering up process. Heck, Ayers probably thought to himself, "My life is a lot more interesting than this guy`s! If he can get his autobiography published, then I should write mine."One test I would suggest is mimicry of dialect. Dreams displays a fair degree of talent for imitating how people of different backgrounds speak. If Ayers`s memoir is lacking this gift, then Cashill`s theory is decisively refuted.