Then, on reflection, I decided that perhaps I was being unfair. Perhaps this is an accurate account of what Clinton reads. I was won over by her response to the question, “What was the last truly great book you read?” Clinton lists four books instead of one (not the only instance in the piece where she ignores a request for a singular answer), one of which is Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy, which happens to be on my own favorite-ten-novels list (oh, maybe favorite-dozen or favorite-fifteen). The first of the four she mentions, The Hare With Amber Eyes, by Edmund de Waal, also happens to be one of the favorite books of the last year or two of a number of close friends of mine, although personally, I thought it was kind of hokey.
My generous impulses towards the interview abated somewhat when Clinton said that the Bible was “the one book that made [her] who [she is] today.” But then I thought: sure, why not? Clinton (whom I do admire) represents what is best, as well as what is most dubious, about the Judaic-Christian tradition. Good answer.
But certainly Clinton must be at least exaggerating, if not exactly prevaricating, when to the question, “are there any writers whose books you automatically read when they come out?” she comes up with a list of ten writers: Alex Berenson, Linda Fairstein, Sue Grafton, Donna Leon, Katherine Hall Page, Louise Penny, Daniel Silva, Alexander McCall Smith, Charles Todd and Jacqueline Winspear. (Only Sue Grafton, who conveys a sense of place better than any other writer I know, Hemingway included, is on my must-read-the-next-one list.)
Together, those ten writers have published seventeen books in the last two years. Add to those all the other books published in that period that Clinton claims to have read and that is an admirably large chunk of reading. That’s not to say that it would be impossible for someone to read that much – hardly, especially for an alpha-female, one of those people who seem to be able to accomplish twice as much as can ordinary mortals. Still, up to February, Clinton was Secretary of State, which must have involved an awful lot of required reading. (She, herself, says so in the Book Review article: “When I traveled as secretary of state, I was deluged with thick briefing books full of information about the politics, economy and culture of each destination, so those took up most of my reading time.”)
As a semi-retired gentleman who, if asked what his hobby is, replies, “reading,” I find it hard to believe that Clinton – with all of her professional duties and political confabulations – could have managed to read as much as she claims. I might be wrong. I am not a speed-reader; perhaps Clinton is. And most of the books she mentions are quick, undemanding reads. Perhaps Clinton does not watch much television, something which cuts about two hours a day from time I could spend reading. Also, there are the NYRB and the LRB, which I generally read almost cover to cover, thus further reducing the number of books I can finish in a given period.
I wonder: if Time or Woman’s World, Ebony or Stars and Stripes asked exactly the same questions, would Clinton give exactly the same answers? She really couldn’t, could she? I wouldn’t hold it against her. Being all things to all people is part of the price you have to pay to run for political office.