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A Reading Vocation

"I Must Read, Read, and Read. It is my Vocation." - Thomas Merton

This is where I chronicle my reading life.  I also blog about writing at Lacey's Late-night Editing.


Book 35/100: A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton by Carl Bernstein

A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton - Carl Bernstein
Book Riot Read Harder Challenge Item: A Book About Politics

3.5 stars

When I first saw this book on my TBR list, it crossed my mind that it's the kind of book I say I want to read but that I never actually feel like buckling down and reading. Even though biographies always end up surprising me, they are not the first thing that comes to mind when I think of real page-turners. But the combination of Hillary's second presidential run and the politics item in the challenge, plus lots of gushy reviews here on Goodreads, convinced me that there was really no time like the present to tackle this. Mostly, I wanted to be knowledgeable enough about Hillary's history to justify what sometimes feels like a blind devotion.

This is an incredibly balanced portrayal of Hillary, in that it does not shy away from the less flattering aspects of her character -- but it does not fail to give credit where credit is due, either. In that way, it was very useful in helping me sort out my own ambivalence toward Hillary, and pinpoint exactly what I do like, as well as what I don't. I also feel that even her flaws are more understandable (aren't everyone's?) when taken in the context of her entire life and character. So, I've been able to distill down what I do like and don't like about her, and I feel like I can more confidently proclaim that what I like is more important than what I don't.

First, the bad:
Only after following her whole history did I begin to get a sense of why so many people claim that they don't "trust" her. She is not always forthcoming with the truth; she hedges around issues and rarely apologizes or admits responsibility when she screws up. However, I don't think this is so much an indicator that she is a dishonest person but that she is more private than people realize, and there are certain kinds of attention she prefers to deflect. Later, such deflections end up looking pretty shifty -- and I would certainly like for her to be more forthright. At the same time, I think she is held to an impossible standard; every single male politician does pretty much the same thing, but when they say what people want to hear, the public thinks of them as articulate or charming rather than disingenuous.

The good:
Ultimately what keeps me loyal to Hillary is that she is the only viable candidate who I truly feel has EVER made women a priority. Sure, lots of candidates give women lip service, but I TRUST a woman to really GET IT when it comes to what the "other half" of the population's needs are. And she has proven her dedication to women and girls again and again, from her early advocacy work as a lawyer to her international tours to learn about how girls and women live abroad.

Even after getting through this rather long biography, I still feel that Hillary remains something of an enigma. So much of what the author "knows" about her comes second and third-hand, based on interviews and observations with those who were closer to her. In some ways, the gaps in this biography prove her character as a "private" person more than saying so outright could ever do.

There were a few places where the book lagged -- I STILL don't understand what the big deal with Whitewater was. And I was surprised at how little time was devoted to Hillary's work in the senate -- the Monica Lewinsky affair was pretty much the grand finale -- even though the book was published in 2007 -- with everything else reading like an epilogue.

While some of the coverage of the White House years understandably veers more toward Bill than Hillary, I was intrigued by the layers of context that I had not perceived when Clinton was actually in office, during my middle school and high school years. I can see now how the Lewinsky affair was really just a political crowbar, but despite what may have been a "vast right-wing conspiracy," Bill still sort of skeezes me out.

But I will be glad to vote for Hillary if given the chance in November.