involving a writer’s integrity exist only to remind the three dozen people
who are interested in them that whoever is thought wrong or corrupt is so
only because of the positions they occupy. The news that Hillary Clinton
has not written her book (Living History, Simon and Schuster) has
taken on a brief life of its own, among both liberals and conservatives,
all of whom have intimate knowledge of their own biases, but virtually no
knowledge of publishing.
Judith Regan took to the O’Reilly show late last week to say, Well, Rush
Limbaugh didn’t actually write either of his two books, and what of it?
Some people can write, most people cannot; and since publishing began there
have been those who have been brought in to assist those who have a message,
if not this particular talent. Point taken, but Limbaugh has never
claimed he pounded out either of his books. (“I chose as my collaborator
John Fund …. John’s primary role was to interview me on tape, then write
the first draft from the transcripts of the interviews.”) And neither,
to the best of my knowledge, has Hillary Clinton.
But what is being suggested is that, for an eight million dollar advance,
someone could sit down and write their own book, a point many serious writers
find hard to disagree with. (In fact, far greater books have been written
for far lesser advances, if any.) After all, if we are to believe she
managed It Takes a Village in the midst of her duties as first lady,
what exactly kept her from dedicating serious energies to this, her pre-presidential
Ah, and Mr. William F. Buckley, Jr. has the answer in correctly suggesting
that just because Hillary Clinton did not herself sit for endless hours and
type draft copy after draft copy, it is not the same as saying she did not
work on the project significantly. “[In] the manuscript assembled for
her, she had to run her eyes over four or five times as much material as
has finally been collated to form the book that will appear in the stores.
And of course it is entirely conceivable that here and there she wished to
add a paragraph or two in her own hand. And absolutely predictable that here
and there she applied a blue pencil to scratch out in her own hand a paragraph
or two she does not wish to see published.” Yes. Hers could not
have possibly been an eight million dollar effort, and Simon and Schuster
will lose a boat load of money, but here it can be said, and it does happen
only very occasionally, that this columnist is defending a Clinton.
This sort of book writing is common practice.
The more genuine concern is, Did Hillary Clinton do anything significant
enough (other than lie and obstruct; you know, the usual) to justify this
much disorder and promotion? What are the odds she will say anything
significant, given the fact she would like to start running for president
five years from now, and wants to avoid casting another shadow on that campaign,
no matter how small? Simon and Schuster is holding out hope, because
that is the entire exercise book publishing is predicated upon … another
publisher once held out hope that the first 25 years (or so) of Monica Lewinsky’s
life story was worth a lot of time and effort, even given that the most interesting
thing she ever did was take the leader of the free world in her mouth.
(Really now, the girl has filled her entire life with only one fascinating
topic, affairs with married men. What else is she going to talk about
for two hundred and fifty pages? Shoes?)
First ladies, in particular first ladies of large, meaningful presidencies,
have relevance because they have stood so close to history, and have unique
perspectives, provided they tell the truth. Hillary Clinton cannot
admit to, or sufficiently explain, most of the things we would find most
interesting for exactly the same reasons Eleanor Roosevelt could never openly
admit to being a part-time lesbian or a socialist: being first lady is not
all she wants to do with her life, and the absolute truth will be avoided
in the name of future forward progress. (Mrs. Roosevelt was a columnist,
and not a good one.)
So is it worth a book? Instinctively, one wants to say “no” without
even taking a sideways glance at the thing, and that is my position until
solid evidence (possibly the Time magazine excerpts to be released next week) proves otherwise.
Brian S. Wise
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