Sitting in my sister’s Upper West Side apartment last weekend flicking through their home-delivered copy of the New York Times I found that week’s regular column ‘By the Book’ featured Hillary Clinton. Fitting, as her own book on her time as Secretary of State, Hard Choices, had come out only last week.
The striking thing about Clinton’s list is its variety. From Fyodor Dostoyevsky (she lists ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ as a favourite book), to Janet Evanovich, (whose Stephanie Plum series “always makes me laugh”), to George W. Bush (she has read his memoir, ‘Decision Points’), the list provided is extensive, varied and shows Clinton as a woman who values books and reading. In fact, the piece almost comes across as a little stilted: so keen is Clinton to list her favourite books and her favourite authors that a humanising outline of why she loves those books is a striking omission.
Clinton has unashamedly included a variety of popular fiction in her answers, admitting to loving crime writers John Grisham, Harlan Coben and Janet Evanovich. Even if this is a list designed with political purposes in mind, what does it say that one of the world’s most powerful women is happy to admit to reading popular fiction?
It says that reading should be for pleasure as well as for knowledge. That there is no shame in reading something simply because it has an enjoyable plot. It is in fact unsurprising that someone in a high-powered, high-stress job would look for activities to relax (for example, Julia Gillard’s fondness for knitting, or even Tony Abbott’s need for exercise), and Clinton obviously enjoys reading as a way to unwind.
Research shows that women read more than men, and as a college graduate, high-income woman, Clinton is statistically likely to have read more books than the average American. A wide reading list is entirely befitting her class, gender and educational background.
The poltics of Clinton admitting that she reads popular books are suggestive: a symbol that she is in touch with what everyday Americans (particularly American women) are reading and proud of it. It probably gives her a better way to connect with people to discuss common reading interests, particularly important in a week where Republicans labeled Clinton ‘out of touch’.
I’d love to see some of our own political leaders open up in a similar way. Let’s accept that our brightest politicians enjoy a range of books, and ask them to disclose their reading lists. At the very least, Andrew Leigh should update and expand these tables. Are any members of the shadow cabinet particular fans of crime, of chick lit, of celebrity biographies?
A friend’s mother used to always tell her that smart women are allowed to appreciate frivolous things. The fact that, of all people, Hillary Clinton has opened up to enjoying frivolous books just reinforces this notion. Now, if you don’t mind, I’ll now get back to my book. I’m reading ‘Missing You’, by Harlan Coben. I think Clinton would approve.
PHOTO CREDIT: http://hillaryclintonoffice.com