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The Pastiche of a Presidency, Imitating a Life, in 957 Pages
June 20, 2004 3:16 PM   Subscribe

The Pastiche of a Presidency, Imitating a Life, in 957 Pages This is a very bad review of the Clinton book, soon to be released. My question: why has the New York Times placed a book review on its front page? Would they have done this if the book were given a good review? Is the "paper of record" making a clear-cut statement about its feelings about Clinton? Has any other book review made the front page of the NY Times? I for one plan to read the book. I recall that Edmund Wilson once said: always stick to primary sources rather relying upon what some scholar or reviewer has to say about a book. Finally, Clinton is out of office (alas). How much longer will small and jealous puppies chase after The Big Dog?
posted by Postroad (33 comments total)

 
About the author
posted by destro at 3:19 PM on June 20, 2004


OMG, Vast Right Wing Conspiracy!!one!!112
posted by delmoi at 3:36 PM on June 20, 2004


I for one plan to read the book.
Be my guest, Postroad. One doesn't have to have a political axe to grind to acknowledge that any memoir by an individual who still stands to make large gains from public approbation (in this case, the presidency for my particular favorite candidate, Hillary), is going to inevitably be a great big pile of self-serving blubber. U.S. Grant's memoirs are generally regarded as the high-water mark in the presidential autobiography field, but they were written:
a.) when he had virtually only a few months to live, and
b.) by Mark Twain.
As far as roues are concerned, the gold standard is "Memoirs of Casanova," but then again, they were written long after the marrow had dried up.
posted by Faze at 3:58 PM on June 20, 2004


The Times review of Clinton's book is obviously going to be read with great interest by a lot of its audience. There's no crime in putting it on the front page. You sound a little bit wounded about this. If it's any consolation he's already taken home millions and millions for his effort, and he's going to meet a lot of admiring young people on the book tour.
posted by coelecanth at 4:12 PM on June 20, 2004


Kind of related: You know what I hate the most out of almost all things in the entire world? Late Night talk show hosts eluding to the fact that Clinton apparently liked sex, intern-sex etc. etc. etc.

How many years has it been? Is that really the best they can do? When I hear one of those "jokes," it literally bums me out.

My question (more on topic): Isn't NYT part of the "liberal" media?
posted by Quartermass at 4:36 PM on June 20, 2004


I recall the Clinton presidency with fond nostalgia, despite the efforts of several (including Clinton himself) to ruin it. As presidents go, Clinton rocked.

That said, I think it's likely that his memoir isn't that great. Why the paper chose to LEAD with this is rather perplexing.
posted by squirrel at 5:12 PM on June 20, 2004


Further proof that an institution like the Times is really something like 15% liberal, 10% conservative, and 75% Rorschach test.

No matter what they thought of it, the memoirs of a living ex-president--especially one with such a publicly examined private life--are news, and many readers are intrigued to find out what prominent critics think of it. It's not much more complicated than that.
posted by LairBob at 5:28 PM on June 20, 2004


For what it's worth, the Times probably acquired its copy of the book too late for the review to have made it into its Sunday book section (which is printed earlier in the week). Not a grand conspiracy; it's just a piece the NYT presumed most of its readers would be interested in. It likely would have gotten similar placement if the review had been more favorable.
posted by lisa g at 5:33 PM on June 20, 2004


i'd buy the man a cigar.
posted by quonsar at 5:34 PM on June 20, 2004


This is a very bad review of the Clinton book

I just read the review, and it didn't seem to be as bad as you make it out to be. The author certainly doesn't display any obvious anti-Clinton bias, he just says it's not a great book. Should anyone be surprised by that?

I recall that Edmund Wilson once said: always stick to primary sources rather relying upon what some scholar or reviewer has to say about a book.

Well, sure, given an infinite amount of time I guess it would make sense to read each and every book on the face of the earth, rather than relying on the opinions of others who read more than I do.

Finally, Clinton is out of office (alas). How much longer will small and jealous puppies chase after The Big Dog?

I'd have fonder memories of the Big Dog had he been neutered before taking office.
posted by me & my monkey at 5:55 PM on June 20, 2004


Ugly women like Michiko Kakutani will never like Bill Clinton.
posted by the fire you left me at 6:54 PM on June 20, 2004


So, fire, it all comes down to sexual jealousy? I hear that. Connects well to the Hollywood big dick/big star theory, since BC is the closest thing we've had to a Hollywood president--Reagan was of Hollywood, but not Hollywood.
posted by billsaysthis at 7:05 PM on June 20, 2004


I for one plan to read the book.

Need some kleenex?
posted by jonmc at 7:08 PM on June 20, 2004


Faze--I'd like to point out that Mark Twain did not write Grant's memoirs, although he was instrumental in getting them published. There's a new book out by Mark Perry that examines the whole story. I haven't read it, but when I was editing a history magazine we ran an interesting article about Grant and his memoirs. He may have been a rotton president, but he did write a good book.
posted by Man-Thing at 7:35 PM on June 20, 2004


Ugly women like Michiko Kakutani will never like Bill Clinton.

Yes but Bill Clinton likes ugly women like Michiko Kakutani. Unrequited love....
posted by crank at 7:40 PM on June 20, 2004


I'd never heard of Ms Kakutani before now, and while digging around I saw an article complaining about her criticism of an anti-Clinton biography, on a site complaining about the left-leaning slant of the Times.
posted by me & my monkey at 7:48 PM on June 20, 2004


It may be bad, but it's definitely premature. For a man who wants to preserve his "legacy," it's odd that he would write an autobiography that leaves out the three decades of his expectedly active post-presidency. If he had written the book at 86 rather than 56, he would have foregone some commercial success but written a volume that more accurately preserves his life story.

I like the guy and all, but just sayin...
posted by PrinceValium at 7:56 PM on June 20, 2004


I love that everyone is pretending to have read Grant's memoirs. They end with the f---ing Civil War, so there's no reason to contrast Grant's "candor" with Clinton's, because Grant doesn't actually write about his scandal-plagued presidency.
posted by inksyndicate at 9:24 PM on June 20, 2004


I don't think she is so bad looking! But then I can't even remember when. . .
posted by phewbertie at 1:49 AM on June 21, 2004


"[I]t's odd that he would write an autobiography that leaves out the three decades of his expectedly active post-presidency."

Clearly he's setting the stage for the sequel, Clinton 2: Electric Boogaloo.
posted by mmcg at 4:30 AM on June 21, 2004


How much longer will small and jealous puppies chase after The Big Dog? :-) I like that line.

Answer: Until Scaife will let them off the porch.
posted by nofundy at 4:48 AM on June 21, 2004


I recall that Edmund Wilson once said

leave Bunny alone, Posty.
posted by matteo at 5:41 AM on June 21, 2004


Kakutani's taste in literature is inscrutable--the fact that she gave this a bad review might call for complete indifference, or even increased anticipation on the reader's part.
posted by Prospero at 5:44 AM on June 21, 2004


...Clinton apparently liked sex...

...as opposed to Republican presidents, who just lie back and think of America.
posted by bonehead at 6:04 AM on June 21, 2004


I'd like to point out that Mark Twain did not write Grant's memoirs, although he was instrumental in getting them published
I would be happy to give Grant his due for writing a great book. But most people are unaware of how difficult it is to write even a bad book. The idea that in the last months of his life, Ulysses S. Grant, without a shred of practice or experience, should suddenly emerge as an exemplary prose stylist, seems unlikely. Julius Caesar wrote a fine memoir, but he was considerably younger when he did so, and not dying of cancer in the bargain. (Also, his ghostwriter may simply be lost to history.) Twain either wrote the Grant book himself, or steered the ex-president to a trustworthy ghost.
posted by Faze at 6:17 AM on June 21, 2004


Maybe it's just a bad book, regardless of your political persuasion. As Freud once said, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
posted by pardonyou? at 7:06 AM on June 21, 2004


Kakutani's not jealous, she's angry: Clinton had the opportunity and ability to write an important book, and he chose not to do so.

Clinton's obviously not retired from politics, whether on his own account or as Hillary's "running mate" in 2008, and so I can sympathize with his desire not to lay it all out now.

Still, he could have written a very useful policy or political book now, while holding his memoirs back to a time when he could truly let the the chips fall where they may. At a time when the Democratic Party seems to be careening back towards McGovern-land, it would have been great to have Clinton rearticulate the moral and pragmatic basis of moderate Democratic politics.

Such a book could be very important early next year. If Kerry loses, despite making half-hearted gestures to the center, than the Democratic Party is going to be split between people saying that he should have run like Howard Dean (hard to the left) and people saying that the Party has to recommit once and for all never to nominate anyone more than slightly left of center. If, despite failing to regain the White House, the Democrats gain seats in the Senate (which now appears quite possible) than the direction chosen by the Party will be critical. Is it Erskine Bowles who'll be the face of the new Senate, or Barak Obama?
posted by MattD at 7:19 AM on June 21, 2004


Has any other book review made the front page of the NY Times?

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix made the front page, if I remember correctly.
posted by ook at 7:23 AM on June 21, 2004


Kakutani's not jealous, she's angry: Clinton had the opportunity and ability to write an important book, and he chose not to do so.

Please, the pundits were all agog about what couch Clinton slept on after revealing the affair and the self-appointed stewards of the nation's soul were feigning anger about his not discussing sex enough. He would have been torn to shreds if he didn't mention Lewinsky.
posted by crank at 8:12 AM on June 21, 2004


Michiko Kakutani calling someone else sloppy and self-indulgent. My irony meter just exploded.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 8:52 AM on June 21, 2004


Kakutani's not jealous, she's angry: Clinton had the opportunity and ability to write an important book, and he chose not to do so.

Would you trash somebody as hard as she is just because they didn't live up to expectations?

Presidential memoirs are usually the blandest literature out there and after seeing the 60 Minutes interview with Clinton I have a hard time believing that the book is that bad. Especially since it reveals a lot of things people haven't known about him.
posted by destro at 9:58 AM on June 21, 2004


Howell Raines, former ed-in-chief of the NYT, in his assessment of the editorial health of the Times, talked about his efforts to improve all sections of the paper. He also provides an answer to Postroad's question about the NYT Book Review's editorial policies (at least in the past).

"Given our readers' interest in books and the importance of the Times's best-seller list, the most urgent change involved one of the most puzzling policies I'd seen in my twenty-five years at the Times—the instruction to Chip McGrath not to run lead reviews on the cover of the Sunday Book Review. In that ultra-important display space we had begun running drawings and index boxes rather than formative essays by major writers, which had been the custom under earlier Book Review editors. Frankly, I wouldn't have believed the explanation for this policy if Arthur and I hadn't heard it articulated over lunch by Joe Lelyveld. According to Joe, the Book Review ought not to exert an outsize influence in the publishing world. To devote the cover to a review of a particular book every Sunday would give the impression that the Times was anointing it the most significant book of that week. I bit my tongue, but I believed that this cover policy succeeded in diminishing the appeal and significance of the Book Review, one of the Times's signature sections. Properly exerting influence is, of course, exactly what the Book Review ought to be doing. "
posted by filsa at 1:38 PM on June 21, 2004


when the Democratic Party seems to be careening back towards McGovern-land


as Kucinich's landslide victory in the Democratic Primaries proves beyond doubt, of course
posted by matteo at 8:40 AM on June 22, 2004


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