To Be Absolutely Frank

Living Herstory

Now that Hillary has told all, who will bother to buy her book?

By 6.6.03

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If you're a reader of this site, the odds are pretty slim that you're a fan of Hillary Clinton. But try for a moment to pretend that you believe the junior senator from New York is everything her supporters claim: a role model for our daughters, a tireless advocate for the dispossessed, the 21st-century equivalent of a Philosopher Queen. Then ask yourself: Would you still bother to read her book?

Now imagine -- and this should be easier -- that despite your better judgment you find yourself fascinated by the former first lady and her husband, their unbridled ambition, shameless lying, invincible self-righteousness, etc. Then ask yourself: Would you still bother to read her book?

Thanks to the diligence of the Associated Press, we now know the most startling revelations in Mrs. Clinton's forthcoming memoir, Living History:

* That for seven months in 1998, Bill Clinton pretended to his wife that the Monica Lewinsky story wasn't true.

* That when he told her the truth on August 15th of that year, she was "furious," "could hardly breath" and "[gulped] for air." (The quotations in the AP story suggest that what outraged her wasn't the confession of adultery but the news that "he would have to testify" about it.)

* That on a subsequent vacation to Martha's Vineyard, the first couple slept apart, and the "only member of our family" willing to keep the president company was the dog.

* That she "wanted to wring Bill's neck."

This is electrifying stuff, particularly the last bit, which ought to be grounds for a Secret Service investigation. But while readers may have been dying to know all this, now they know it for free. What possible reason could they have to cough up $28 and trudge through 562 pages about the noble lost cause of a national health plan, the insignificance of Whitewater, and the courageous decision to ban smoking from the White House?

Even readers intrigued by these topics must realize that Living History will merely reiterate the Clinton party line on them all. While political obsessives will read the book as a preview of Hillary's 2008 presidential campaign, surely most Americans can wait. Journalists and librarians will feel obliged to order it, but that's not the route to the bestseller lists.

So why did Simon & Schuster pay $8 million for Mrs. Clinton's book? The firm has been in business a long time, so let's assume they know what they're doing. Of course they don't care whether anyone actually reads the thing; they just want people to buy it. And there are millions out there who buy books for the same reason they give money to political parties and candidates -- to make a statement and support a cause. If they fulfill the publisher's expectations for this title, we'll be reading a lot more about Hillary Clinton in the next few years, whether we like it or not.

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About the Author

Francis X. Rocca ia an American writer in Rome, Italy.