907 pages to go ...
Clinton's 'My Life'
Life," Bill Clinton's sprawling autobiography, is a staggering
957 pages (not including prologue and acknowledgments) and has sat
comfortably atop the New York Times best-sellers list since its
release in June.
This is an impressive feat considering it's summer
and the public is usually more interested in "beach reads"
than in a bloated book about a (formerly) bloated (former) politician.
Partly because I am aware of my limitations (it would take six months
for me to finish this tome) and partly because it is summer, I am
reviewing the first 50 pages.
The primary problem with most autobiographies is that the author
is not a writer and tends to think that every minute event that
has happened to them since birth is worthy of inclusion. The secondary
problem is when the subject is larger than life and the editor in
charge of taming the beast (both book and author) doesn't quite
During the book's first 50 pages there are huge sections that meander
pointlessly, detailing every shade of every blade of grass. Does
anyone really care about the exact layout of President Clinton's
boyhood home in Hot Springs, Ark.? These remembrances often read
like a fifth-grader's report on what he did over his summer vacation.
In other sections, subjects fly by so rapidly that I began to wonder
if Clinton suffered from A.D.D. Within the space of two pages, Clinton
recollects on using an outhouse, being butted by a ram, the two
domestics his family employed and how they were people of quality,
attending a Catholic school and yet another new home into which
he and his family moved. This was done as a stream of consciousness
with no seeming connection.
Clinton writes about his Uncle Buddy's ability to spin great stories.
"Well into his 80s, Buddy could tell amazing stories ... Lots
of people would come by his house and sit on his porch for a visit."
The former president doesn't realize that sitting around and telling
stories is much different than writing memoirs. His written storytelling
ability is not quite as developed as his Uncle Buddy's oral storytelling.
What must have been a devastating event in Clinton's life is discussed
and resolved in just two paragraphs. One night while arguing with
Clinton's mother, Virginia, his stepfather (Roger Clinton, who he
called Daddy) shot at her. "The bullet went into the wall between
where she and I were standing. I was stunned and so scared. I had
never heard a shot fired before, much less seen one."
Such a traumatic experience warrants a little more explanation.
Did this event sway his views on guns and gun control later in life?
Shape his attitudes on relationships?
Even though the events of that evening were breezed through, more
detail is given to Clinton's love of Elvis Presley. He goes on for
several paragraphs about Presley's movies and appearance on the
Ed Sullivan Show. He culminates his Elvis lovefest with a startling
admission: "And I confess: I still love Elvis." I hope
that in future pages he confesses his love for blow jobs and cigars.
To be fair, the chapters I read were not without merit. When Clinton
gives a history of Arkansas or writes about others such as his mother
or his grandfather, the book is lifted from its routine regurgitation
of events. Though he glossed over the gun incident, it is apparent
that Clinton loved and respected his stepfather. Daddy's drinking
eventually destroyed the family but Clinton writes of him glowingly
preferring to concentrate on his good (and sober) qualities.
Clinton seems to find his center when he writes about Billy Graham
specifically, Rev. Graham's 1958 crusade in Little Rock,
Ark. The pride Clinton felt when Graham refused to bend to segregationists'
demand for restricted admission (whites only) pops off the page.
What could have come off as sappy actually works because of Clinton's
passion for the subject. Recalling how "hundreds of blacks
and whites came down the stadium [War Memorial Stadium] aisles together,
stood together, and prayed together," Clinton drops all pretenses
he demonstrated earlier in the book. The reader shares the writer's
Ultimately, I probably will read the 907 remaining pages (okay,
I may skip some) because of its intermittent glimpses of exuberance.
The book actually seems interesting once Clinton stops writing his
laundry lists of minutia.