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Thirty Ways of Looking at Hillary: Reflections by Women Writers Hardcover – Bargain Price, January 22, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Whatever your political leanings, you'll be alternately pleased and dismayed by the parade of highly intelligent contributors-including fiction author Lorrie Moore, New Yorker staff writer Susan Orlean and Vanity Fair editor Leslie Bennetts-offering their views on presidential candidate and former First Lady Hillary Clinton. Though many issues are covered, the most prevalent is the gender question: "I wish I could vote gender blind," says novelist and essayist Kathryn Harrison, but admits that, "everything else being equal, I will vote for a woman over a man." Rarely, if ever, has cookie-baking (or not baking), hairstyles and spouses been so often brought up in relation to a presidential candidate, but the question of authenticity dogs the every move of both Clinton and her critics; says Laura Kipnis, "the specter of loss looms at the moment, at least for men... So what gets spoken of instead? Well, hair for one thing." Elsewhere, Daphne Merkin looks at Bill and Hillary as a couple; Susan Cheever examines Clinton's list of favorite books; and Deborah Tannen explores the "damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't paradox of women in charge." Readers interested in Hillary, gender politics or the evolution of the presidential campaign should find this book fascinating.
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"A timely book of essays (or critiques, it often seems) written by many of todays prominent women writers....the book is decidedly fluid....the contributors share a certain elegance in tone....the collection is a unique study and more insightful, if critical, than a general biography." -- Forbes.com
"An unusually insightful and particularly well written collection." -- Daily News
"As these witty, insightful voices struggle to get a grasp on this larger-than-life figure, they expose how difficult a task that really is." -- Redbook Magazine
"Clever, entertaining, provocative, and elegantly written." -- Newsweek
"Intriguing . These essays attest to the infinite subjectivity of peoples views, the pure relativism of perception .This volume of reflections corroborates Mrs. Clintons own long-ago observation that she is a Rorschach test for voters." -- Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
"Pithy, imaginative, and bold essays by exceptionally shrewd women writers....In all, a discerning, engrossing dissection not only of a galvanizing figure but also of our conflicted feelings about women and power." -- Booklist
"The collection gathers strength as the variety and ferocity of opinions, insights, disappointments, and projections unfolds, often revealing more about the writers than about Hillary, and more about our warring notions of power, politics, and sex roles than it seems possible to hold in any brain at one time." -- Elizabeth Benedict, Huffington Post
"Thirty Ways does provide grist for thought....canny and thoughtful." -- New York Observer
"This original collection features a stellar group of women writers." -- Newsday
"Well-written...thoughtful." -- Miami Herald
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In THIRTY WAYS OF LOOKING AT HILLARY, thirty prominent female journalistas wax poetic on what Hillary means to them. No aspect of Hillary's life and character is too mundane or sacrosanct: everything from Hillary's infamous pantsuits to her marriage to Bill (or "secret pact," as some paranoid pundits might call it) and her every-changing coif goes under the microscope. As a result, some of the pieces are rather fluffy (Mimi Sheraton's "How Hungry is Hillary?: Reading the Culinary Clues" and Susan Orlean's "Political Animals: Is Hillary a Cat Person or a Dog Person?" spring to mind), but it's all in good fun. In this vein, Patricia Marx's satirical "From the 1965 Eyrie Yearbook" is especially entertaining; it reads like a transcript of an SNL segment. (Hello, Amy Polar!)
Most of the thirty essays, while entertaining, are far from frivolous. While many of the writers tackle seemingly trivial topics (pantsuits, hairstyles and surnames, oh my!), these are usually circuitous routes to grander points; the way in which changes in Hillary's wardrobe correspond to her increasingly moderate (pandering?) political positions, for example, or what Hillary's favorite books reveal about her child- and adulthood. The pieces of Hillary expounded upon by each individual author also say a great deal about that author; in "Hello, My Name Is...," Cristina (no "H"!) Henriquez speaks eloquently about her conflicting identities as an Panamanian woman born and raised in America.
While I expected that most of the thirty essays would touch upon the misogyny that's colored this campaign season, not all of the writers deal explicitly with the anti-woman backlash that Hillary inspires in so many men (and not a few women). However, there are a few great pieces on the subject, including an essay by the always-awesome Katha Pollitt ("Hillary Rotten: Sexist Sticks and Stones") and must-read from Leslie Bennetts ("Beyond Gender: The Revenge of the Postmenopausal Woman"). Though I'm not familiar with all of the contributors, most seem somewhat feminist-minded, with the sole exception of Robin Givhan ("The Road to Cleavagegate: What Do We Want Female Power to Look Like?"). Givhan, you might recall, is the Washington Post reporter who "broke" the Cleavagegate "story." (Scare quotes because it's neither breaking nor a story. "This just in! Hillary Clinton, the female Senator from New York, HAS BREASTS! More on this shocking development at nine!") She spends much of her essay defending her own misogyny, arguing that it's perfectly a-ok to judge Hillary - and, by extension, all women - on her physical appearance. What's next, repenting to the Fashion Gods for wearing scrunchies and headbands after 1991? I don't agree wholeheartedly with every sentiment expressed in THIRTY WAYS OF LOOKING AT HILLARY, but Givhan's was the only essay that truly strikes me as out of place.
The other twenty-nine essays, on the other hand, represent a diverse and enjoyable read. At the end of the book, I found myself wistful for '70s Hillary, in all her radfem blamer glory. 2008 Hillary, not so much.
Full disclosure: I voted for Kucinich in the primaries. I'm not crazy about Hillary or Barack, but I'll most likely vote for the Democratic nominee in November. Unless it comes out that Barack eats puppies or Hillary is a closet Ann Coulter fan. And, for the record, I'm disgusted with the misogyny and racism emanating from either side of the Dem aisle.
P.S. Dear Mimi Sheraton - If your Boca Burgers resemble "miserably limp, grassy-tasting little disks that might be produced by Rubbermaid," then you're doing it wrong. Unless you're rubbing defrosted Boca Burgers on your lawn, ain't no way they come out tasting like grass. As for the so-called "limpness," the only time I've cooked up a limp Boca Burger is by over- or under-cooking it in the microwave. Grilling and pan-frying them, not so much. So stop hating on the Boca Burgers when it's clearly the cook's fault. (Yeah, I'm a vegan. What of it?)
If the primary race was over and Hillary had become the Democratic nominee after Super Tuesday, as many expected would happen, they probably sensed that this baby would be a best-seller.
There isn't a lot that's particularly revealing about Clinton in Thirty Ways of Looking at Hillary. It's more a volume of essays about how the various authors feel about her and view her in ways (usually) not covered by the main stream media.
I was a little surprised at the critical and sometimes flip tone of some of the authors. Some of the essays ponder who is the real HRC? Is she a dog person or a cat person? Is she better or worse than Lady Macbeth? What did she like to snack on in the White House?
(Can you imagine the outcry if someone had written a similar volume about any of the men candidates?)
While entertaining and well-written, I'd like to look at Hillary in a 31st way.
What would her candidacy have looked like if she hadn't married Bill?
What if she had married someone else, kept her name and was still Hillary Rodham? If we take the Bill Clinton lens off the glasses through which we scrutinize Hillary, what would an objective look at her candidacy be? I have a feeling it would be much more charitable in terms of her experience, her personality and her judgment.
To be sure, there are plenty of more serious essays in the Thirty Ways of Looking at Hillary, but I was saddened that the publisher was more concerned about having people write about Hillary's hobbies, or lack thereof, than taking a real look at this woman and what has propelled her to this place in life.
No, it wasn't meant to be a biography, but when we write about women candidates in this way, do we continue to diminish them, as well as ourselves?