Hillary Clinton's account of her time at the State Department, "Hard Choices," is available for purchase starting tomorrow, and as with everything related to the former Secretary of State, it will be unpacked and regurgitated at such length that it may appear unrecognizable in a few weeks, like a word stared at until it no longer has meaning. If you work in politics or dabble in talking about it in your free time, you're going to hear about it. You might even need to have an opinion on it, patched together from multiple book reviews and tweets.
To read or not to read, however? That is one question. A more important one to ask, if you do decide you want to read the book, is whether it is a book you want to be seen reading. Summer is coming up, and people are filling up their book lists — and dividing their choices into two categories, ones that aspire to be Underground New York Public Library contenders, and ones destined to download to an eReader near you.
Thomas Piketty's "Capital in the Twenty-First Century" belongs to the former category. The 696-page brick, which counts income inequality among its themes, has become a publishing sensation, with hardcover copies outselling eReader editions by a large margin. As Susan Donnelly, sales and marketing director at Harvard University Press, told the Washington Post in April, "You can have it on your e-book reader, but that's not the same as having the book. I'm not saying this book is a Tiffany's bag, but nobody goes to Tiffany's and buys something and doesn't get that little blue bag. I think there's still some of that about books."
People buy "Capital" because, when placed one shelf below "Ulysses" on a bookcase, it greatly adds to the feng shui of any room.
But, will people want to lug the nearly three-pound book with them to the beach? That would take some dedication. The same could be said of "Hard Choices," which apparently weigh as much in a backpack as they might weigh on Clinton's conscience. Here's a guide to balancing the need to impress your friends with your summer reading choices and the annoyance of carrying around 20 pounds of political roughage.
Hard Choices: 2.4 pounds
Slate's John Dickerson wrote of "Hard Choices" in his review, "Clinton’s account is the low-salt, low-fat, low-calorie offering with vanilla pudding as the dessert." Low-calorie does not mean the opposite of heavy, apparently. Hillary Clinton's latest book clocks in at 656 pages and 2.4 pounds — only 0.2 pounds less than "Capital," slightly less than two and a half iPad Airs or half of the Game of Thrones series in paperback. On a positive note, if you bring "Hard Choices" and "Capital" on vacation this summer, you will be able to do so many wrist curls.
If you're looking for a more public transportation-friendly Clinton read this summer, try "Living History" (1.9 pounds), the prequel to "Hard Choices." It's vintage. In 2003, Michiko Kakutani said "the book has the overprocessed taste of a stump speech, the calculated polish of a string of anecdotes to be delivered on a television chat show." The perfect beach read!
There are lots of other potential vintage campaign books to read this summer too.
You can bring Sen. John McCain's "Faith of My Fathers" and a paperback of President Obama's "Dreams from My Father," and your weekend bag will weigh less than if you had brought "Hard Choices" or Piketty. Mitt Romney's "No Apology" weighs only a pound.
Three of Newt Gingrich's alternate histories of the Civil War weigh only 1.8 pounds in paperback.
Dr. Ben Carson's "One Nation: What We Can All Do to Save America's Future," currently on top of the New York Times' Hardcover Nonfiction bestseller list, weighs only 13.6 ounces.
"HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton," the third-person and more horse race-focused version of "Hard Choices," weighs only 1.6 pounds. We wouldn't recommend the equally vintage, but even more verbose "My Life," written by Bill Clinton, which is 957 pages long.
If you stick with "Hard Choices," for your beach read, you might be in good company. The book is currently fourth on the list of Amazon Best Sellers.
Of course, you can always take the cheater's route and Instagram your copy of the hot political book du jour, and then take your Kindle on the road. (Hard choices look best in X-Pro II.) One can always hope that a book courier app will disrupt us all before September arrives.
A Fighting Chance: 1.4 pounds
Elizabeth Warren's new book, "A Fighting Chance," is a far more reasonably-sized beach book, at 384 pages and 1.4 pounds. You get the income inequality talk of Piketty and the anecdotes from a successful woman in politics with half the back pain!
Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War: 2.2 pounds
Apparently the hard choices of a former secretary of state weigh about as much — and take about the same amount of pages to describe — as the duties of a former secretary of defense. Also in the category of foreign policy, defense and epically nerdy beach reads is "No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State" by Glenn Greenwald. More spying, and only at 1.1 pounds!
The Fault in Our Stars: 1 pound
If you want to look hip with the times and carry around the lightest book possible, how about young adult novel, "The Fault in Our Stars"? It is the real-life version of #followateen. Everyone is talking about it, it's number one on the charts, and no one will ever ask what this all means for 2016. It also involves something called nerdfighting — a word that seems to exist solely for the purpose of masking pleasure reading as research into modern politics.
The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power: 3.2 pounds
If you instead want to go the other way, and stow away the heaviest book possible along with your beach towel, we recommend anything by Robert Caro. His series on Lyndon Johnson is the Tough Mudder of summer reading. If you read it on Kindle, it just doesn't count. No one will believe you. The first volume, "The Path to Power," weighs 3.2 pounds. The whole set is 12.4 pounds — slightly under the weight of the average turkey purchased at Thanksgiving. You can add Caro's first book, "The Power Broker," for only 4.5 additional pounds!