Parsing the book preferences of presidential candidates is a recurring journalistic game, complicated by the fact that we never know if politicians are truly reading the books they list, or if they’re just mentioning titles that they want the public to think they’re reading. Even so, in a recent New York Magazine profile by Rebecca Traister, Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton offered a glimpse not just of what she’s supposedly reading these days, but of the kind of books that help her unwind:
When [Clinton] tells me what she reads, she sounds just like my mother and so many other women I know, describing how she has become addicted to mystery novels. She cites the Maisie Dobbs books by Jacqueline Winspear and Donna Leon’s series set in Venice, explaining, “I’ve read so much over the course of my life that now I’m much more into easier things to read. I like a lot of women authors, novels about women, mysteries where a woman is the protagonist … It’s relaxing.”
New York Magazine, May 30, 2016
It’s easy to see how mystery novels may make for escapist reading, particularly if your regular book diet is heavy on policy and politics. But it is not clear why Clinton associates works by female authors, or featuring female protagonists, with easier, more relaxing reading. Is Agatha Christie’s “The Secret Adversary” any less heart-stopping than Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Hound of the Baskervilles”? And it’s not like Christie’s Hercule Poirot mysteries are any more intricate than those in which a female protagonist — say, the indomitable Jane Marple — solves the crime. (Personally, I’m partial to “Easy to Kill” and “Sleeping Murder” in the Miss Marple canon.)
In a 2014 interview with the New York Times Book Review, Clinton named several authors and books she was reading or had read recently, and the list was heavy on female writers. One her nightstand at the time, she said, were Donna Tartt’s “The Goldfinch,” Maya Angelou’s “Mom & Me & Mom” and Harlan Coben’s “Missing You.” Books that she “can’t stop thinking about” included “The Hare With Amber Eyes,” by Edmund de Waal; “The Signature of All Things,” by Elizabeth Gilbert; “Citizens of London,” by Lynne Olson; and “A Suitable Boy,” by Vikram Seth. (She is also partial of short stories by Alice Munro.) And again Clinton cited Winspear and Leon among the authors she always keeps up with:
I will read anything by Laura Hillenbrand, Walter Isaacson, Barbara Kingsolver, John le Carré, John Grisham, Hilary Mantel, Toni Morrison, Anna Quindlen and Alice Walker. And I love series that follow particular characters over time and through their experiences, so I automatically read the latest installments from Alex Berenson, Linda Fairstein, Sue Grafton, Donna Leon, Katherine Hall Page, Louise Penny, Daniel Silva, Alexander McCall Smith, Charles Todd and Jacqueline Winspear.
New York Times Book Review, June 11, 2014
Clinton also mentioned E.J. Dionne’s “Our Divided Political Heart,” and “After the Music Stopped,” economist Alan Blinder’s look at causes behind the recent financial crisis. In her memoirs “Living History” and “Hard Choices” — books that, incidentally, are by and about a woman and that no one would describe as “relaxing” — she mentions several serious works by female authors that influenced her, including Mary Catherine Bateson’s “Composing a Life,” Jung Chang’s “Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China” and Benazir Bhutto’s memoir, “Daughter of Destiny.”
Of course, we know Clinton digs the works of Henry Kissinger, too.
Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for the presidency, does not have much time for books these days. In his prime-time interview with Megyn Kelly last month, Trump said his favorite book was “All Quiet on the Western Front,” the 1929 World War I novel by Erich Maria Remarque. But when asked about the book he read most recently, he answered like this: “I haven’t read a book in so long because — now I read passages, I can’t read, so I read chapters, I just — I don’t have the time. You know, when was the last time I watched a baseball game?. . . I would love to sit down and read a book, but I just don’t have the time anymore.”
Read more from Book Party, including: