Hillary Clinton, left, and Cheryl Strayed, at BookExpo.
No doubt the biggest celebrity author at this year's BookExpo America trade show was given center stage at the Javits Center yesterday, with Simon & Schuster president/CEO Carolyn Reidy bringing her roster star out for An Evening with Hillary Clinton.
Having previously published five Clinton books, Reidy was thrilled to promote two new Clinton titles to the sold-out room of booksellers in attendance—one being a children's picture edition of her 1996 book It Takes a Village, with new illustrations from Caldecott Honors winner Marla Frazee, the other being an as-yet-untitled memoir. Both books are due in September.
"No matter where you fall [in the political spectrum], 65 million people voted for her," said Reidy, "and if just a small fraction purchases a book we'll still have the biggest book of the year!"
Clinton was then interviewed in warm sisterly fashion by fellow author Cheryl Strayed, Clinton claiming that Strayed's best-selling 2012 memoir Wild, about her 1,100-mile self-discovery hike on the Pacific Coast Trail in 1995, was among her favorites. Strayed then set the tone with her first question, culled, she said, from the audience: "Do you know how much you mean to us, and how much we love you?"
After prolonged applause, Clinton, addressing her audience as booksellers, responded in kind.
"I hope you know how much you mean to me," she said, noting that books, bookstores and libraries have been a central part of her life for as long as she can remember. Turning to her own new books, Clinton cited the return of "incredibly harmful proposals in the government," making It Takes a Village once again timely.
She recalled her outrage at Newt Gingrich for suggesting in the '90s that poor children be taken away from their families and placed in orphanages.
"There has to be a different way of bringing people together around our common responsibilities—and what it means to be part of a community," said Clinton. "I've long been taken by the African proverb 'It takes a village,' and it became a password to talk about what we meant by 'community' and our obligations, and it became controversial."
As for her forthcoming memoir—her third—she said it would show a "deeply personal experience," its writing having served as an "emotional catharsis."
"For a long time I've collected quotes that were inspirational or funny or meaningful, to capture my thoughts or buck me up when I needed it," she said. She said she needed these quotes following her election loss in November and they spurred her reflection on her life—its ups and downs, great accomplishments and disappointments—and her interactions with people on the campaign trail.
"Those moments when someone grabs your hand, or you're backstage and a total stranger comes up and tells you their story and says they understand what you're going through and are with you, were incredibly meaningful for me. I went through the quotations and reflected on the country and my life and what happened in the election and put my thoughts on paper, and it wasn't about the election but resilience, and getting back up when you're knocked down—because everybody does. And it's proven to be an extraordinary, meaningful, and really painful experience."
Strayed asked Clinton how she mustered the strength to get through the pain following the election, and Clinton conceded that there were moments when she felt she couldn't.
"I guess I believe that resilience is one of the great attributes and gifts that you can be given through family, friends…whatever gives you that sense of purpose and courage that it takes to keep going," she said, adding that she's been "honored and humbled" to know many people who had faced terrible adversity yet shown enormous capacity to keep going.
"When you're fighting for something larger than yourself it, keeps you going when you're down and nearly out personally, and this book covers a lot of that and the experiences you all watched--but from my perspective."
She added: "You may think you know what happened--and you may be right to a certain extent--but I tell you how I saw it and how I felt, because you cannot make up what happened."
Writing this memoir, Clinton said, was "such an incredible experience because even I forgot some of the wacky things that happened!" She strove to be as personal and dispassionate as possible "not only for the good of my mental health," she said, but because "it's really important that we come to grips with what we have to do as a country."
Regarding the former, she said that losing to Barack Obama in 2008 was hard, but that she had "so much respect" for him and did not "worry about my country" after. "But I am really worried [now]," she said, "not only because of partisan differences, but we're living in such an abnormal time in the way this White House is behaving on such major issues of our time [that] could cause lasting damage to our institutions."
She touched on the "totally unprecedented" situation arising from "a foreign adversary trying to influence our election."
"Think of everything that's flying at us," she said. "I'm particularly concerned about the role Russia played and the serious interference we know they're responsible for in our must fundamental democratic act. It's important to say that this is how I experienced it…and how much more alert we have to be as a nation."
Clinton said that it was "a great coincidence" that her new memoir and the children's edition of It Takes a Village were being published simultaneously, since children now need "tools to be active citizens and cooperate with people."
To great audience approval, she then cited her own childhood love of reading, revealing that she'd read every Nancy Drew mystery book: "Dare I say she was a role model—taking care of the house and going to school and solving mysteries? I mean, really!"
And she related how reading helped her get through the post-election months.
"I turned to it for total distraction," she said, noting that mystery books again played a major role—particularly Louise Penny's.
"I had the great joy of meeting her after the election," said Clinton, singling out the Canadian mystery novelist's "Three Pines" series of books based around the character of Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. "I'm so into her characters and locale, and 'Three Pines' made a big impression on me: Someone who's written a series with the same characters—murders notwithstanding! But I love mysteries. They're very comforting [because] they're somebody else's problem!"
Clinton ended on a positive note.
"The bottom line is I'm hopeful--but I think hope needs to be linked to a strategy [concerning] what we're facing," she said. "Were living at a time of deliberate assault on truth and reason [and being] president is the hardest job in the world--at least it used to be!"
"The role of booksellers is more important than ever," she concluded, happy over indications that independent bookstores are making a comeback along with book customers.
"It's really encouraging that so many people are going back to bookstores and buying real books that you can hold and touch and turn the corners down and do all the things we do with our books."