Reviews: First Ladies and Presidential Races

Categories Blog, Reader's Life

Hello, readers and writers alike. It’s been a while since my last post, but unlike in previous months, that spells good things for my writing, not simple laziness. 

I’ve also been reading. I had planned to read four books this month, but that was before I discovered the gargantuan sizes of the first two. Each was nearly 500 pages long, and when you work full-time and want to build a writer’s life, there’s only so much you can consume in 30 days. I only finished the first two books, and I’ll just talk about those today and shift the remaining two to May reads.

So, without further ado…

American Wife, by Curtis Sittenfeld

This book had been on my to-be-read list for years, ever since I saw it on a Lisa Simpson Book Club list (if you don’t know already, I love The Simpsons). The book tells the story of a first lady’s life, from childhood to the White House, and many details are based on the life of Laura Bush, wife of former President George W. Bush.

Alice Lindgren, the narrator and main character of the novel, is a well-read and liberal-thinking woman who finds herself falling for the youngest son in a Republican dynasty. Though Charlie Blackwell is undoubtedly charming, he holds beliefs and political views that Alice finds troubling, even after their marriage and his rise to governorship, then later to the presidency. Equally troubling for Alice in her present is an event from her past, a tragic accident that shapes and shakes her until the last page.

While reading this book, many times I had to stop myself from thinking it was biographical. Though Sittenfeld did her research and centered each of the four sections around a big event in Laura Bush’s life, she has said that she has no way of knowing what Laura Bush was thinking or doing during each of them. Keeping that in mind, I could enjoy the book for its characters and plot points, and boy are they some good ones.

The love between Alice and Charlie, especially during their “courting” stage, is so beautiful; even the trials and tribulations they face as a couple are so poignant, so emotional, it’s impossible not to empathize with Alice’s heartache. It’s also interesting reading about a liberal in love with a future Republican president; though Charlie’s political leanings are something Alice had known since the beginning of their relationship, they don’t really begin to cause friction between the couple until a power dynamic is threatened, with Charlie running for office on those beliefs.

This begs the question: can two people hold different political views even if the other amasses to a seat in the government, or does someone, or something, have to give? If you don’t like politics too much, you might still enjoy this as a look into the dynamics of marriage and family and finding oneself after so much hurt.

What Happened, by Hillary Clinton

My second April read was also about a former first lady, though this one had more grounding in reality. Hillary Clinton’s latest memoir is a raw look at the 2016 presidential election, detailing her thoughts and feelings during the campaign. With chapters dedicated to her personal life and the different treatment of women in politics, this book was definitely one that tugged at the heart strings.

I got the book as a Christmas present from my boyfriend’s brother and sister-in-law, but like American Wife it had been on my to-be-read list for a while. I’ve always admired Hillary Clinton as a female leader, and the morning after the election when she didn’t win the presidency I remember thinking, “Well. That’s it then.” It just seemed like if she wasn’t going to be the first woman president, that it just wasn’t going to happen. I’ve shaken that thought since her inspiring concession speech, and I gathered a bit more hope for the future after reading her book.

Clinton writes what happened, discussing how female candidates are seen differently than their male counterparts, particularly by the media. She talked about her image, and the email investigation. I think everyone heard more than their fair share about Clinton’s emails during the campaign, so it was interesting to get her take on the whole situation, including the FBI’s hypocritical treatment of her during the race, when compared to its treatment of Trump.

A lot of the book, though, was a bit dated, but that’s my fault for taking so long to read it. As someone who works in the news business, I’m buried in news about the Russia investigation everyday, so a lot of the chapters in Clinton’s book about the nation’s influence on the 2016 election I had to just skim. Everything else, though, is a solemn look at what it’s like fighting more than just other candidates for the highest office in the United States, and how that fight is all the more challenging when you are born a woman.

What did you all read in April, and what will you read next?

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