I pre-ordered Hillary Clinton’s new book What Happened almost as soon as it was available (and marked down on Amazon). I got my copy a whole afternoon early (you go, Amazon! I’m sorry I say mean things about you), and decided to read it immediately.
I wanted to read this book for extremely personal reasons, all centered around my own reaction to the results of the 2016 Presidential Election. Reading this would be an intimate experience for me, not a public one. So when a friend of mine asked, as I neared the end of the book, whether I would talk about it here–on my blog–I wasn’t sure I wanted to commit to that.
I try to remain as unbiased and indirect on here as possible. I make sure my most offensive and arguable opinions are based around my taste in books. What I love most about the book blogging community is that, despite our diverse backgrounds, beliefs, and ideas, we can come together under the same opinion that books are AWESOME. And the last thing I want to do is say or talk about something divisive to hurt the common ground we share.
But this book affected me in ways that I can’t ignore, just like last year’s United State Presidential Election, so I feel like I need to talk about what I thought.
I’ll try to treat this with as much professionalism as possible, but I may also gush over how wonderful it was to hear the emotions and feelings of this powerful woman from her own pen.
So, here we go.
What Happened is, quite literally, what happened in 2016 and in everything that led up to Election Day. Hillary splits her time between discussing political history and revealing some of the personal moments from her experience on and leading up to the campaign trail. She talks about many of the hot topics that hit her campaign, including race, gender, and sexuality discussions, her emails, and general campaign decorum differences between herself and Trump. She is, most definitely, writing to her constituencies, addressing their questions about what happened, rather than trying to explain herself to those who did not believe in or agree with her. Therefore, her tone is one of camaraderie and understanding rather than explanation and justification. She concludes with a hopeful look to the future, one in which another several women will be leading the way.
In reading this book, I felt that Hillary Clinton was actually telling two different stories: a political one, and a personal one. Each story resonated differently with me, and their combination gave me a different overall impression.
The personal side of this book was beautiful. Hillary is extremely honest about her emotional responses before, during, and after her campaign. She speaks very honestly about where and when she struggled, what gave her the energy to keep going (her family, of course), and what still breaks her heart today. It was this element of the book that led me to want to read it. I was devastated over her loss, and I wanted to know how she was coping and what she recommended for us. These moments humanized Hillary Clinton in a beautiful way. I loved getting to know the woman behind the movement.
The personal moments in this book also include a lot of Hillary’s explanations as to why she supports the policy that she does. This part resonated with me a lot. I am the only Hillary supporter in my direct family, and I’m also one of the only ones who would claim to be “moderate” or “liberal” (I find myself to be moderate, but when we have those few and infrequent political discussions they claim I’m more liberal). Many of my family’s conservative beliefs stem from a religious, moral foundation. While I share a similar foundation, I’ve disagreed with many of their convictions for years. This has often presented either an impasse in our discussions, or some of my family members conclude that I don’t actually believe what I claim to believe. To read someone who also has similar convictions talking with passions about the things I agree with was empowering and encouraging. And Hillary doesn’t just list numbers–she talks about her real-life convictions on discussions around hot-button issues, and where they stem from. That was absolutely enjoyable.
She is also so honest in her evaluation of Donald Trump, it would be scandalous if she was still in office. Yet, as someone who had wanted to see her take the stage on Inauguration Day, I felt her convictions were more than justified (and cathartic).
And, of course, she is apologetic about where her campaign fell short and why. While some of these feel glossed over due to the way the book is written (categorically, and then chronologically), she hits hard on those topics that the media claimed she was unwilling to discuss.
The other half of Hillary’s book was focused on the political history surrounding the campaign. This is where many people grew frustrated with her, because she speaks directly about people like Bernie Sanders and why their campaigns were destined to fail (or how they hurt her campaign). This is where she writes about the “cold-hard facts,” the statistics, the realities. She looks at a developing history surrounding her own career, as well as Democrats and Republicans in general. She looks closely at the issues that decided the campaign and what role policy, partisan politics, and the media played in each. This is where the chronology is most important, because she helps us see both how Trump unexpectedly won and why so many people decided to support him.
These sections I found a little less interesting, if just because I’m not a political science-minded person. I appreciate historical context and facts, but dates and details are a little more mind-numbing to me. And, while I think it was important to the writing of this book, I felt like it wasn’t why I wanted to read it. That it was written for a different audience than me.
Which leads me to my evaluation of the book as a whole–I think the two different elements, combined in one, hurt the message of each individual piece. And I think this is why many people (who should love her book; I’m ignoring the one-star reviews on Goodreads from Trump supporters who just want to watch the world burn) criticize her integrity and purpose in its creation. It’s because she talks about flaws in Bernie’s campaign next to moments in which she expresses personal frustrations with the Congressman that lead some people to say she’s bashing Bernie in the book. That’s not the impression I got, but I can understand why people may think that.
The combination also seems to weaken some of her apologies. While she may be expressing conviction over a decision she made, she would also be talking about a whole history of people that created her situation. At times, this felt like a cop-out, which hurt the overall integrity of the piece.
In the end, I think Hillary’s book appealed to two separate audiences who may or may not appreciate both book elements. I don’t know that she could have picked one or the other, or if she would have been capable of writing two different “what happened” titles, but at minimum, the collaboration of the elements could have been stronger.
My final conviction over this book is that it was necessary. Millions of Americans, including Hillary, were left reeling after the election results. Many people were asking the question this title mimics. Others, like me, were asking “what’s next?” or “what do we do?” This book is encouraging because it addresses those concerns. Hillary validates them by confirming that she feels them too. And expresses regret at what was lost, but hope for what may come. And that, right now, is what we need.
Thank you for making it to the end of one of my more partisan posts. I appreciate your support. May we seek to always be inclusive in our reviews and discussions, giving voice to all beliefs and convictions, while still returning to the fundamental idea that books have the power to bring us together.
“What do we do now?” I said. There was only one answer: “Keep going.”
–Hillary Rodham Clinton