A Historian Obsessed With the Present

If, at some point, a new diagnosis is announced that describes people who can’t stop purchasing and reading books about the 2016 presidential campaign, I could be one of the first to sign up for treatment. I imagine that while wellness professionals will recommend some combination of meditation and exercise, psychologists will have a behavior modification regime to recommend. “When James Comey next appears on television,” the therapist will say soothingly, “Instead of rushing to Amazon.com, imagine yourself in a beautiful bookstore with comfy chairs, standing in front of a shelf full of very long Victorian novels.”

Or maybe there will just be a pill. I’m sure, in fact, that there will be a pill.

But until there is, I’ll stuck with my obsession for political porn about 2016 and everything that has followed. I’ve read all of it. Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes’ Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign (2017) was the first out of the gate. It was a book hastily rewritten after the plot change was announced in November that there wasn’t going to be a first woman president after all, and far from being annoyed with the many flaws that even a good copyeditor should have caught, its authenticity as a rough draft of history is truly compelling. Then there was Clinton’s own What Happened (2017), a book that clearly had similar production issues, but with more rewrite men, a few more months to respond to the change in plans, and a genius title to boot. Although the last third of the Clinton’s own book was a huge drag, emotionally and as a reader who prefers lively prose, my spirits were quickly lifted by Katy Tur’s Unbelievable (2017). Here, an MSNBC reporter accidentally assigned to a loser campaign, finds herself not only on a winning campaign, but targeted by the candidate. Unbelievable turns the campaign memoir on its head because it is about the press bus from a woman’s perspective, which is – I think – unprecedented. It also reveals interesting factoids: for example, reporters and candidates gain so much weight during a political campaign that by election night they are all, male and female, squeezed into Spanx like a bunch of political sausages.

To read the rest of this post, published at Public Seminar on May 2, 2018, click here.

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