An American reader: Bill Clinton


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Updated: originally this post said Clinton attended a dinner at William Styron’s house in 1999. It was, he tells us, 1994.

Bill Clinton is many things -- among them a U.S. president for two terms and a leader of international diplomacy and relief efforts -- but he’s also a kind of bookish guy. He’s the author of the 1,024-page autobiography ‘My Life,’ which came out in 2004. And he likes to read.


In 2007, after a book signing at the Texas bookstore BookPeople, Austinist wrote that he purchased ‘For Her Own Good: Two Centuries of the Experts Advice to Women’ by Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English, ‘Ingrid: Ingrid Bergman, A Personal Biography’ by Charlotte Chandler, ‘Who Are We: The Challenges to America’s National Identity’ by Samuel P. Huntington, ‘Water for Elephants’ by Sara Gruen and ‘The Eternal Frontier: An Ecological History of North America and Its Peoples.’

A 2004 exhibit at the Clinton Presidential Library had Clinton’s 21 official favorite books on display. It included Ralph Ellison’s ‘Invisible Man,’ ‘Homage to Catalonia’ by George Orwell, ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ by Maya Angelou and Marcus Aurelius’ ‘Meditations.’

‘Meditations’ has been a Clinton favorite since at least 1994, when he attended a dinner full of literary heavyweights at William Styron’s house. Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote about the evening for Salon, and his account makes it sound like a book geek’s dream.

Clinton said his [favorite] was the ‘Meditations of Marcus Aurelius,’ and Carlos Fuentes stuck loyally to ‘Absalom, Absalom,’ Faulkner’s stellar novel, no question, although others would choose ‘Light in August’ for purely personal reasons. Clinton, in homage to Faulkner, got to his feet and, pacing around the table, recited from memory Benji’s monologue, the most thrilling passage, and perhaps the most hermetic, from ‘The Sound and the Fury.’

I wonder what Cinton is reading today? Maybe it’s another classic by a Southern writer, or something by one of our founding fathers. Or maybe he’s put his book down, is having some barbecue and waiting for the fireworks to start.

-- Carolyn Kellogg