We’ve called our readers’ attention to the front-page drubbing that My Life, Bill Clinton’s cinderblock-size autobiography, received from Michiko Kakutani, the New York Times’s premiere book critic, on Sunday, June 20, two days before the book’s official release on Tuesday, June 22. (See Bill Clinton’s Big Egg, June 21.) Among other things, Kakutani called Clinton’s self-serving 957-page tome an example of the former president’s capacity for “numbing, self-conscious garrulity.” Other words that Kakutani used were “sloppy, self-indulgent and often eye-crossingly dull.”
Kakutani was scarcely alone in her negative reaction to Clinton’s book. In an article titled My [Boring] Life, Slate lists several other prominent critics, including Newsweek magazine’s Michael Isikoff and Weston Kosova, whose reactions to the book echo hers.
But the Times’s readership happens to include the tens of thousands of thousands of ardent Clintonistas who stayed up all night to be among the first to buy their own copies of “My Life,” and many of them complained loudly about Kakutani’s review, insinuating that it was payback for Clinton’s criticism in the book of the Times’s sharp coverage of the Whitewater scandal. So now the Times is saying “I’m sorry” to all those miffed liberals. According to the TimesWatch website, on June 23, just three days after Kakutani’s review appeared, the Times issued a press release announcing that in two weeks, in its Sunday book review section, it will run a second review of “My Life”, written by novelist and certified Clinton fan Larry (“Lonesome Dove”) McMurtry. The Times also posted a copy of McMurtry’s gushing review (which calls Clinton’s book “the richest American presidential autobiography”) on its website for all to see. (Thanks, Kathryn Jean Lopez of National Review Online, for the links.) According to Editor and Publisher, the newspaper industry’s trade rag, the posting of McMurtry’s review some 11 days before it was due to appear was “an unprecedented move” for the Times.
The contents of McMurtry’s sycophantic, self-promoting review, a combination of literary name-dropping (to remind you how smart McMurtry is) and twangy semi-scatological braggadocio (to remind you that McMurtry’s also a regular Texas guy), ought to make the Times editor who assigned this 2,400-word gas blast cringe with embarrassment:
“Some will object to any suggestion that Bill Clinton might be lonely. Look at what he’s done, they might say: Rhodes scholar, Yale Law, five times governor of Arkansas, twice president of the United States, wed and kept a smart wife, sired and raised a decent daughter, gregarious, adaptable to any American occasion, from fish fry to cow-chip throw (a sport that flourishes chiefly in Nebraska). Why, he even plays the saxophone!
“All true, but he’s lonely, and in the quality of his loneliness lies much of his appeal. And he does have serious appeal….
“One of the appealing things about Bill Clinton, at least to literary types like me, is that he frequently reminds me of authors or their characters – for instance, there’s Thomas Wolfe, the big ghost from the other side of the South. Bill Clinton looks homeward often, to laud his angel mother, Virginia Kelley. But why stop there? You can have Clinton as Gulliver, pricked by the Boss Lilliputian, Kenneth Starr; you can have him as Tom Jones, eternally seeking his Dad; you can have him as L’il Abner, wooing his Daisy Mae in the unlikely purlieu of Yale Law School; though to his gnatlike cloud of enemies he will always mainly be the Artful Dodger, the man they’re convinced is getting away with something, even if, as is often the case, they can’t figure out what.”
Hey, Larry, you left out Shakespeare’s Falstaff, Homer’s Odysseus, and Raskolnikov from “Crime and Punishment”!
And of course the problem with Bill Clinton’s enemies was that they didn’t read as many fine books as Our Highly Educated Reviewer and his Rhodes Scholar hero. Here’s McMurtry pulling rank on rube/pin-brain Kenneth Starr:
“His hometown, Thalia, Tex., lies along what local wits sometimes refer to as the ‘Floydada Corridor,’ a bleak stretch of road between Wichita Falls and Lubbock that happens to run through the tiny town of Floydada, Tex. It’s a merciless land, mostly, with inhabitants to match. Towns like Crowell, Paducah and Matador lie on this road, and nothing lighter than an elephant gun is likely to have much effect on the residents. Proust readers and fornicating presidents will find no welcome there.”
Oh yeah, you’ve read Proust too, Larry.
The Times apparently picked McMurtry for the gush-job because he provided his Clinton-loving credentials in a review of Nigel Hamilton’s Bill Clinton: An American Journey, Vol. 1 in the Oct. 23, 2003 issue of the New York Review of Books. The NYRB charges for the article, so you can’t see the whole thing here, but Bob Somerby of The Daily Howler provides choice excerpts here and here. Like his review of Clinton’s own book, McMurtry’s review of Hamilton’s book is more eager to tell you all about McMurtry than about the text he is presumably reviewing. Unlike the decorous New York Times, however, the NYRB let McMurtry go whole-hog on the f-word, the d-word, and the other expletives that he loves to use to show us that he’s a real man. Some samples:
‘The question of sexually charged (or, it may be, uncharged) speech in our political culture is a delicate one…especially so in the matter of the F-word’f—‘long since ubiquitous in private discourse but rarely employed publicly by American politicians, not even by the easily unbuttoned Bill Clinton….When cornered by his inquisitors in the matter of Monica Lewinsky he could have just said he didn’t f— her, which would have spared him (and us) months of ridiculous hair-splitting….
“It’s interesting to consider what President Clinton’s two most famously d—-driven predecessors, JFK and LBJ, would have thought of this timidity or tepidity or chickenheartedness’.Probably they would have laughed their heads off at Bill Clinton’s predicament, though the same thing could easily have happened to them had they not enjoyed the immense luxury of an acquiescent press, a press that would never have dared write about JFK’s hookers or LBJ’s White House p—y pool.”
As Somerby remarks:
“Wow! It isn’t your father’s New York Review when this high-stationed teamster starts typing!”
Nice reviewing choice, New York Times.