Quarantine Book Club: I'm descending into a Hillary Clinton-themed fantasy world
With more time at home in this era of social distancing and self-isolation, we've got a lot more time for reading, right? It's hardly so simple. In this new EW series, staffers discuss how they're coping with experiences of anxiety and isolation through books. Here, Seija Rankin reveals how a Hillary Clinton-themed memoir let her forget our current political reality for a few magical hours.
Like most of you, I’ve been spending my time in quarantine wondering ‘what if?’ What if I could go to hot yoga today? What if my favorite restaurant didn’t close down? What if I could still go on that trip to Mexico City next week? What if Hillary Clinton had won the election in 2016, the federal government didn’t cover up the severity of the pandemic for two months, and New York City hadn’t become an open-air morgue?
You know, just some light musings to start the day.
It’s that last hypothetical that’s inspired a large portion of my quarantine pop culture consumption. Albus Dumbledore once said, "Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if only one remembers to turn on the light," and my light, it seems, is a pantsuit. It all started with Hillary, the Hulu documentary that follows her ill-fated campaign. I started choking up within the first few seconds of the opening montage, so once I finished all four episodes the only natural next step was to look for more ways to torture myself emotionally. Quarantine is nothing if not a place for masochists to thrive.
I turned next to Rodham, Curtis Sittenfeld's upcoming re-imagining of the former First Lady's life — told as if she had never been First Lady at all. It's a fan fiction of sorts, an answer to the question "What if Hillary had never married Bill at all?" The novel won't be on shelves until this summer so in an effort to stay as relatable as possible that's all I will say about that (I will even resist the urge to note that you can stay tuned to EW's books coverage for more on Rodham in the future! That would be highly obnoxious).
But after binging both of those pieces of pop culture, I was left with an HRC-sized void in my soul and the looming nightly pandemic briefings threatening to dismantle the minuscule amount of sanity I had built up. As such, I dusted off my iPad, Googled how to update the software on a device from 2014, and rented Chasing Hillary from the LA Library app.
This memoir-meets-campaign retelling was published nearly two years ago (April 24, 2018), but is a natural extension of Hillary — the author is Amy Chozick, a New York Times journalist and key contributor to the Hulu documentary. She spent eight years on the HRC beat, mostly as a member of the traveling press corps on the Presidential campaigns. The book is ostensibly about what it's like to follow a candidate around, day in and day out. Fans of campaign tomes and political gossip will find plenty to nerd-out about here: Chozick has exciting stories about pulling all-nighters for A1 stories, sparring with top campaign staffers over coverage, and plenty of insight into what went wrong with what was supposed to be a fairytale run for the Presidency.
She also lays bare some delightfully horrifying realities about being a member of the campaign press corps (known, on the inside, as the Travelers). There are the expected atrocities, like eating powdered scrambled eggs at a Hampton Inn buffet 300 days in a row or having to pretend to be interested in dozens of state fairs. But so much of the minute indecencies that the Travelers are subjected to were beyond my imagination (or, rather, what I bothered to imagine).
Chozick, who is married, had to put any expectation of seeing or speaking to her husband on hold for months at a time. She once arrived to Des Moines so late that the hotel gave away her room, so she wound up at what can only be described as a crack den masquerading as a bed-and-breakfast — at one point the proprietor moved her stuff out of her room to allow her friends to party in it. The amount of daily steps the Travelers logged makes my Quarantine look like a marathon.
But the most fascinating part of Chasing Hillary is all psycho-analytical. Clinton staffers — and Clinton herself — held a deep disdain for the New York Times' coverage of the campaign and, as a result, for Chozick. Over the course of her days covering the run-up to 2016 her relationship with Brooklyn (the catch-all term uses to describe campaign staffers) deteriorates to the point of full toxicity, and as a result Chozick develops something of an obsession. The book's title is not an accident. The author is simultaneously desperate to be liked (and respected) by this group and increasingly disenchanted with the would-be FWP (First Woman President).
This memoir isn't the feel-good, girl power anthem-pumping rally that had us crying through four episodes of Hulu documentary, but it's just as fascinating. And through all their interpersonal problems, HRC remains highly competent, highly measured, and definitely not corrupt enough to hide a looming pandemic.