There’s not been a whole lot about this project that’s given me hope. Jeb Bush’s immaculate citations did, Nixon’s funny earnestness did, Rand Paul’s poetry did, and most else has been dispiriting. But now, as we start to wind down, I was on Amazon and something made me really happy:
I’ve been wondering through this whole project who reads campaign books, besides me. More and more, I figured that the people buying these books were the fans wanting a memento, the campaigns wanting a party favor, and maybe sometimes a bored airport traveler or a journalist in the weeds.
I have no data to back me up here: this could be a fluke of my Amazon history (which is pretty confused by this point), or a coincidence. I also don’t necessarily think that in this particular election, you’re necessarily going to be better informed about either candidate by reading their book.*
But the thought that Amazon customers buy Trump and Clinton’s books together could also be a hint that people turn to books to make up their minds, and to do so through a medium that demands a commitment of time and attention. Buying either book, but especially both books together speaks to a hunger for something beyond sound bytes, a desire to go to the source of things and evaluate it from there. The debates seem to draw this tension especially sharply, with the odd staginess of the events themselves followed by the immediate dissection and entrenchment. I have a lot of faith in a population that watches the debates and then still goes to buy both books. Trust but verify, and reject the easy answers and the hot takes.
It’s sad that the books don’t often live up to their readership, but at least this is a start. You go, bipartisan readers. I trust you.
Anyway, this post is also to raise a little flag that I’m starting my final act here. I’ve ordered Stronger Together, and will read it before the election. I’ll also try to wrap everything up into one longer essay that I’ve been thinking about for almost the whole project, getting all the Thoughts on books and this election out of my system. Maybe.