My Life by Bill Clinton

18699Since I purchased this book in 2004, I have been struggling to get through it. President Clinton has a marvelous memory and sometimes I got bogged down by the names and dates he generously provided. However, when I finally let go of my usual academic-style reading of a nonfiction book, I was able to really appreciate the essence of his message and enjoy his story-telling.

It’s no secret that I adore President Clinton’s political philosophy (though we may disagree on individual policy issues) and would love to work for his foundation one day (or his wife in the White House). Taking the journey with him through his childhood and up to the last days of his Presidency was a treat for me to read. His style is self-deprecating and folksy (not in the GWB way), which makes me feel like he is sitting right there, talking to me about his life. I can only imagine what the audio book must be like.

There are so many good quotations that I could have captured, but I’ll keep it to these four:

On his mother: “She would have loved to live to be one hundred, but if her time was up, so be it. She had found her peace with God. He could call her home, but He would have to catch her on the run.” (p. 566)

On Kenneth Starr and the Whitewater debacle: “No one can be as angry as I was without doing himself harm. It took me too long to figure that out.” (p. 671)

“Give respect before you expect it, treat people the way you want to be treated, remember the mission, set the example, keep going.” -Vernon Baker, 1997 Congressional Medal of Honor recipient (p. 740)

On keeping perspective:

“On my last night in the now-barren Oval Office, I thought of the glass case I had kept on the coffee table between the two couches, just a few feet away. It contained a rock Neil Armstrong had taken off the moon in 1969. Whenever arguments in the Oval Office heated up beyond reason, I would interrupt and say, ‘You see that rock? It’s 3.6 billion years old. We’re all just passing through. Let’s calm down and go back to work.’” (p. 952)

It’s taken me over three years to finally finish the book, including a concerted effort to stay up until almost 5am today to read the last 150 pages. My life has changed in more ways than I can enumerate since the day I stood with Kim in South Central LA and shook President Clinton’s hand. I was still using my JetBlue boarding pass from my first trip to SF to look for housing as a bookmark. The dust jacket is a little beat up, the pages are dog-eared and a little dirty. I’ve dragged the book from airports to hospital cafeterias and everywhere in between. It’s been moved to three different apartments with me.

I finally finished and I can move on to the other books on my shelf. It is by far the longest thing I have ever read and I feel proud of this accomplishment. However, I’m a little sad for it to be over. As I got closer to the final walk through the White House in January 19, 2001, I tried to savor every word. As long as I was reading about Bill Clinton as President, perhaps I wouldn’t have to face the reality of the last six and half years of the Bush presidency. Not true, of course, but it’s a nice thought.