« Ipse Dixit on the Infield Fly Rule | Main | Tenth Circuit offers an interesting mix of Younger, Rooker, and jurisdictionality »

Monday, December 24, 2018

Winter Break Reading Recommendation

During the winter break, I always find myself with more time than usual for pleasure reading.  My usual fare is relatively light and escapist.  But, based on a recommendation, I recently picked up The Woman at the Washington ZooThe Woman at the Washington Zoo is a collection of writings by Marjorie Williams.  Williams made a name for herself writing political profiles for the Washington Post and Vanity Fair.  The book contains several of those profiles, as well as more personal essays about parenthood, the death of her mother, and her own battle with cancer.

Even though I finished the book a week ago, it has really stuck with me.  The profiles provide a fascinating glimpse into the political world of the late 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s.  Although many of the names and events were familiar to me, as someone who graduated from law school in 2002, I found the inside-the-beltway chatter about these people and events to be a great revelation.  I didn’t pay any attention to politics until the 2000 election, and so my understanding of the political landscape from the 1980s and 90s is limited and based mostly on present day sources.  But the current view of that landscape is quite different than the contemporaneous view. 

For example, Williams remarks, essentially in passing, that people in Washington did not think highly of Ronald Reagan’s presidency; they worried that he was beholden to the far-right and that he was a passive player in the White House.  That does not match up at all with the description of Reagan that one encounters in modern public discussions.  Reagan is one of many examples.  The essay on Barbara and George Bush was also surprising, as the picture that it painted of the 41st President was not particularly consistent with the many profiles about him that appeared in the wake of his recent death.

Of these political writings, I found William’s essay about Bill Clinton and the Monica Lewinsky scandal to be the most thoughtful.  Williams frames her essay by asking why feminists are unwilling to criticize Clinton for his affair with an intern---a question that has gained new prominence in light of the #metoo movement.  Although the essay was clearly written at the time of the scandal, the perspective that Williams brings to the question is so fresh that it could have been written today.

The book is more than just political profiles.  It also contains essays about life and parenthood.  I wish I had an electronic copy of her essay about the magazine “Real Simple”---I’d like to send it to all of my friends who are also parents to small children and talk to them about it over a glass of wine.  (It is, in some ways, a more thoughtful, but less funny, version of the recent SNL skit about family that has been such a big hit with my cohort.)

Not to ruin the ending—but it gets sad at the end.  As I mentioned above, Williams was diagnosed with cancer, and she ultimately died.  The book was edited and published after her death by her husband, Timothy Noah, who is an editor at Politico.  Normally, I don’t like to read anything that is particularly sad.  I don’t like sad movies or television shows either---I like my pleasure reading and watching to serve as a light-hearted diversion from everyday life.  But William’s brings the same thoughtfulness and perspective to her essays about her illness as she does to her essays about politics:  She is writing about cancer, but she is also writing about life, family, and ideas.

Anyway, as I said, the book left a mark.  And so I thought I’d share.

Posted by Carissa Byrne Hessick on December 24, 2018 at 03:39 PM in Books, Carissa Byrne Hessick | Permalink

Comments

Post a comment