In Hillary Clinton’s just-released memoir, What Happened, out Sept. 12 from Simon & Schuster, the former presidential candidate opens with the election loss that devastated voters and Americans everywhere — not least of all, HRC herself. But Clinton is nothing if not a fighter, and as her memoir shows, even the most clobbering of political losses can’t keep her down for long. But, you might be wondering, how does someone bounce back not only from losing the presidency, but losing the highest of achievements — one Clinton dedicated years of her political life to achieving.
As all less-high-profile book-lovers know, literature can get a person through just about anything. As it turns out, Clinton shares a similar feeling. The first chapters of What Happened are packed with literary references and nods to the books Clinton read after the election. From the poetry of Maya Angelou to the dystopic political fiction of George Orwell, it turns out Clinton’s self-care routine looks a whole lot like mine — and like that of many book-lovers, who turn to the written word in times of need.
Curious what books were stacked in Hillary Clinton’s TBR pile as she processed her loss, fought through her anger, and finally took a vacation that was practically decades overdue? Then check out this list of what books inspired Hillary Clinton after the election.
'Nineteen Eighty-Four’ by George Orwell
The book that suddenly became a bestseller in the United States just days after Trump’s inauguration also made its way onto Clinton’s reading list after the election. In What Happened, Clinton references the use of torture on Orwell’s fictional political prisoners — who were electrocuted until they not only agreed but genuinely believed that their captor, who was holding up four fingers, was actually holding up five. Extreme, but in a post-fact world, disturbingly relevant.
'The Assault on Reason’ by Al Gore
It’s not surprising that Clinton would find comfort in the words of another former presidential candidate — one who also won the popular vote but lost the election, to George W. Bush in 2000. Now with an updated 2017 edition that tackles the Trump presidency thus far, Al Gore’s The Assault on Reason asks what has happened to the United States and how we can fix it. "What happened?" seems to be a recurring theme these days.
‘The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements’ by Eric Hoffer
Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements is a bestselling book that both Hillary and Bill Clinton read and re-read together during the campaign. In it, Hoffer explores the psychology of fanaticism and mass movements, demonstrating how an individual person can descend into a fanatic — disturbing, but informative.
‘The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou’ by Maya Angelou
Clinton references the work of poet Maya Angelou several times in What Happened — from recollections of the poem Angelou read at Bill Clinton’s first presidential inauguration to the way that 'Still I Rise', a poem that has long been inspirational to HRC, went viral during the Women’s March on Washington.
'Brave New World’ by Aldous Huxley
One last classic dystopian novel that Clinton mentions early on in her book is Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World — a landscape that she jests (well… sort of) that we entered the day Trump lied to the American people about the crowd size at his speech on Inauguration Day. And then demanded that the National Park service lie about too.
‘Invictus’ by William Ernest Henley
Citing poet William Ernest Henley’s ‘Invictus’ as both peace activist Nelson Mandela’s favorite poem, and one of her own, Clinton used the line from the poem “bloody, but unbowed” to describe her feelings shortly after the election.
The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante
The four-book series about strong women and enduring female friendships, The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante, also landed in HRC’s TBR pile, as a little feminist, post-election pick-me-up.
Assorted mystery novels
Clinton says she and her mother both shared a love of mystery novels, and often completed them in one sitting. The former presidential candidate relaxed and escaped reality post-election by reading the mystery novels of authors Louise Penny, Jacqueline Winspear, Donna Leon, and Charles Todd.
Anne Lamott is a writer both known for her powerful nonfiction and her political activism. Clinton turned to the author’s work after the campaign, saying that Lamott’s recognition of “three essential prayers: Help, Thanks, and Wow” kept her in the right head-space while she recovered from the loss.
‘Great Expectations’ by Charles Dickens
A classic readers all recognize, Clinton cites Charles Dickens' Great Expectations as a call to mindfulness to her, to “avoid spending the rest of [her] life as Miss Havisham” — a wealthy but jilted spinster who wears her wedding dress for the rest of her life out of resentment and bitterness.
'Strong for a Moment Like This: The Daily Devotions of Hillary Rodham Clinton’ by Rev. Dr. Bill Shillady
Recently pulled from its publisher, Abingdon Press, for concerns about unattributed content, Strong for a Moment Like This: The Daily Devotions of Hillary Rodham Clinton is nonetheless a book that supported Clinton throughout the campaign, piecemeal. The author, Rev. Dr. Bill Shillady, is a United Methodist minister and long-time friend of the Clinton family, who sent the compiled daily devotionals to once a time, Clinton throughout her run for president.
‘The Return of the Prodigal Son’ by Henri Nouwen
A book that Clinton cites as “one of [her] favorites”, Henri Nouwen’s reproduction and analysis of the Gospel story The Return of the Prodigal Son. Clinton says she has always connected to the elder son in the story, who has sacrificed all his life for his father and must struggle to find gratitude in his choices upon the return home of his younger brother, who hasn't made equal sacrifices and yet is welcomed by their father with open arms. She also shares that her own father taught her the same unconditional love that the father in the story exhibits, and she's passed those lessons along to her daughter and grandchildren as well.
As Clinton begins to look at her mistakes during the presidential campaign, she turns to another of her favorite writers for comfort and perspective, quoting poet Mary Oliver as saying: "while our mistakes make us want to cry, the world doesn't need more of that."
'Four Quartets' by T. S. Eliot
Clinton references the poet T.S. Eliot nearly as many times in What Happened as she does Maya Angelou — and when she describes her decision to run for president a second time, Eliot’s poem ‘East Coker’ is the one that comes to mind. Clinton recalls first reading ‘East Coker’ as a teenager growing up in Park Ridge, Illinois. As the young ancestor of who she describes as “indomitable Welsh and English coal miners” the poem, about maintaining a relentless resilience, spoke to her both then, again at her graduation from Wellesley, and later when she ultimately chose to run for president a second time.