Bill Clinton has been on the book trail promoting Back to Work: Why We Need Smart Government for a Strong Economy (Knopf, 9780307959751, $23.95). Recently the ex-president talked with Shelf Awareness about why he enjoys doing signings, why politics needs to be more like real life, what's on his reading list and the identity of his favorite mystery-thriller character.
"I didn't know if anybody would buy Back to Work because it's not a story," former President Bill Clinton said. "Stories sell more. Fiction sells more than nonfiction. Biographies like the Steve Jobs biography or mine sell more than other books. And stories like the ones I told in Giving sell more than this."
Yet Back to Work is indeed garnering the popular vote. Readers have boosted the prescriptive political tome onto national and regional bestseller lists and turned out in droves for signings at Politics & Prose in Washington, D.C., Books & Books in Miami, Fla., and other locales. In the book, Clinton explains how we got into the current economic crisis, shares his insights on the challenges facing the country and offers ideas for restoring the economy.
While touring for Back to Work, Clinton has met "an enormous number of people who are personally affected by the economic problems we have." At a Barnes & Noble event in Orlando, Fla., where more than 1,000 attendees turned out, two women in particular made memorable impressions. Both are in their 50s, and each purchased a copy of the book for her significant other--one as a congratulatory gift for her husband, newly hired after eight months of job searching, and the other as encouragement for her spouse, who has been unemployed for six months.
"One of the reasons I do book signings is because I like to look into the faces of the people who come through the line, hear their stories, see why they're there," said Clinton. "It's a real honor when somebody buys your book. I never cease to wonder why some people buy it and what they're going through in their own lives."
An important point Clinton would like readers to take away from the book is that "we have to have the right goal. We need to build a modern economy of shared prosperity and shared responsibility--that is with jobs that pay well and lots of new businesses that are competitive. We can't do that without both a strong private sector and a smart government working together." In addition, those on Capitol Hill should set aside the contentious style that is defining contemporary politics. "What works is cooperation," he said. "In real life, networks and cooperation and partnerships work, and in politics conflict works. We somehow have to make politics more like real life, so that we'll have more economic prosperity."
In between promoting Back to Work, raising awareness for his philanthropic initiatives and lending his support to the current commander-in-chief, Clinton has made time to enjoy some page turners. The avid reader's current volume-of-choice is Ron Chernow's Washington: A Life, a biography of the founding father. His opinion? "I love it."
A mystery and thriller buff, the President also recently read The Affair by Lee Child and Zero Day by David Baldacci. He's a big fan of Norwegian crime writer Jo Nesbø, although his favorite character is Daniel Silva's art restorer and spy Gabriel Allon. Next up is Harvard professor Lisa Randall's Knocking on Heaven's Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World.
A highlight for this reporter: a bibliophile on the president's holiday gift list is receiving a copy of my book Novel Destinations: Literary Landmarks from Jane Austen's Bath to Ernest Hemingway's Key West. --Shannon McKenna Schmidt