EDITOR’S NOTE: This article appears in the May 31, 2004, issue of National Review.
TO: Bill Clinton
FROM: Sonny Mehta
RE: Final Manuscript Draft: “My Life”
First off, let me just say that everyone here at Knopf loves–no, really loves the manuscript. The whole thing–from your very first memories of growing up in Arkansas to Oxford and Yale to the White House, it’s all there and it’s all terrific.
Of course we’ve got some thoughts about your final pass on the manuscript, and I’d like to take a moment to go through them. As always, these are just suggestions–the book is really about your vision and your voice. Everyone here at Knopf just wants to make sure it’s the best it can be.
And you’ve given us so much to work with! We’re truly grateful for each one of those 2,643,834 words, but it’s clear to us that some of the pages diminish the impact of the other 5,000. And as much as we respect your desire to deliver a “big summer book,” it’s difficult to imagine people carrying a 22-pound volume to the beach.
Some of this is probably my fault. When we spoke a few months ago, and I expressed concern that the manuscript was still unformed and incomplete, you assured me that rather than push back publication, you’d pull “all-nighter after all-nighter” to get it done. But I’m not sure that was the most effective strategy, as it resulted in a manuscript so long that publishing it would require developing an entirely new printing and binding process, and a kind of glue that, to be perfectly honest, does not exist.
So please take the following thoughts into consideration:
1. We’re concerned about the recipes. While we think the very first recipe in the book, your mother’s “beaten biscuits,” is an excellent one–the biscuits are terrific–we’re not sure we “get” the metaphor of the recipes you’ve sprinkled throughout the narrative. Also: You include the recipe for “Frito Pie” three times, but the third time, during the gripping section on impeachment and the Starr Report, you describe sitting alone in the White House kitchen, splitting the top of a bag of Fritos, pouring hot chili and shredded cheese into the bag, and then eating it all right out of the bag, with a large cooking spoon. And you refer to this later as “Frito Pie,” but it doesn’t quite match your earlier recipe. So our thought is either address the issue once, and then not at all, or clear up the discrepancy.
2. In the very honest and frank section on Monica Lewinsky, in the narrative description of one of your encounters with her, you refer to “the top of her head, covered with a cascade of blonde hair.” Is this a typo? Ms. Lewinsky is, rather notoriously, not a blonde. Or are you perhaps thinking of someone else? In any case, it’s distracting to the reader.
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