Fifty-three million children are about to go back to school. How many of them finished their summer reading? How many of them want to be president of the United States?
The two questions may be related.
For his 10-day vacation on Martha's Vineyard, Mr. Clinton has taken along twelve books, and there's not a comic book or Cliffs Notes among them.
By our count, he's diving into more than 4,000 pages. With a vacation load like that even Huck Finn might prefer school.
This could be another expression of the voracious energy seen during Mr. Clinton's campaigning days: five fund-raising dinners a night, thousands of close friends to greet, millions of people's "pain to feel."
For books in the chosen dozen, this publicity could be even better than Oprah's approval. But good publicity flows both ways, as this master politician knows. The list seems carefully drawn - and carefully released to the public - for maximum PR benefit.
There's Wallace Stegner's elegant "Crossing to Safety" to show the president's sensitivity and depth. Peter Bernstein's "Against the Gods," a study of probability, emphasizes the president's intellectuality. New thrillers by Linda Fairstein and Richard North Patterson (a nod to both sexes) put a plug in for the macho president.
Michael Beran's biography of Bobby Kennedy takes us back to a time when liberalism wasn't a dirty word. The fictionalized letters of a second-century emperor in Marguerite Yourcenar's "Memories of Hadrian" remind us that in the good old days of Rome nobody worried about a ruler's sexual peccadilloes.
The title of Alan Dershowitz's courtroom drama "Just Revenge" might make Kenneth Starr a little nervous. And the inclusion of "Waves of Rancor," an expos of right-wing radio by Robert Hillard and Michael Keith, gives the hitherto unnoticed book a strategic boost as the presidential campaign heats up.
Even this irrepressible president must look forward to a time when a vacation is just a vacation. And he can read books - just one at a time - by himself, without impressing anyone.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society