New York Times readers were treated to a rare dose of sympathy for Sarah Palin and her new book yesterday. Columnist Stanley Fish reviewed "Going Rogue", and cast it in a generally appealing light, while dispelling some of the most trumpeted criticisms of the former Alaska Governor's autobiography.
Fish introduces his review with a humorous anecdote poking fun at some of the more deranged Palin-haters: Upon asking a customer service representative in a Manhattan bookstore where he could find "Going Rogue," the employee "looked at me as if I had requested a copy of 'Mein Kampf' signed in blood by the author, and directed me to the nearest Barnes and Noble, where, presumably, readers of dubious taste and sensibility could find what they wanted."
Far from conducting an AP-style fact-check of "Going Rogue," Fish notes that autobiographies, unlike biographies, are intended to promote the author. "[A]utobiographers cannot lie because anything they say will truthfully serve their project, which, again, is not to portray the facts, but to portray themselves."
As such, Fish avoids picking apart Palin's recollections of her life, and rather focuses on her character and the general image of herself that she tries to portray. Fish concludes by noting that the facts surrounding Palin's account really don't matter for the purposes of the book. "The message is clear," he writes. "America can't be stopped." He praises Palin for her effectiveness in conveying her message.
In the end, perseverance, the ability to absorb defeat without falling into defeatism, is the key to Palin’s character. It’s what makes her run in both senses of the word and it is no accident that the physical act of running is throughout the book the metaphor for joy and real life. Her handlers in the McCain campaign wouldn’t let her run (a mistake, I think, even at the level of photo-op), no doubt because they feared another opportunity to go “off script,” to “go rogue.”
But run she does (and falls, but so what?), and when it is all over and she has lost the vice presidency and resigned the governorship, she goes on a long run and rehearses in her mind the eventful year she has chronicled. And as she runs, she achieves equilibrium and hope: “We’ve been through amazing days, and really, there wasn’t one thing to complain about. I feel such freedom, such hope, such thankfulness for our country, a place where nothing is hopeless.”
It is refreshing to see a commentary on "Going Rogue" that focuses on the work itself, and doesn't try to make a political statement in a book review. Still a few of the Times's readers surely felt sick after reading this, if they made it to the end at all. Some online commenters openly displayed their disgust for Palin, and for Fish for writing a half-sympathetic review of her work. A few of the juicier comments:
- How could you, Mr. Fish? I trusted your instincts, and I don't any longer, at least not as evidenced in this piece. You are a linguist, foremost, and what she represents is the antithesis of the common goal (albeit unrealistic in its semantic purity) of valorous written communication.
Why do you you feel compelled to side with her (meaning, her team), as you most certainly did? Why is it worth the effort? Please, if you have the courage and wit, which I'm assured you do, explain to your readers why the space of your column does not warrant a personal rebuttal of your own ideas.
- I agree....American fiction is fun to read. And I like your allusion to "Mein Kampf". It works well here. But at least he wrote his own material.
- ...If you liked this autobiography, you must have really loved "Mein Kampf." I think both authors were about equally honest and ambitious, though Hitler was much more knowledgeable and articulate.
Sarah Palin is no one to be admired, no matter how resilient, she is to be feared. More precisely, America's habit of being fooled by mountebanks like Ronald Reagan and Sarah Palin, who preach phony religious piety and jingoistic patriotism, is what we should fear. Honestly, I'm amazed that you were able to hold down your lunch after reading pap such as you describe, let alone recommend that we all have a taste. Unbelievable.
- I think Stanley Fish Is "Going Cuckoo" . Stanley, do not go gentle into that stupidity. Rage, rage against the "blithering idiot".
- Biography, auto or not, be damned. I share the horror of your bright young bookstore employee.
Ah yes, the New York Times readership: such a tolerant and open-minded bunch they are.