Politics and Prose hosted a conversation between former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and author Louise Penny about the relationship between politics and literature Tuesday.
Penny, a New York Times bestselling author of mystery novels, and the former secretary of state and first lady spoke about Penny’s novels, including her most recent mystery, “All the Devils Are Here,” at a virtual event on Zoom. Fans and viewers were also able to submit questions for Clinton and Penny, which moderator Lissa Muscatine, the co-owner of Politics and Prose, voiced to them.
Penny said Clinton has been a fan of Penny’s novels since at least 2016, and the two became friends shortly after. Penny said she will “never forget” when Clinton, in the “political battle of the century,” sent Penny a condolence letter after her husband died in September 2016.
“It was an act of selflessness, of generosity, of kindness I’ll never forget,” she said. “And that does inspire me every day to try to be as kind to others as you’ve been to me.”
Clinton said Penny’s “Chief Inspector Armand Gamache” series appealed to her because each book felt like a “chapter” in a “much larger story.” She said she considers the series less as a collection of books but more of an “intertwined set of life stories.”
“I fell in love with ‘Still Life,’ the very first book, because I fell in love with the characters,” Clinton said. “And that just continued, and since she has produced a book year by year, I felt like I was living with all of these characters.”
Clinton said during recent times of “darkness,” everyone has a choice in deciding what outlook they maintain during “difficult times.” She said she loves the characters Penny has created because of the “really difficult choices” the characters face, like getting out of addiction, which Penny said she herself overcame.
“The choices are always there,” Clinton said. “And I think to try to bring all this together with what Louise has given us in this latest installment of the life and times and challenges of ‘Gamache’ is to see those choices through her writing and to figure out how we then can be strengthened by and encouraged by our ability to make better choices for ourselves and for our country.”
Clinton said that whether or not a book is “explicitly political,” the politics at the time of the book is always the most “alive” issue. She said novelist Philip Roth predicted some of the political issues facing the world right now, like the “rise of authoritarianism,” and William Shakespeare was immersed in politics as well.
Penny said there is a “problem” when political leaders only read books centered around politics. She said reading literature is a way to get “into people’s hearts” and “onto the streets.”
“You get insight into real people’s lives on the street level, the voters, the human beings who the politicians are going to be making life decisions about,” Penny said. “And you learn about that by reading the aspirations, the failures, the heartbreaks. The lives of regular human beings, you read about in literature.”