The President’s Wife

The players may change but the smothering stench of the nanny state never does.

I didn’t want to do it but I couldn’t stop myself – I read the entire Eisenhower section first. I rarely read a book out of order but oh that Mamie! So now I have to start at the beginning and choke down Eleanor Roosevelt. Summary so far: she was ill at ease, loud, rejected formality and had big teeth.

J.B. West writes of his First Ladies in a kind and considerate way, casting them in the best possible light through carefully chosen wording. In this section, he comes right out and says E and FDR didn’t sleep together, didn’t eat together, didn’t travel together, didn’t like each other’s friends and associates and only spent time together at scheduled times when E was pushing her case for pet projects and the executive might to promote them or for public events to further the administration’s agenda.

Looks like TIME may have portrayed the wrong the wrong Obama  on the cover.

The Comforts of Home

Don’t be jealous but I bought a $20 floor lamp at my favorite junk store and set it up behind the armchair that I usually sit in when I watch TV. Since the arrival of the lamp, my morning routine is this:h

  • get up
  • push button on coffeemaker
  • let dog out
  • morning ablutions
  • empty dishwasher
  • let dog back in
  • pour coffee
  • sit and read for 45 – 60 minutes
  • begin workday

Oh the grand pleasure. My reading really drops off in winter – I do my best and most out on the deck when the weather is warm. But now, that luxurious hour in the morning! I started to reread Lady Bird’s White House Diary.

 Lyndon walked slowly past the President’s body in the East Room…  At one end was a Catholic image, I don’t know quite what it was. It wasn’t just a cross, but more elaborate.  That was the first time in those three days that I was reminded, caught up in the thought, that the Catholic faith has a pattern for everything – a pattern for life, and a pattern for death.

She is quite a charming diarist and her style is reflective of a time when having an education went hand in hand with having a rich vocabulary. She describes an antsy toddler JFK Jr in the funeral limo as being “peripatetic” and in the very early pages uses the phrase “short shrift” in exactly the right way. People don’t say that anymore, do they? I f they do, I suspect they don’t know what it actually means.

We went into her sitting room (or perhaps it should be called a dressing room) – one of the most exquisite rooms I have ever seen, with closet doors covered with bright and beautiful trompe l’oeils – little pictures of Profiles In Courage, Caroline at two, a yacht at Hyannis Port – all the things that mean something to her – a stamp or trademark that will not be repeated by anybody for a long time. For me, so much work will have to come first that I expect the room will be turned into an office rather than a dressing room, and it will get short shrift, at least these first few months.

I would have told you that I read every word that was every written about Jackie BKO but I never saw anything about her remarkable dressing room.  I wonder did someone memorialize the dressing room decor in a photo  before it was painted over? There are details like that unseen elsewhere, just interesting glimpses that caught her eye as she put her pen to paper at the end of a day filled with grand historical events.

UPDATE: Squeeeee! Here it is. 

“Jackie Kennedy once described her White House dressing room as “the only place I can really relax, read and write.” She felt it’s decor truly reflected her personality and aesthetic–elegant, romantic, familiar and soothing–and she filled it with family photos and french antiques, pale blue raw silk fabrics and leopard prints.” Ultimate Jackie

For My Next Trick, I Will Read A Single Book From Beginning to End

It’s 5:15 am and the heat just turned on. I think I’ll go downstairs and pick up one of the books I’m in the midst of reading.

I used to amuse myself by alternately reading two books at a time.  I select my reading material carefully (from and in most cases, I can pick up a book, tune out the world and the rest of  my life until I get to the last page. Sometimes though, my alternating book practice would help me to stay with something that was losing its fizzle in the middle by taking a break from one and going to the other. Not sure how or even when it happened, but now I’m completely out of control.

I’m reading 5 books at once.

And it’s not good. For a  person like me (a Gemini) who is weak on completing things anyway, this sad situation has allowed me to compartmentalize my reading according to where I am at the time rather thean focusing on engaging with the storylines. This is largely dependent upon the physical size of the book. Here’s how it shakes out:

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri This one is a collection of 8 stories, some interrelated. This is one of my travel books and the format lends itself well to connecting flights. A few weeks ago when I made 4 flights in 36 hours, it was my faithful companion. It’s a paperback octavo so it just barely fits in my purse and its getting banged up.

White Teeth by Zadie Smith I was so intrigued after I watched the BBC mini-series on Hulu that I wanted to get deeper into the characters so I got the book. This one is a hardcover quarto so its even less appropriate to shove into my handbag. I’ve taken to packing it in my suitcase so that I have something to read in my spare time in hotel rooms. p.s. It turns out that I  never have any free time in hotel rooms.

To Absent Friends by Red Smith Just got this one recently. Fascinating! A collection of newspaper columns from this sportswriter written immediately after the passing of sports giants. Now I know who Pop Warner was.  It’s a 1″ thick hardcover and I have enough hardcovers to drag around now so it sits waiting for me on the table next to my TV-watching chair.

I’m starting to see a pattern here. I was so traumatized that my paperback copy of the 1000+ page The Powerbroker from 1974 went to pieces before I finished it that I try to get bound hardcovers whenever I can. I see now that is my problem with the portability of these books when I travel.

Neon Metropolis: How Las Vegas Started the Twenty-First Century by Hal Rothman This is critical research for me since an area near Las Vegas is one of our top contenders for a retirement location. I know, right? Did you know that “Nevada in general and Las Vegas in particular are at or near the bottom in many indicators of public life, environmental, and educational health and wellness. The state has even been referred to as the “Alabama of the West”? Still, the showgirl in me thinks that might be a good place to end my days. I’m packing this for my trip to Vegas next week. Where I wont’ have time in the hotel room to read it.

When She Was Bad: The Story of Bess, Hortense and Sukhreet & Nancy by Shana AlexanderThis reads more like an extended gossip mag article from the NYC in the 80s. What’s wrong with that? The”she” in the title is Bess Myerson, the beautiful manipulative former Miss America/friend of mayor Ed Koch whose habit was to leave bags of poop on the doorstep of her former boyfriends. The real fascination here is Sukhreet Gable. Look her up. I didn’t expect to like her as much as I did. Nevertheless, the twists and turns and interrealtionships between Sukhreet, hired for a minor position by Bess in the Office of Cultural Affairs, her mother the judge who favorably ruled on Bess Myerson’s gangster boyfriend’s alimony decision,  and Nancy the gangster/city contractor  boyfriend’s wife, got to be too weighty about 3/4 of the way through. I started while sitting on the deck last summer – maybe I’ll pick this up and finish it in the summer.

So there we have it: what I’m reading/not reading right now – all at once.