I recently finished "American Wife," a fictional book loosely based on the life of Laura Bush. Coincidentally Laura Bush's Autobiography "Spoken From the Heart" was released right when I was finishing up "American Wife" and I thought it would be fun to compare the two so I read them back-to-back. I was excited to read this book because the Bush administration is the first presidential era that I remember intellectually engaging in. During the Clinton years I was a bit too young to know what was going on, but the "W" era hit me at my political prime: end of high school and college. I have always been a huge political junkie, so my hopes were that this book would shed some light on the inner working of the Bush White House.
If I could describe this book in one word it would be this: enjoyable. This book is not an epic page turner, but I found myself reading from it a little every night and never feeling like it was a chore (unlike how I felt about Barbara Walter's autobiography "Audition," which is still sitting on my bookshelf, half read). Some of it is become very "list-y" in the sense of "I did this, and then this happened, then I started this initiative, then I visited this person." Yet I kept in mind throughout the book that this was not only her personal autobiography, but an important work of history so she was likely trying to mark all notable events and trips that took place during her time as first lady.
I found the book to be extremely candid, but nothing too salacious. However there was a few really interesting tidbits scattered throughout. For example, she spoke about how Bill Clinton fell asleep during Bush's first inauguration because he and Hillary had stayed up late the night before watching movies in the White House theater. In a factual manner she told the story about how the media had railed on her when she was late for her first meeting with Hillary Clinton, when really it was Clinton who was late and didn't call for Laura's car until after their scheduled meeting time. There were also some lighthearted moments, one of which she recalls how she wore the same Oscar de la Renta gown as three other women at a reception before the Kennedy Center Honors...and after laughing it off crept back upstairs to change into a navy blue dress different from the others.
One really interesting part was when she wrote about how on 9/11 she was scheduled to visit with Edward Kennedy and was in his office right when the towers were struck. Instead of being glued to the television, like the rest of America, Kennedy pretty much ignored what was going on and kept talking to Laura about education policy while the towers fell on the television that was echoing in the background.
I have to be honest, silent tears fell down my cheeks as I read about 9/11. I have already repressed so much of what our country was going through during that time, and it was shocking to relive it through her perspective. One of my favorite parts of the book was when she recalled George meeting with a Lieutenant Colonel Brian Birdwell, who was injured in the attack on the Pentegon. She writes:
...George raised his hand to salute the injured solider on the bed. for almost a half a minute, Lieutenant Colonel Birdwell worked to move this heavily bandaged hand to his head to return the salute. George would not break his salute until the solider was finished with his own. In the military, there is no higher sign of respect than for an injured officer to be saluted first by his commander. (pg 208)The book was not defense of her husband. She very obviously made the choice to have her husband discuss his political decisions in his own memoir which is coming out soon. She does, however, set the stage for his defense by describing in detail what was going on at that time and reaffirming her belief that he made the best decisions he could with the information he had available to him at the time. She writes:
"I wondered if Barack Obama, who spent far more time attacking George than he did his opponent, John McCain, would want to amend his words once he discovered the reality of the White House and was himself confronted by the challenges and crises that hit a president every day, all day." (pg 412).Overall I enjoyed the book. I would not suggest this book to anybody but my dorky political friends, but if you have a bit of political dork in you this might be an interesting summer read.
...now that I have got in some "smart" reading my next book is Emily Giffin's "Heart of the Matter" that I am going to blaze through this weekend so I can have it finished by the time of her book signing on Tuesday in Dallas. Anybody else going to be there?
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