In the days following the election booksellers have reported that customers were coming in to choose books that might help them to make sense of what had just happened. Amazon’s sales rankings (always a fun barometer of what the reading public is buying) indicated that books about Donald Trump were rising in popularity as were recent books published about issues that had been prominent during the election like J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy: a memoir of family and a culture in crisis, Truevine: two brothers, a kidnapping, a mother’s quest: a true story of the Jim Crow south by Beth Macy and Barack Obama’s excellent memoir Dreams from my father: a story of race and inheritance. Whether you are pleased by the results of the election or not books are always an important source of comfort and clarity for people in times of uncertainty and we have so many here at the library that will suit your mood post-November 8th.
I was thinking, as I listened to the ongoing commentary, that we don’t hear very much about the impact that an election has on an incoming president’s family. Only one of the pundits
(and I was watching them for hours on that long night – the day after the election my eyes were dry from the late night and screen watching – exactly what I tell my kids not to do) even mentioned Donald Trump’s young son Barron. It’s such a massive change for a kid to move at any time in their life but to the White House and he is only ten-years old! With the incredible scrutiny that this boy has on him every day? It’s just going to get harder for him. Just imagine.
Well, we don’t really have to imagine as there are two tremendous books right here in our collection by Kate Anderson Brower that have provided that fly on the wall experience of what life is really like inside the White House. The author of these books worked for CBS and Fox News before she covered the Obama White House for Bloomberg so she has a solid idea of what the pressures are from outside those walls and she uses all of her journalistic skills to encourage her interview subjects to spill the beans on the details of what it is really like to live and work inside the walls. I found both of the books she wrote to be a treat to read when they were published and might re-read them again to help me get a better understanding of what the president-elect and his family are going through as they try to sort out their personal lives in the days before the inauguration.
Oh, and the inauguration! Both of Kate Anderson Brower’s books provide wonderful nuggets about what that all feels like for families and staff. Her first book, in 2015, with the title The Residence: inside the private world of the White House is a terrific look at the intricate machinery of moving one family out and one family in on a very delicate day. The author was able to interview staff who had not previously agreed to share their stories and I loved hearing all about what it is like to get those personal items packed away in time for the incoming First Family to arrive and feel welcomed in a home that has held so much history. There are poignant stories shared here – about J.F.K.’s children running through the halls, intricate meals prepared for state dinners, birthday parties celebrated for all and the most horrible moments supported by a staff who knew them so well that they found the right things to say when needed. I adored the tidbits about flower arrangements, how individual presidents would make odd requests like having special shower heads installed and how the staff would have to adjust their style to suit each family. It’s a chance to glimpse what the White House might be like beyond what we see on tv. It’s not all just like Aaron Sorkin imagined it to be. Although, how I wish it were so.
In her second book, First women: the grace and power of America’s modern first ladies she expands on earlier interviews she had done for the first book. It covers the time period from Jackie Kennedy up to Michelle Obama and within that list of women we see a wide range of approaches to the role of First Lady. Some chose a path that involved personal political crusades others preferred to chart a course which involved a less public role but all of the women shared the unique position of being first in line for support when things in the Oval Office became heated. Some of the women she profiles in this book suffered so much very publicly and it would have been possible for the author to take a tabloid-like style in her writing but she never does. She is respectful of the work that each First Lady does in the unique situations they have as wife and mother, as the one who is expected to host international events (in earlier times there were far less staff around for the first lady to call upon), and do all of this under constant scrutiny. With the recent election so fresh in our minds it is particularly interesting to read the chapters where she focuses on Hillary Rodham Clinton’s time in the White House and consider her memoires of those years.
I have always loved books that give a behind-the-scenes look at anything and books like these are a mix of biography, history lesson and poignant reminder of how lucky we all are. No one is watching to see what we choose to wear, how we might parent our children, host a party or ask us our opinion on something so that they can write about it. It’s going to take me a while to come to terms with the results of the U.S. election but I will use the shelves of the library to help me find a way to relate to the new First Family and to think some things through. I might even use some of our books and movies to escape once in a while. The library is always here to support us.
– Penny M.