Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Laura Bush

An Intimate Portrait of the First Lady

I read the magazine profiles; I was familiar with the biographical outline. Only child, Texas native, ordinary upbringing, tragic car accident, school teacher & librarian, met George at a barbecue, married in her thirties. And I had a sense that Laura Bush was pleasant, reserved, and good, and that her husband adored her. But what was missing? What is the real deal?

Surprise. She is what I thought she was. Oh, the picture is fleshed out a little. But Ronald Kessler writes no rabid expose or tabloid speculation piece. He is friendly, completely uncritical. That would bother me if there weren't already Stepford-Wife biographies out there; many people are happy to dismiss Laura Bush as subservient and--shudder!--traditional. Kessler does not quote the family, but he quotes many of Laura's close friends, apparently from lenghthy interviews. The Laura Bush portrayed is warm and spiritual, who has grown from her White House experience, and who is a devoted mother. And I get the sense that in her marriage, there are two strong people who love, respect, and tease each other with warm delight.

So, if Laura Bush is a mystery to you, read on. But if you're looking for the inside scoop, you already have it. Laura is what she appears to be: that forgotten icon, a lady.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

The Tipping Point has become a modern business classic, and Malcolm Gladwell's next book, Blink, has recently joined it on the bookseller's shelves. Blink posits the notion that our first two-second judgments are based on intuitive knowledge, and if that knowledge is based on what we really know and is not subverted or corrupted, it can be extremely valuable to us.

Gladwell is thought provoking, and his examples are compelling. But I'm having a hard time keeping this all together in my mind as a cohesive whole. For example, the failure of New Coke seems to discount the value of the "thin slice." Maybe it's because I didn't read the whole book in one sitting. But then, how often can one actually do that? Or maybe I'm just dense. Or maybe I should read it again.

It probably would be worthwhile. Gladwell has an entertaining style, and I suspect everyone will have to read it because The Tipping Point has so much credibility. So go ahead and read it too. You'll gain some insight. Though it will take more than 2 seconds.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Town & Country Modern Manners

The Thinking Person's Guide to Social Graces

Sounds like an etiquette book, doesn't it? But it's really a compilation of essays published in Town & Country magazine's Social Graces column. So Charles Osgood discusses the virtues of winning and losing gracefully. David Brown shares insights into the etiquette of a spendthrift living with a tightwad (spouse Helen Gurley Brown). Hugh Downs reveals the joys of great-grandchildren. And Peggy Noonan talks about post-9/11 attitude shifts.

Some are more interesting than others, but I suspect the interest shifts with the reader. The writing is good, the topics fresh, friendly, and within the scope of normal existence, meaning there are no discussions about seating charts when you're entertaining both the French ambassador AND the Sultan of Brunei.

I probably won't read it again, but I enjoyed reading it once. If modern manners are your thing, enjoy.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life

Amy Krouse Rosenthal writes nonfiction, and has published innumerable magazine articles and some children's books (I may have left something out, but I don't care). This small book is her commentary on life, specifically hers, organized alphabetically. Which means it's all about Amy.

It was OK. There were a few times where I said Yes! That is exactly how I feel! But mostly it was a study in not-like-ness. Oh, there were a few times when I said Ewww! or (eyebrows raised, eyes half-closed, mouth scrunched up) You Are Weird. But mostly I was saying You are not like me because you grew up in a different time and place and subculture. Not that I would dislike you, but we would not really understand one another most of the time. Other than being American and wives/mothers, we don't have very much in common. And after a whole book of that, I felt kind of aloof, because everybody gets it but me, and I don't want to get it.

And she can be a bit vulgar. Mostly it was at the beginning, but that's another not-like, off-putting thing. It's like the one scene in a movie that takes the rating from PG to R.

And then there's the part(s) where she invites you to email her about certain specific things. So I thought, why not? (still looking to find alikeness; consistent if not bright.) So I went to the website and did the little email thing and then--voila!--the email bounced. Not connected or something. Kind of like someone saying, Call me, and then leaving the phone off the hook. Even more alienating.

So...I wouldn't read it again because it's not all about me? I suppose. At some level, I read to connect to the author, to discover alikeness, to find myself or validate the self I have already found. To discover a profound disconnect, then, is not satisfactory.

But at least it was organized.