FROM THE CORNER OF THE OVAL by Beck Dory-Stein

July 20, 2018

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A Memoir

This memoir is getting lots of buzz and I can see why. It is compulsively readable, despite the fact that the author is a bit of an idiot. Or maybe that’s why.

Dorey-Stein was one of the White House stenographers under President Obama. I didn’t know there was such a position, and neither did she until she answered a Craigslist ad and eventually was told what the position actually was. My mom was a stenographer in the 1950’s, which meant she worked for a man (it was always a man) and took dictation using Gregg shorthand, writing squiggly lines on steno pads. Then she would type up whatever it was, usually letters I think. Steno pads still live (check out Office Depot if you’re not sure what they are) but apparently their use has changed. The White House stenographers do not take shorthand. They record every utterance the President makes then type it up for wherever it will go, usually the archives and the press. It is an extremely interesting and sensitive job. It makes the Putin-Trump summit all the more remarkable in that the private meeting was not recorded, an extraordinary breach of protocol and history.

One of the reasons Dorey-Stein got the job was because she was a substitute teacher at the Sidwell Friends School. If that name sounds familiar, it is probably because the school is famous as providing the education for many presidents’ children, including the Obamas. Since she already had security clearance to be around those kids, it made her entree into the White House that much easier.

While there, the 25-year-old Dorey-Stein often traveled with the President and was at many, many historic meetings, summits, appearances, etc.; rather Forrest Gump-like in fact. She often ran into the President in hotel gyms where he was always kind to her and often kidded her about her running. Dorey-Stein presents yet another glimpse of the man who exuded charm, intelligence and charisma and was the epitome of grace and civility. Yes, I miss him.

But Dorey-Stein writes about her personal life as well, and that is where the comparisons to “Sex and the City” come in. Not my comparison, but it keeps cropping up when I see anything about this book. Mostly because she has a boyfriend but is constantly falling into bed with a co-worker who is a womanizing pig. But charming. Dorey-Stein falls a little bit in love with him, which is well beyond my understanding but I haven’t been 25 in many years. And by that age, I was already married so what do I know.

While I may not approve of the cheating, and I may not understand why she did it with such an openly sleazy guy, I have to give Dorey-Stein props for the writing, it is amazing. She is truly talented. Here’s a short sample:

We’re always just a few ticks, clicks, updates and pings away from personal and collective disaster, but right now we’re not our titles but our own selves-people with backgrounds and futures and exes and half-dead pets and crazy parents and broken hearts and big dreams; people who are listening to the president as he tells a funny story from two countries back, twelve hours ago, depending on which time zone you’re counting in. We’re so different, but we’re swimming in this same punch-drunk delirium, and we have one major thing in common: We’ve found ourselves, shockingly, amazingly, how-the-fuck-did-this-happen crazily, flying halfway around the world on Air Force One. We are lucky.

It was also a very nostalgic read and I was reminded time and again of how Obama handled all the nightmares during his presidency; crying while talking about Sandy Hook, singing “Amazing Grace” at the black church where people were shot and killed for no reason, all the mass shootings in fact. I’m assuming that some of the names have been changed in this book but I did enjoy the touches of reality, the David Plouffe stories, Jon “Fav’s Abs” Favreau’s brief mention, and more.

Dorey-Stein did work briefly for Trump as the stenographer is not an appointed position. In fact, the woman in charge of the department had served under many presidents. But the chaos that ensued with the new staff was enough of an impetus for her to leave.

If you have any interest in what it is like to work for the President of the United States, and travel on Air Force One, this is your book. It was a fast read and I couldn’t put it down, I finished it in one night (your speed may vary) and it was mostly enjoyable.

Bonus: On July 17, 2018, Dory-Stein wrote an op-ed in the NY Times, “I Was a White House Stenographer. Trump Wasn’t a Fan.”

7/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

FROM THE CORNER OF THE OVAL by Beck Dory-Stein. Spiegel & Grau (July 10, 2018). ISBN 978-0525509127 . 330p.

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YES WE (STILL) CAN by Dan Pfeiffer

June 19, 2018

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Politics in the Age of Obama, Twitter, and Trump

From the publisher:

From Obama’s former communications director and current co-host of Pod Save America comes a colorful account of how politics, the media, and the Internet changed during the Obama presidency and how Democrats can fight back in the Trump era.

On November 9th, 2016, Dan Pfeiffer woke up like most of the world wondering WTF just happened. How had Donald Trump won the White House? How was it that a decent and thoughtful president had been succeeded by a buffoonish reality star, and what do we do now?

Instead of throwing away his phone and moving to another country (which were his first and second thoughts), Pfeiffer decided to tell this surreal story, recounting how Barack Obama navigated the insane political forces that created Trump, explaining why everyone got 2016 wrong, and offering a path for where Democrats go from here.

Pfeiffer was one of Obama’s first hires when he decided to run for president, and was at his side through two presidential campaigns and six years in the White House. Using never-before-heard stories and behind-the-scenes anecdotes, YES WE (STILL) CAN examines how Obama succeeded despite Twitter trolls, Fox News (and their fake news), and a Republican Party that lost its collective mind.

An irreverent, no-BS take on the crazy politics of our time, YES WE (STILL) CAN is a must-read for everyone who is disturbed by Trump, misses Obama, and is marching, calling, and hoping for a better future for the country.


Regular readers of this blog (and my twitter feed) know which way my political leanings go. I am a huge fan of Crooked Media and their podcasts, especially Pod Save America and Lovett or Leave It, and when I have time Pod Save the World, Pod Save the People, an occasional Crooked Conversation and more. I swear they have saved my sanity over the past year. So when I heard Dan (I hope it’s okay to use his first name, I feel like I know him!) had written a book, I immediately grabbed a review galley and I was off to the races.

I wasn’t sure what to expect but I didn’t expect it to be such an easy read, and a fast read. It feels like a friend telling you stories over a couple of beers, and these stories are good. Fifty pages in, I had already laughed out loud and cried, and I just kept going until I (digitally) turned the last page.

It starts off with a bit of Dan’s background, how he got into politics and some of the campaigns he worked on prior to Obama. I knew he was a really smart guy and he illustrates how hard work can make all the difference. I didn’t know a whole lot about how campaigns work so I found that very interesting.  Then it’s on to the White House years, with a president who is intelligent, disciplined, thoughtful and yes, competitive. To his credit, Dan doesn’t really rip into Trump for a few chapters and I admired his discipline.

If you’re a Trump fan, this is probably not your book unless you want your world blown apart. If you miss Obama, you will definitely enjoy this read. It’s a warm look back, as well as a look forward – hoping Millennials, especially, can get us out of this Trumpian nightmare by going to the polls. Feel free to comment, but maybe read the book first?

6/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

YES WE (STILL) CAN by Dan Pfeiffer. Twelve (June 19, 2018). ISBN 978-1538711712. 304p.

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DINNER AT THE CENTER OF THE EARTH by Nathan Englander

September 6, 2017

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Englander gives us a novel that describes the ambiguity of the Arab-Israeli conflict via a series of contacts between members representing the two sides.  First, there is the General who has led attacks and wars against Arabs living in territory next to Israel. He is merciless, brilliant and has little guilt about the effects his actions protecting his country cause. He is a beloved figure and we meet him as he lays dying in an Israeli hospital.

Next is the man that the General imprisoned years ago in a secret cell.  No one except the General and the man guarding the prisoner knows where he is kept and why he is there.

There is a meeting and a short love affair between a character known as Z and a waitress. The waitress is actually a rich woman who says she does service work to retain her identity. She takes Z to meet her father in Italy but it is in reality to take him

A love affair develops between an Israeli woman who is a resident of a kibbutz and a Palestinian constantly mapping out Israeli territory in order to present his maps to his Hamas colleagues for use in an attack against the Jewish state. The two decide that they want to experience a dinner date but find that the only place they can have it would be in one of the tunnels dug by Hamas. These, of course, are to be used to invade Israeli at the proper time.

Each of the short vignettes used by Englander in the book illustrates the conflict between Israel and its neighbors. Both sides have a point; fight for their point, and refuse to recognize that the other side also has a point which could lead to settlement if everybody would give in a little.

The author is not presenting any other argument other than that the conflict that has gone on for years could be settled if both sides listened to the other and tried to get a solution based on discussion and coming onto common ground.   Very well done and certainly an argument for reason instead of conflict as the only answer to this grave conflict.

9/17 Paul Lane

DINNER AT THE CENTER OF THE EARTH by Nathan Englander.  Knopf; First Edition edition (September 5, 2017).  ISBN 978-1524732738.  272p.

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A CHILD’S FIRST BOOK OF TRUMP by Michael Ian Black

June 30, 2017

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Illustrated by Marc Rosenthal

Not sure how I missed this when it came out last year, but I found it now. Put out by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, it is much more parody than children’s book. I thought I might enjoy a little political levity while stressing out about politics but I am too far gone for this book to reach me.

WARNING: if you are a fan of the “dotty old racist”* in the White House, then this is not the book for you.

*Thank you, Jon Lovett, for this. Listen to “Lovett or Leave It, a week in review recorded in front of a live audience. It’s great,” a podcast from Crooked Media.

From the publisher:

What do you do when you spot a wild Trump in the election season? New York Times bestselling author and comedian Michael Ian Black has some sage advice for children (and all the rest of us who are scratching our heads in disbelief) in this perfectly timely parody picture book intended for adults that would be hysterical if it wasn’t so true.

The beasty is called an American Trump.
Its skin is bright orange, its figure is plump.
Its fur so complex you might get enveloped.
Its hands though are, sadly, underdeveloped. 

The Trump is a curious creature, very often spotted in the wild, but confounding to our youngest citizens. A business mogul, reality TV host, and now…political candidate? Kids (and let’s be honest many adults) might have difficulty discerning just what this thing that’s been dominating news coverage this election cycle is. Could he actually be real? Are those…words coming out of his mouth? Why are his hands so tiny? And perhaps most importantly, what on earth do you do when you encounter an American Trump?

With his signature wit and a classic picture book style, comedian Michael Ian Black introduces those unfamiliar with the Americus Trumpus to his distinguishing features and his mystifying campaign for world domination…sorry…President of the United States.

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6/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

A CHILD’S FIRST BOOK OF TRUMP by Michael Ian Black. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (July 5, 2016). ISBN 978-1481488006. 32p.

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HALF WORLD by Scott O’Connor

February 18, 2014


From about 1953 until 1973, the CIA clandestinely conducted methods of mind control on both U.S. and Canadian citizens without their consent. It wasn’t until project MKUltra, as it was termed, became public knowledge due to national headlines based on the release of thousands of declassified documents in 2001, that the public became aware of these activities.

Scott O’Connor has written a compelling book about characters caught up in the illegal operations and destroyed by the knowledge of what they were doing to the people that unwittingly became subjects of the experiments. Henry March is the first individual to head up a project in San Francisco selecting people and then drugging them in order to warp their minds.

Two generations later Dickie Ashby, a young CIA agent, is sent to Los Angeles to try and infiltrate a group of bank robbers that claim they have all been abused in a government brainwashing operaton. O’Connor is excellent in setting the mood of the events, and describing the damage done to the individuals that are put in charge of the experiments. First Henry March is shown trying to come to grips with the horror of what he is forced to do and unable to do so and then Ashby facing the results of the experiments two decades later both with the subjects as well as with the families of the planners and their lives.

This is compelling reading and an indictment of a government agency going beyond the pale to prove a point. O’Connor is very good at creating the moods and atmosphere of the events depicted in addition to outlining what are most likely to be the facts of the occurrences during the experiments. Knowing that these experiments were actually carried out makes the book a more fascinating read.

2/14 Paul Lane

HALF WORLD by Scott O’Connor. Simon & Schuster (February 18, 2014). ISBN 978-1476716596. 432p