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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THE HOPEFULS by Jennifer Close

November 4, 2016
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I think this was the review snippet that got me to pick up this book:

“Jennifer Close’s fresh, smart, realistic portrayal of two young Washington couples is a must read for House of Cards junkies…. [D.C.] almost functions as a fifth character in the book, with its own quirks and dynamics and idiosyncrasies.” —Kimmery Martin, The Huffington Post

I love House of Cards (British version even more so,) love politics (although this election season has just about driven me around the bend) and I am a West Wing fanatic (re-watching the entire series to follow along with the West Wing Weekly podcast, amazing!) So this sounded like a book I would love.

I didn’t love it, but I did enjoy it. It was more about the relationships between husbands and wives and friendship than about politics. Although that is not a bad thing, it wasn’t what I expected. And D.C. was a very minor plot point.

Beth and Matt are newly arrived in Washington D.C., where Matt has secured a job in the Obama White House after working on the campaign. Beth hates it immediately, missing New York City. Matt loves it. He comes from a family that models itself on the Kennedy’s, with ritual Sunday family dinners, super competitive football in the yard, and a week every August at the family compound on the shore.

Matt is Harvard smart and dreams of running for office himself one day. Beth isn’t so sure about any of it. They befriend another young couple, Jimmy and Ash. Jimmy has a great job as advance man for Obama, and Matt envies his career path and the easy way he charms every one he meets. Ash is a Texas Southern belle, but quickly she and Beth become the closest of friends, two fish out of water in D.C. and clinging to each other.

The book follows the ups and downs in their lives and is told mostly from Beth’s point of view, so it is a complete bitchfest, although there are some very funny moments that help balance it out. When Jimmy runs for Railroad Commissioner in Texas (yes, there is such a thing, and even though I lived in Texas for five years I never heard of it) Matt becomes Jimmy’s campaign manager. The two couples move to Texas, share a huge house and a life until ten months later the election is slipping away. All their relationships have slipped away as well. Matt and Jimmy are fighting. Ash and Jimmy are fighting, Matt and Beth are just ignoring each other, and even Beth and Ash drift apart.

Eventually things work out the way they are supposed to, Matt finds a better job in DC, as does Beth, and they live happily ever after. We hope.

11/16  Stacy Alesi AKA the BookBitch™

THE HOPEFULS by Jennifer Close. Knopf (July 19, 2016). ISBN 978-1101875612. 320p.

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