THE WATERGATE GIRL by Jill Wine-Banks

I’m really excited about this book. Honestly, Watergate was *around* when I was a kid, but I was too young to understand it. I just knew adults were talking about it – when it happened and years afterwards. ⠀

Jill Wine-Banks was an assistant prosecutor during the Watergate hearings. Her house was burgled, her phones were tapped, and even her office garbage was rifled through as she worked on some of the most important prosecutions of high-ranking White House officials. This book is her perspective of a monumental time in American history. ⠀

Thank you, Henry Holt Books, for this gifted copy. I am thrilled to get started!

LEADERSHIP IN TURBULENT TIMES by Doris Kearns Goodwin

This book has been sitting on my shelf for a year now. You know how it is…new books kept grabbing my attention or library holds come in or Book of the Month is asking me to choose. And now that I am reviewing books for publishers, I have a steady stream of books showing up at my door, asking to be read. (NO complaints from me!)

But as a result, this book has kept being pushed back month to month.

Thanks to Whitney and her Unread Book Challenge I was encouraged to read a ‘gifted book’ for February and I knew exactly which one I would pick. Dad sent this to me last year after seeing Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and author, Doris Kearns Goodwin in Kansas City. I feel very lucky to have a signed copy of one of her books.

It was completely accidental (unless my subconscious mind got the best of me) that I read LEADERSHIP IN TURBULENT TIMES (2018) during the 2020 presidential primary season and California’s primary voting as a part of Super Tuesday. It’s been particularly interesting to compare the four men highlighted in this book – Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson – with our own political environment in 2020. Sure, there were times that made me cringe and dream for a more noble and respectful political world but I was surprised by the level of relief I found while reading it. There have been many difficult, trying and turbulent times in our country’s young history. That thought kept coming to me again and again. We’re not new to this discourse. I DEEPLY wish it was a civil discourse we were having today, but plotting and underhanded pundits and news source propaganda is nothing new. Kearns explores how each man recognized leadership qualities within themselves and were recognized as leaders by others.

At moments of great challenge, they were able to summon their talents to enlarge the opportunities and lives of others.

Briefly, here are the corresponding turbulent times for each president:

  • Abraham Lincoln – the splintering of America during and after the Civil War
  • Teddy Roosevelt – took office following the assassination of President McKinley and dealt with the coal strike, he curbed many monopolies (such as the railroad), constructed the Panama Canal and he brought conservation awareness to the forefront
  • Franklin Roosevelt – the disparity and bank crises following the Great Depression
  • Lyndon Johnson – took office following the assassination of President Kennedy and faced down the opposition and fracturing of America surrounding civil rights

Goodwin develops each president fully. Their personal background (which always influences our biases), their early political career and the specific difficulty they had in their presidency that greatly influenced the United States’ trajectory.

The banking crisis, admittedly, was a little over my head. Or…a LOT over my head at times. But she mixed the economic details easily with the personal stories that kept me engaged.

This book deals with the guiding principles of leadership in any field. It would make an excellent gift for a graduating student but also appeals to anyone interested in character development, dealing with failures and rising above the noise of popular opinion to make measured and enduring decisions for the betterment of the human race.

I’ll end with one such example – the skill noted in Lincoln’s emotional intelligence. His empathy, humility, consistency, self-awareness, self-discipline and generosity of spirit. “So long as I have been here,” Lincoln maintained, “I have not willingly planted a thorn in any man’s bosom.” There was no room for mean-spirited behavior, for grudges or personal resentments. He welcomed arguments within the Cabinet but would be “greatly pained,” he warned them, if he found his colleagues attacking one another in public. “Such sniping would be a wrong to me and much worse, a wrong to the country.”

 

THE GIVER OF STARS by Jojo Moyes

Books celebrating books. Authors paying homage to readers. This enticing concoction of book-celebrating is an intoxicating elixir when it occurs in a storyline and The Giver of Stars is no exception.

This book is based on a true story in American history.

Historical reference: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Works Progress Administration created librarians – primarily made up of women – to ride horses into rural areas and high in the mountains, bringing books to those who otherwise would have no access to books at all. The purpose of this New Deal program was to expand the minds of those that knew very little of a world outside their own immediate family.

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These women were often referred to as ‘book ladies’ or ‘packsaddle librarians’. Riding through snow, rain, and very difficult terrain, these traveling librarians dropped off books (and picked up returning books) to the outskirts of society. It is estimated that 63% of the state of Kentucky were without access to public libraries and around 30% of rural Kentuckians were illiterate. Roosevelt understood that education was the foundation of change and a path out of poverty and that the education gained from borrowing donated books could have a lasting effect.

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This program also created jobs for women during the Great Depression. ‘Book ladies’ made around $28 a month (the equivalent of about $500 a month today), delivering books to homes and schoolhouses between 1935 and 1943. In 1943 the service lost its funding leaving many Appalachian communities without books for decades until bookmobiles were introduced in the late 1950’s.

The Giver of Stars is a harrowing story of five extraordinary women and their remarkable journey through the mountains of Kentucky and beyond, to bring books to those who had no access.

Alice Wright, born and raised in England, marries wealthy businessman, Bennett Van Cleave, an American from Kentucky. After settling into their new home in rural Appalachia, Alice soon discovers small-town living in Baileyville, Kentucky can feel very claustrophobic. When she learns of the packhorse book project, she eagerly signs up. ‘She covered her own anxiety with activity.’ The five heroic women who eventually form the book distribution team, soon learn to rely on each other as a means of support against familial and community outrage. Many townsmen (led by Alice’s wealthy father-in-law) were indignant that a woman would be capable of such a daunting task.

In any other town, such misdemeanors might eventually be forgotten, but in Baileyville a grudge could last a century and still nurture a head of steam. The people of Baileyville were descended from Celts, from Scots and Irish families, who could hold on to resentment until it was dried out like beef jerky, and bearing no resemblance to its original self.

Alice begins to gain confidence and independence through the difficult work of the packhorse library, traveling hours by herself in the beauty of Kentucky mountains and wide open skies, meeting the warm-hearted people of the rural country, while learning to trust and lean on her fellow librarians.

She had built a new Alice over the frame of one with whom she had never felt entirely comfortable.

I highly recommend this beautifully written book. At times it seems certain they cannot recover from many of their adventures and Moyes leaves you hanging until the last minute. Loss and love and renewal and commitment weave themselves through each adventure. Getting to know each of these remarkable women was a literary privilege for me as well as delving deeper into the historical facts surrounding this amazing chapter in American history.