Monday, July 5, 2010

Spoken From the Heart by Laura Bush

439 pages
Published May 2010, 1st edition
Scribner, A division of Simon & Shuster, Inc.
New York, NY

Ever since I first learned that former First Lady Laura Bush was planning to write a memoir I have been curious to get my hands on a copy. I have always been fascinated by American history and more specifically presidential history and the history surrounding our nation's capital. But even more so I was interested in Mrs. Bush's book because I was interested in learning more about the life and thoughts of a president and first lady who, over the course of eight years, I have come to respect and appreciate. The Bush Administration faced some difficult times, but I believe they performed a great service to Americans by helping to maintain American freedom and advocating our way life to the world.

Spoken From the Heart is not an autobiography in the sense of telling Mrs. Bush's entire life story, yes, she includes details about her ancestors and facts and memories from her own childhood and early adult years, but the main focus of this book covers the years that she served with her husband, George W. Bush at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC. The book ends shortly after the Bushes retired to their ranch in Crawford, Texas in 2009.

The early years: I found the first quarter to third of the book very interesting as it sets the foundation for the rest of the book. Mrs. Bush writes about her parents generation and life in Texas in the years leading up to World War II and then her birth; of the dusty draughts and the year where it didn't rain once in a 12-month period; of the hardships of living in a time and place where modern medicine was unavailable to save the lives of her mother's three premature babies. And of the early years when her love for reading, for learning and life was born. From the first few chapters it is clear that Mrs. Bush inherited her love of books and nature from her own mother.

"When I came through the door in the afternoon, I was greeted by the soft rustle of book pages and my mother, her feet propped up, book open on her lap." (Page 46)

The middle years: The next section of the book focuses more on Mrs. Bush's adult life -- her time as a librarian and as a school teacher, as well as the early years of her marriage to George W. Bush. This then leads the reader on to their life as grown children of a vice-president and later president (George H.W. Bush) and ends with George W. Bush's time as governor of Texas. Again, most of the information contained within this section of the book reads to me as history as I was either not yet born, too young, or not paying attention when it was actually happening. Still, it's interesting to learn more about our former first lady, her life with George and their twin daughters. From the start I was fascinated with Mrs. Bush's natural desire to help others, especially women and children. Because of her husband's role in public office even more opportunities were opened up to her, which she not only took on, but was successful in making a difference for many people.

The White House years: The last third of the book is the longest and contains a variety of details and events as well as Mrs. Bush's personal memories from the 2000 presidential election year through the end of President Bush's second term in the White House and the Bush's departure from Washington in January 2009.

It was a little surreal for me when I read this part of the book. I was flooded with some of my own memories from those dates, places, and events. I remember clearly the year President Bush was elected and the long drama of recount after recount in November and December. I was in Washington, DC for his first (and second) inauguration. (It was cold!) I was one of the thousands (millions?) standing soaking wet on the Mall on that VERY HOT July 4th in 2001 when the rain only just let up in time to watch the fireworks. And I will never forget where I was and what I was doing on Tuesday morning September 11, 2001 when the planes crashed into the World Trade Center and Pentagon just as own parents will never forget where they were and what they were doing on November 22, 1963. I remember hearing of various state dinners and visits abroad, including when the President and Mrs. Bush traveled to visit the Queen at Buckingham Palace. Or the time that President Bush surprised the troops and spent Thanksgiving with them in Afghanistan. At Christmas I laughed and enjoyed the "Barney-Cam" videos the White House released and twice I had the honor of joining hundreds of other guests to visit the White House and enjoy a close up of the festive holiday decorations. I remember where I was and what I was doing the morning we learned terrorist and dictator Saddam Husein had been captured. And I was one of thousands to stand in line for hours so I could pay my respects to former President Ronald Regan's flag draped casket in the United States Capitol Rotunda. So many memories...

Amongst all this reminiscing I did learn something new about the years the Bush's were in the White House. Although I was aware that Mrs. Bush did travel abroad advocating freedom and women's rights I had no idea the depths she went to meet with and help those in depressed places like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Africa. If you doubt at all the freedom a woman has living in the United States then read this book (or one specifically dedicated to that topic, Azar Nafisi has written several) and you'll see how different it is for women in the Middle East. I am grateful that Mrs. Bush took a personal interest in the women and children of these countries.

There was so much that occurred in the eight years that President and Mrs. Bush were in Washington, DC and I really couldn't sum up my thoughts of those years and the President's role in shaping history than Mrs. Bush's own thoughts when she wrote:

"He [President Bush] simply did what he believed to be right and expected to be judged based on outcomes and history not daily headlines or pundits on talks shows." (Page 383)
For a reader curious to learn more about Laura Bush, or even for an inside glimpse of what life was like for the president and first lady during the first decade of the 21st century there couldn't be a better book than Spoken From the Heart. Not once did I feel Mrs. Bush pushing her view or misrepresenting history or a particular person. She was candid, but polite. She was respectful, but factual. She didn't balk at addressing some of the sensitive or personal subjects that made headlines during her husband's career in politics. She is sincere and tells her story in a clear and detailed way making it one of the more enjoyable memoirs that I have read in a long time and a definite worthwhile read.

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Carrie said...

Fascinating review! I heard that this book was coming out and saw snippets of her interview with Larry King but didn't feel as if I was given a particularly good overview of the book. One of my favorite autobiographies I have ever read was Barbara Bush's and so I definitely have an interest in what Laura had to say.

Thanks for sharing this fun, insightful and memorable book with us!

KY Warrior Librarian said...

Great review. I'm looking forward to reading it.