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Really Good Books About First Ladies: Part One

First ladies and their foreign equivalents, naturally. Oh, and first daughters, because Alice Roosevelt Longworth is super-compelling, no? Yes. How can there be two parts? There can. Did you ever read Gloria Steinem’s essay on going to her reunion at Smith? She mentioned that an interviewer said ‘isn’t it fascinating that the nation’s top women went to Smith?’ and Steinem asked who, and the interviewer said ‘Barbara Bush and Nancy Reagan,’ and Steinem went totally postal and said IS GERALDINE FERRARO’S HUSBAND ONE OF OUR NATION’S “TOP MEN”? CHECK YOURSELF!

But they’re so interesting!

American Wife, Curtis Sittenfeld – Me, I thought this book should have been way more successful. I loved it! I also loved Prep, which is a Real, Bonafide Bildungsroman. But, American Wife, guys! If you read one book based on a thinly fictionalized Laura Bush this year…etc. Sittenfeld is incredibly talented. I didn’t read the second one, but I always give authors a pass on their second book (Zadie Smith say what?) because I think we put too much pressure on people to turn that shit around. GOD, write a book and then take some time to paint some pottery and let people say nice things about the first one. Don’t rush it! Then write a damn fine third book (Zadie Smith say what?) and move on with your life.

Marie Antoinette: The Journey, Antonia Fraser – Ohhhh, so great. And surprisingly not a letdown after a childhood of assuming that The Queen’s Confession was totally legit, and that Victoria Holt was just the name of Marie’s translator. Although, honestly, I guess it’s better to have a great life and then have a super-crummy last year of it than to live in crushing rural poverty for approximately the same amount of time and then die of tuberculosis or something, right?

Alice: Alice Roosevelt Longworth, From White House Princess to Washington Power Broker, Stacy A. Cordery – I’m going to level with you here. It really doesn’t matter which book you read about Alice. You can’t screw up this kind of subject matter. The Roosevelt Women is great too. Do you KNOW about Alice? Alice was Larger Than Life. Sexual intrigue! Cuckolding! Gossip! Scandal! Banned from White House functions by more than one administration!

Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography, Jean Harvey Baker – I know! You’re thinking, ‘I could write that book, and call it Bitch Was Crazy.’ There is WAY more than that going on, and Baker will tell you about it. Seriously, pour one out for Mary Lincoln. She did not have an easy time of it. At least this all went down prior to The Real Housewives of DC. Let’s take a moment to discuss how little we’d like to be married to the President. Doesn’t it look awful? Not, like, coal mining awful, obviously, but still pretty bad. Watch Michelle grit her teeth. Watch Hillary having to submit a stupid cookie recipe to Good Housekeeping. ARE YOU SERIOUS? SHE WENT TO YALE LAW. MAKE HER SOME GODDAMN COOKIES. How is that even a thing?

Jackie as Editor: The Literary Life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Greg Lawrence – I absolutely loathe the Kennedys. And I come by it extremely un-naturally, because my family is Irish Catholic and my grandparents had framed pictures of JFK all over the house next to the goriest crucifixes that money can buy. But the man was a puppet, obviously, being jerked around by Joe Sr, the worst person ever. Ever. MOVING ON, I always thought Jackie was okay. I liked that she decided to thumb her nose at the world by marrying Ari, and I especially liked her second act as an editor, which she was apparently very good at. This book is better than the OTHER book that came out about Jackie-as-a-reader, and there are loads of fasccccinating little anecdotes. Enjoy!


One of you needs to write the definitive biography of Winston Churchill’s mother Jennie. I’ve read all of them, and we’re not quite there yet. Hop to it!


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