The Residence:Inside the Private World of the White House by Kate Andersen Brower

The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White HouseThe Residence. Finished 4-20-15, rating 4.5/5, history/politics, 320 pages, pub. 2015

Thanks to Trish at TLC Book Tours  for inviting me to be a part of this book tour.  I received the book in exchange for my thoughts (and thankfully my thoughts are good :))

America’s First Families are unknowable in many ways. No one has insight into their true character like the people who serve their meals and make their beds every day. Full of stories and details by turns dramatic, humorous, and heartwarming, The Residence reveals daily life in the White House as it is really lived through the voices of the maids, butlers, cooks, florists, doormen, engineers, and others who tend to the needs of the President and First Family.

These dedicated professionals maintain the six-floor mansion’s 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms, 28 fireplaces, three elevators, and eight staircases, and prepare everything from hors d’oeuvres for intimate gatherings to meals served at elaborate state dinners. Over the course of the day, they gather in the lower level’s basement kitchen to share stories, trade secrets, forge lifelong friendships, and sometimes even fall in love.  from Goodreads

I like keeping up with current politics, so reading this book that spans 50+ years of White House inside information was fun for me.  The stories from the full-time and part-time workers who make  the first family’s time in the White House run smoothly were told with pride.  I loved hearing about the bullying Johnson, the warm Bushes (the first ones there), the partying Clintons, the domineering Nancy, and secret scene of the Obamas first night in America’s house.

I had no idea that the White House was designed by James Hoban, who won a competition planned by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and that it was built on the backs of slaves being paid in pork, bread and whiskey.  In 1941 the annual budget was $152,000 and today it comes in around $13 million.  That’s a lot of inflation!  I was surprised to learn that with all that money in the budget the first family is still required to pay for their move into and out of the White House and pay for all the food that they and their friends  eat (I always assumed we were feeding them).  President Carter didn’t think so much tax payer money needed to go to flowers (in other administrations $50,000 for state dinner flowers was the norm) so he sent the staff out to parks to find flowers, with one staffer even being arrested.  It was stories like these that had me chuckling.

The staff does their best to make each and every family, regardless of party, feel at home.  They take pride in serving not only the first family but representing the United States at state dinners and when taking care of the dignitaries from around the world.  I loved these behind-the-scenes looks at the best and worst of times.  I was shocked at the complete chaos on 9-11.

I was struck by how Brower wrote about the discretion of the workers on one page and then included unflattering tidbits about the children a page or two later.  I felt like the Chelsea and Secret Service story was disrespectful in a way that she tried to avoid in the rest of the book. There was another story of some bong-loving sons that I felt didn’t need to be included either.  She went out of her way to paint them in a positive light later, but I wish she could have saved the unflattering stories for the President and First Lady.

Definitely worth reading for anyone with an interest in history, the White House, or even current politics.

Oh, and there’s still a few days to enter the Goodreads giveaway.

Man of the Year (2006)

Lots of people get their political news from comedians these days, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Bill Maher, Saturday Night Live.  I happen to be a Stewart fan myself.  What if a glitch in the voting system gave Jon Stewart the presidency?  Would chaos ensue or would it be much-needed kick in the pants?  That’s just one obvious question that never gets answered in this film, but there were plenty of others.

Robin Williams plays the comedian Tom Dobbs and does a good job with the humor.  When he decides to actually hit the campaign trail he drops the jokes, sticks to issues and the movie starts to become something like a drama.  Laura Linney is an employee of the computer company handling all the voting in the country and she finds a surprising glitch in the system.  She alerts the CEO who promptly ignores her.  Dobbs is elected Linney’s character is drugged and fired so she has no credibility and the film then turns into more of a conspiracy thriller than a comedy or a drama.

The movie was a bust for me.  Some parts were good but the stupidity of Linney’s character was hard to watch.  And once Williams wasn’t cracking jokes he became about as interesting as last week’s newspaper.

The movie did halfheartedly attempt to tackle some real issues.  The most compelling part of the movie for me was Jeff Goldblum’s speech about the people thinking their vote counted was more important than their vote really being counted.  It didn’t matter if the right guy got the job.

“Perception of legitimacy is more important than legitimacy itself. That’s the greater truth.”

No matter where you come down on this it still generates good discussion.  Once Williams gets the nomination he and Linney both have to make a choice on whether he should keep quiet and accept the honor of being the president of the United States.  I thought this was also an interesting dilemma and one Jason and I didn’t quite see the same way.

The humor and the thought-provoking situations had potential but the movie was too scattered to be good.

Any political movie recommendations for next week?

Ohio, Ohio, Ohio

I don’t know if any of you have heard but we have a presidential election coming up.  As a proud Buckeye I admit that I like the attention that comes our way every four years.  I like the fact that we do not always elect politicians from the same party year after year after year.  I actually take an interest in politics.  I’ve written a few posts over the years about how I think everyone should vote and if possible, work the polls (given the state of unemployment it pays well for a day or so of work), and try to make an informed decision.

Don’t worry I’m not going to endorse a candidate (but I do see that Roseanne Bar has made it onto the ballot in a state or two ;)) but I am going to take the next 6 Fridays and review 6 political movies.  There are 2 (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, 1939 and State of the Union, 1948) that are on my Top 100 list and they will be re-runs for me.  Otherwise I’d like them to be new-to-me movies.

If you have a fun political movie that you’d like to recommend, I’d love to hear about it, but there are a few requests-US politics only, no bashing of one political party (it’s okay of both parties are victims) and, honestly, the funnier the better.  In the past few years I’ve seen Swing Vote (2008) and The Ides of March (2011), both of which I liked but am not interested in seeing again.  Other than that I am open to recommendations.  I have The Candidate (1972) with Robert Redford and The Contender (2000) on my radar.  Any thoughts?

At the library yesterday I picked up Man of the Year (2006) with Robin Williams and am halfway through.  Check back tomorrow to see what I think.

The Appeal, by John Grisham

The Appeal by John Grisham: Book CoverFinished 10-14-09, rating 3/5, fiction, pub.2007

“There are two fees.  First, a million as a retainer.  This is all properly reported.  You officially become our client, and we provide consulting services in the area if government relations, a wonderfully vague term that covers just about anything.  The second fee is seven million bucks, and we take it offshore.  Some of this will be used to fund the campaign, but most will be preserved.  Only the first fee goes on the books.”

Carl was nodding, understanding.  “For eight million, I can buy myself a supreme court justice.”

Wes and Mary Grace Payton have been fighting a huge chemical company in the courts for years, trying to get justice for a small Mississippi  town decimated by years of poisoning by Krane Chemical Corporation.  Carl Trudeau doesn’t take this lawyers seriously and is shocked when the jury sides with the plaintiff for $42 million and decides that it is time to put his money to work and buy an election. 

This story has a bit of courtroom drama and lots of the ugly side of politics.  There was a clear contrast between the haves and the haves nots, the rich and the poor, the power players and the powerless, and it was easy to root for the Davids as they battled Goliath.  Most states still elect state supreme court justices and this books shows how easily these elections can be bought.  And it is only the voters who suffer from the manipulation. 

This was a cynical and probably very accurate look at the election process we have in place and it will anger you.  Many of you know that I have been working at the elections the past few years and I encourage everyone to vote, but more than that I want people to vote with knowledge.  This book shines a spotlight on this problem.  I could go on for a while about this, but that’s a whole different post.

I really liked the first half of the book with the environmental focus, thought the middle was slow with way too much detail on the campaign play-by-play, and really hated the end.  If you are interested in politics or are a Grisham fan you may like this more than me.  Although, I’m interested in politics and I didn’t love it.

This came from my own library.

Authors on politics

I saw this quote today and couldn’t help but pass it along.  I’m also including a quote from the insightful Douglas Adams which I also find fitting during this election season.  It is important to vote and I hope you have all voted or will be voting on November 4 – even if your vote isn’t the same as mine.  It’s so easy to get discouraged by all the lies being told this late in the campaign, but I’m hoping we voters can prove that we care about the truth and we care enough to vote.

“I look at these people and can’t quite believe that they exist. Are they professional actors? I wonder. Or are they simply laymen who want a lot of attention? To put them in perspective, I think of being on an airplane. The flight attendant comes down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. “Can I interest you in the chicken?” she asks. “Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it? To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked.”  – Author David Sedaris, on undecided voters

“Anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.”   – Douglas Adams, author

Ohio Primaries

This will be my first and only non-book blog, but so many of you have asked me about being a poll worker that I thought I’d share my experience today working at the Ohio primaries in the Cleveland area. 

This was my second time being a poll worker, but our first time using paper ballots.  My alarm went off at 4:30 am and I was at my polling station at 5:25 am.  Those of you who know me might be chuckling at this improbable feat.  By 6:30 when the polls opened we had a line of people waiting to vote.  The Democrats outvoted the Republications at my precinct by a ratio of 5 to 1.  I voted and I had a favorite, but it was so great to see so many first time voters and people voting for a candidate they never thought they’d see (be it a woman or an African-American).  It was heartwarming really and I was glad to be a part of it. 

Things were steady and smooth until about 7 pm when the lights went out.  People were using their cell phones for light to complete their ballots.  Everyone was so happy to be voting that there was good humor all around.

Now at 7:30 pm when the polls closed and we started adding up signatures and ballots we were all tired.  We all had a one hour break in the middle of the day, but were were starting our 13th hour of work.  It took us another 2 1/2 hours to reconcile our numbers, so it was 10 pm when we all went out to our cars to get the ice off our cars and go home. 

I think that working at the polls is something everyone should do once.  You will get to see how the democratic process really works and you get to make a little money too.  I will do this again because I can and and so should you  if you are able.

I’ve been home for an hour and see that they have called Ohio for Hillary.  I know this may be short on details (my mind is a little fuzzy right now 🙂  If you have any questions just leave a comment and I’ll answer it here.

Thanks Marilyn for taking care of Max while I was gone today 🙂