We Two: Victoria and Albert: Rulers, Partners, Rivals by Gillian Gill

7200265I picked up this book shortly after returning from my UK visit and trip to Kensington Palace. After spending a few hours around their artifacts, I wanted to know more about Victoria and Albert. It sat on my nightstand for most of the academic year, but last week, I realized that it was due today, so I needed to get it read.

Despite the title, the book doesn’t get to their pair’s marriage until 140 pages in, which was frustrating. And even then, it doesn’t really follow a logical chronology. I didn’t find a cogent thesis either as the author simply doesn’t have the proof of the things she posits due to the burning of various diaries, letters and other papers by Victoria’s youngest daughter to preserve her mother’s image as she wanted it.

Try as I might, I just couldn’t slog through the right of the book, so back to the library it went, only half-read.


My Life by Bill Clinton

18699Since I purchased this book in 2004, I have been struggling to get through it. President Clinton has a marvelous memory and sometimes I got bogged down by the names and dates he generously provided. However, when I finally let go of my usual academic-style reading of a nonfiction book, I was able to really appreciate the essence of his message and enjoy his story-telling.

It’s no secret that I adore President Clinton’s political philosophy (though we may disagree on individual policy issues) and would love to work for his foundation one day (or his wife in the White House). Taking the journey with him through his childhood and up to the last days of his Presidency was a treat for me to read. His style is self-deprecating and folksy (not in the GWB way), which makes me feel like he is sitting right there, talking to me about his life. I can only imagine what the audio book must be like.

There are so many good quotations that I could have captured, but I’ll keep it to these four:

On his mother: “She would have loved to live to be one hundred, but if her time was up, so be it. She had found her peace with God. He could call her home, but He would have to catch her on the run.” (p. 566)

On Kenneth Starr and the Whitewater debacle: “No one can be as angry as I was without doing himself harm. It took me too long to figure that out.” (p. 671)

“Give respect before you expect it, treat people the way you want to be treated, remember the mission, set the example, keep going.” -Vernon Baker, 1997 Congressional Medal of Honor recipient (p. 740)

On keeping perspective:

“On my last night in the now-barren Oval Office, I thought of the glass case I had kept on the coffee table between the two couches, just a few feet away. It contained a rock Neil Armstrong had taken off the moon in 1969. Whenever arguments in the Oval Office heated up beyond reason, I would interrupt and say, ‘You see that rock? It’s 3.6 billion years old. We’re all just passing through. Let’s calm down and go back to work.’” (p. 952)

It’s taken me over three years to finally finish the book, including a concerted effort to stay up until almost 5am today to read the last 150 pages. My life has changed in more ways than I can enumerate since the day I stood with Kim in South Central LA and shook President Clinton’s hand. I was still using my JetBlue boarding pass from my first trip to SF to look for housing as a bookmark. The dust jacket is a little beat up, the pages are dog-eared and a little dirty. I’ve dragged the book from airports to hospital cafeterias and everywhere in between. It’s been moved to three different apartments with me.

I finally finished and I can move on to the other books on my shelf. It is by far the longest thing I have ever read and I feel proud of this accomplishment. However, I’m a little sad for it to be over. As I got closer to the final walk through the White House in January 19, 2001, I tried to savor every word. As long as I was reading about Bill Clinton as President, perhaps I wouldn’t have to face the reality of the last six and half years of the Bush presidency. Not true, of course, but it’s a nice thought.

John Adams by David McCullough

2203Yes, I have finally finished this tome! It’s only taken me four and a half months of reading on and off, but I really did enjoy it. Perhaps Mr. McCullough’s only criticism could be that he likes details just a bit too much. He skillfully wove the letters, papers and diaries of Mr. Adams and his peers into the writing, but there were some things that I could have lived without. I didn’t need to know the location of every business in Philadelphia in 1775, for example. But nonetheless, it was a great look at our second President, about whom I knew comparatively little.

One final quotation, this one written to his granddaughter, Caroline:

You are not singular in your suspicions that you know but little. The longer I live, the more I read, the more patiently I think, and the more anxiously I inquire, the less I seem to know….Do justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly. This is enough….

(p. 650)

little things revealed

I am currently reading John Adams by David McCullough and though I’m only 25 pages in, it’s proving to be the interesting read I had hoped it would be. It’s amazing to me how much information can be gathered by historians from such innocuous sources.

The strong clarity of her handwriting, the unhesitating flow of her pen across the paper, line after line, seemed at odds with her circumstances. Rarely was a word crossed out or changed. It was as if she knew exactly what was in her heart and how she wished to express it–as if the very act of writing, of forming letters, in her distinctive angular fashion, keeping every line straight, would somehow help maintain her balance, validate her own being in such times.

As a quasi-historian myself, it makes me curious what might be said about my handwriting, my letters. What am I unconsciously putting out there in the world for history to find?