Friday, August 14, 2009

Helen Thomas, Gerald Ford, and a Mexican

Front Row at the White House: My Life and Times by Helen Thomas - Anyone who knows anything about Washington knows that Thomas has been in the White House press pool practically forever -- since John F. Kennedy. This book, written ten years ago, is part autobiography but mostly a chance to share stories about the most powerful figures in America. I especially enjoyed the chapter about traveling on Air Force One, but most readers will be drawn to the later chapters where Thomas tells stories about each first lady and each president. She shares lots of humorous or interesting anecdotes, but nothing particularly shocking. As one might expect, the book is very journalistic in nature. Even in a book ostensibly about herself, Thomas knows that the real story is the people she covered. Overall, this book is good but not great. It might have benefited from tighter editing.

Write It When I'm Gone: Remarkable Off-the-Record Conversations with Gerald R. Ford by Thomas M. DeFrank - I've always had a soft spot for President Ford, perhaps because he was the president when I first learned who the president was. Even better, Ford despised Ronald Reagan (though he refused to say anything bad about him in the years after his Alzheimer's diagnosis). Although I wouldn't agree with Ford's ideology, he was a likable, decent man, the last of the reasonable, moderate Republicans like Dwight Eisenhower before Barry Goldwater's acolytes took over the party. DeFrank first covered Ford as vice president, developed a special friendship over the years (a president considering reporters as friends? Yep, that's the kind of guy Ford was), and carried out a series of interviews starting in the 1990s with the stipulation that nothing from them would be published until after Ford's death. The result is a revealing and affectionate paean to our 38th president. Ford was blessed to live so long and so well after leaving the White House, staying active and lucid into his early nineties. The book could be more complete, though -- I wish DeFrank had asked more about the Warren Commission (the only mention being Ford's dislike of Oliver Stone's JFK), Ford's decades in the House, and some of the difficult decisions he wrestled with as president (besides pardoning Nixon). I haven't read other books about Ford so I can't say where this fits into the body of work about him, but I enjoyed Write It When I'm Gone.

¡Ask a Mexican! by Gustavo Arellano - This is a collection of questions and answers from a nationally syndicated (mostly in the border states) newspaper column that explains the culture, customs, and habits of Mexican-Americans. Arellano weaves irreverent humor and thorough research into his replies, making the book fun and informative. I wish a Chicago newspaper would carry the column, which originated in Orange County's OC Weekly.

Current tally: 64 books finished, 61 books acquired

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