I have been reading The Secret Lives of the First Ladies on and off for the last year and a half, and it only just yesterday occurred to me to put it on my Shelfari bookcase. It's been my standard go-to book when I'm between novels or nothing else sounds good. And it's been fascinating.
In six to eight pages per lady, Cormac O'Brien gives a glimpse into the key events of the 43 first ladies (Michelle Obama is not in my older edition). I found each woman's tale captivating. All these women have gone through the same general experience—been a wife to a president—and not a single one was alike.
I think part of the appeal is seeing how each woman dealt with her position. Not counting Hilary Clinton, not a single woman had designs on politics. Each fell in love with a man who was driven (or compelled or in the right place at the right time) to become president. None set out with the ambition of becoming America's first lady.
What's even more remarkable is the influence these women had on a nation—an influence that, much as the subtitle claims (What Your Teachers Never Told You About the Women of the White House), I never learned in school. The agendas they pushed through congress, the organizations they backed, the lifestyle choices they made that influenced a nation are remarkable. The sacrifices they made are just as astounding.
Over and over again, I find myself impressed and inspired by all these women were able to accomplish. It's been a good reminder for me in my daily life: When things become overwhelming, I remind myself of these women who were able to juggle children, political events, press, their personal organizations, nearly constant White House remodeling, campaigning, and their personal lives with aplomb. It makes my troubles balancing work and writing and blogging and life seem quite manageable.