Friday, November 25, 2011

She never wrote a memoir, but she did do this...


Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy: Interviews with Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., 1964

(photo credit: John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum)

It’s a book, it’s an audiobook, it’s one of the coolest things ever.

This is exactly the kind of historic record that I’ve been know to pray will appear on the scene during my lifetime. And it’s fabulous.

Arthur Schlesinger was part of JFK’s brain trust, and it sounds from these recordings, like Jackie was reasonably comfortable with him. At any rate, she’s rather candid, and there are things she talked about that later she said she didn’t want to have shared.

Of course, these are the good things.

Such as: There were kids’ bath toys lined up along the edge of the bathtub in JFK’s bathroom—the one their visitors to the family quarters would use—because John, Jr., would hang out in there while his dad was in the tub.

And, of course, when she speaks of her husband, Jackie idealizes him completely unrealistically. Of course this is what a wife would do. It was up to her to set the tone for his legacy. And besides, the man had just been assassinated mere months before. So of course she’s going to make him sound like a saint.

But, beyond the perfected version of things that she presents, there are some little glimpses of both of them as real humans, such as when she says he’d sometimes call her “Kid,” and when she describes how he wept after the Bay of Pigs fiasco. And that he ate breakfast in a t-shirt and underwear, on a tray in his bedroom.    

These tapes are also completely fascinating as a relic of the-way-(some)-marriages-were. She provides a very clear view of how she saw her role as a wife, and it’s old-fashioned-y stuff: Don’t ask your husband about his work day unless he offers information; Make sure the children are in a good mood when your husband gets home; First and foremost, provide a comfortable home life for your husband.

The intimacy of listening to the actual interviews is pretty darn amazing—of course, there’s her famously breathy voice, but there’s all kinds of wonderful background noise, too: ice cubes clinking in a glass, cigarettes being lit, airplanes overhead, and John, Jr., tearing into the room.

This is good enough stuff that probably even the Normal (non-Kennedy-obsessed) out there will find it worth a listen.

Also—it comes with a book that has helpful footnotes (to remind us who Douglas Dillon was) and some good photos.


(Coincidence? Or not? Today is the 51st anniversary of John, Jr.'s birth. Just realized that when I looked at the date.)

8 comments:

Bybee said...

All the women in my family are Kennedy-obsessed, so I learned how to be, too. I'm sure my aunt, who leads the pack, is already all over this audio.

Unruly Reader said...

Bybee -- Oh, you come from good stock, if they're Kennedy-obsessed. (laughing here over the "leader of the pack" wording -- that's totally cracking me up)

stacybuckeye said...

Oh, this looks soooo good. Interested in all things Kennedy. They are such a fascinating part of our history.

Unruly Reader said...

Stacy - Totally with you. Completely hooked.

Kailana said...

This sounds really cool! I am not exactly Kennedy obsessed, but interested in her...

Unruly Reader said...

Kailana - The cool thing about these recordings is that we get a better sense of who she was. She's still somewhat guarded, but there are some wonderful moments when it sounds like we're getting the real person.

Pam said...

I keep walking by this and I don't know what's holding me back. I've read so many books about the Kennedys, I think I was afraid for the price that there wouldn't be anything new to find out.

Unruly Reader said...

Pam -- Yeah, I get that. My suggestion would be to check it out from the library. It's expensive to buy, but completely worth the free library checkout just to hear Jacqueline Kennedy's voice during the interviews, which adds something that a book by itself can't offer. (Did I just suggest that books are limited? Wash my mouth out with soap!)