Around here, we use the word 'peak-bagging' to describe climbing the many mountains. It occurs to me, not a climber, but a reader, that I am 'president-bagging.' When I was a girl, I read a lot about the Kennedys. And later, I read the first in the Lyndon Baines Johnson trilogy. But since then, I haven't read much until we saw a PBS program on Theodore Roosevelt, and this began an interest in the man which resulted in becoming a member of the Theodore Roosevelt Association. I've since read many books about him, and one by him, A Bully Father - his letters to his children. Thankfully, there are still many I haven't read. Last year I read No Ordinary Time by Doris Kearns Goodwin (who is working on a TR biography - hooray!) about Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt; and John Adams by David McCullough. This week I finished listening to Truman, also by McCullough (37 tapes!). And I am just awed and wowed by all these books. I find them more interesting than just about anything else I've read. Today I'll begin His Excellency George Washington. Having read 1776 recently, I just had to read more about Washington. On deck is General Ike, written by his son, and then I want to read the Perret book on Eisenhower. There are a couple on Andrew Jackson I'm looking forward to, as well. I also want to read Goodwin's Team of Rivals. And on it goes.
It is so, so easy to criticize the Presidents, and even easier to limit them to one or two things we may know of them. But when I read these long, in-depth biographies, I learn about them as people with the complexities, faults, and gifts we all have. I have come away from each book with huge respect for the men, and indeed the women, their wives whom I'm also learning about. I've read Margaret Truman's (the President's daughter) book called First Ladies, Cokie Roberts' Founding Mothers, and I can't wait to read her new one, Ladies of Liberty.
Helene Hanff wrote that she could never "get interested in things that didn't happen to people who never lived." And though I do enjoy fiction, these biographies are my bread, the staff of my reading life.