Spoken from the Heart by Laura Bush

Bush, Laura. Spoken from the Heart. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010.

🙂 🙂 🙂

Of all the first ladies there have been in my lifetime, for some reason, Laura Bush has interested me most, probably because she seemed to be so much in the background, but also because she always seemed to me to be someone who truly fell into her role. She married a man she loved having no idea she was going to be a politician’s wife. She always struck me as someone who had no desire to be in the limelight, a feeling with which I can empathize. Other reasons she interests me? I can’t imagine what it must be like to be married to a president who eventually becomes extremely unpopular with the public, how hard that must be, especially dealing with some of the out-and-out hatred people showed. Finally, she was a librarian before she married George, and I know that she was accused of A. not having been a “real” librarian, which is a ridiculous accusation, since she got her masters in library science from the University of Texas at Austin (a very prestigious library school. I wish I had been lucky enough to earn my degree there) and B. never having had a “real” job, which is also absurd, since she taught in inner-city schools and was a school librarian when she and George met. (I guess those of us who have ever been librarians or teachers don’t have real jobs. )

Some of you may remember that I surprised myself by reading and enjoying Curtis Sittenfeld’s American Wife, a book based on Laura Bush’s life. That was fiction, though, and I’ve been meaning to read some nonfiction about her ever since. Her autobiography seemed like the best place to start for that.

Or so I thought. By the time she’d gotten to her marriage to George, I was quite disappointed. Maybe I was wrong to have wanted more, but I did. Relatively speaking, she and George had gotten married late (they were both 31. I happen to know someone else who got married at the ripe old age of 31 — me. I’d done all kinds of things in my adult life before I got married, including  teaching and earning a library degree, so I was very interested in that part of her life). I’d wanted more details from those pre-George years, and I also wished she’d given the reader a little more passion and emotion. Most of the story up to that point was matter-of-fact. We learned a little bit about what it was like growing up in a small Texas town when she did but almost nothing at all about what it felt like.

Granted, Laura had suffered that teenage tragedy of killing a high school friend in a car accident. Her passion and feeling did shine through when she described that incident and the scars it left behind that have never completely healed. Maybe when you’ve been through something like that the rest of your life seems rather matter-of-fact until you find yourself married to a president.

You see, once she becomes the First Lady (in fact, once she becomes a governor’s wife), this book really picks up. The only other part of her life that she describes in such heartfelt ways is her struggle to have children and her joy over being a mother to her twin daughters. Reading about her career as a politician’s wife is like reading about someone who had no desire to be an actress, was forced into it somehow, and found herself winning an Oscar.

That was surprising enough, but what was even more surprising was that I found myself riveted to this part of the story, getting the inside scoop on what it was like to be on the campaign trail, to meet the world’s dignitaries, to travel to places like Burma and Afghanistan. Oh yes, and to hold your head high when people accused you of never having had a “real” job, even to be able to find that funny.

Laura Bush has always supported causes that are near and dear to her heart: literacy and education. Typically, we never heard much about what she was doing in these areas, because our media, being far more interested in cutting secret passages in closets in order to insert skeletons, doesn’t want to focus on such things. Although I was never a fan of No Child Left Behind and the horrific toll it took on children and schools, I can see where someone like Laura Bush could have supported something that (like so many things), on paper, looked like it might give every child a chance to succeed. She talks about being in favor of innovative education practices, and I’m sure she is.

She, like most of the rest of us, has been appalled by injustices, especially when it comes to women. The depths she’s gone to to support women’s causes in the Middle East are touching. I learned quite a lot from her, like how horrific it is to be an Afghan woman with breast cancer.

This very correctly and precisely written book is a wonderful reminder of how stupid it is to have knee-jerk partisan reactions (especially for someone like me who needs no encouragement when it comes to jerking her knees). Laura helps the reader see where all Americans have common ground and how we shouldn’t be so quick to judge (she’s certainly been a victim of quick judgments in her lifetime). She also reminded me (and my own biases in this area) that if women ran the world, we might be more willing to seek out that common ground.

Sad to say, my curiosity is not yet quenched. I still want to read more about the woman (who would’ve ever thought?). If you, too, are curious, I’d highly recommend reading this one.