Spoken from the Heart by Laura W. Bush

September 11, 2010

Summary: This is the official memoir of Laura Welch Bush, former first lady of Texas (1995-2000) and of the United States (2000-2008). Like all memoirs, it begins with some background information about her parents and her childhood, which was spent in the small town of Midland, Texas. Interestingly, George W. Bush also grew up in Midland for a number of years, though Laura only crossed his path once when they both briefly attended the same junior high school.

The first part of Laura’s memoir is notable for its description of an accident that she was involved in as a 17-year-old. She ran a stop sign while going at least 50 miles per hour, and slammed into the car of classmate and friend Mike Douglas, killing him instantly. Laura was not cited in the accident. She then tells of how her biggest regret was that she never talked to Mike’s family to apologize to them or anything, thinking that they simply wouldn’t want to hear from her.

Laura then tells about how she met George Bush when friends introduced them at a barbecue. The two dated for only three months before marrying in 1977. From there, their lives became something of a whirlwind, as they had twin girls Jenna and Barbara, and then moved around Texas for George’s business. He soon became part owner of the Texas Rangers, then governor of Texas, and then, of course, President of the United States.

The second half of the book deals with Laura’s time in the White House. She talks about her first impressions, recounts numerous social functions and overseas trips that she was part of, and also gives the reader a behind-the-scenes look at some of the events, such as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, that defined the Bush presidency before wrapping up with a brief outlook at what she plans on doing now that she and George are both retired.

Liked:

  • I’m not sure if Laura had a ghostwriter or not (I read the Kindle version and didn’t notice anything one way or the other), but I thought her story was fairly well told. Memoirs like this are often kind of boring, especially the part dealing with the subject’s childhood. But Laura never lost me as a reader, which is the main reason I was able to finish the book in just a few days. Edit: The ghostwriter was Lyric Winik.
  • I liked how Laura called out some of George’s critics (and one or two of her own) without lambasting them or going on and on about them in long-winded rants. She simply stated what a particularly unfair criticism was, gave her side of the story, and moved on. With all the crap the Bushes faced during their 8-year stay in the White House, I felt Laura was incredibly restrained in this regard.
  • There were some nice tidbits about what really happens at official dinners and so forth. For instance, who would’ve thought that the White House has receiving lines down to a science and know that each visitor gets exactly 7 seconds with the President and First Lady — enough time to shake hands and snap a photo — before being ushered along. Can you imagine having to stand there for 3 hours doing that? No wonder Prince Charles and Camilla brought along a flask for themselves!
  • I loved the details (though too few) of Jenna and Barbara’s childhood. I see Jenna on the Today Show and think she seems like such a respectful young woman despite everything. That’s definitely a testament to the parents.

Disliked:

  • For some reason, Laura apparently decided to talk more about the bad things that happened during her husband’s presidency than the good. She covered 9/11, the Asian tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, the crash of Flight 587 in Queens, Space Shuttle Columbia, etc. etc. I guess I could understand that she didn’t want anyone to be left out, but the book got to be damn depressing after a while. There was just one accident, natural disaster, catastrophe after another!
  • Laura didn’t really go into her own thoughts and feelings about different events at the White House or of all the people she met. She occasionally had comments about someone or something, but most of the time it felt as though she were just listing her experiences as first lady with no commentary at all.

Rating:

This is the first memoir by a former first lady that I read cover to cover. I’ve always liked Laura Bush because she seemed like such a classy, decent, genuinely nice human being. Spoken from the Heart pretty much just confirms what I already suspected. I give it 4 stars out of 5.

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