Wednesday, December 31, 2008

First Memoirs
by Sheelah Kolhatkar writing in The New Yorker, January 5, 2009

Memoirs by First Ladies are often more hotly anticipated than those by their husbands. Once the Presidential wife is liberated from the White House and has access to a skilled ghostwriter, it is hoped, she will finally have her say. The results can be broken down by genre. There is the campaign-platform memoir—Hillary Clinton’s “Living History”; the score-settling version—Nancy Reagan’s “My Turn”; and the memoir of ambitious co-Presidency—Rosalynn Carter’s “First Lady from Plains.” And then there was Betty Ford, who blazed a (perhaps unfortunate) trail with “The Times of My Life”—the addiction memoir. The next installment in the First Lady canon is still to be written.

When Laura Bush stopped in at the Council on Foreign Relations for a chat the other day, the crowd contained, in addition to the usual bankers and Park Avenue types, a contingent of sharp-elbowed publishers. Sitting in the audience was her lawyer, Robert Barnett, as well as at least four editors from prominent publishing houses.

“I do think she has a story to tell,” said Tim Duggan, the executive editor of HarperCollins, who had come to hear Mrs. Bush. “It’s not a surprise that she’s going to be the first one out of the gate.”

Esther Newberg, an agent at International Creative Management, who was not at the council talk, agreed. “She’s the only one in the family who could get money now for a book,” she said. “Is his approval rating above twenty-five? There’s no question in my mind that she would get more money than him.” About twenty minutes late, Mrs. Bush emerged in a prim suit and pink blouse, and took her place at the podium.

After word spread, in late November, that the First Lady’s memoir was on offer, Mrs. Bush became more visible than usual, popping up on “Meet the Press” to talk about her humanitarian efforts (“Kabul is in much better shape than it has been”), making the rounds of the morning programs to discuss the White House Christmas decorations (“The theme this year is ‘A Red, White and Blue Holiday’ ”), and even speaking with Mary Hart on “Entertainment Tonight” (“I think the bunting looks so pretty!”). And she and Barnett have been inviting publishers to the White House for meetings.
“We met with her in what seemed like an office in the Laura Bush Wing,” one publisher, who flew down to Washington with several colleagues, said. “It was an hour-long meeting. I think there were at least eight of them scheduled.”
Read the full piece at the New Yorker online.

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