Looking through my E-Reader, I notice I haven’t been doing much leisure reading lately, a situation I hope to change this summer. Today’s blog is the first in my annual series of Summer Reads, a sampling of escapist leisure reading I’ve enjoyed over the past several months.
Upstairs at the White House: My Life With The First Ladies by J. B. West and Mary Lynn Kotz was published in 1973 and spent several weeks on the New York Times Best Seller List. I ran across it while I was researching my recent series on First Ladies.
West began keeping a diary when he became Assistant to the Chief Usher at the White House in 1941 and continued taking notes until his retirement in 1969. The Chief Usher and his staff direct operations at the White House, oversee maintenance at the residence, and do their best to meet the needs of the current President and First Lady. West’s White House years coincided with those of the Roosevelts, Trumans, Eisenhowers, Kennedys, Johnsons, and the first few months of the Nixon Administration.
The writing style of this memoir is light and its anecdotes fascinating. Some of the insights I enjoyed:
— Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt lived in the White House 12 years. It took 20 army trucks to remove their belongings. On the other hand, the Trumans moved in with nothing but their clothing and daughter Margaret’s piano.
— The Trumans ended their work day with cocktails. Their preferred beverage was an Old-Fashioned with a generous pour of bourbon.
— Mamie Eisenhower was a career army wife who once said no woman over age 50 should get up before noon. As First Lady she woke up, put on her makeup, combed her hair and got back into bed for her breakfast and morning meeting with the chief usher.
— White House expenses are paid by a congressional budge allocation. However, food, liquor, and entertainment is charged to the president. Mamie stretched her food budget, kept track of all food, and used leftovers. Each morning she gave the chef a list of food not consumed the day before. One day she noted: “Three people turned down second servings of Cornish hen last night. Please use it in the chicken salad today.”
These and other insights make West’s memoir a delightful read.
The Yorkshire Murder Mysteries
Moving from memoir to fiction, I recently discovered the Yorkshire Murder Mysteries by J. R. Ellis, a man who has lived in Yorkshire all his life and slips Yorkshire phrases into the dialogue. The series is based in the Harrogate Division of the West Riding Police with DCI Jim Oldroyd as chief inspector. Oldroyd, a man dedicated to his job, is separated with two children. Assisting Oldroyd is DS Stephanie Johnson, a Yorkshire lass, and DS Andy Carter, recently up from London.
There are 6 books in the series with a 7th on the way. The first 5 books are enticingly priced at $1.99. Each story focuses on a different part of Yorkshire. The Body in the Dales takes the reader to Jingling Pots near Skipton and the popular recreational caving and pot-holing expeditions.
The Quartet Murders take place in Halifax; Murder at Redmire Hall at Ripon; Royal Baths Murder at Harrogate; Nidderdale Murders near the village of Niddersgill, and The Whitby Murders, during Goth Week at Whitby.
All held my attention without strtetching my brain too much, and brought back happy memories of my travels in the area.
For a drone’s-eye view of the Yorkshire Dales, enjoy the video below.
Woman Reading on the Beach by jgoge.
Old Fashioned Cocktail by Rochelle Hartman.
Sandra Wagner-Wright holds the doctoral degree in history and taught women’s and global history at the University of Hawai`i. Sandra travels for her research, most recently to Salem, Massachusetts, the setting of her new Salem Stories series. She also enjoys traveling for new experiences. Recent trips include Antarctica and a river cruise on the Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel.
Sandra particularly likes writing about strong women who make a difference. She lives in Hilo, Hawai`i with her family and writes a blog relating to history, travel, and the idiosyncrasies of life.