Thursday, July 19, 2012

Keeping up with the Kennedys

I've been on a Kennedy reading kick lately. It started when a friend loaned me the audio CDs of Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy, continued when I visited the Museum The Kennedys in Berlin and read Letters to Jackie: Condolences from a Grieving Nation, and concluded this week when I finished listening to the (very long!) audiobook in the car of Ted Kennedy's True Compass: A Memoir.

No different than for many others around the world, the Kennedy family absolutely fascinates me. I can't think of any other family that has had so much tragedy. They just continue to hold our interest. I'd wholeheartedly recommend all four of the things mentioned above if you're as interested as I am, and here's why:

In Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy by Jacqueline Kennedy, the interviews were conducted by historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. about four months following President Kennedy's assassination. In the eight CDs, the former First Lady answers all kinds of questions about her late husband's political aspirations, his visit to West Berlin, the Cuban Missile Crisis, his health problems and his campaigns for office. Hearing the interviews was particularly interesting. In places you can hear the ice clinking around in Mrs. Kennedy's glass (I wonder what she was drinking), addressing her children when they interrupted the interviews, the traffic on the street outside and muffled whispers of her answers to questions she only wanted Schlesinger to hear. When the long interviews exhausted her and she asks to stop and pick up again later. She is so honest and so candid.

The basis for Museum The Kennedys in Berlin is President Kennedy's 1963 visit and his speech addressing West Berliners near the Brandenburg Gate. The footage of this speech repeats over and over for visitors, who can view personal items of the Kennedy family and many photos taken over the years of the whole clan at Martha's Vineyard, on the campaign trail and in other places. It was one of my favorite things in Berlin.

In experimenting with how to borrow books from the library via my Kindle, I came across Letters to Jackie: Condolences from a Grieving Nation by Ellen Fitzpatrick and thought it fit my current theme. In the months after her husband was assassinated, Mrs. Kennedy received over a million and a half letters from Americans of all ages who wrote thoughtful letters expressing their sympathy to the First Lady and her children. Of those million and a half, 250 are included in Letters to Jackie. They are from schoolchildren, postal workers, housewives, military personnel, Republicans, Democrats, hospital workers and every other type of person you can imagine. Some letters are long and eloquently written. Some include poems. Some are short and filled with misspellings and other mistakes. What these letters have in common, though, is that they are all expressing sympathy in touching, heartfelt, personal ways. This collection of letters is really a powerful statement of how average Americans reacted to the loss of their president.

Ted Kennedy's account of all of these things plus many more are recounted in his autobiography, True Compass. Though it was quite long and read by an actor rather than the author, the audio version kept me interested. Ted Kennedy's account of both of his brothers' assassinations and other family tragedies, the support he and the rest of the Kennedys gave to Jacqueline Kennedy upon her husband's death, and his own political campaigns and his personal life are all covered in detail. It was really great to get his perspective on the same events and situations Mrs. Kennedy commented on in her interviews.

I highly recommend all these works if you're as interested in this American family as I am.  

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