Rainer Maria Rilke

"Live a while in these books, learn from them what seems to you worth learning, but above all love them. This love will be repaid you a thousand and a thousand times, and however your life may turn,-it will, I am certain of it, run through the fabric of your growth as one of the most important threads among all the threads of your experiences, disappointments, and joys."--Rainer Maia Rilke

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Monday, March 19, 2012

Not Just for Christmas

Christmas at the White House by Jennifer Boswell Pickens
I first started reading this book around the Christmas season but found I just couldn't finish it all as quickly as I would have liked.  I often have this problem with reading a photography book-especially one as breathtaking as this one.

This book is the story of different Presidential First Ladies and their personal and public Christmas trees as well as the unique contribution each woman, and family, had on the White House, both monument and home.  The book was written by a variety of contributors and many of the essays were written by the First Ladies themselves so the writing is filled with both personal warmth and public awe.

Some of the most amazing stories come from Jackie Kennedy (whose themed trees and ornaments were made by and for less fortunate orphans, abandoned children and the disabled); Lady Bird Johnson (who decorated for Christmas and transitioned the country in a time of mourning and horror of the Vietnam War); Pat Nixon (who started the traditions of an ornament representing each state, candlelight tours and a gingerbread house); Betty Ford (who fashioned and encouraged handmade ornaments to reflect the country's economic reality); and Rosalynn Carter (who brought mental health out of the closet and onto the nation's Christmas tree).  Each First Lady comes across as a woman, wife and mother first and then a decorator last.  The stories are charming, funny and sad.  In short, this just isn't a book that can be breezed through.  It isn't one to leave on the coffee table for visitors (who will be most impressed with the photographs, most of which I've never seen); but is a book to be read and thought about. 

Through it all, one fact remains--each tree was a symbol of the family and woman who lived there and transcends the mere decorations to allow the reader to see something personal and warm and so very human.

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