The Kennedy Women

Months ago I read Laurence Leamer’s The Kennedy Men. And I was blown away by the honest portrayal of these men of Camelot.

The same day that I bought The Kennedy Men, I purchased the companion, The Kennedy Women. For reasons that I will never understand given my penchant for biographies of famous women, The Kennedy Women languished on my shelf for months! Whenever it came time to choose a new title, I would inevitable pass over The Kennedy Women for another shinier, newer, easier read.

Having just finished it I can’t think of a single reason why I wouldn’t have picked this up sooner. It is spectacular. And so thorough! Leamer manages to go back to the original Kennedy woman – Bridget Murphy. She was, let me see if I get this right, Joe Kennedy’s grandmother. And she was the first Kennedy woman in America. She came over on a boat along with thousands of other Irish Immigrants hoping for a better life in the new world. She married Patrick Kennedy not long after and they had 3 daughters and the longed-for son before Patrick Kennedy died 10 years after they were married (in a bizarre coincidence Patrick Kennedy also died on November 22nd) leaving her a widow with 4 children. Bridget ended up starting a successful general store and was able to set her only son Patrick Joseph (PJ) Kennedy up in politics and that was the beginning of the fortune the Kennedys would eventually have control over.

The Kennedy Women – the book and its subjects, amazed me. All of these women were taught from day one that their role was to support the men in their lives. They were to put their brothers, fathers, husbands and sons before them in everything always. And yet they managed to leave their mark on the world.

Rose Kennedy was content to live a life completely separate from that of her husband, turned a blind eye to all of his indiscretions (there were many) and was content to live through her children. She buried 3 of her sons, one of her daughters, a daughter-in-law and a son-in-law, had to live through her daughter’s botched lobotomy and through it all somehow managed to keep the strongest faith in God and her Church. At the end of her life (she lived to be over 100!) she was the celebrated matriarch of an American dynasty.

Eunice Kennedy – what a woman. I knew she started the Special Olympics but I never realized what an active role she played in changing the attitude towards people with disabilities. She was especially close to her ‘special’ sister Rosemary, visited with her when no one else would, and all that she did for those with special needs was due to that relationship. Through it all she managed to be the wife of an ambassador, have 5 successful and bright children, and again play an active role in the campaigns of her brothers.

We covered a lot of Kennedy women – Eunice, Rose, Jean, Pat, Bridget, Josie, Maria, Caroline, Ethel, Jackie, and Joan but for me, aside from Eunice, the ones that stay with me the most are Rosemary and Kathleen. Rosemary was always their dirty little secret – the eldest daughter that was always a little bit behind everyone else. Until her father decided she should have a new procedure done – a partial lobotomy. And then no one ever spoke of her again. But she was so beautiful and radiant and loved to be a part of the family. It was tragic what happened to her.

Kathleen was always so full of life and laughter and was an Anglophile at heart. Like her sisters, her Catholic faith was an important part of her life and identity but she gave it up to marry the love of her life, the Duke of Devonshire. When she was left a widow shortly thereafter she was heartbroken. When she found new love, her life was tragically cut short in an airplane accident.

I learned so much from this fascinating portrait of the women of Camelot. The first time I ever heard anything about the myth of Camelot was when Jackie Kennedy Onassis died and that was in 1994. My mom tried to explain to me about why people were so sad when she died. But it wasn’t until much later that I finally understood it. There is obviously quite a bit in the book about, arguably, the most famous Kennedy Woman but I was much more intrigued by Joseph P Kennedy’s daughters.

You should read it. It is compulsively readable, sometimes shocking, always exquisitely executed. One of my favourite reads this year.


Shelf Log

I think we have established that I am a book hoarder. I cannot help myself. But looking at my bookshelf, seeing all the lovely titles that I had yet to crack, I imposed a book ban on myself. I was not allowed to buy any more books until I had read the ones I already had.

(Notice how we’re using the past tense?)

But then I went to Costco and these 3 books were already on my list and they were cheap so I bought those. And since then, I may have bought a couple more. But most of them have been on my list so it’s like I already had them anyway, but now I actually have them.

You know?

In an effort to curb my insanity, I thought that if I was honest about what is actually on my shelf right now and could see it in black and white it might help to curb my bookish appetite.

Actually it will probably fill me with pride – look at all the excellent books I have chosen! But we’re going to try anyway. In no particular order:

Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran. Have you ever been to Madame Tussauds? Any one of them – they have them in London, New York, Vegas and Amsterdam. I’ve been to the one in Amsterdam (and I’m dying to go to the one in Vegas when I go next month) and I’ve never had so much fun in a museum before. The pictures are hilarious. Turns out that Madame Tussaud was a real person. I don’t think that I knew this. But whatevs. I saw this book and I had to have it. And now I do. And one day I’ll read it too.

In this, the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens, I clearly felt like I needed to flesh out my Dickens’ section a little. I already had Great ExpectationsA Christmas Carol and Hard Times (I think I must have at least another one from my time at school but I cannot think of it at the moment) but this is not enough. I still want to get my hands on the biography that was released last year (good thing it’s my birthday soon) but I recently picked up Nicholas Nickleby and then! A Tale of Two Cities without the Oprah’s Book Club thing on it! Success! (I try really hard never to collect books that have anything to do with Oprah. Ever)Once I actually read them I will feel even more superior to you.

The Kennedy Women by Laurence Leamer is languishing on my shelf for reasons unknown. I love biographies about women, The Kennedy Women should be at the top of my list. The same day I picked up this gem, I grabbed the companion: The Kennedy Men. And I actually read that one. Every time I gravitate towards it, I get distracted by something shiny. But I know once I actually crack this one, I’m going to love it.

Catch-22 has been on my list for a long long time. And I had it in my hand to buy it when I came across Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor and bought it instead. What would convince me to put down such an important work in favour of something with such an unimaginative title? Um, apparently this book was so slutty that it had to be banned in some places when it was published in 1944. Basically, Amber has to prostitute herself to stay alive in 17th century England. And Barbara Taylor Bradford did the introduction and she’s all I loved this book when I was a teenager. If Barbara Taylor Bradford says that it’s a “genuine page turner” and a “smashing read” who are we to argue? It’s heavy though – nearly 1000 pages. I think that’s going to be next.

I was on my way to my book club and had some time to kill so naturally I wandered into a bookstore unsupervised. And I was on my way to book club so I was feeling pretty smug and brilliant. And what do the smug literati buy when they are in a bookstore? War and Peace, naturally. So more than a year later, it’s still sitting on my shelf. I really really really do want to read it. So badly. But every time I get there, something else, easier, shorter, something that will help me get to my book reading goal, gets in the way. One day though, me and Tolstoy? We’re going to make this happen.

That might be it. I fear it isn’t. But these are the ones that I can come up with off the top of my head. What would you read next?