The Defining Moment

Sunday, May 3, 2009


Sister Sunday has come once again, and my sister and I decided to have another read off. She's not in town this weekend, so we had to keep calling one another to see who was winning. At 12:30 she was ahead by 50 pages while I made a series of lame excuses for why I was behind (there's a lot of noise going on outside and I couldn't concentrate.) By 3:35 I was only behind by 10 pages, and finally at 6:00 I passed her up which resulted in her making a series of lame excuses for being behind (the toilet was making a weird noise and I had to stop reading and check on it.) Apparently we're both sore losers. However, when I finally won the competition she handled it gracefully (with the exception of that one name she called me which I will not repeat because I want to keep this blog wholesome.)

Today's book; "In this dramatic and authoritative account, the author shows how Franklin Delano Roosevelt used his famous "fear itself" speech and the first 100 days in office to lift the country from despair and paralysis and transform the American presidency."

I really enjoyed today's book. I love reading about history, but for the most part I've avoided it this year because a lot of books of that genre are the kind that can't be easily read in one day. As much as I enjoy those kind of books, I generally end up feeling like I'm trudging my way through the book instead of casually reading it. But this book was nothing like that - it's almost 350 pages, which worried me at the beginning, but it ended up feeling a lot shorter than that (of course the reading competition probably helped me to read it faster.)

Despite being related to Alissa, the human encyclopedia of Presidential facts, there were many things I learned from this book that I never knew before:

  • I was very surprised to learn that FDR's line: "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself," it didn't get a very strong response from the crowd or the press. It only became commonly discussed later when FDR ran for reelection and used it as a campaign slogan.

  • I was amazed to learn about how many near death experiences FDR had; he was expected to be stillborn, he was on a ship that started to drown, and then of course there was the whole polio thing, and he was almost shot while he was still the President-elect.

My favorite part of the book was the description of the awkward car ride President Hoover and the soon-to-be President Roosevelt on Inauguration Day. Only two words were exchanged the entire ride. When the car passed the Commerce Department Building (one of Hoover's creations while he was secretary), Roosevelt pointed and said, "Lovely steel." Hoover declined to respond and instead grunted. Roosevelt then began talking to himself (hey a guy's gotta pass the time somehow) and said, "Spinach" (which was one of his and Eleanor's terms of disgust.) What an odd code word, but I kind of want to start using it. The next time I have a computer problem I'm going to skip over the usual profanity and yell, "You stupid piece of spinach."

Alissa has decided to do a guest comment and share her impression of the book with you: Oh, I'm nervous. This is my first blogging experience, but here goes: I began reading the book poolside this morning, and by 3:30 I was listless and fatigued. I found the experience of reading an entire book in a day (which I have done before, but only on a plane) somewhat equivalent to being on a vacation, where you physically do very little yet inexplicably feel exhausted. I enjoyed the book, but that's no surprise, as I am an FDR groupie. However, nothing prepared me for the anecdote involving FDR, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, two of my celebrity crushes: "As the Inaugural Ball got underway at the Washington Auditorium, the year's star crooner, Bing Crosby, was appearing at the Loews' Journal Square Theater in Jersey City, New Jersey. In the audience was a boy from Hoboken named Frank Sinatra, age seventeen, who had taken his girlfriend to the Crosby concert. Sinatra said later that was the night - March 4, 1933 - that he decided to try show business." - So March 4th, 1933, was a great day for America! s/ Alissa, esq (Angie's note: As you can see, she's a kind of dramatic, even when she signs her name.)