REVIEW: From the Corner of the Oval Office by Beck Dorey-Stein

In brief: Beck is in DC looking for a job. Answering an advertisement in Craigslist finds her working as a stenographer for Barack Obama’s White House. This is her story.

The good: Beck is incredibly talented as a writer.

The not-so-good: Knowing what comes next…

Why I chose it: I’m interested in the Obama White House and this sounded interesting.

Year: 2018

Pages: 330

Publisher: Bantam Press (Penguin)

Setting: America and the rest of the world

It’s weird (because I’m Australian) but I’m very interested in Barack Obama’s time in the White House. Recently we’ve been blessed with a number of books about his administration and From the Corner of the Oval Office is one of them. Don’t be fooled by the bright pink cover. This is a warts and all look at working for the White House – the travel, the boredom, the work and the friendships that are made. Some may criticise this book for being too much about the author and not enough about the politics but for me the balance is perfect. If you’ve ever wondered what working for the White House is like and the baggage that goes with it, this is the book for you.

Beck is living in Washington DC with her boyfriend but can’t get full time work. She hates DC as everyone is about networking and politics. Out of desperation, she answers a job advertisement in Craigslist but blows off the interview for training at Lululemon. Fortunately, the interviewer asks her to come back and comes clean – this is for a job as a stenographer at the White House. The rest is history and Beck finds herself as one of the official stenographers for the White House. She’s there to record and transcribe every interview, every speech. At first it’s just in town, but as she gains confidence and experience, it’s time to get on Air Force One with the President (or as Beck refers to him, POTUS). Yes, it’s glamourous. But there are downsides – constant travel, odd hours and a boyfriend that then moves away from DC for the campaign trail. There is transcription of POTUS’ responses to multiple mass shootings. There’s being sick in foreign places and missing family events. Then there’s the drinking and the feeling like an outsider until a secret liaison becomes an affair.

If you’re looking for pure politics, this is not the right book. If you’re looking for the story of a young woman who works at the White House and is trying to balance work and relationships sometimes not successfully, this is for you. I loved this book. Beck Dorey-Stein has the ability to structure and write non-fiction with a plot, themes and coherence that’s like fiction. This is my kind of non-fiction, something I haven’t seen since Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Beck can just make the whole story flow and the reader page turn quickly to find out what’s next happening in her life. Her life isn’t perfect and she screws up. But she’s honest about it and doesn’t edit out her mistakes. It’s refreshing and reassuring to know even someone working for the most important government in the world can drink too much, not get enough sleep and still manage to get noticed by Barack Obama on the treadmill.

I will be incredibly eager to read whatever Beck Dorey-Stein chooses to write next. She writes powerfully (the ending of the book, knowing what is coming, brought a tear to my eye) and without fear.

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