White House stenographer back in the days of President Barack Obama, Beck Dorey-Stein has some stories. As part of the press bubble who traveled with the President and attended interviews and speeches from the Oval Office to magnificent venues around the world, she was there, part of the team responsible for recording and then typing every word for posterity.
Beck is not your typical Washington D.C. insider. She never really wanted to be a part of the inner White House circle. She just wanted a full-time job with benefits that payed her rent, as opposed to the string of part-time jobs she struggled with in order to survive. When she applied for the job of stenographer, she didn’t know what it was she was getting into. But she passed the interview, she got trained, and eventually she found herself on Air Force One.
From the Corner of the Oval is the story of her time in D.C., her time working in Obama’s White House, her time traveling the world protected by the Secret Service, her time with her friends and lovers. As she learns to navigate the tricky social rules of the job, she grows in confidence and finds her voice, even when she needed it to answer the smack talk from the next treadmill, where President Obama was running.
Beck is extremely open in her writing, laying out her thoughts and emotions bare for all to read. It can be difficult to read at times, as she bleeds over the page, talking about the affair she had with a coworker and how it turned into self-loathing as she burned through the relationships with her boyfriend and other trusted friends. Not just an insider’s look at the White House, From the Corner of the Oval is also a memoir of a woman in her 20s, making friends, drinking, dancing, running, making mistakes, and asking forgiveness.
I listened to the audio book for this, and that was an interesting experience, as it’s read by the author. The book is beautifully written, but at times her narration suffered from the same lack of emotional distance as the book itself does. I enjoyed the book, but I think with some time, distance, and maturity, it could have been a stronger narrative and more powerful story. As it is, the almost stream of consciousness closeness that Beck has to her story makes it feel like she’s reading her journal entries, which are sometimes flippant and sometimes profound.
If you’re wanting a serious peek into Obama’s Presidency, then you might be put off by her emphasis on her personal relationships and experiences. But for those looking for a lighter look at the White House, for those who want to remember what it’s like to be 26 and relatively free of encumbrances, then this is an exquisitely written book, and you should give From the Corner of the Oval a read (or a listen!).
Galleys for From the Corner of the Oval were provided by Random House Publishing Group through NetGalley, with many thanks, but I bought the audio book myself, thanks to Audible.