The dictionary defines a stenographer as a person whose job is to transcribe speech in shorthand.
A book about a stenographer does not exactly scream the word riveting. But, From the Corner of the Oval Office by Beck Dorey-Stein defies that perception and then some.
In 2012, Beck was just scraping by in Washington DC when a posting on Craigslist landed her, improbably, in the White House as one of President Barack Obama’s stenographers.
She joined the elite team who accompanied the President wherever he went, recorder in hand. On whirlwind trips across time zones (including to South Africa), Beck forged friendships with a tight group of fellow travellers – young men and women who, like her, left their real lives to hop aboard Air Force One in service of the President. But as she learned the ropes of protocol, Beck became romantically entangled with a colleague, and suddenly the political became all too personal.
An insiders account about working in the intense travelling bubble of a White House job, would in itself make for interesting reading. But Dorey-Stein’s considerable talent as a writer, coupled with her acute powers of observation and introspection add considerable human texture to this outstanding memoir.
“One a night like this, I wait for the Voice of God.”
“Any minute now, President Obama will deliver remarks in the East Room of the White House.”
“Across one parking lot, down three hallways, and up five flights of stairs in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, I lie on the couch in my little office as the setting sun drenches the room in flammable orange. The Voice of God is the anonymous person who announces the president. “
“I’ve become so good at waiting. Finally I hear the Voice and walk over to the closed-circuit television to turn up the volume.”
“A minute later, the president appears on the screen, cracks jokes, and takes his characteristic pauses before addressing the topic of the evening.”
It is no surprise that the White House working lifestyle was an extremely demanding one, but Dorey-Stein and her colleagues worked hard and also played hard.
The reader who enjoys reading about those Obama ‘moments’ (and who doesn’t? Well the incumbent POTUS obviously doesn’t) will be well fed by this book. Yes, From the Corner of the Oval Office is about politics, and working at the White House, but it is also about life and is enriched by the sometimes dramatic personal journey of its young author.
She ends the book thanking President and Mrs Obama: “for the tireless work you did and continue to do. You demonstrate what grace and leadership look like, especially when the cameras are off and the crowds are elsewhere. You are simply the best, and the funniest, and the coolest. It was the honour and the privilege of a lifetime. Thank you.” Amen.
Beck Dorey-Stein has certainly ‘slam dunked’ her debut book. It is a really superb and entertaining read.