In Reading Jackie: Her Autobiography in Books, William Kuhn begins with the premise that each book Jackie Kennedy Onassis helped bring to print, either as an acquisitions editor or as a line editor, reflected a specific facet of her life. Several of her books, for example, focused on the arts, marriage, feminist issues, and politics.
It's important to note right off the bat that Kuhn's biography is not a tell-all investigation into Jackie's life. The story of Jackie's twenty years in the publishing industry is told with the utmost respect for her as a person and editor as well as for her privacy. The woman you meet in these pages is smart, strong, funny and a bit sheltered from the real world.
Kuhn mines the content or acquisition history of many of the hundred or so books on Jackie's list for insight into her life and mind. For example, her love of fairy tales and personal relationship with Bill Moyers helped spark the idea of bringing Joseph Campbell's The Power of Myth to press, and her famous sense of style made her a natural for working on several Tiffany coffee-table books.
It is interesting that she was the force behind a number of works about women in history, many of whom--like Marie Antoinette--were married to rulers or presidents. And Jackie's love of ballet and dancing was reflected in books such as Gelsey Kirkland's Dancing on My Grave and Sarah Giles's Fred Astaire.
Reading Jackie is not, however, without some flaws. Because the story of Jackie's editing career is not told chronologically, a couple anecdotes are repeated (some several times), which I found disconcerting and disruptive. Furthermore, quite a bit is made of how down to earth Jackie could be. While I can certainly appreciate the importance of showing that Jackie was a hard worker and was kind and respectful to others, the point was driven home a little too hard.
My other quibble has to do with the connections between her books and her life and worldview. I question how many of the projects were totally of her choosing and how many were assigned to her, thus weakening the premise that each book provides insight into Jackie's mind. [EDIT: please read the author's comment addressing this issue.] At times I felt Kuhn had to stretch a bit to link a title with a particular aspect of Jackie's psyche.
On the other hand, Reading Jackie will appeal to people in the publishing industry, book lovers, and fans of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. You may be surprised by the books she edited and by the authors she nurtured.
I listened to the unabridged audio edition (Random House Audio; 12 hr, 30 min) read by Susan Denaker. Denaker's ability to use accents for Jackie and the many other people quoted was outstanding, despite a few odd inflections and unexpected pauses. Reading Jackie, however, is a book best read in print. It is difficult for listeners to remember the names of all the people mentioned and the titles of the books analyzed. In addition, the print version contains her publishing list and other other resources that are missing from the audiobook.
Published by Doubleday, 2010
Source: Review (see review policy)
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