CD_FirstLadies_1024x1024The history and stories of the Presidents of the United States of America and their First Ladies fascinate many Americans.  When we discuss their history, our personal politics seem to melt away as we are drawn in by the struggles and turmoil that each of these individuals faced during their time at The White House. As ordinary citizens of this country, we cannot fathom what it is like to live in a political fishbowl where every word and gesture can be misconstrued.  Throughout our nation’s history, the press has closely followed the President.  Some of the First Ladies have been treated worse by the press than their male counterparts.  There was a time when the press did not follow any ethical guidelines and many times, stories about the President and the First Lady were fabricated.  While this appalling, it is evidence that Americans have always been interested in the First Family.

Over the years, NPR has had several guests speak about the First Ladies of the United States of America on their radio programs.  Included in this list are historians, authors, actors and the First Ladies themselves.  In this CD compilation, NPR has included stories from our first First Lady, Martha Washington until our present First Lady, Michelle Obama.  For many of the latest First Ladies, listeners can hear interviews with the women themselves and hear the First Ladies discuss issues and voice their own opinions.  NPR also included voice recordings of former First Ladies which is quite fascinating.  I expected Eleanor Roosevelt’s voice to be lower and more authoritative so I was quite surprised to hear her speak in her very proper ladylike manner.  Jacqueline Kennedy can be heard talking to Arthur Schlesinger four months after her husband was killed. It was also quite entertaining to hear Lady Bird Johnson give LBJ notes on how he should speak to reporters. LBJ defensively tells her, “they get mad at you if you waste their time”.

Many of the Founding Mothers are discussed at length as well. Abigail and John Adams have over 1200 letters on file so a lot is known about her. Many years of their marriage was spent living apart which must have been a hardship for Abigail. There are only three letters that survive between the Washingtons. George ordered Martha to burn their letters after he died in order to keep their private lives private. What few people realize is that Martha lived in the military camps with George. She was a favorite among the soldiers. Sally Field discusses playing Mary Todd Lincoln. Field read all the letters that the Lincolns wrote to one another in order to help her prepare for the role.  An interesting note about The White House when Lincoln took office is that there were literally livestock on the first floor.  Mary believed that The White House was something that Americans should be proud of so she spent money making the place look better.  Of course, the press criticized her for this because she spent too much money.

A fun part of this recording is the discussion on the former First Ladies’ ball gowns. At the time of the recording, there was a display at the Smithsonian Museum featuring the First Ladies’ gowns. Most of the gowns that were described were the dresses for the Inaugural Bowl. The gowns reflect the fashion of the time and the economics of the time. The third time that Franklin Roosevelt was elected, they canceled the ball due to the Great Depression. Women in the crowd at the Smithsonian talk about which gowns they would and would not wear and little girls giggle at the poofy sleeves.

First Ladies is a fun way to learn about the First Ladies of the United States and is appropriate for the whole family!

sleepwalkwithmeIn 2008, comedian Mike Birbiglia wrote a one-man off-broadway play about his experiences with rapid eye movement behavior disorder, which causes him to act out his dreams and sleepwalk.  His symptoms are exacerbated the longer he goes without expressing himself and dealing with his stress, resulting in him performing increasingly dangerous acts in his sleep.  Including a time when he ran out of a second-story window of a Walla Walla, Washington hotel room, resulting in 33 stitches in his leg.

Birbiglia’s one man show Sleepwalk with Me, has become the defining story of his career and has been translated to a segment on the NPR show This American Life, a book, a stand-up cd, and a movie staring Birbiglia as himself and Lauren Ambrose as his girlfriend. Birbiglia isn’t a big personality and could best be described as a sad sack, but his wit and honesty make this absurd story feel relatable.   The film, book, and stand-up cd all have similar content and are all available at the Davenport Public Library.  I would recommend any of the three, but the film is especially fantastic. Any fans of comedians Patton Oslwalt and Marc Maron and the show This American Life that somehow haven’t heard Birbiglia’s story need to check it out asap.

My favorite audiobook is NPR Funniest Driveway Moments. The premise, of course, is that you’ll be sitting in your driveway in order to finish listening to the story. I don’t know about that but I did sit at a red light on 4th Street laughing helplessly while Scott Simon interviewed the outrageous Dame Edna (aka Barry Humphries).

As far as I’m concerned, you can’t ask more than that of an audiobook. Goodbye road-rage, goodbye work stress. By the time you get home, you’re relaxed and serene.

All the NPR compilations are reliably good listening due to the fact that they are scripted and edited  by consummate professionals. If you are a fan at all of public radio, you’ll appreciate the skilled interviewing and marvelous voices of  Susan Stamberg, Robert Siegel, Renee Montagne and, of course, the great Scott Simon.

nprHave you ever been in the car and bored by what’s currently on the radio? Pop in one of these best-of-the-best NPR audiobooks and transport yourself to a laugh-out-loud Scott Simon interview with Dame Edna to a story about misunderstood song lyrics.

If you’re a fan of NPR, you’ll love books-on-cd that public radio staff have produced. Compilations such as Driveway Moments, Road Trips and Holiday Favorites are hodge-podges of previous stories.

If you like Baxter Black, Rob Gifford, Bill Harley or Susan Stamberg, you’ll be glad to have them handy on a long trip or if you’re stuck on one of the bridges for hours on end. (David Sedaris got his start at NPR and is in a class by himself).

Some, like This I Believe, can be downloaded to your MP3 player. If you’re a Davenport Public Library cardholder you can access our WILBOR audiobooks via our website.

The library’s mission – you will never be bored again.