Beck Dorey-Stein is a charming and funny young woman, as is her book, From the Corner of the Oval. The day after I finished her book, I met Beck at the Harrisburg Book Festival. She joined former speechwriter and fellow author David Litt on the stage, while they discussed their experiences in the Obama White House.
Dorey-Stein in her book seems fundamentally the same as Dorey-Stein in person. Of course, it’s still just a glancing knowledge, but she’s remarkably candid in both settings. She had been teaching and tutoring at Sidwell Friends School in D.C. When that job ended, her hunt for a new gig took her to many interviews including one from a Craig’s List ad. And famously, that ad led her to the White House during Barack Obama’s presidency.
As a White House stenographer, Dorey-Stein had a view of gatherings from press briefings to diplomatic meetings to interviews. Her responsibility, along with her coworkers, was to record the event and then transcribe it for presidential record. Along the way, she met other staffers and developed friendships as they traveled the country and the world with the President.
As a young woman will, Dorey-Stein was also sorting out her love life at the same time. And it did need to be sorted! She had been dating Sam before starting as a stenographer. He was the consummate D.C. political animal, also traveling to work in various campaigns out of the area. She wasn’t a political person, but ended up in the highest political realm in the country by accident. It makes for some conflict between them!
Dorey-Stein was lucky enough to meet a great group of people at the White House, from varied backgrounds and of various ages. In her author talk, she contrasts that group with the staff she experienced in the current 45th President’s White House, which is largely staffed by white men. Naturally, she didn’t stay in the White House after her book deal came through.
Like many of us in our twenties, Dorey-Stein also had a second and disastrous personal relationship. I appreciated her vulnerable honesty in telling the positive and negatives in this relationship. For my part, I also could have stood a little less of this and a little more of the 44th POTUS. But it’s not my story to tell, so I respect the author’s choice.
Dorey-Stein often tells of sitting by a pool in some foreign country, waiting to work, while writing about her experiences. Her stories of integrating her job and her desire to write are inspiring to would-be authors. It’s obvious that this book originated in those moments. I admire her persistence in recording these intriguing stories.
I’m not normally a fan of author-read audiobooks. But this was a two-thumbs-up exception. Dorey-Stein’s writing is candid and open, and her voice and inflections are a great match for that.
I’ve been gobbling up current events political books for the last two years. It’s an historic and scary time to be alive. But some of the books on my list are fundamentally dark and depressing. From the Corner of the Oval was the perfect antidote, while also fulfilling my political voyeur impulses.
Many thanks to NetGalley, Random House Publishing Group – Random House, Spiegel & Grau, and the author for the opportunity to read the advanced readers copy of this book in exchange for this honest review.
Thanks also to the author for posing with me, along with her co-presenter, David Litt.