My favorite nonfiction read of the year: Empty Without You

Since I mentioned my favorite novel of the books we’ve read in the reading group this year, it seems only fair to mention my favorite work of nonfiction: EMPTY WITHOUT YOU: The Intimate Letters of Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok, edited by Roger Streitmatter.

What a treasure trove of correspondence between these two “intimate friends!” And to think it was only uncovered in 1978 and may never have been found if Lorena Hickok had been more free with the matches. Luckily for us—or not—she only burned the most indiscrete letters from Eleanor. So many discoveries in these pages:

1)      Lorena Hickok: Before reading this book, I was completely unaware of her accomplishments, including that she was the first woman to have her byline on the front page of the New York Times. Her keen eye and skill with words are evident in these pages and her letters far surpass Eleanor’s in depth and scope.

2)      Eleanor Roosevelt: She was a rather breathless correspondent, scribbling furiously (I imagine) about the weather, her daily activities, and apologies for breaking plans (again). For some reason, I expected more lyricism but what her letters lack in that department they make up for in sheer exuberance.

3)      The “A Star is Born” syndrome is true for same-sex relationships, too: One career goes up, the other goes down. It’s heartbreaking to witness, especially as Hickok gave Eleanor the skills and encouragement to become a success and then must stand back and watch as she becomes too busy to notice her decent into illness and poverty.  Did Eleanor do enough for Hickok at the end of her life? The debate still rages on that one. You decide.

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