Rod Brown's Reviews > From the Corner of the Oval

From the Corner of the Oval by Beck Dorey-Stein
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bookshelves: 2018-real-books

Reviewed from an Advance Reader's Edition.

I found this book to be in turns engrossing and frustrating.

First, I picked this book up solely because I saw the author was a stenographer. For about seven years, I assisted in the training of realtime machine stenographers at the now-defunct AIB College of Business in Des Moines, Iowa. I was the department dictator, helping instructors read court transcripts out loud to the students, usually taking the part of the witness in the testimony selections. (Truly the greatest job ever!) To help the students attain the accuracy of something like 97 or 98 percent needed to pass their exams, we'd read at a rate of 240 words per minute. How fast is that? Well, try reading the Gettysburg address in 68 seconds with two people taking alternating sentences. Our students went on to become court reporters, transcriptionists and closed captioning writers.

So I was quite happy to see the the first page included guidelines for aspiring stenographers, many of which were concepts that I'd heard tossed around the classroom. But then the author quite early on confesses that she is not a trained stenographer, unable to use a stenotype machine or even do written shorthand. She just shows up to record any speaking events and then goes back to a little room to type up the tape. She is not particularly happy with the work.

But she and I were both excited about where she was working: the Barack Obama White House. Truly, Obama is the best character in the book, wandering through the pages in quick little sporadic cameos, acting human and presidential in turn. It reminded me of a time when I felt hope and had respect for the man holding the office. Unfortunately, the memoir doesn't really provide much insight into the Obama administration beyond what anyone who was following the news at the time wouldn't already know. But it is a nice nostalgic wallow.

The book is held back by several big problems.

First, the author spends way too much time detailing her multiple bad romantic relationships that are often made worse by her bad decisions. At times, the tone started to remind me of a teenage girl getting all angsty and whiny about her pathetic love life and bad boyfriends. Like Bella getting all cranky/scared/swooney when Edward looks at her briefly from across a room level of pathos.

Which leads into the second problem: the prose gets pretty purple at times, especially when she is trying to bring dramatic weight to some scene featuring Obama addressing a national tragedy or one of her boyfriends doing something particularly heartbreaking. The worst is when she goes on about how encouraging it is when someone tells her she is a good writer...again and again and again. There is a line between telling how others help build your confidence and stroking your own ego, and I think she crosses it.

My final problem is the same one I had with Anna Kendrick's Scrappy Little Nobody. Have you ever seen the social media campaign that shows a woman vacationing and having fun in a variety of settings and slowly you are supposed to realize that each image features a glass of alcohol? Whenever she is off the clock and not exercising, Dorey-Stein is drinking, often to the point where she makes the bad decisions that impact her bad romantic relationships. Over and over. I worry about her.

Anyhow, despite my criticisms above, the book was readable and kept pulling me along well enough, especially as I hoped each turn of the page would bring another Obama appearance.
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Reading Progress

June 26, 2018 – Started Reading
June 26, 2018 – Shelved
June 26, 2018 –
page 24
June 28, 2018 –
page 56
June 29, 2018 –
page 86
June 30, 2018 – Shelved as: 2018-real-books
July 4, 2018 – Finished Reading

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message 1: by Lori (new) - rated it 1 star

Lori Glad to see I wasn't the only one who had issues with the repeated references to being drunk way too much; the whole book bothered me

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