Books

Doris Kearns Goodwin Wasn’t Competing With Her Husband

Describe your ideal reading experience.

The early hours before dawn have always been best. I have all that is necessary: quiet, a bathrobe, a comfortable old blue leather couch, a table stacked with books and research.

What books are on your night stand?

Right now: “Three Roads Back,” a powerful book (especially after the death of my husband, Dick Goodwin) on how Emerson, Thoreau and William James dealt with grief. “The Facts,” by Philip Roth, in which I am delighted to find a hilarious dinnertime conversation concerning the politics of divorce between Roth, Robert Kennedy and my husband. And, in readiness for reading time with my grandson, “Frog and Toad Are Friends” and “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!”

How do you organize your books?

I’ve come to realize my books organize me more than I organize them! Every book I’ve written has required its own library. Before I knew it, I had amassed full-blown libraries, including fiction as well as nonfiction, for Lincoln, the Civil War, Theodore Roosevelt, the muckraker journalists, F.D.R., World War II and the 1960s. I even built an extended alcove to hold baseball books and memorabilia. Not to mention my husband’s extensive library of plays, poetry, science and philosophy. Books took over every room of the house Dick and I shared in Concord, Mass., as they do now in my Boston home.

What books would people be surprised to find on your shelves?

Stacks and stacks of mystery and detective stories. As W.H. Auden wrote, “The reading of detective stories is an addiction like tobacco or alcohol.”

Did spending so much time with your husband’s letters and journals influence your beliefs about how history gets told?

Too often, history is told and remembered with the knowledge of how events turned out. For 50 years, Dick had resisted opening the 300 boxes he had saved, a time capsule of the 1960s. The ending of the decade — the Vietnam War, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Dick’s close friend Robert Kennedy, the riots, the violence on college campuses — had cast a dark curtain on the entire era for him and the country.

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