the books she loved

Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis was one of the most private women in the world, yet when she went to work as an editor in the last two decades of her life, she revealed herself as she did nowhere else.  In the books she selected for publication she built on a lifetime of spending time by herself as a reader and left a record of the growth of her mind.  Her books tell us what she cared about, whom she believed in, and what ideas she wished to endorse in print.  Her books are the autobiography she never wrote.  Not only do the books show what interested her when she worked first at Viking and then at Doubleday, they also recall the themes and events of her entire life.  “I drop everything for a book on ballet,” she had written when she was barely out of her teens.  In her thirties she asked choreographers such as George Balanchtine and dancers such as Rudolf Nureyev to the White House.  As an editor she brought out a book of recollections by Balanchine’s friends, commissioned autobiographies from dancers Martha Graham and Judith Jamison, and asked Nureyev to write an introduction to fairy tales by Alexander Pushkin.  A biography of Fred Astaire and Michael Jackson’s Moonwalk were both on her list.  The woman who riveted a nation with her poise at her husband’s funeral showed in her final decades that the question of how to move elegantly through space was something she had dwelled on for a lifetime.  She edited nearly a hundred books in a publishing career of almost twenty years.  What these books show is that Jackie’s journey, which might seem a record of interrupted marriages, child rearing in different locations, and constant travel, actually had an enviable coherence.  To read her books, and to learn the story of how she helped them to publication, is to travel with her on that road, to revisit the memories that meant the most to her, to see what made her tick, to find out where she wanted to go next, and to learn what she wanted to leave behind.

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