"Former First Lady Barbara Bush was an avid audiobook reader. She told us that along with her needlepoint, her audiobooks were among her travel essentials."
Talking with Barbara Bush in 2004
Former First Lady Barbara Bush is an avid audiobook reader. She told us that along with her needlepoint, her audiobooks are among her travel essentials. Her travel schedule may be reduced from the whirlwind years of presidential travel, but she still travels widely during election years, when the Bushes participate in their sons’ campaigns, as well as appear for other friends. Nevertheless, Mrs. Bush’s frequent trips give her ample listening time, which she usually fills with a variety of fiction and nonfiction books. Not surprisingly, Mrs. Bush is particularly fond of biographies and history, enjoying the occasional inclusion of archival sound recordings. By reading a biography as an audiobook, Mrs. Bush said, she feels a closer connection to the people. “As if I knew them.” Not surprisingly, she’s enjoyed recent political biographies, including Michael Beschloss’s Lyndon Johnson biographies, David McCullough’s TRUMAN, and Edmund Morris’s THEODORE REX.
"If you listen to the author [reading], you get something more," Mrs. Bush continued with her characteristic warmth. This is exactly what she brought to her own audiobook readings—of BARBARA BUSH: A MEMOIR in 1994 and REFLECTIONS again last year. The diary entries are naturally personalized, but Mrs. Bush’s warmth and good humor come across so strongly. She shares her great pride for and devotion to her family and yet, with her gracious, self-deprecating humor, makes them more real to listeners.
Mrs. Bush has spent years of public service as a champion of literacy. The Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy sponsors and funds more than four hundred family literacy programs across the country. A centerpiece of the foundation is the annual Celebration of Reading fundraisers. These gala evenings showcase guest authors reading from their books. Since the first event in 1995, the participating authors are a who’s who of bestsellers, with everyone from Michael Crichton to Jan Karon.
Mrs. Bush continues her countless visits to schools and community centers, where she reads to children and encourages teachers and parents to use reading aloud as an essential path to literacy and learning. For five years in the early 1990s, “Mrs. Bush’s Story Hour” was a regular radio series aired across the country. Her advocacy for reading, for stories, and for the benefits of parents and children sharing stories is the core of the Foundation’s work, and of the appreciation of children’s audiobooks.
Not only does Mrs. Bush share her enjoyment of audiobooks, but also many of the books themselves find their way to the Secret Service officers who spend a lot of travel time with Bushes.—Robin F. Whitten