Eternal Flame

It is fifty years today since the last successful attempt to kill a President of the United States. John F. Kennedy made a short life (he was 46 when he died) memorable and that makes him really visible every year in the Book Fair selection. Chicago has, oh, a certain number of Irish families, who regarded JFK as a son of the Ould Sod. Then, too, there’s a reasonably sized Catholic community, and whether they were Italian, Polish, Irish, Spanish, they treated books about the first Catholic President like family treasures. As time goes by, these troves come to us for use at the Fair.

We have the Kennedy Biographies, from the days of PT-109 and Profiles in Courage to the campaign biographies (pro and con, of course: from Hope of the Nation to Tool of the Pope), the martyred president instant books, to thicker and thicker books on his place in history.

That should be distinguished from the Camelot Books. These are the books that want to remember the good times, the glittering presidency. Ike and Mamie, in their eight years in the White House, had been called many things, but “glamorous” was not much used. Especially as the Sixties come back into style, we see more and more coffee table books on White House Royalty from 1961 to 1963. I don’t see anyone calling JFK a king, but everyone could identify the queen, as well as the small princess and prince.

These are completely separate, in their turn, from the Kennedy Family Biographies. There’s brother Bobby, and brother Teddy (I think we get more anti-Teddy books than even anti-Jack. But he was around longer.) Mother Rose wrote an autobiography, of course, to sit alongside the books about her, and Father Joe gets his share of coverage. There are the Kennedy Sisters and Wives, and many of the children became bookworthy in their turn.

Of course, First Lady Jackie could fill a section on her own: not just biographies, but analyses of her clothes, and her jewels, and her basic style. (There’s that What Would Jackie Do, volume, for starters.) She inspired as much dislike as her husband, but not as many people wanted to put that into books. It’s hard to go on record knocking the Queen.

We have the Individual Moments in History books: Kennedy and the Bay of Pigs, Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy and the Berlin Wall, Kennedy and the Vietnam War, Kennedy and the Apollo Project, and so on.

There are the Kennedy audiovisual items: the book and tapes from the Oval office tape recordings, the Emmy-winning tour of the White House by Jackie, the taped speeches, an LP of news bulletins on Dallas radio the day of the assassination….

Ah, yes, and there is the Assassination Literature. November 22, 1963 has pulled a lot of ink. We have the Warren Commission Report. We have all sorts of books sneering at the Warren Commission Report, proving that the Real Killer was a rogue CIA agent, sixty rogue CIA agents, two former CIA agents who hired Oswald to just miss the President and prove they were needed, a secret commission developing AIDS as a weapon, the Miami Mob (to get rid of Bobby as Attorney General), E. Howard Hunt, Lyndon B. Johnson, the chauffeur, a secret service man who was firing back at Oswald but hit the President instead, Aristotle Onassis, a KGB agent who was shooting at the CIA agent aiming at the President, and John F. Kennedy himself (he knew his health was declining and arranged the hit so as to go out on a high note.) And you should see the FICTIONAL versions.

Wherever he went from here, I expect a lot of these books sit on his bedside table. He liked a laugh.

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