NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • What if you lived out the drama of your twenties on Air Force One?
“[This] breezy page turner is essentially Bridget Jones goes to the White House.”—The New York Times
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In 2012, Beck Dorey-Stein is working five part-time jobs and just scraping by when a posting on Craigslist lands her, improbably, in the Oval Office as one of Barack Obama’s stenographers. The ultimate D.C. outsider, she joins the elite team who accompany the president wherever he goes, recorder and mic in hand. On whirlwind trips across time zones, Beck forges friendships with a dynamic group of fellow travelers—young men and women who, like her, leave their real lives behind to hop aboard Air Force One in service of the president.
As she learns to navigate White House protocols and more than once runs afoul of the hierarchy, Beck becomes romantically entangled with a consummate D.C. insider, and suddenly the political becomes all too personal.
Against a backdrop of glamour, drama, and intrigue, this is the story of a young woman learning what truly matters, and, in the process, discovering her voice.
Praise for From the Corner of the Oval
“Who knew the West Wing could be so sexy? Beck Dorey-Stein’s unparalleled access is obvious on every page, along with her knife-sharp humor. I tore through the entire book on a four-hour flight and loved reading all about the brilliant yet hard-partying people who once surrounded the leader of the free world. Lots of books claim to give real insider glimpses, but this one actually delivers.”—Lauren Weisberger, author of The Devil Wears Prada
“Dorey-Stein . . . writes with wit and self-deprecating humor.”—The Wall Street Journal
“Addictively readable . . . Dorey-Stein’s spunk and her sparkling, crackling prose had me cheering for her through each adventure. . . . She never loses her starry-eyed optimism, her pinch-me wonderment, her Working Girl pluck.”—Paul Begala, The New York Times Book Review (Editors’ Choice)
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)|
About the Author
Beck Dorey-Stein is a native of Narberth, Pennsylvania, and a graduate of Wesleyan University. Prior to her five years in the White House, she taught high school English in Hightstown, New Jersey; Washington, D.C.; and Seoul, South Korea. This is her first book.
Read an Excerpt
Connecting the Dots
“so what do you do?” is the first question d.c. people ask, and the last question you want to answer if you’re unemployed, which I am. It’s October 2011, and since the summer, I’ve spent nine to five at my kitchen table writing cover letters no one will ever read. I keep setting the bar lower and lower, and I’m no longer hoping for actual interviews, but just generic acknowledgments that my applications have been received so I know that I haven’t actually disappeared from the universe even if my savings and confidence have. I’ve grown to appreciate employers considerate enough to reject me properly with a courtesy email. The halfhearted Google spreadsheet I keep on my desktop shows zero job prospects but tons of student loans, and rent due in four days. And now it’s time to go blow more money I don’t have at a bar full of douchebags.
Dante failed to mention the tenth circle of hell, which is for people pretending to be happy at a happy hour full of young politicos at a lousy bar with sticky floors two blocks from the White House. These are soulless TGI Fridays–type places, except that the cocktails are $17, and every time I walk into one, the soundtrack from Jaws plays in the back of my head.
I know the question is coming; it’s lurking just below the surface like a patient predator: What do you do? What do you do? What do you do?
Happy hours in D.C. are thinly veiled opportunities to network, hook up, or both. I’m not trying to do either, but here I am at Gold Fin because I promised my boyfriend I’d talk to his coworker’s girlfriend about doing research at her think tank. However, now that I’m here, talking to Think-Tank Tracy seems like a waste of everyone’s time. I’m not a good fit for a think tank, or a PR firm, or a nonprofit; I haven’t even received a generic rejection in weeks. I’m slowly figuring out that I’m not a good fit for this city in general, where everyone acts as if they know something you don’t and dresses as if they’re going to a mob boss’s funeral in 1985. Black on black on black. And not cool New York black. Boring, uninspired, ill-fitting Men’s Wearhouse–meets–Ann Taylor Loft black.
So instead of looking for Think-Tank Tracy, I look for the bartender. I try to get drunk right away so I can stop worrying about my bank account and how I’m going to answer the inevitable “What do you do?” question. As the edges of the room begin to blur, the floor feels less sticky, and life seems beautiful and ironic and funny.
As I wait at the bar for another drink, I watch the pantomime of ladder-climbing bobbleheads who eagerly anticipate the moment they can offer up their freshly minted business cards. These twentysomething Thursday night kickballers and Saturday night kegstanders are as interesting as the bleached walls of this bar, and yet they’re so arrogant, I must be the one missing something. After all, they are real people with real jobs earning real paychecks. They are young professionals who don’t go grocery shopping in sweat pants in the middle of a Wednesday afternoon. Staring into the bottom of my drink, I wonder, When did I fall so far behind? When did I become some loser twenty-five-year-old without a job or a life plan, who isn’t even financially responsible enough to do her drinking at home?
I’m two Cape Codders deep and waiting for a third when a guy with a severe side part and a visible desperation to be his father sidles up next to me, introduces himself, and then casually asks, “So what do you do?”
I know that other people in my predicament say, “I’m between things,” or “I’m weighing my options,” but everyone knows what that means and I hate bullshitting. So instead I look this baby-faced Reaganite in the eye and tell him I don’t have a job.
He keeps an urbane smile pasted on his lips, but I can see him recalculating, the wheels turning. He tilts his head, as though he might be able to assess my condition better from a different angle. This is how three-legged dogs must feel, I think.
The funny thing is, nobody cares what you do. They don’t ask because they’re curious about how you spend your day or what you’re interested in. What D.C. creatures really care about is whether you’re important or connected or powerful or wealthy. Those things can help advance a career. But a jobless girl getting buzzed at the bar can’t do anything for anyone.
The Reaganite backpedals away once he gets another beer, doesn’t even bother to offer me a business card, and so I quickly knock back my third drink and leave the bar before Think-Tank Tracy shows up. On my walk home, I text my boyfriend to say I’m done with happy hours. They make me too depressed.
i’d moved to d.c. in the spring of 2011, by myself, for a semester-long tutoring job at Sidwell Friends School. I would live in the nation’s capital for three months, and not a moment longer, because who wants to live in D.C.? I had enough friends to make a three-month stint exciting, but enough self-respect to know that D.C. and I would never really be into each other. D.C. is the girl who never swears and always wears a full face of makeup; the guy who makes a weekend “brunch rezzie” for him and his ten closest bros and thinks tipping 15 percent is totally solid. I moved to the city with two suitcases and my eyes wide open—I’d use D.C. to build my résumé, and D.C. would take all my money for rent and bland $11 sandwiches.
An exclusive Quaker school, Sidwell Friends flaunts quite a roster of notable alumni, from Teddy Roosevelt’s son to Bill Nye the Science Guy to Chelsea Clinton. In such a pressure cooker, where the Friday speaker series includes parents who also happen to be members of Congress, I was not surprised to learn that Sidwell students were unbelievably worried about not being smart enough or good enough at oboe/squash/debate/all of the above to get into college. So in addition to essay structure and thesis statements, I spent a solid portion of my tutoring sessions reassuring sixteen-year-olds that they were plenty smart, definitely going to college, and absolutely prom-date-worthy. In other words, my job in the spring of 2011 was to help those hormonally charged stressballs chill the fuck out.
Sidwell’s grounds were beautiful, and so were the smoking-hot, super-fit male teachers I saw in the hallways. I assumed the school boasted some top-tier experimental outdoor physical education program to have drawn all this masculine brawn. As a single woman with limited time on campus, I didn’t waste a precious moment playing coy. But every time I looked over to say hi to one of these human Ken dolls in a short-sleeved button-down, he’d look back at me with a quick, close-lipped smile, completely uninterested.
Sitting across from one of the square-jawed teachers in the cafeteria one day, I went for it and introduced myself. He gave me a sheepish smile and explained that he was working. “Working on what?” I asked. He didn’t have a stack of papers, a pile of tests, or even a pen in his hand. He sat there with nothing in front of him, but he was working? He said it again and threw his head in the direction of a group of girls sitting at a table diagonally across from us. I was confused, until one of the girls shrieked “Malia!” and the whole table cracked up laughing.
Oh, right. The Obama girls were at Sidwell, as were Joe Biden’s granddaughters. These guys weren’t male models moonlighting as gym teachers; they were Secret Service agents.
I gave up on the agents around the same time I gave up on D.C. in general. The city was too buttoned-up for me, too obsessed with politics. When my job at Sidwell ended in June, I’d pack up and go wherever the next job took me, abandoning my large group of college friends that had migrated to D.C. after graduation.
Not that D.C. was all bad—I’d miss spending time with Sarah, Erin, Charlotte, Emma, and Jade—five of my former lacrosse teammates whose apartments in Foggy Bottom were as close to one another as college dorms. Living in the District with a deep bench of friends had been like being a senior on a small campus all over again. I was dizzy-busy. There was always a rooftop happy hour or birthday party to attend, or jazz in the National Gallery Sculpture Garden on Friday nights, or boozy brunches on Saturdays that started at noon and ended after dark. We would meet up for runs in Rock Creek Park and make our way down to the National Mall, winding our way among the monuments and lamenting how slow we were compared to our mile times during preseason.
“It’s kind of funny,” Sarah said one Saturday in May as we walked arm in arm to a party on Seventeenth Street. JD and Elle, also Wesleyan alums, were throwing the first barbecue of the season. “It’s kind of like D.C. is the new Wes.”
“Only without the papers or stress or freezing lacrosse games in Maine,” Jade said, shuddering at the memory.
“Or boy drama,” Charlotte said. “Or is there boy drama?”
I feel her elbow in my ribs as they all stop to look at me.
“Really?” Emma asked. “Any luck with the Secret Service agents?”
“Definitely not. But it’s fine, because I’m not dating guys while I’m in D.C.”
“Does that mean you’re dating girls?” Jade asked.
I shake my head. “I’m only here for one more month. I’m not going to waste my time dating Napoleon wannabes.”
Washington is great for a long weekend to see the monuments and the cherry blossoms, but I find the ethos of this one-trick-political-pony town as seductive as Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. Even the cashier at Trader Joe’s asked me what I did for a living as he bagged my groceries with the spatial reasoning of a Tetris champion.
For once, my social life seemed straightforward. I’d friend-zoned the entire District and felt great about it, because the last thing I wanted in the spring of 2011 was to get tied down to a guy in this ego swamp of a city.
Which is why, of course, I did not fall so much as face-plant in love that night at the backyard barbecue.
It was a hot, humid evening, and I was draining my second Cape Codder when the upstairs neighbor walked out onto the porch with a beer and a bowl of chips. He was tall, with sandy brown hair and the casual friendliness of a displaced Californian. “Hey, I’m Sam,” he said, extending his bear paw of a hand.
Between the sportsman’s scruff and the moss-green eyes, I was sure he had the cutest face I’d ever seen, even if it was still caked with mud from an all-day rugby tournament. Every time he looked at me, my heart flailed in my chest like one of those car dealership inflatables. When Sam laughed at one of my jokes, I nearly passed out. After an hour or so, I saw him saying goodbye to his friends when my song came on—Dr. Dog’s cover of “Heart It Races.” Before he ducked out, he whispered in my ear that Dr. Dog was one of his favorite bands, too.
“It was like lightning!” Sarah squealed on our walk home that night.
“Hasta la vista, boy hiatus!” Jade laughed.
“JD says Sam just asked for your number,” Charlotte said, smiling down at a text.
“Give it to him!” Emma yelled.
sam wasn’t like other young washingtonians. i mean, sure, he worked at a PR firm and was more political minded than I was, but so was everyone. And yes, he had volunteered on the Obama campaign in 2008, but everybody my age in D.C. had been involved in Obama for America—it was part of the standard D.C. pedigree: high school, four-year college, OFA. When I told people I’d been teaching in the fall of 2008, they squinted, confused. Why would I have spent 2008 teaching when I could have been volunteering for the greatest president we’ve ever had? The idea that I needed to start paying back my student loans after graduation—that even if I’d known about volunteering, I wouldn’t have been able to afford it—never crossed their minds.
But Sam got it, and got me. He loved that I was a teacher, that I didn’t care about business cards or job titles. We started to text all day and see each other every night, aware but unafraid of our breakneck romantic clip.
Two weeks after the backyard barbecue, Sam and I were in the checkout line at Whole Foods. As we unloaded our cart, I asked, “You’re my boyfriend, right?” and just like that, we were official. Two weeks after that, he was at my brother’s wedding, meeting my entire family in the middle of a stress torpedo. My mom liked Sam’s can-do attitude. (He fixed a bench in the front yard.) My dad liked his handshake. (Firm but not a death grip.) My little sister liked his Converses. My big brother, the groom, thought I was “fucking crazy” for dragging a brand-new boyfriend to a family wedding, “and Elizabeth agrees with me,” he said of his future wife over the phone.
But that night, while everyone danced under a big white tent in the backyard, Sam told me he loved me. We were about a hundred feet from my childhood bus stop. My brother was right: I was totally fucking crazy. Luckily, Sam was, too.
good partners help you grow, and they force you out of your comfort zone, and Sam did both in short order. His default mode was optimism. Between his kisses and his laid-back SoCal vibe, I felt so much more relaxed, as if a kitten were sleeping on my chest at all times.
Most nights that summer were drunken, musical dream walks. Sam spent his days at the PR firm, and his nights jamming in a band called Fear of Virginia. He knew all the underrated bars in D.C. and had so many friends I began to call him the mayor. We couldn’t walk down Eighteenth Street without his stopping to say hello to the dishwashers on break outside Lauriol Plaza or a crowd of former coworkers eating mussels at L’Enfant Cafe.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Beck Dorey-Stein told her personal story as a White House Stenographer during the Presidency of Barack Obama. Because she clearly wrote about her authentic experiences and her own responses, I valued her book--even when I disagreed with a couple of her broader analyses. I highly recommend this book, without reservation. Best wishes, Beck!
I enjoyed hearing about her life working in Obamas white house she is easy to read and the story is personal
The ongoing Jason saga got to be a bit much but then again it was her reality and obviously a huge impact on this point in her life.
Somewhat more “love story” than I expected, the background of the Obama administration was fascinating!
The author does insightful writing as an outsider at the White House who interacts with Obama's second circle of staffers and learns how to survive the experience. Looking back at the Obama years, nostalgia for 44 reminds of the time when progressives thought our body politic had permanently changed to be accepting, diverse and welcoming.
Oh how I long for the greatness of the Obama Nation.....now sadly we have an abomination in the Oval....an interesting read about a young woman's pursuit of "Living The Dream"
This book could have been a really good book. However, this author has a real potty mouth, so much that it takes away from the interesting parts. She says a little too much of her sexual encounters. The job she had was such an honor and she should have just stayed with that.
From the Corner of the Oval was fast-paced, well written, and suuuuper juicy. It’s clear that Beck Dorey-Stein is a great writer, and her ability to observe, recall, and retell a story is what all creative nonfiction writers are striving for. Her personal story was not really my favorite, but I absolutely can’t deny that she wrote this book really, really well. Beck was unemployed and relatively miserable in Washington DC when she responded to a Craigslist job posting for a stenographer. Turns out, the job was with the White House (surprise!). And so she accidentally fell into Air Force One and the entire crazy lifestyle that goes with it. However, she’s drawn in by the electromagnetic field of a high-ranking senior White House staffer (also f*ckboy). What follows is a raucous affair that spans years, relationships, and so many trips around the globe. So, juicy for sure. And somewhat reality-turned-reality-television-esque. But … reality television is not really my thing. I don’t quite love watching or reading about people’s train-wreck lives — it stresses me out more than entertains me. So this book was not 100% for me … but it totally might be for you. Still, I appreciate the way Beck spun her journey from lost, floundering girl without a job to more-grown-up, finding-her-way, owning-mistakes-and-almost-learning-from-them woman at the end of a political era. Her tidbits about competing next to Obama on the treadmill and other inside stories were really interesting and fun to read. And the way she found her second family was, ultimately, beautiful. I’m interested to see what else comes from her pen! Totally recommend this book if “juicy, raucous affair” is your thing!
For those who prefer nonfiction, Beck Dorey-Stein’s memoir From the Corner of the Oval begins with Beck answering a Craigslist ad for a stenographer in Washington DC. It turns out that the job is at the White House, and Beck would be one of a few people who record President Obama’s public remarks and then type them up for official transcriptions. Beck has a boyfriend who works on various political campaigns (including both of Obama’s) so he frequently travels. It takes her awhile, but Beck makes good friends, and even plays basketball on Tuesday nights with the guys. She also finds herself in love with Jason, a man who works closely with the President. Jason is a womanizer, and he is engaged to a young socialite who lives in Los Angeles. That doesn’t stop him from pursuing Beck and, unbeknownst to her, several other women simultaneously. They have an on-again, off-again secret affair that leaves Beck desperately unhappy with own dishonesty toward her boyfriend and other friends. From the Corner of the Oval is a true story that reads like a terrific novel. Beck Dorey-Stein perfectly blends a young woman’s doomed romance with a fascinating workplace study where the workplace is the Oval Office. As she travels with President Obama, we get a seat on Air Force One as they go to Europe, Asia, Africa and on an exciting visit to Cuba. We see Secretary Clinton as she spends an hour shaking hands and speaking with the kitchen staff in Myanmar, run next to President Obama on the treadmill as he teases Beck about her speed, and fear the sound of the Rattler, a mean woman who dislikes Beck and gets her nickname from the jangle of the ever-present bangle bracelets warning of her approach. Beck Dorey-Stein is a fantastic writer and, for anyone who would love a peek at being close to the highest office in the land, this is a must-read.
I was not 100% sure what to expect when I started this book. The title was promising and sounded like the book should be both fun and interesting to read and I’m happy to say that I was not disappointed. The author neatly chapters her story into consecutive time segments so that you are not floundering trying to figure out when things happened. Although her years were during the Obama administration and she clearly admires him, I don’t look at this book as being “political” and to be avoided by anyone who is not one of his fans. I found some of her personal observations of him insightful, but this story is more about her life and work experiences during those years than it is about the President. The story is well written, and I love how the author takes us aboard Air Force One when she travels to exotic locations and brings us back down to earth with discussion on her personal relationships. While living what to many seems a glamorous lifestyle, she finds that real and honest friendships are what really matter. I agree with her friends who tell her that she is a natural writer. I hope that this one is just the first of many books we will see from her. I received an ARC through a giveaway at LibraryThing.com. A review was not required or promised and the opinion given here is my own.
The premise for this book was great—a young, naive White House stenographer (wannabe writer) experiencing the Washington scene. Loved the first 10 pages or so but then it crashed as instead of primarily focusing on the work and experiences she had, it went into the young woman’s search for love in all the wrong places. The main character was totally unlikeable and set the women’s movement back years. Disappointing read.
Dorey-Stein has written an engaging story. She finds herself hired as a stenographer for President Obama. As a political junkie, I was immediately jealous. Just think of having the opportunity to be a literal "fly-on-the-wall", and witness to history in the making! What I didn't realize was the hard work and sacrifices that go along with the position (although, I would still be willing to try). The drop everything and go expectations. The constant travel. The political infighting among the other staff members. The author does a great job describing the experience. Her obvious admiration of President Obama is evident. She provides an inner look into his personality that most of us will never have. I wish she could have shared more, like what it was like being there when the President met with other world leaders, but I understand that is not possible. Lest you think this book is just a dry rehash of her job, think again! Dorey-Stein lays bare her soul, as she describes her tumultuous personal life. Her personal growth, while it takes awhile, is admirable. She experiences the ups and downs many of us went through at her age....the crazy romances, the drinking, the struggles with money. As a father, I ached reading of these experiences. I found myself wishing I could talk to her, and give her advice. On the other hand, I realize the importance of her handling them herself, in order to grow. BUT!!!!! Not to spoil the book, but there is a man (and I use the term loosely), "Jason", who ran amuck in the administration, leaving a path of destruction in his wake. Again, as a father, I would like to meet this guy and punch him squarely in the nose! I can only hope that this book will expose him, and that he gets what he has coming to him. What a jerk! Dorey-Stein is a great writer. She expresses doubt of that throughout the book. I hope the success of the book helps her to realize her gift. I look forward to hopefully reading much more from her!
Reads like a sappy novel.
"[C]ompulsively readable" describes From the Corner of the Oval so well. Once I started reading this memoir I couldn't put it down. Beck Dorey-Stein writes with the pen of a former English teacher. She writes descriptive scenes and characters. Her authenticity shines through and seeds of humor drop along the way. Unlike Dorey-Stein, I'd never think of using Craig's List to find a job. Dorey-Stein thought nothing of it. And she ends up working as a stenographer in the Obama White House. Work days include trips around the world and across the country on Air Force One. Eager to make friends and fit in, Dorey-Stein finds herself tangled up in a romance. She shares stories of love, heartbreak, and sadness. Not overlooked are work-related stories from the White House. I found the romance somewhat distracting. Yet I accepted it as part of life for any 20-something no matter where she worked. This is not a tell-all book from behind closed doors in the White House. It is Dorey-Stein's story of landing the job and learning the ins and outs of the White House. She also meets famous people and travels the globe. Dorey-Stein lives the stories we read and watch in the media. I applaud Dorey-Stein's first published work as well-written and engaging. For this reason, and the humor woven throughout, I highly recommend From the Corner of the Oval.
This book provides a fascinating (and really fun) look inside the workings of the White House. Beck Dorey-Stein is a fantastic writer! I can't wait to read her next book.
If this was a work of fiction, I'd say Stein is an endearing character. She's young, intelligent, enthusiastic, and it's clear that she treasured the time she spent with the 44th President of the United States. ** I received a free copy of this book and opted to post a review ** However, the memoir isn't all about work; Stein discusses, in great detail, her love life during her time as a stenographer. I admire her courage in admitting the mistakes she made along the way, it goes to show that a young woman can be intelligent and still make the same mistakes that most young women do. I enjoyed reading about the different locations she visited and her infrequent encounters with former-president Obama. These are described in clear, stunning detail and her boundless enthusiasm for traveling to different countries is contagious. Her insights and inner dialogue are described to readers in a chatty, conversational tone that I found irresistible. Readers looking for a conventional political memoir should steer clear. You will be disappointed because this isn't another person's insights about the 44th President of the U.S.; however, readers who are looking for an unconventional glimpse of what the world of politics is life from somebody who is low on the totem-pole will love From the Corner of the Oval.
Very interesting viewpoint of behind the scenes of the Whitehouse. I never thought of a stenographer as one of the presidents staff. This book will keep you reading long after bedtime. It has heart, friends and heartbreak. I received this book from Net Has for an honest review and no compensation otherwise.