Nearly twenty years after the death of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, biographers are not only continuing to tell her story but finding provocative new ways to do so. In particular, a big bravo to William Kuhn
for considering the former First Lady in a context that (a) has nothing to with her husbands, and (b) brings fresh perspective.
Jackie’s post-“Camelot” years–namely, her marriage to Onassis and her publishing career–are often given short shrift, but Reading Jackie: Her Autobiography in Books
(Anchor Books, 2011) steps in to fill the later gap and it’s downright revelatory.
What we read reveals much about who we are. That’s the idea behind Reading Jackie and it seems simple enough. But, in viewing Jackie Onassis’s life through the lens of the books she edited, Kuhn produces something quite sophisticated- a nuanced portrait of a thwarted artist for whom reading was a vital means of participating in the art world. As Kuhn writes: “That sense early on of what she could not do was at the nub of Jackie’s self-image as a reader. Coupled with the sense of limitation was a determination to work around it, to participate in the creative and artistic activity that gripped her imagination.”
It’s a daring approach and more than a little meta –to write a biography examining a series of books with the claim that they comprise the biographical subject’s autobiography– but Kuhn more than pulls it off. He clearly delights in both his subject and her work, and one leaves Reading Jackie not only with an appreciation of Jackie Onassis’s books, but also a renewed appreciation of her- this woman “who helped put enduring statements of why art matters into print.”