Once upon a time in America, ordinary people turned to Roosevelt for advice, and as these columns attest, she repaid their trust with responses that are downright startling to read today because of how seriously she took even their most mundane problems ... Although she was, by nature and upbringing, emotionally reticent, Roosevelt sometimes responded to the genuine need of her questioners with an openness that was rare then and almost unimaginable now ... As trivial a cultural artifact as an advice column may seem to be, Roosevelt's If You Ask Me columns reveal multitudes about the extraordinary relationship she forged with her fellow Americans, of all races, young and old. There's something very democratic about this 20-plus-year monthly 'conversation' of sorts that Roosevelt conducted on the pages of popular women's magazines. People felt they had a right to contact Roosevelt and she felt she had a responsibility to respond.
In the new book If You Ask Me: Essential Advice from Eleanor Roosevelt, Mary Jo Binker...has sifted through the former First Lady’s columns to create a surprisingly modern compilation ... Binker divides the book topically, with Roosevelt’s writing categorized under chapters such as 'politics and economics,' 'youth, popular culture, and education,' and 'etiquette,' with short explanatory essays to explain the historical context of Roosevelt’s writing. These introductions serve as useful history lessons for those who might be unfamiliar with Roosevelt’s substantial roles in the White House, Democratic politics, the civil rights movement, or the United Nations. But Binker quickly and effectively gets out of the way for Roosevelt’s own writing—and that of Roosevelt's readers—to take center stage, and it is those words that give the most insight into the United States of the 1940s and 50s ... Her answers are consistently straight-forward and patient ... they offer a calming, and inspirational, salve for the churning, and often short-sighted, public discourse we hear today ... The question and answer format, and varying topics, make it too choppy to form a real narrative. But it is a book to read periodically, and regularly. If nothing else, Roosevelt’s words from decades ago offer the sort of support and motivation to stay engaged with the present day.
Accompanying historical context for each of the writings shows how relevant Roosevelt's advice is to issues still being debated today and how thoughtful responses unite people on both sides of the aisle ... Particularly appealing to Roosevelt fans but strongly recommended for all engaged citizens.