Sharing Good Times is Jimmy Carter's episodic account of how he has managed to fit fun, family and friends into a life that's been powered by ambition and inclined toward solitude. It's not been easy or always successful. As befits his systematic, detail-oriented mind, the former president presents his recollections chronologically, beginning with his earliest memories of tagging along behind his beloved father ("my hero") and concluding with a fishing trip that he, his wife and their friends took earlier this year to Russia's wild Kamchatka Peninsula.
Something of a loner since he was a boy, Carter admits that he has "struggled to learn [that some experiences] are more deep and lasting sources of pleasure when they are shared with others." It is not a lesson he was quick to learn, he concedes. Soon after he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, he married Rosalynn Smith. But even after the young couple begin having children, Carter says his interest in his own career kept him from involving himself in family matters or assuming many domestic responsibilities. "My almost single-minded commitment to my shipboard duties rarely included my wife," he recalls, "and we seldom took time off for vacations or even overnight or weekend excursions."The upshot of this "compartmentalized" marriage was that Rosalynn gradually developed a strong sense of independence. She was shattered, then, when Carter announced without so much as alerting her that he was resigning his Navy commission, after 11 years in the service, to take over the family business in Plains, Georgia. "She wept and cajoled," he says, "but I exerted my dominance as a husband and we closed the door on my naval career and headed back home."As the children grew older and his wife joined him in handling the business, Carter became more sensitive to the communal aspects of family life and the joys it brought him. There were fishing and camping trips close to home and educational sojourns to Washington, D.C., and Mexico. Competition became the common denominator of all the trips, both then and later. Who would catch the biggest fish? Who would spot the most birds or climb farthest up the mountain?But Carter had not completely rid himself of his lone-wolf tendencies. In 1962, when he decided to run for the Georgia state senate, Rosalynn didn't find out about it until he was on his way out the door to file the necessary papers. "It is almost incomprehensible now," he reflects, "but I had never discussed this life-changing decision with her." However, by the time he was making his successful run for governor in 1970, he had involved virtually every member of his family in the campaign. The same held true five years later when he began his bid for the presidency.
The pressures of the White House caused Carter to savor the company of those close to him even more than he had before. An admitted penny pincher when it came to funding his own family vacations, he was especially smitten by the free luxuries of Camp David. "[A]fter our first visit to Camp David," he says, "I told my budget director never to inform me what it cost or to suggest that its services be reduced in any way." Carter's affectionate descriptions of times spent at the presidential retreat are among the brightest in the book.
Since leaving Washington and establishing the Carter Center in Atlanta, the Carters and their extended family have become inveterate globetrotters. In various configurations, they have scaled Mounts Everest, Fuji and Kilimanjaro (but none all the way); traversed Spain and lingered over its art and architecture; and roamed through the great African game preserves. Experiencing these locales and friends together, Carter assures us, intensified the delight. Even so, he devotes the penultimate chapter to the pleasures of his solitary "hobbies" of writing, painting and woodworking.
Released just in time for the holidays, Carter's memoir is available in hardcover and in an unabridged audio version read by the former president himself. The one element missing in this richly detailed treatise on family bonding is a real sense of emotional involvement. Carter witnesses, relays and assesses events as a reporter might. Everything's there but the feeling.