Dinners with Ruth: A Memoir on the Power of Friendships

From inside the jacket flap: “Four years before Nina Totenberg started working at NPR, where she cemented her legacy as a prize-winning reporter, and nearly twenty-two years before Ruth Bader Ginsberg was appointed to the Supreme Court, Nina called Ruth. A reporter for the National Observer, Nina was curious about Ruth’s legal brief asking the Supreme Court to do something revolutionary: declare a law that discriminated “on the basis of sex” to be unconstitutional. In a time when women were fired for becoming pregnant and often could not apply for credit cards or mortgages, Ruth patiently explained her argument. That call launched a nearly fifty-year friendship.”

And what a friendship it was. Kim here again. For whatever reason – my own biases, naivete, blindness – one thing that stood out for me was how genuine and normal was this friendship between two high profile women. Dinners with Ruth is more than a memoir; this is a love letter to and about Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

Friendships have qualities we all look for and Totenberg shares with her readers the intimacy and strength of many of them she had with Bader Ginsberg. You can almost hear their laughter as they sneak out of a conference and catch a ride together in the rain; their laughing and gossiping over many meals together, often cooked by their respective husbands, both of whom were accomplished and comfortable in the kitchen.

Because of their particular roles and connections in the workings of government and politics, the women were respectful of each others’ boundaries. Totenberg opens up about the times those boundaries were pushed, however. As a legal affairs correspondent, Totenberg had a responsibility to get the news out. She would sometimes let Bader Ginsberg know she’d be asking the tough questions during an interview. Ruth on a couple occasions asked that Nina put a brief hold on a story and in deference to their friendship, she did.

They both experienced severe health issues and widowhood during their almost fifty-year friendship and it’s in those moments of simply being present for each other the depth of their love is shown. One particular moment is during a concert when no words are spoken. Totenberg’s second husband also plays an important role in the life of Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

Readers get glimpses of the popular Supreme Court justice that only a close friend would be able to share. Those insights strengthen what we think we already know about her; her ability to form and maintain real friendships with other justices despite being ideologically at odds, her love of officiating at weddings – even when she was in extreme pain from her cancer, her sense of humor and compassion.

Totenberg also had close friendships with other justices, including Lewis Powell, William Brennan, and Antonin Scalia. She takes us into the court room, into the chambers, and outside again through vignettes that are eye-opening, funny, and heart-warming. The story of Ruth is woven through them. And Totenberg believes her friend would be appalled at some of the recent events involving the current Supreme Court.

The title of the memoir comes from the Saturday evening dinners that were prepared by Nina and her husband for Ruth during Covid and in the last few months of her life. Because that’s what friends do.

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3 Responses to Dinners with Ruth: A Memoir on the Power of Friendships

  1. quinonesev1 says:

    Great review – the book sounds like a winner, Kim!

    • Thank you, Ev. I enjoyed getting to ‘know’ the justice better, she had a great sense of humor. But it was the insider view of the workings of the Supreme Court that were interesting, as well as how the justices interacted. I think you’d enjoy it. If you do read it let me know what you think!

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