Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Franklin, Benjamin. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. Minola: Dover Publications, Inc., 1996.

Originally written as a letter to his illegitimate son, Benjamin Franklin sets out to tell the story of his life’s work. It briefly covers his childhood but focuses more on his years of employment, first as a printer’s apprentice, then as a prominent political leader among many, many other things. By the end of it you will be asking what didn’t this guy do? However, it ends (abruptly) before his involvement in the Revolution or his efforts to free slaves, two aspects of his life I find most interesting. Peppered throughout the autobiography is Benjamin Franklin’s adamant call to humility, modesty, and virtue which is humorously contradictory for a man with such a long list of obvious accomplishments.

Reading Benjamin Franklin’s list of accomplishments and life interests has caused me to dub him “the most interesting man in the world” after the guy in the Dos Equis commercial.

Book Trivia: The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin has been translated into hundreds of languages.

Author Fact: Benjamin Franklin loved the ocean. Really cool.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called “Founding Fathers” (p 91). Of course.

The Reader

Schlink, Bernard. The Reader. New York: Vintage International, 1998.

By now I am sure everyone has seen the movie of the same name (2008). After all, Kate Winslet (did I spell that right?) won an Oscar for her portrayal of Hanna Schmitz. At least I think she did. I have not seen the movie nor did I watch the Academy Awards last year, although I hear the movie deserves to be seen if for nothing else than that reason – Hanna/Kate. However, being a librarian I think the book deserves to be read first. Without a doubt.

Anyway. Bernard Schlink paints a hauntingly beautiful love story tinged with pain. The premise is simple. Michael Berg as a young boy of 15 is seduced by a woman at least twice his age. He confuses his coming-of-age feelings with falling in love with Hanna Schmitz and becomes confused and almost devastated when she disappears from his life as suddenly as she had first entered it. Michael is a burgeoning law student when his path crosses Hanna’s again. Hanna is on trial for an unspeakable war crime. As a law student Michael can only guess as to why Hanna does not defend herself, nor does she even try. He spends the duration of the trial wrestling with her apparent guilt as well as the memories of the old passion he no longer feels for her. Obviously there is a lot more to the story but I’ll leave that for you to find out. Like I said, read the book.

Favorite lines: “We did not have a world that we shared; she gave me the space in her life that she wanted me to have” (p 77), and “Illiteracy is dependence” (p 188).

Author Fact: Bernard Schlink has written detective novels as well as short stories.

Book Trivia: The Reader has been translated in over thirty different languages. The movie thing you already know.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “What a Trial That Was!” (p 244).

Solomon’s Oak

Mapson, Jo-Ann. Solomon’s Oak. New York: Bloomsbury, 2010.

This was published over a year ago, in October 2010, so I feel sort of strange calling it an “Early” review for LibraryThing. It’s not exactly early in the grand scheme of things.

Here’s the quick and dirty: Glory Solomon is a newly widowed woman trying to make ends meet on her California farm. After the sudden death of her beloved husband (from pneumonia) Glory finds herself at odds with the new life she must forge without him. She struggles to keep her life exactly the same: taking in last-chance dogs, fostering children, and managing the farm all while keeping her head above water. When a new foster child unlike any other enters her life Glory realizes life will never be the same.

Everything about this book errs a little too much on the side of pleasant. I kept waiting for the trick, the edginess of each new situation to find it’s way into the story, but it never came. Mapson opens the door to many ominous opportunities to make the story a little grittier but never actually steps through it. Juniper McGuire is described as angry and troubled yet I saw more flashes of kindness and happiness than teenager angst. For all that she had been through she really wasn’t that bad of a kid. Then there’s the budding relationship with damaged ex-cop Joseph. Glory’s good friend growls to Joseph that he should “stay away” from the widow and yet that threat falls flat when he refuses to do so.

The last quirk to Solomon’s Oak is the narrative. Mapson does a great job with telling the story from a third party perspective but at the end she gives Juniper a voice allowing for an odd first person narrative. For the sake of consistency I wish Juniper had been allowed to tell her story all along.

Favorite line I feel comfortable quoting, “Glory loved her sister even if some days she had to work hard to like her” (p 74).

Madame Bovary

Flaubert, Gustave. Madame Bovary. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993.

I should have had Madame Bovary on my list as a reread. I should have read this in high school or college or somewhere. I’m not really sure why I didn’t.

This book should have been the mister rather than the missus Bovary. In my opinion Charles Bovary is what you would call a nineteenth century sad sack. When we first meet Charles (for he starts and ends the book as you’ll soon see) he is a shy student who grows up to become a second rate doctor (more on that later). He has an overbearing mother who convinces him to marry a much older, supposedly rich, but nevertheless nagging woman who makes him miserable. oh yeah, and add insult to injury, she’s nowhere near wealthy. After the lying lady’s death Charles meets Emma Rouault (our ahem – heroine), the daughter of Charles’s patient. He falls in love and wins her heart only to have her mope about because her life soon after the wedding isn’t exciting or wealthy enough. Poor Charles! But, the sad tale of Charles Bovary doesn’t stop here. There’s more! As mentioned before he is a second rate doctor so his attempts to heal a clubfooted patient fail miserably. That failure only irritates our dear Emma even more. She soon convinces herself she deserves better in the way of the company of other more exciting and accomplished men and by spending Charles’s money. Emma convinces herself adultery isn’t a sin because it’s cloaked in beauty and romance and how can those things be bad? And isn’t she, as Charles’s wife, entitled to Charles’s money? So, Charles is in debt and his father dies. What’s left? Emma attempts suicide and our Doctor Bovary (irony of ironies) can’t save her. After her death he finds her illicit love letters and learns of her infidelity…then he dies. The end.
Nope. Not a stitch of happiness in this classic.

Early in the story there is this sense for foreshadowing: “One moment she would be gay and wide-eyed; the next, she would half shut her eyelids and seem to be drowned in boredom, her thoughts miles away” (p 22). Charles should have seen this odd behavior and run away, very far away.

Author Fact: Gustave Flaubert is expelled from school at the age of 18 for helping organize a protest.

Book Trivia: Madame Bovary is Flaubert’s first book.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust twice. First in the chapter called “Men Channeling Women” (p 166), and again in the chapter called “Wayward Wives” (p 231).

Gideon’s Trumpet

Lewis, Anthony. Gideon’s Trumpet. New York: Random House, 1964.

If you have ever wondered how the statement “you have the right to speak to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will appointed to you” first came about you should read Gideon’s Trumpet by Anthony Lewis. Gideon’s Trumpet follows the case of Clarence Earl Gideon, a petty thief who had been in and out of jail all his life. After landing in a Florida jail for breaking and entering Gideon managed to file a handwritten petition certiorari with the Supreme Court claiming his right to legal counsel was violated during his trial. the Supreme Court agreed. This launched Gideon v. Wainright, a landmark case that started the evolution of the Miranda Warning. While Lewis’s book is brief it is highly readable and informative. It is easy to see Clarence Gideon, and even the legal system, as real humans making history.

Favorite quote: “Every spring the justices struggle to overcome procrastination, to compromise their differences, to finish up opinions on all the argued cases so that they can end the term in June, as scheduled, and go off to lie in the sun or make speeches at lawyers’ meetings, as the spirit moves them” (p 38). Too funny. Sounds like where I work.

Author Fact: Anthony Lewis resides in MA (according to his wiki page).
Book Trivia: According to IMDB Gideon’s Trumpet was made into a made-for-television movie in 1980.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called “Legal Eagles in Nonfiction” (p 135).

Portnoy’s Complaint

Roth, Philip. Novels, 1967-1972. New York: The Library of America, 2005.

I always garnered eyebrow raises and smirking lips whenever I mentioned reading Philip Roth. What I didn’t realize at the time was whenever I mentioned Philip Roth everyone’s minds immediately went to “Portnoy’s Complaint.” Having never read this particular novel I didn’t get the joke. Okay. I get it now.

To put it quite simply, Portnoy’s Complaint is the monologue of Alex Portnoy, a psychoanalyst’s patient, as he recounts his childhood, coming of age years and his insatiable appetite for sex (starting with masturbation) that has dominated all his life. The setting of a therapist’s office is brilliant. Where else are you allowed to be candid to the point of shocking? Where else are you encouraged to reveal your deepest and darkest, most vile desires without judgement or arrest? Roth couldn’t have his character admit these activities in any other setting without the admissions becoming pornographic and the one doing the admitting, ridiculously perverted. Alex doesn’t just admit sexual desires, though. He rants about religion, culture, World War II, education, parenting, relationships – all with comic and sarcastic ability.

There were probably over a dozen different sentences that were evocative and startling, but here are two of my favorites involving eating:
“You could even eat off her bathroom floor, if that should ever become necessary” (p 285), “But I don’t want the food from her mouth. I don’t even want the food from my plate – that is the point” (p 287).

BookLust Twist: First, from Book Lust in the chapter called “The Jewish-American Experience” (p 132), and again in More Book Lust in the chapter called “Jersey Guys and Dolls” (p 130).

A Good Man Is Hard to Find

O’Connor, Flannery. Collected Works. Sally Fitzgerald, ed. Library of America, 1988.

A Good Man is Hard to Find is a compilation of ten short stories by Flannery O’Connor. In order they are “A Good Man is Hard to Find”, “The River”, “The Life You Save might Be Your Own”, “A Stroke of Good Fortune”, “A Temple of the Holy Ghost”, “The Artificial Nigger”, “A Circle in the Fire”, “A Late Encounter with the Enemy”, “Good Country People”, and “The Displaced Person.” All ten stories have three significant things in common: a Southern twang, underlying religious tones and lots of interesting and deep characters with problems, some problems more obvious and serious than others. The title, A Good Man is Hard to Find comes from the first short story in the compilation (my favorite) and is a phrase first uttered by a restaurant owner outside of Atlanta, Georgia. He is discussing a serial killer on a rampage last seen somewhere in Florida. The rest of the stories center mostly in the rural areas surrounding the south, especially Atlanta, Georgia.

Favorite lines: From “A Good Man in Hard to Find” – “the trees were full of silver-white sunlight and the meanest of them sparkled” (p 138).
From “The River” – “He seemed to be mute and patient, like an old sheepdog waiting to be let out” (p 155).
From “The Life You Save Might Be Your Own” – “She was ravenous for a son-in-law” (p 177).
From” “A Stroke of Good Fortune” – “…in a voice of sultry subdued wrath” (p 184. Okay, that wasn’t a complete sentence but I liked the wording. From “Good Country People” – “She took all his shame away and turned it into something useful” (p 276).

Author Fact: Flannery O’Connor continues to inspire people in all forms of artistry. Just Google her name and see the interesting things that pop up.

Book Trivia: A Good Man Is Hard to Find was referenced in an 1994 episode of the Simpsons.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Grit Lit” (p 106).

Nop’s Trials

McCaig, Donald. Nop’s Trials. New York: Warner Books, Inc., 1984.

Nop’s Trials was not what I expected. I was thinking since it was primarily about a Border Collie named Nop that it would be sweet and gentle, like the breed itself. Indeed, the story definitely has warm and tender moments – like when Nop is communicating with other friendly dogs – but there is definitely a harsher side to Nop’s Trials. If you know anything about Border Collies you know they are working dogs, used on farms to corral livestock like sheep or cattle. They are so agile and smart and quick to learn that people have created competitions to showcase their training abilities. These competitions are called “trials” and McCaig uses the word “trials” to steer the reader to this mode of thinking. In reality, Nop’s “trials” stem from the competition but are more of the “trials and tribulations” variety. Because Nop is a prize winner, always taking first place at the trials, a vicious man named Grady Gumm is hired to steal Nop from his owner, farmer Lewis Burkholder. This is to prevent Nop from ever competing again. Grady is an unscrupulous dog owner himself who keeps dogs for fight-to-the-death matches so pretty soon into the story there is a violent scene. I have to admit it shocked me. The good news is that Nop escapes Grady only to bounce from one trial to another. He encounters many walks of life, dog lovers and dog haters alike.
But Nop’s Trials isn’t just about Nop and his misadventures. It also delves into Lewis Burkholder’s life without Nop. It portrays a man as a farmer, a father and a husband as well as a dedicated dog owner who never gives up on Nop. The story examines the relationships between man and land, father and pregnant daughter, father and son-in-law, as well as husband and patient wife. Life’s lessons are masterfully played out while Nop’s fate remains a mystery.

Author Fact: McCaig lives pretty much the same way as Burkholder – on a farm in Virginia with Border Collies.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter obviously called “Great Dogs in Fiction” (p 105).

Mists of Avalon

Bradley, Marion Zimmer. The Mists of Avalon. New York: Del Rey, 1982.

The first time I read The Mists of Avalon I was in high school. We were studying literature written by women; literature that made an impact one way or another. Marion Zimmer Bradley was in the company of women like Margaret Atwood, Robin McKinley and Ursula K. Le Guin. Guess my teacher liked fantasy.

The Mists of Avalon is a retelling of the story of King Arthur, only King Arthur isn’t really a major character. It’s all from the point of view of the women in his life – King Arthur’s sister, mother, grandmother and wife, among others. The battle isn’t over the throne or with warring neighbors, but rather the differing religions. Patriarchal Christianity is locked conflict with Matriarchal Druid magic. It’s an interesting twist of politics and feminist rule. But, Bradley also explores other conflicts in society like fate versus free will, and magical powers versus realism.

Probably the thing that took me by surprise was the subtle use of incest, rape and other sexual situations within the text.

Book Trivia: While The Mists of Avalon has garnered much praise it is also been criticized as being “feminist propaganda.” It is the retelling of King Authur from the perspective of the key women in the story; namely Morgaine, Gwynhefar, Igraine and Viviane.

Author Fact: Marion Zimmer is a New York woman, born in nearby Albany. She died of a heart attack in 1999.

BookLust Twist: Pearl dedicates a whole paragraph to Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon in Book Lust in the chapter called “King Arthur” (p 137), although King Arthur plays a very minor part in the story.

Beyond the Bedroom Wall

Woiwode, Larry. Beyond the Bedroom Wall: a Family Album. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1975.

I was in love with Beyond the Bedroom Wall in the very first chapters. The detail with which Woiwode described the midwest landscape was beautiful. The story opens with Charles Neumiller going home to bury his father. In his mind he pictures every detail of the landscape he is returning to. I also appreciated the reverent description of Charles preparing his father’s body for the funeral. It was painstaking and loving and uncomfortable, just how a burial should be. From there, though, the story fell apart. The next section is told from the point of view of Charles’s son, Martin’s girlfriend, Alpha. I lost interest right around the middle Alpha’s diary, right after she marries Martin. The idea of a story about multi-generational family is one I normally take to. Maybe it was the length and the attention to detail that did me in. Moderation is key and too much of a good thing can be bad, even when it comes to descriptive words on a page.

One of the best lines, “My existence is a narrow line I tread between the person I’m expected to be and the person who hides behind his real self to keep the innermost antiquity of me intact” (p 9). Now, who can’t relate to that?

Author Fact: Woiwode is tenured at SUNY – Binghamton.

Book Trivia: Woiwode published a volume of short stories called Neumiller Stories. I can only assume these short stories are about the same Neumiller family as in Beyond the Bedroom Wall.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called “The Great Plains (the Dakotas)” (p 106).

By the Shores of Silver Lake

Wilder, Laura Ingalls. By the Shores of Silver Lake. New York: HarperTrophy, 1971.

If you know the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder you know these two things. Little House on the Prairie is not the first book in the series (Little House in the Big Woods is) and By the Shores of Silver Lake is the fifth book in the nine-book series. You also know “the Laura series” are both autobiographical and historical fiction.

By the Shores of Silver Lake is a continuation of On the Banks of Plum Creek. From Plum Creek the Ingalls family has moved to Silver Lake so that Charles Ingalls, the patriarch of the family, can help with the building of the transcontinental railroad. The Ingalls family is to become the first settlers in the town of De Smet, South Dakota. Told in third person by middle daughter, Laura, the shores of Silver Lake is an exciting place to be. She is happy to be out of the big woods and away from Plum Creek. Despite Laura’s mother’s admonishments to be lady-like and demure, Laura is irrepressible. She loves to run wild across the grasslands and go exploring. One of my favorite scenes is the wild pony ride she takes with Cousin Lena. Her spirit is as big as the unsettled territory her family has arrived to claim. She appears brave and adventurous although, interestingly enough, she would die if anyone knew she is afraid of meeting new people.

Maybe I’m too jaded by how kids are today, but I had to roll my eyes at how happy the Ingalls family always seemed to be. When Mary “happily” offers to do her sister’s chores I had to stifle a gag. What sister these days would be so gracious, so gleeful to take on extra chores not her own?

Author fact: one of the things I learned about Ms. Wilder is that she and I share a birth month. She was born and died in February.

Book Trivia: By the Shores of Silver Lake won a Newbery Honor award in 1940.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called “The Great Plains (The Dakotas)” (p 107).

The Stand

King, Stephen. The Stand. New York: Signet, 1980.

I think it goes without saying that The Stand is a super-long, super detailed book and the critical attention paid to character development and personality nuances plays a huge roll in its length. The other component to its heft is the fact it takes a long time to build up to the meat of the plot. The Stand contains three books, “Captain Trips”, “On the Border”, and “The Stand”. “Captain Trips” is the introduction to an influenza-like plague and its fast-paced spread of infection. You won’t look at another sneeze or cough the same way again after this. “On the Border” is convergence of the plague survivors; the good and the evil alike. They are all brought together by a shared dream of an elderly women. In the final book, “The Stand” the surviving society must take a stand on where their civilization will end up – on the side of good or evil? It’s drawn out to the point of ad-nauseam but the writing is fantastic.

Here is one of my favorite quotes from The Stand: “Denninger looked and acted like the kind of man who would ride his help and bullyrag them around but lickspittle up to his superiors like an egg-suck dog” (p 59). I just love the word bullyrag and lickspittle isn’t so bad either!

Book Trivia: Many different adaptations of The Stand exist. My favorite is a comic book series.

Author Fact: King used to haunt the halls at the University of Maine, Orono. He wouldn’t remember me but I served him coffee once in the Bear’s Den.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the lengthy chapter called “Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror” (p 213). I think Pearl intended The Stand to be horror.

Victorian Lady Travellers

Middleton, Dorothy. Victorian Lady Travellers. New York: E.P. Dutton  & Co., Inc., 1965.

It is apparent almost immediately the genuine admiration in Middleton’s voice as she describes the lives and accomplishments of each “Victorian Lady Traveller.” Each chapter is dedicated to a different prominent adventurer between 1830 and 1936, seven in all: Isabella Bird Bishop, Marianne North, Fanny Bullock Workman, May French Sheldon, Annie Taylor, Kate Marsden and the ever-famous Mary Kingsley. Middleton dedicates approximately 22 pages to each woman (including considerable chunks of quotations from each explorer’s book or journal, if she has authored one). Granted, it’s a short book so I wish Middleton had written more and quoted less.

But, speaking of quotes – Quotes from the sections on my two favorite travelers, first Isabella Bird Bishop: “In her seventieth year she ordered a tricycle because she needed more exercise” (p 53). Second, Mary Kinsley: “Avoiding the hippos, the ran into crocodiles, and the scene took on a striking resemblance to the pictures of intrepid explorers in the story-books of her childhood” (p 160).

My one other “criticism” is that I wish the photographs could have been as carefully organized as the text. For example, chapter one is all about Isabella Bird Bishop. The reader is drawn into her adventures, immersed into her life and no one else’s, so it is a little unsettling to come across a picture of Marianne North in the same chapter.

Interesting side note: out of the seven travelers covered in Victorian Lady Travellers four of them were born in October. Very cool.

Author Fact: Dorothy Middleton died on February 3rd, 1999.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Lady Travelers” (p 142). Duh.

Primary Colors

Anonymous. Primary Colors: a novel of politics. New York: Warner Books, 1996.

The anonymity of Primary Colors appeared calculated on many different levels. It gave the author the ultimate freedom to insert truth into fiction and fiction into trust and never check the difference. No credentials on the author’s part would guarantee the lack of fact-finding, allowing the author to come as close to the truth as fiction would allow. It is obvious Primary Colors is based upon Bill Clinton and his first presidential campaign in 1992.
Jack Stanton is a young, charismatic southern-state governor with very human vices. He has a weakness for food and pretty women. He wears his heart on his sleeve. Sound like anyone you knew in the 90s? His wife is smart, unflappable; the one one comes up with the soundbites whenever the governor is interviewed. Primary Colors is told from the point of view of his presidential campaign employee, Henry Burton. Henry is idealistic about his candidate and wants to believe he’s a man of his word, but as word and action soon start to contradict Henry must make a choice.

Best quotes: “Never attack an opponent when he is in the process of killing himself” (p 156) and “This was, if you could stand back from it, a wonderfully intricate game” (p 157).

Author Trivia: Joe Klein was adamant he didn’t write Primary Colors even after he was “outed” by a writing analyst. Weird.
Book Trivia: Primary Colors: a novel of politicswas made into a movie in 1998, starring John Travolta – never heard of it.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Politics of Fiction” (p 189).

Last to Die

Grippando, James. Last to Die. New york: Harper Collins, 2003.

What do you do when your town is rocked by a freak pre-Halloween snow storm that knocks out power for a seriously long time? In my case, read. A lot. I was able to finish Buddenbrooks, read Last to Die cover to cover and start Immortal. But, enough about the great reading opportunity. About Last to Die:

Last to Die is a suspense murder mystery with an interesting plot. It’s not your typical “Victim found murdered so who dunnit?”
Jack Swyteck has the unenviable task of defending his best friend’s brother, thug-turned-angel, Tatum Knight. Knight is suspected of killing a woman, shooting her dead in broad daylight. He admits that the deceased, Sally Fenning, did approach him to play hit man but swears he turned her down. Little brother Theo believes him. It’s when Knight is named in Sally Fenning’s 46 million dollar will that things get complicated. For this is no ordinary bequeathment. While five other individuals are named in the will they are all people Sally hated and only one of them can inherit the money; the last one standing. Soon, as one would expect, people start to die.
What makes Last To Die truly interesting is the cast of characters. Every person has a unique story to tell and a past to hide.

Author Fact: Grippando (like Grisham) was a lawyer first before turning out legal thrillers.

Book Trivia: Last to Die is actually the third Swyteck book. The series starts with The Pardon (1994).

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called “Legal Eagles in Fiction” (p 134).