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).