NEW DATE: Due to the length of this book we will meet on August 31st. I hope you can join us!
The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin (Hardcover) Don't be intimidated by the length (700 pages without notes) of this fine book. It's an extremely well-written and engaging account of a life well lived. The author makes great use of Franklin's immense body of writing as well as his innate humor. The result is a wonderfully readable biography that brings forth both the man and his accomplishments. As a Founding Father, Franklin is naturally accorded respect, gratitude, and even awe by most Americans. His famous experiments with electricity and his numerous inventions from bifocals to the armonica are cause for amazement no matter what your nationality. His civic contributions include founding both the first lending library and the first fire station in America. His writings are numerous and visionary. One might expect a man of such accomplishments to be vain, driven, or aloof. But, as this book will make clear, Ben Franklin was first and foremost a delightful and humorous man. You'll enjoy getting to know him better. If you've an interest in historical biography or the history of the American Revolution, you simply must read this book. Even if you don't usually read history, there's no better re-introduction to this marvelous figure from your school book days.
This review is from: The Glass Castle: A Memoir Jeannette Wall's trek, as depicted in "Glass Castle", recalls Dante's journey through Hell and eventual ascenscion to Paradise. The comparison may seem risibly over-dramatic, but just as Dante had to go through the experience of the Netherworlds before he could be led to Heaven, so, too, is Jeannette's eventual triumph the FRUIT of a childhood filled with poverty and, what some would call, parental neglect or even abuse. In the opening section about Jeannette's early childhood, sort of the outer rungs of hell, we are introduced to the author's quirky family. Her father, Rex, is a brainy underachiever who cannot keep a job and has a bit of a "drinking situation". The mother is an eccentric artist who cannot be bothered too much by mundane tasks- you know, like cooking or cleaning the house. The children, all extremely bright, are often underfed and left to fend for themselves. However, if the parents have failings, they also have redeeming qualities. The children are immersed in an environment that values art, music, intellectual pursuits, freedom and self-sufficiency and spurns racism and all forms of bourgeois superficiality. Above all, the reader never doubts that Rex and his wife truly love the children. One gets the feeling throughout that Jeanette never doubts that either. In any case, the early years are bittersweet. If there is squalor and hunger there is also humor and magic. Most of all, there is hope. The family frequently moves and, although that is frustrating, it also provided the background for a myth: that the next town would provide prosperity. But then to Welch they did go! And, it is in this West Virginia town where her father grew up,the "Nation's Coal Bin", that Jeannette and the rest of the family descend into the lower regions of hell. All the problems are exacerbated. The father, having returned to the place he said he never would, drinks with abandon and applies more and more of the family's slim resources toward his habit. Jeanette resorts to scaveging trash barrels for sustenance and is humiliated for her tattered clothing. There is not water in the house for bathing and no heat in Winter. Swallowed by the appalachian mountains with only the two-lane US 52 out, you feel stuck. Even the pilgrim parents are unable to muster the strength to break the gravity of this place. With this immobility came the final destruction of the myth (that the family would move somewhere else and find prosperity) and, as a consequence, the destruction of hope. However, it is in this darkness that Jeannette finds her calling. She becomes a reporter for the "Maroon Wave", the Welch High School student newspaper. The rest of the book details how her dream to become a "high falutin" journalist led her to New York City and her current incarnation. Maybe not Paradiso, but close enough considering her formative years. A number of components conflate to push Jeannette towards a succeful resolution. Certainly the positive legacy of her parents: culture, books, self-sufficiency, etc. But also the dire situation gave her a sense of urgency and the focus that comes with it: She had nothing to lose. She was lucky enough to have discovered early on a career path and did not have the leisure to ruminate ENDLESSLY on it.. This latter often brings self-doubts that paralyze youth. Unlike so many memoirs about unhappy childhoods, the author never plays the John Bradshaw card by irately denouncing her parents, nor does she try to facilely excuse them. Life is more complex than that and she understand that syzygys cannot be tampered with, lest you destroy the whole. You cant take eggs out of the cake. On a personal note, I grew up in Welch, went to Welch High School and knew Jeannette (though not very well) who was two grades behind me. I have not seen her since High School. For those reviewers who expressed doubts about the authenticity of her story, I can tell you that at least the Welch part of the story rings true to my memory.
This review is from: Good Omens (Mass Market Paperback) God, this was intelligent. God, this was funny. God, this was well-plotted. God, this was the Apocalypse. I suppose I should say more. Here goes: Crowley, the snake who initially tempts Eve in the Garden of Eden, decides, along with the angel who initially watched over them, that the human race isn't all that bad. Though the Apocalypse is on them, complete with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse riding Harleys and a switched-at-birth Antichrist who doesn't realize that he's the Antichrist, perhaps the world shouldn't end after all. Crowley is an intensely cool character, neither completely bad nor completely good. He takes his job of condemning souls to Hell not too seriously, for he realized a couple centuries ago that human beings faced with enough daily aggravations could condemn themselves. The angel Arizaphale, I believe his name was, runs a bookstore collecting rare books and, most aptly, prophecy Bibles. (This and the footnotes in the book are the funniest, most "Hitchhiker's Guide" moments in it.) Arizaphale realized that human beings should be allowed to continue on in order to keep making art. So the two team up with witches, parents and other veddy British personalities to save the world from its supposed end. This is very funny.