Grant by Ron Chernow – “He was nothing heroic…and yet the greatest hero.” — Walt Whitman of Ulysses S. Grant
It’s a time commitment –this was listed on a previous month, in fact, but it expired and I had to get on a waitlist again. It covers his entire life from childhood to death, his struggles with alcohol, naïveté (gullibility?) in business ventures, his rise to glory for the most horrific reason (the Civil War, of course), his humility and grace all while keeping the Union together during Reconstruction and protecting the freed slaves and on and on and on. I cried when I fished the book –sobbed, really– and made a special trip to his tomb to pay my respects.
My sister-in-law bought me my own copy for my birthday and I plan to read it again along with the audiobook which I’ve placed on hold with the NYPL. That way I can hopefully read a little faster all while underlining, highlighting, bookmarking and researching all the footnotes. I’m loving my Civil War / Reconstruction studies at Columbia with Professor Eric Foner (Pulitzer Prize winner to you, thankyouverymuch) and this book is very relevant. I’m sure he’ll be adding it to the recommended reading list for future classes.
Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson – A nice, overall biography of a pretty smart and incredible man, a founding father who, like the others had his flaws. Franklin’s biggest being that he lived in Europe for over 15 years while his family was left behind in the US. Which, speaking of..I found his relationships with younger women interesting. He was rumored to be a ladies man and quite flirtatious but in all of the many letters and documents, there is no evidence of anything more than friendship and affection. Yes, sometimes flirtatious which would be harmless enough, but for the era. He was still married even if his wife was an “ocean away”. They do show that he enjoyed serving as a mentor and friend to several women over his lifetime. This student’s write up provided a nice summation on his relationships.
Sidebar: When I was in my early 20s, working my way up through the corporate banking ladder, I had a mentor who was nearly the same age as my parents. He was a dear friend to me and taught me more than anyone at any other job ever. Rarely were we flirtatious (we were co-workers, too, after all and this time period being on the heels of Anita Hill and workplace harassment being in the forefront) but we were good friends who were sometimes very silly together during our long drives to court, visiting bank-owned properties, etc. We sang “War! (What is it Good For?)” by Edwin Starr at the top of our lungs and met in the stairwell for coffee runs using the code, “The ship is in the harbor” for no reason other than to have an inside thing we shared. He schooled me on the Ohio court system of course, but also on 12th century explorer Ibn Battuta and bored me with lectures about the Byzantine Empire. When I was appointed officer and then assistant vice president so soon thereafter, all while so young and without a college degree, there were rumors. Unfounded and I shirked them off. We remained friends a full 10 or 15 years after we parted ways until we lost touch not long after 9/11. He retired and so his email went away. He moved and his name is too common. In fact, I just spent two hours trying to cyberstalk to no avail. Maybe this post will send some smoke signal into the Universe that reads, “The ship is in the harbor.”
But, hey, did you know Ben Franklin invented Soduku? Sudoko? Sodoku? However you spell it or say it, Franklin invented it. I mean, electricity is cool and all, but seriously this blew me away.
The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan – a gift by my Kentucky friend, Liz. This is a collection of essays and short stories by Keegan who died unexpectedly 5 days after graduating from Yale at age 22. Her writing does sometimes sound really young which makes it all the more heartbreaking. Her essay about the sun dying one day and none of this mattering broke my heart. I do prefer her non-fiction to the fiction, but that’s true of my reading preferences in general. Overall, it was a touching read and a lovely legacy for her family.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath – A classic which I enjoyed long ago. People love to hate on it or use it as a punchline and I couldn’t remember some things so I re-read it. I still enjoyed it.
God Save Texas: A Journey Into the Soul of the Lone Star State by Lawrence Wright – I was hoping for more of a chronological telling of some history of Texas. Instead it’s a bit all over the place timeline-wise. Some bits I really enjoyed (anything with Ann Richards is a win) and others were so out of place (Matthew McConaughey was his neighbor once. Okay?) and it was just a bunch of random essays all smushed together with some name dropping. I think I needed to be more familiar with the author and his writing to really enjoy it. Some complicated things in Texas history were glossed or skipped over and, I dunno, maybe I just don’t have any love left for Texas. I had a hard time finding how he had any pride for the state at all.
Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America by Eliza Griswold – I heard about this new book on the podcast “Why is This Happening?” with Chris Hayes. An excellent, excellent podcast. The author struck me as incredibly intelligent and thorough in her investigation, and so I was intrigued. This book is a terrific piece of investigative journalism centering around residents in Pennsylvania towns named Amity and Prosperity who are sickened by the environmental pollution from fracking waste. It reads like a drama but it’s real life and frighteningly close to home. This could literally happen in our backyard and the US government is, of course, a part of the problem more often than the solution. I wouldn’t doubt if Griswold wins an award or two for her brilliant and thorough work. A great read which also served to educate me on lots of environmental laws and issues.
Not books but three documentaries I watched that I wanted to note for myself.
I Am Not Your Negro by and about James Baldwin. So mad that I had never heard of him. What a shame that he wasn’t discussed in my school at all.
The Uncomfortable Truth about the racist past of the documentarian’s family and An Ordinary Hero: The True Story of Joan Trumpauer Mulholland about her experience during the Freedom Rides
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