Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Wordy Shipmates

I love Sarah Vowell, I'll admit that at the outset. Her book Assassination Vacation is one of my favorites. I just re-read it last month for the heck of it. So when I heard about her new book on the Puritans and the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, I was thrilled.

And then I read the book and was a bit disappointed. There's something missing - it's pretty heavy and a bit dreary. There aren't any of her roadtrips, like in AV, and her attempts to tie the Puritan Era to our modern era are a bit of a stretch. I can't quite put my finger on what I think it needs - maybe a bit more levity.

So while I still love Sarah Vowell, I don't think I'll be reading this one again.

Friday, November 21, 2008

FDR and Lucy

When my mother was here after Elizabeth was born, she was reading a book called Franklin and Lucy, which was about FDR and his longtime mistress Lucy Rutherford. She said it also talked abut the other women in his life, including his wife. It looked interesting, so I tried to check it out at the library. I ended up having to reserve it - I just got an e-mail telling me it's ready for me.

In the meantime, I checked out FDR and Lucy, which is also about FDR and Lucy Rutherford. FDR met Lucy when she came to work for Eleanor Roosevelt as her social secretary. When Eleanor started to suspect that Lucy and FDR were having an affair, she let her go, but FDR promptly hired her on at the Navy Department, where he was assistant secretary at the time.

Eleanor offered to give FDR a divorce so that he could be with Lucy, but Sarah Delano, FDR's formidable mother, threatened to cut off her financial support. Instead of a divorce, FDR had to promise never to have contact with Lucy again.

Turns out he didn't keep that promise, and his daughter and secretaries enabled his meetings with Lucy through the years. Lucy was even with FDR when he died; she was whisked away before Eleanor arrived and her presence was kept out of the press for decades.

I'm still going to read Frankling and Lucy. From what my mother said, it goes into more detail about more people in FDR's life, including Eleanor.

The Insanity File

I've become fascinated by Mary Todd Lincoln ever since reading this book. The last time I went to the library, I looked for a biography of her that looked good, but there were slim pickings. I did find The Insanity Files though, which was fascinating. Much of the book comes from Robert Todd Lincoln's personal files, which were found in his home long after his death by his grandson, Robert Lincoln Beckwith.

The files detail Mary Todd's deteriorating emotional state, including her conviction that her son was on death's doorstep even though he was just fine and her hallucinations of Chicago being on fire. It also gives detail on her spending sprees - buying trunkloads of curtains for houses she didn't own, boxes and boxes of gloves that were never worn. Today, she would probably be diagnosed as having bi-polar disorder.

Over the years, Robert Todd was blamed for his mother's institutionalization, unfairly. This book goes a long way toward proving that Mary Todd was ill and needed help.

Insanity Files does a good job of detailing the mental health system of the late 1900s - which was basically non-existent. People deemed insane were confined to state hospitals, which were nothing more than holding pens. The lucky, and the wealthy, could opt for private institutions, which is where Mary Todd ended up, but they were basically nice holding pens.

Mary Todd's story is such a heartbreaking one - losing three sons and a husband. I still want to find a good biography of her.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Phantom Tollbooth

I have learned that the surest way to get my oldest daughter not to read is to recommend a book. So I've left a pile of my favorite childhood books on one shelf of the big bookshelf in my room, and I've let Ella discover them on her own. I was thrilled when she came out last week with The Phantom Tollbooth, which was one of my favorite books as a child. Ella loved the book, and last night she came out with a letter she wants to send to Norton Juster. Here it is, sic all:

Dear Norton Juster,
I really liked The Phantom Tollbooth. My friend M and I both have read the book. I really think that you are a good auther. M and I have wanted to ask you to write another book of Phantom Tollbooth. Some of my favrite chapters were 3, 9, 17, 18, 2, 19, 14 and 15. On the map you can follow along ware you are. M and I want to be Rhyme and Reason for Holween next year. I thoght that in point of view was funny how people grow down. I never really thoght about ware numbers, word, and colors come from until now. I wonder how did you get the idea for Phanton Tollboth?


I was very concerned last night that perhaps Mr. Juster was no longer alive and that I'd have to break the news to Ella, who would be crushed. Fortunately, according to his publisher, he's still alive, and he published a book in 2005. I'll look it up when I'm at the library today. I still need to find an address to send the letter to.

I think I'm going to leave my Anne of Green Gables and Little House on the Prairie books where Ella can find them next.