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review 2017-07-05 06:16
Lincoln as I Knew Him
Lincoln as I Knew Him: Gossip, Tributes, and Revelations from His Best Friends and Worst Enemies - Harold Holzer

My problem with history books, generally speaking, until recently, was the most of them tended to focus on statistics in one form or another (dates, battles, treaties, laws, etc) and very rarely about the people, the culture.  One without the other is history without context and as such either put me to sleep or went in one ear and out the other.

 

But I've always had more than a bit of hero worship for Abraham Lincoln.  Just looking at his portraits, there is something compelling to his visage, something that implies the hidden depths are deep indeed.

 

So when I heard about this book, it sounded like just the thing I was looking for: mostly contemporaneous anecdotes of Lincoln, told by those that loved him, worked with him, or worked for him - and a few by those that worked against him.  Short of asking Lincoln's cat what he thought of him, I can think of no better way of really learning the true quality of the man himself than from what his friends and opponents thought of him.

 

Holzer puts together a slim but comprehensive volume of such anecdotes, groups by relationship to Lincoln: family, friends, press, etc.  In the introduction and at the end in the author's notes he is clear that the collection is but a drop in the bucket, but is representative of the whole, and that he has left each alone save for editing for readability (i.e. swapping em dashes for periods to comply with modern grammar).

 

By far the most eloquent of the pieces, and likely my favourites on first reflection, are those written by Harriet Beecher Stowe, Sojourner Truth, and Frederick Douglass.  Beecher Stowe for her beautiful writing, Truth for her passion and grace, and Douglass for his honesty.  My least favourite, although Holzer gets credit for avoiding bias, are two excerpts from John Wilkes Booth; it brings balance to the work, but feels blasphemous somehow, to include his assassin's memories.

 

The number one thing in common amongst all these anecdotes - whether the writer admired or reviled Lincoln: that he was honest, kind and moral.   How many historical figures have the respect of their detractors?  

 

I read this for the Optional 4th of July Main Street Read for space #13.  Pages: 262

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review 2017-06-27 19:11
My Twelve Years with John F. Kennedy - Evelyn Lincoln

MY TWELVE YEARS WITH JOHN F. KENNEDY” is Evelyn Lincoln’s account of the time she served John F. Kennedy as his secretary. The book begins in 1952 when Mrs. Lincoln was working on the clerical staff of a Georgia Congressman. The U.S. was on the cusp of a major sea change, for after 20 years of Democratic presidential administrations in the White House, a Republican tide in November of that year would bring in the war hero Dwight Eisenhower as President. What’s more, on his coattails, many Republicans would win election to Congress. Mrs. Lincoln had read earlier in the year about a young Massachusetts 3-term Congressman (John F. Kennedy) who had decided to challenge a powerful Senator (Henry Cabot Lodge) for his seat. Kennedy, a Catholic, was not expected to win. But Mrs. Lincoln was impressed with him and sensed he had potential. She told her husband that she believed that Kennedy could someday be President. Indeed, she asserted that he would be elected President in 1960! And for that reason, she wanted to go and work for him. That took some doing, for Kennedy, at the time, was often away in Massachusetts campaigning. What’s more: he already had a secretary. So, in addition to her normal job on Capitol Hill, Mrs. Lincoln got a job as a volunteer in Congressman Kennedy’s office.

Kennedy would defy the odds and win election to the Senate in 1952. Within a year, his regular secretary had left and Mrs. Lincoln, by dint of hard work and having learned to cope with the demands Kennedy would place on his staff (Kennedy challenged his staff much as he challenged himself), had earned the position as his secretary. The book then takes the reader into the life and times of John F. Kennedy as Evelyn Lincoln experienced them between 1953 and his assassination in November 1963. She writes in a way that will make the reader feel that he/she is not only a witness to history, but also to the life of a singularly remarkable politician and human being. I loved this book and will cherish it always.

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text 2017-06-27 17:08
Reading progress update: DNF at page 99
Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood - Alexandra Fuller

This book is not for me. The author jumps around in time and the very short chapters plus the disjointed narration keep me from getting into the book. On top of that there isn´t a single likeable character in this whole novel and the parents are just awful. My personal favorite of parental awfulness has been:

 

One of the girls gets sexually assaulted and nearly raped and after having told their parents about it, their response is "Don´t exaggerate".

(spoiler show)

You would imagine that the author would have some fond feelings toward Africa, but from what I have read I got much rather the impression that she really hates the country. Guns, landmines, blown up people, dogs and the heat, there is not much more to her story. Everything is unpleasant and yet the family still persevere, eventhough war is raging around them. Based on the mothers view, this might not be surprising, though:

 

"Look, we fought to keep one country in Africa white-run" [...] "just one country".

[...]

"If we could have kept one country white-ruled it would be an oasis, a refuge. I mean, look, what a cock-up. Everywhere you look it´s a bloody cock-up."

 

I´m expecting more colonialism along the way and since I don´t like anything else about this book, I will DNF it at this point.

 

This has been my second free friday read for the Booklikes-opoly.

 

Page count: 301 pages - DNF at page 99

Money earned: $2.00

 

If I´m not allowed to net money for at not finished free friday read, please let me know.

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text 2017-06-24 16:49
Reading progress update: I've read 1 out of 310 pages.
Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood - Alexandra Fuller

Mum says, "Don´t come creeping into our room at night."

They sleep with loaded guns beside them on the bedside rugs. She says, "Don´t startle us when we´re sleeping."

"Why not?"

"We might shoot you."

"Oh."

"By mistake."

"Okay". As it is, there seems a good enough chance of getting shot on purpose. "Okay, I won´t."

 

After having read the first couple of pages yesterday, I decided to finish up Three Souls before digging into this book porperly. But now I feel more inclined to read Alexandra Fullers memoir, so I might reconcider.

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text 2017-06-14 04:16
Manic by Terri Cheney
Manic: A Memoir - Terri Cheney

This is an intense memoir by a lawyer with bipolar disorder. Terry Cheney is very smart and successful but also very ill, and this book throws the reader into some awful experiences from page one – where she’s manic, determined to kill herself, and momentarily thwarted in her suicide plan when she’s locked out of her apartment; she unintentionally flirts with the locksmith, who sexually assaults her and then saves her life. Not all events in the book are this extreme, of course, but it is a memoir of how Cheney’s illness shaped her adult life: her most out-of-control highs and suicidal lows, her many attempts at treatment (with varying success), her fraught relationships and struggles to maintain a normal façade at work.

It is a harrowing ride, but the most horrifying episodes are the ones in which the author winds up “in the system,” and in parts of the system with the least excuse for their failings. In one chapter, a traffic stop leads to an arrest and ultimately a beating by police; in another, she overdoses and is briefly committed to a facility where patients receive some of the most dehumanizing treatment imaginable (how this is meant to prevent suicide is unclear). The book doesn’t get into policy arguments, but if this is what happens to someone who carries most privileges that exist in American society (an educated, well-off, gender-conforming, attractive white woman), then somehow either most people in the author’s position must be treated even more abominably or we have conceived the notion that mental illness abrogates one’s humanity. Yikes.

At any rate, Cheney’s writing is clear, direct and compelling, pulling the reader right into her life, and the book is a quick read. The organization is deliberately jumbled, and for the most part this works, creating a sense of immediacy and disorientation. It does have a minor drawback, which is that each chapter needs an independent justification for its inclusion: in a few of them not too much happens, or we see something the author has already shown in a slightly different context. But it is a fairly short book and the chapters do fit together into a larger whole.

(Actually the oddest thing, to me, was that the relationships the author describes in her acknowledgements are so absent from the text. Most jarring was the glowing thanks to her mother, who appears nowhere in the book despite the many personal and family crises depicted. I’d concluded that either she was dead or they were estranged. Maybe this would make more sense if I'd read Cheney’s other book.)

Other readers have pointed out that Cheney is privileged and a snob. This is true and she acknowledges it, in some ways clinging to status symbols as a defense mechanism. But the book isn’t about issues of poverty or race, and I did not find these traits to permeate the writing or otherwise affect my experience of it in the way I expected after reading reviews.

Anyway, this book is well-written and intense and brutally honest; it both draws the reader directly into the author’s experiences and explains those experiences, all while telling a gripping story. I recommend it.

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