Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin by Jill Lepore
Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, and is still famous today. He was a printer, an inventor, a diplomat, and signer of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. This book is about his little sister Jane, born in Boston in 1712. She is obscure, and would be unknown today except for her brother. Benny and Jenny were very close, and exchanged letters for over 60 years. They outlived their 15 brothers and sisters, and 11 of Jane’s 12 children. Many of Jane Franklin Mecom’s letters have been lost, but Jill LePore, Professor of American History at Harvard University, has used Benjamin’s letters to fill in the gaps and tell the story of Jane’s long, eventful life. The Franklin family was poor; their father made soap and candles. Benjamin was the only son sent to school for a while. He probably taught Jane to read and write, a little. She never learned to spell. No schools in Boston taught girls at that time. Marrying a saddler, Jane continued to make soap for her brother most of her life, and also made bonnets and caps. She also helped raise some of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Jane loved to read, anything she could, especially her brother’s writings. She loved news and gossip, religion and politics. Her letters show a woman with wide interests, frank and witty. In 1771, Benjamin Franklin sent Jane a box of 13 spectacles from England, with instructions on how to find a pair that worked for her. I think that must have been a wonderful present; she could keep reading and writing to her brother, and they stayed connected until his death. I found this book fascinating and a great way to learn more about life in 18th century America.
Hemingway’s Boat, by Paul Hendrickson
This book concentrates on Ernest Hemingway’s life from 1934 to 1961. It has a unique angle in that instead of focusing on the famous author, it involves his fishing boat, the “Pilar”. The book initially talks about where the boat was built, who built it, what materials were involved, how much Hemingway paid for it, etc. But it is about so much more than that. It talks about Hemingway’s love of deep sea fishing and the huge blue marlins he catches from the Gulf Stream. He entertains many famous guests aboard “Pilar” and was clearly happiest when he was at sea. Hemingway’s Boat also talks about the people in Hemingway’s life, such as a drifter who became his apprentice for a summer, and his youngest son, who was most like him but also the most troubled. You see Hemingway’s physical and mental decline after he could no longer fish aboard his beloved boat. A great book for Hemingway buffs; extraordinarily well written.
My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business, by Dick Van Dyke, is entertaining reading. Dick Van Dyke made a decision to act mainly in family friendly productions, and his memoir follows that pattern. A funny, talented man with a very eventful life, Dick doesn’t dish the dirt, but the star of Mary Poppins, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Diagnosis: Murder, and Bye Bye Birdie shares enough to please his many fans. His long career included his first radio broadcast as a teenager, an early novelty act, television broadcasting, and success on screen, stage, and television. His family life, including his funny brother Jerry, his ex-wife Margie, their four children, and his longtime companion, Michelle Triola, are lovingly described. His spectacularly bad luck with cars is humorously told, while struggles with alcoholism and smoking are also shared. At 85, Dick Van Dyke is still going strong.