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Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too by Stanley Young

If you have any young readers in your family who are planning on a military career, this biography of William Henry Harrison, one of the Landmark history series, would be a good book to share. If any of them have political ambitions, it might be of interest for them to to read at least the last few chapters of the book in which Harrison runs a political campaign and is elected president. And those of us who are fascinated by language and the history of words and phrases can find in this story of a frontiersman turned statesman, the origin of such American colloquialisms as “keep the ball rolling” and “Long Knives” (for white men) and “OK” and of course, the titular campaign slogan, “Tippecanoe and Tyler, too”.

William Henry Harrison isn’t a well-known president. He only served in office for one month before he died of pneumonia and passed the presidency on to his vice-president, John Tyler. However, he lived quite a colorful and adventurous life, both in the military, fighting the Indians in the Northwest territories, and as a public servant, serving in the Ohio legislature, the House of Representatives, the Senate, and finally, the presidency.

The funniest part of Harrison’s story was his nomination as Whig candidate for president. Harrison was nominated instead of Henry Clay, the most famous Whig, because the party convention thought Clay might be too controversial to win over the incumbent Democrat Martin Van Buren. (Clay was furious when he didn’t get the nomination, saying, “My friends are not worth the powder and shot it would take to kill them!”) The Whigs also thought Harrison would be more discreet and more popular in the West, where he was a hero for fighting and defeating Tecumseh and his Indian confederation. One of the Whig leaders, Nicholas Biddle, warned Harrison to not say anything that could possibly be construed as taking a position on anything: “Let no Committee, no convention, no town meeting, ever extract from him a single word about what he thinks now or what he will do hereafter.” Sound political advice? Or somewhat cynical and impracticable?

I enjoyed reading about this little known president and military hero, and it made me want to read more about Tecumseh and Henry Clay and John Tyler and . . . lots of others. Oh, the serendipitous rabbit trails of a reading life! I also found out that Harrison trained and became friends with Meriwether Lewis and William Clark at Fort Pitt. And Harrison served as ambassador to Colombia for a year, where he met and supported Simon Bolivar, the great South American liberator. What a varied and fascinating life!

The pen and ink illustrations in the book, by prolific illustrator Warren Chappell, are particularly detailed and would be excellent for study or for copying by budding artists. Author Stanley Young, was, as best I can figure out, a playwright and partner in the publishing house of Farrar, Straus and Young, later Farrar Straus Giroux.

U.S. Presidents Reading Project–2016 Update

Presidents’ Day seems like a good day for updating my U.S. Presidents Reading Project. I’ve been slowly working on this reading project for a few years now. I had a goal of reading one biography of a president per month, but that was a little ambitious. I think I’ve averaged more like one biography every six months, or two per year.

Here’s a list of some of the biographies I either have read or plan to read for this project. If you have any suggestions for the presidents whose names have no biography listed, or if you think I should choose another book other than the one I have listed, please leave any and all suggestions in the comments.

1. George Washington, 1789-97. Washington: The Indispensable Man by James Thomas Flexner, READ: Semicolon review here.

2. John Adams, 1797-1801 (Federalist) John Adams by David McCullough. READ: Semicolon review here. I also watched the mini-series based on this book.

3. Thomas Jefferson, 1801-9 (Democratic-Republican) I’ve taken a dislike to Jefferson after the Washington biography and the John Adams one. So I’m not sure which Jefferson bio to choose, one that’s flattering to restore my faith in this rather contradictory and enigmatic president, or one that’s iconoclastic to reinforce my antipathy.
Beth Fish reviews Twilight at Monticello by Alan Pell Crawford.

4. James Madison, 1809-17 (Democratic-Republican) The Great Little Madison by Jean Fritz. (Read, but not reviewed.) Yes, this one is a children’s book. I plan to read children’s books for some of these presidents because sometimes they’re better than the adult tomes. And I may use the children’s biographies in future school years. And reading a children’s biography may tell me whether or not I want to read more about a particular president.
I also read and wrote about A Perfect Union: Dolley Madison and the Creation of the American Nation by Catherine Allgor.

5. James Monroe, 1817-25 (Democratic-Republican) James Monroe: The Quest for National Identity by Harry Ammon.

6. John Quincy Adams, 1825-29 (Democratic-Republican) The Life and Times of Congressman John Quincy Adams by Leonard L. Richards.
Or maybe, Mrs. Adams in Winter: A Journey in the Last Days of Napoleon by Michael O’Brien.
I read Cannibals of the Heart: A Personal Biography of Louisa Catherine and John Quincy Adams by Jim Shepherd.

7. Andrew Jackson, 1829-37 (Democrat) American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House by Jon Meacham. I have a copy of this one, and I started it, but never got very far.

8. Martin Van Buren, 1837-41 (Democrat)

9. William Henry Harrison, 1841 (Whig) Mr. Jefferson’s Hammer: William Henry Harrison and the Origins of American Indian Policy by Robert M. Owens.
READ: Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too by Stanley Young. (Landmark history book for middle grade readers)

10. John Tyler, 1841-45 (Whig) John Tyler, the Accidental President by Edward P. Crapol.

11. James Knox Polk, 1845-49 (Democrat) Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America by Walter R. Borneman.

12. Zachary Taylor, 1849-50 (Whig)

13. Millard Fillmore, 1850-53 (Whig)

14. Franklin Pierce, 1853-57 (Democrat)

15. James Buchanan, 1857-61 (Democrat)

16. Abraham Lincoln, 1861-65 (Republican) Whereas with several of preceding presidents there is a dearth of good biographies to choose from, for Abraham Lincoln, it’s more like an embarrassment of riches. Which biography of Lincoln should I read?
Maybe, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin.
Lincoln and Douglas: The Years of Decision by Regina Z. Kelly. (Landmark history book for middle grade readers)
Abe Lincoln Grows Up by Carl Sandburg.
I did read Lincoln’s Grave Robbers by Steve Sheinkin, not a biography but rather an entertaining glimpse of the times about 10 or 12 years after the death of Lincoln.

17. Andrew Johnson, 1865-69 (Democrat/National Union) The Avenger Takes His Place: Andrew Johnson and the 45 Days That Changed the Nation by Howard Means.

18. Ulysses Simpson Grant, 1869-77 (Republican) Grant: A Biography by William McFeely.
The Story of Ulysses S. Grant by Jeanette Covert Nolan. Another juvenile biography.

19. Rutherford Birchard Hayes, 1877-81 (Republican) Fraud of the Century: Rutherford B. Hayes, Samuel Tilden, and the Stolen Election of 1876 by Roy Morris Jr. READ, but not reviewed. I have some notes from this book, and I could write a review, even though I read it about a year ago. It was good, but not great.

20. James Abram Garfield, 1881 (Republican) Dark Horse: The Surprise Election and Political Murder of President James A. Garfield by Kenneth D. Ackerman.
I actually read Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard.

21. Chester Alan Arthur, 1881-85 (Republican) Gentleman Boss: The Life of Chester Alan Arthur by Thomas C. Reeves.

22. Grover Cleveland, 1885-89 (Democrat) To the Loss of the Presidency (Grover Cleveland a Study in Courage, Vol. 1) by Allan Nevins.

23. Benjamin Harrison, 1889-93 (Republican)

24. Grover Cleveland, 1893-97 (Democrat) Grover Cleveland: A Study in Courage by Allan Nevin. (2 volumes)

25. William McKinley, 1897-1901 (Republican) In the Days of McKinley by Margaret Leech.

26. Theodore Roosevelt, 1901-9 (Republican) I read Mornings on Horseback: The Story of an Extraordinary Family, a Vanished Way of Life and the Unique Child Who Became Theodore Roosevelt by David McCullough, River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Millard, and Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris.

27. William Howard Taft, 1909-13 (Republican) 1912: Wilson, Roosevelt, Taft and Debs–The Election That Changed the Country by James Chase.

28. Woodrow Wilson, 1913-21 (Democrat) Woodrow Wilson: Princeton to the Presidency by W. Barksdale Maynard.

29. Warren Gamaliel Harding, 1921-23 (Republican) Florence Harding: The First Lady, The Jazz Age, And The Death Of America’s Most Scandalous President by Carl Sferrazza Anthony. I read most of this one last January/February (2015), but didn’t quite finish it. It’s a really long and discouraging biography of First Lady Florence Harding. The book itself and the writing are fine; it’s the people and events that the book chronicles that are discouraging and sad. I can’t believe that anyone could be as sexually promiscuous and dishonorable as President Harding and still live with himself, much less become president of the United States. No wonder the twenties were roaring.
The Strange Death of President Harding by Gaston B. Means and May Dixon Thacker.
1920: The Year of Six Presidents by David Pietrusza.

30. Calvin Coolidge, 1923-29 (Republican) A Puritan in Babylon: The Story of Calvin Coolidge by William Allen White OR The Autobiography Of Calvin Coolidge by Calvin Coolidge. (After Harding, they needed a “Puritan”—or atlas a gentleman.)

31. Herbert Clark Hoover, 1929-33 (Republican)

32. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1933-45 (Democrat) Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship by Jon Meacham. I rather like Churchill, FDR not so much, so this one sounds like something I could enjoy and learn from.
I read FDR and the American Crisis by Albert Marrin and enjoyed it very much, since it was neither hagiographic nor a a disparaging of FDR and his presidency.

33. Harry S. Truman, 1945-53 (Democrat) Truman by David McCullough. 1993 Pulitzer Prize winner.

34. Dwight David Eisenhower, 1953-61 (Republican) Ike: An American Hero by Michael Korda.
My Three Years with Eisenhower by Captain Harry Butcher.
Crusade in Europe by Dwight Eisenhower.

35. John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 1961-63 (Democrat) I might just re-read Profiles in Courage in lieu of a biography of this overrated (IMHO) president.
I read and wrote about “The President Has Been Shot!” The Assassination of John F. Kennedy by James L. Swanson, a YA nonfiction account of Kennedy’s assassination.

36. Lyndon Baines Johnson, 1963-69 (Democrat) The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate, Volume 3 (2003 Pulitzer Prize for biography) by Robert Caro.

37. Richard Milhous Nixon, 1969-74 (Republican)

38. Gerald Rudolph Ford Jr , 1974-77 (Republican)

39. James Earl Carter, 1977-81 (Democrat) An Hour Before Daylight: Memories of a Rural Boyhood by Jimmy Carter

40. Ronald Wilson Reagan, 1981-89 (Republican) Ronald Reagan: How an Ordinary Man Became an Extraordinary Leader by Dinesh D’Souza.
I am reading Reagan: The Life by HW Brands—slowly. It’s good, but exhaustive.

41. George Herbert Walker Bush, 1989-1993 (Republican)

42. William Jefferson Clinton, 1993-2001 (Democrat)

43. George W. Bush, 2001-2009 (Republican) Decision Points by George W. Bush.

44. Barack Hussein Obama, 2009- (Democrat) Dreams from my Father by Barack Obama.

Baker’s Dozen: 13 Presidential Biographies to Read in 2016

I hope to work on my US presidents project this year as I read some of the biographies (and autobiographies) that I picked out a few years ago for this project. Thursdays seem like a good day to update my progress on the Presidents Project, so that’s the plan.

Books to read in 2016:

1. Finish reading Ronald Reagan by H.W. Brands. I’m on page 122, and I hope to pick this book back up and finish it in January.

2. Decision Points by George W. Bush.

3. American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House by Jon Meacham.

4. Truman by David McCullough. 1993 Pulitzer Prize winner.

5. Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too by Stanley Young. (Landmark history book for middle grade readers)

6. Lincoln and Douglas: The Years of Decision by Regina Z. Kelly. (Landmark)

7. Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr by Anna Erskine Crouse and Russel Crouse. Another Landmark history, not about a U.S. president, but it is about two men, either of whom could have become president had they not allowed their personal feud to consume them.

8.The Story of Ulysses S. Grant by Jeanette Covert Nolan. Another juvenile biography.

9. Abe Lincoln Grows Up by Carl Sandburg.

10. Thomas Jefferson Grows a Nation by Peggy Thomas. Picture book biography emphasizing Jefferson’s skills and interest as a naturalist and gentleman farmer.

11. The Many Faces of George Washington: Remaking a Presidential Icon (Exceptional Social Studies Titles for Intermediate Grades) by Carla Killough McClafferty.

12. The President and Mom’s Apple Pie by Michael Garland. In this fictional picture book, set in 1909, President William Howard Taft comes to town to dedicate the new flagpole, but he gets distracted by the aroma of mom’s apple pie.

13. The President’s Stuck in the Bathtub: Poems About the Presidents by Susan Katz.

This list seems readable to me. The huge tomes are balanced by light and easy picture books. Again, I can’t wait to get started.

FDR and the American Crisis by Albert Marrin

History professor Albert Marrin has been writing nonfiction narrative history for quite a while: his first book for young adults was Overlord: D Day and the Invasion of Europe, which was published in 1982. He has written more than thirty history narratives for children and young adults, including Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy, a National Book Award finalist.

In his latest book, Marrin returns to the World War II era and to the Great Depression and to the president who shepherded America through both of those crises, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. FDR was a complicated character, and Mr. Marrin presents him—warts, strengths, and all—in the context of the events and attitudes of his time. FDR and The American Crisis is, above all, a comprehensive and balanced vision of Roosevelt, what he did for the United States and what he did to change the country, for better and for worse.

In addition to my appreciation for its even-handedness, I was most impressed with the personal tone of Mr. Marrin’s very detailed, yet broad, narrative. Mr. Marrin is 79 years old. Born in 1936, he actually remembers some of the events of Roosevelt’s presidency and of the second World War. And he’s not afraid to gently insert himself into the narrative with an “I remember” or a “we all wonder if” statement. In addition, Marrin isn’t reluctant to share his own informed opinion when it’s appropriate:

“Critics branded Hoover a ‘do-nothing’ president who let Americans suffer due to his commitment to old-fashioned ideas. It is untrue.”

“The media developed a teenager’s crush on the Red Army.”

“Convinced of his own virtue and wisdom, he (FDR) thought too highly of his personal charm and powers of persuasion. He misjudged the murderous Stalin.”

“Those who praised him (FDR) as a saintly miracle worker are as wrong as those who bitterly cursed him as a monster.”

Bottom line, I learned a lot from reading FDR and the American Crisis—and I learned it in a throughly pleasant and absorbing read. Mr. Marrin once said in an interview, “Kids are very bright. I’m not going to write down. If anything, I’ll have them read up to me.” This book is not dumbed down, nor is it a breezy hagiography of a famous president. Any high school, or even college, student looking for both an in-depth and readable introduction to FDR and his presidency could not do better than to read Mr. Marrin’s book first.

George Washington and the Cherry Tree

I am taking a blog break for Lent, but I thought I’d share some of my old posts from years gone by. I’ve been blogging at Semicolon since October, 2003, more than eleven years. This post is copied and edited from February 21, 2005:

My mom used to read/quote this poem to us every February 22nd, Geroge Washington’s birthday. Nowadays we celebrate President’s Day, usually before the date of General Washington’s birth, but you can take time out to read a poem in honor of our first president today–even if the story itself is apocryphal. You have to do your best Eyetalian accent for the full effect.

Leetla Giorgio Washeenton
By Thomas Augustine Daly

You know w’at for ees school keep out
Dees holiday, my son?
Wal, den, I gona tal you ’bout
Dees Giorgio Washeenton.

Wal, Giorgio was leetla keed
Ees leeve long time ago,
An’ he gon’ school for learn to read
An’ write hees nam’, you know.
He moocha like for gona school
An’ learna hard all day,
Baycause he no gat time for fool
Weeth bada keeds an’ play.
Wal, wan cold day w’en Giorgio
Ees steell so vera small,
He start from home, but he ees no
Show up een school at all!
Oh, my! hees Pop ees gatta mad
An’ so he tal hees wife:
“Som’ leetla boy ees gon’ feel bad
Today, you bat my life!”
An’ den he grab a bigga steeck
An’ gon’ out een da snow
An’ lookin’ all aroun’ for seek
Da leetla Giorgio.


Ha! w’at you theenk? Firs’ theeng he see
Where leetla boy he stan’,
All tangla up een cherry tree,
Weeth hatchet een hees han’.
“Ha! w’at you do?” hees Pop he say,
“W’at for you busta rule
An’ stay away like dees for play
Eenstead for gon’ to school?”
Da boy ees say: “I no can lie,
An’ so I speaka true.
I stay away from school for try
An’ gat som’ wood for you.
I theenka deesa cherry tree
Ees goodda size for chop,
An’ so I cut heem down, you see,
For justa help my Pop.”
Hees Pop he no can gatta mad,
But looka please’ an’ say:
“My leetla boy, I am so glad
You taka holiday.”

Ees good for leetla boy, you see,
For be so bright an’ try
For help hees Pop; so den he be.
A granda man bimeby.
So now you gotta holiday
An’ eet ees good, you know,
For you gon’ do da sama way
Like leetla Giorgio.
Don’t play so mooch, but justa stop,
Eef you want be som’ good,
An’ try for help your poor old Pop
By carry home som’ wood;
An’ mebbe so like Giorgio
You grow for be so great
You gona be da Presidant
Of dese Unita State’!

“The President Has Been Shot!” by James L. Swanson

51Km7NeeU2L._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_On the evening of November 22, 2013, I was reading, not an unusual activity for me. But instead of reading C.S. Lewis or any of the many novels that I want to finish, I was reading one of the Cybils YA nonfiction books that was nominated this year. “The President Has Been Shot!” The Assassination of John F. Kennedy by James L. Swanson was the sad story of what happened in Dallas fifty years ago, and I was reminded of the fragility of human life and the sinfulness of mankind.

Yes, I remember where I was when I heard the news of Kennedy’s death. Unfortunately for my reputation for perfect recall, I remember incorrectly. I was in first grade in 1963, but for some reason I have a vivid memory of being in my second grade classroom with my second grade teacher, Mrs. Bouska, announcing to us that the president had been shot. I’m not sure why my first grade memory has transposed itself in time into second grade, but there it is. Memory is unreliable.

So we have books—to record the memories and the events and keep us honest. A lot of the information in this book I either never knew or I didn’t remember. I had no idea that Kennedy was shot through the back of the head and his head either fell or was pulled into Jackie Kennedy’s lap where she held pieces of his brain in her hands all the way to Parkland Hospital. Gruesome. Then, it was also rather grisly and horrific to read that Jackie refused to change her blood-stained clothes all that day, saying repeatedly, “I want them to see what they’ve done.” People certainly do grieve and react in different ways to shocking, appalling events.

“History is more than a narrative of what happened at a particular moment in time—it is also the story of how events were reported to, and experienced by, the people who lived through them.” (For Further Reading, p.240) Mr. Swanson does a particularly good job of giving readers a feel for the time period and the way newspapers, magazines, radio, and television reported on the death of the president. Black and white photographs interspersed throughout the book add to the verisimilitude of the story, transporting readers into the early 1960’s when color television was still not in widespread use and newspapers and many magazines were filled with black and white photographs.

Swanson’s 2009 nonfiction tale of an assassination, Chasing Lincoln’s Killer, was adapted from his adult book, Manhunt. “The President Has Been Shot!” was written specifically for the YA market, and it shines as an example of a nonfiction history narrative that doesn’t talk down to teen readers and yet keeps the detail to a level that suits young people who may be new to the subject of the Kennedy assassination. I highly recommend the book for students of history and politics who want a simple but thorough summary of the background of Kennedy’s presidency and the events surrounding and leading up to his assassination.

Lincoln’s Grave Robbers by Steve Sheinkin

Well, this episode in history was news to me. At the same time, actually on election night, that Republican Rutherford B. Hayes was in a neck-in-neck election race with Democrat Samuel Tilden, a group of counterfeiters became would-be grave robbers. Their plan was to steal the body of America’s favorite and perhaps most revered president, Abraham Lincoln, and hold it for ransom.

Although the grave robbers come across in the book as incompetent at best, criminally idiotic at worst, the plot was real, as were the guns the criminals carried to Lincoln’s tomb on that election night in 1876. They were serious, and the Secret Service agents who were determined to catch them red-handed were just as deadly serious. Not only does the reader get to read about a little known historical crime, but also we get a vocabulary lesson in criminal and counterfeiting jargon of the late nineteenth century. How many of the following words can you define? (There’s a glossary in the back of the book to help those of us who are unfamiliar with criminal underworld vocabulary.)

Boodle game or boodle carrier
Coney or coney man
Shover
Cracksman
Hanging bee
Resurrectionist
Roper
Ghouls
To pipe (someone)
Bone orchard

And what would you think of reading the following sentence in your local newspaper about a group of escaped criminals?

“If human ingenuity can track them it will be done. It is earnestly hoped that the double-distilled perpetrators of this attempted robbery of the remains of America’s most loved President will soon be brought to justice.” ~reporter John English in The Chicago Tribune

Double-distilled perpetrators? My, how writing styles have changed!

I enjoyed Lincoln’s Grave Robbers mostly as look into history and the almost comical antics of both criminals and police in the post-Civil War time period. The politicians and journalists were somewhat hapless and disorganized as well. On the other hand, I hope that counterfeiters nowadays are not as successful as they back in the late 1800’s. Sheinkin notes that “by 1864 an astounding 50 percent of the paper money in circulation was fake.” And “the one and only task of the Secret Service was to stop the counterfeiters.”

What does all this fake money have to do with stealing poor Mr. Lincoln’s bones? Well, there’s a connection, and it’s rather surprising–and ridiculous. I don’t know how the grave robbers thought they were going to get away with such a plot. But try they did, and you can read all about it in Lincoln’s Grave Robbers.

Lincoln’s Grave Robbers by Steve Sheinkin has been nominated for the Cybils Award in the category of Young Adult Nonfiction. The thoughts in this review are my own and do not reflect the thoughts or evaluations of the Cybils panel or of any other Cybils judge.

Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard.

One of my children used to be particularly interested in naming and researching the four U.S. presidents who were assassinated: Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, and Kennedy. This book about the life, presidency, and assassination of President James Garfield would have been above her reading level since she was only 10 or 11 years old when she had the fascination with assassinated presidents, but it definitely is full of information about Garfield and would be absorbing for anyone with a similar interest.

Like Lincoln, Garfield grew up in poverty. He became an educated man by dint of hard work and his widowed mother’s sacrifice. He married a woman with whom he shared at best friendship, and only many years later, after Garfield had an affair and then re-committed to his marriage, did the two of them become partners in love in the truest sense. This part of the story alone is fascinating, a good example for our age of love’em and leave’em. (This breach of trust and reconciliation is documented in letters that Lucretia, his wife, kept and later left to his presidential library.)

But there are several other fascinating stories in this book:
the story of Vice President Chester Arthur and his conversion from party hack to presidential promoter of honesty and civil service reform.

the saga of Alexander Graham Bell’s desperate attempt to invent a medical device that would locate the bullet lodged inside President Garfield’s body before Garfield died.

the history of medical sterilization techniques that had not yet been accepted as standard practice in the U.S., contributing to the infection that eventually killed the president.

the sad (and currently relevant in light of the attention that is being focused on random shootings after Sandy Hook) story of the assassin, Charles Guiteau, who was obviously as mad as March hare but nevertheless cunning enough to plan a successful presidential assassination all by himself.

Candice Millard also wrote the book I read a couple of years ago about Theodore Roosevelt’s trip into the Amazon rainforest, River of Doubt, and my plan is to read anything she writes in the future. Ms. Millard, by the way, got her master’s degree in literature from Baylor University. Destiny of the Republic won the Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime.

12 Projects for 2013

For several years now, I’ve been starting off the year with projects instead of resolutions. I don’t always complete my projects, but I enjoy starting them and working toward a goal. And I don’t feel guilty if I don’t finish. If I do finish, I feel a sense of accomplishment. Win-win. So, here are my twelve projects for 2013:

1. 100 Days in the Book of Isaiah. I’m really looking forward to this study along with my church family.

2. Reading Through West Africa. The countries of West Africa (according to my scheme) are Benin, Biafra (part of Nigeria), Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Ivory Coast, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo. That’s fourteen nations, if I include Biafra, and I would very much like to read at least one book from or about each country. If you have suggestions, please comment.

3. I’m working on a project with my church for a community/tutoring/library media center. This TED talk by author Dave Eggers was inspirational, although it’s not exactly what I have in mind. I am working more on a library and study center for homeschoolers and of course, it would be open to kids who are in public or private schools, too. A lot of my work will be in relation to the library, gathering excellent books and adding to the library and helping homeschool and other families to use the library to enrich their studies. I am also inspired by this library and others like it.

4. I want to concentrate on reading all the books on my TBR list this year –at least all of them that I can beg, borrow (from the library) or somehow purchase. I’ve already requested several of the books on my list from the library.

5. My Classics Club list is a sort of addendum to my TBR list, and I’d also like to read many of the books on that list. In 2012 I read Scoop by Evelyn Waugh, The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West, and Memento Mori by Muriel Spark, three out of fifty-three, not a good average if I’m to be done with all of them by 2017.

6. I have house-keeping project that I’m almost embarrassed to mention here. I’ve started small–cleaning and sorting piles in a corner of my bedroom. I’d really like to continue cleaning, purging, and organizing around the perimeter of my bedroom and then the living room until eventually I get around the entire house. A project so ridiculously mundane and yet so needed.

7. I continue to work through this list of new-to-me recipes and through several cookbooks and other recipe sources for dishes I want to try this year. I would like to make one new dish per week, and maybe I can manage to “review” the meals and food I make here at Semicolon. If you have any extra-special recipes you think I should try, please leave a comment.

8. Praying for Strangers (and Friends) Project. I was quite impressed by my reading of River Jordan’s prayer project book, Praying for Strangers. I still can’t walk up to strangers and tell them that I’m praying for them or ask them for prayer requests. But in 2013 I hope to ask God to give me one person each day to focus on and to pray for. Maybe I’ll be praying for you one day this year. I have been much more consistent in praying for specific people this past year, and I hope to continue the practice.

9. U.S. Presidents Reading Project. I got David McCullough’s biography of Truman for Christmas in 2011, and I plan to read that chunkster during my Lenten blog break since I didn’t read it last year. I don’t know if I’ll read any other presidential biographies this year, but if I finish Truman I’ll be doing well.

10. The 40-Trash Bag Challenge. Starting tomorrow. My life needs this project.

11. 100 Movies of Summer. When we’re not traveling, which will be most of the summer, we might watch a few old classic but new-to-us movies. I’ll need to make a new list, since we’ve watched many of the ones on the list I linked to, but I hope to find a few gems this summer.

12. I got this Bible for Christmas (mine is red), and I’ve already begun transferring my notes from my old Bible into this new one and taking new notes. I just jot down whatever the Holy Spirit brings to mind with the intention of giving the Bible to one of my children someday.

The Presidents Club by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy

The Presidents Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy. Recommended by Al Mohler.

Fascinating. I learned a lot about the presidents of the latter half of the twentieth century and their post-presidential lives.

I learned that both Truman and Hoover were at first rather neglected and forgotten after their respective presidencies were over, but that later presidents came to rely on them for advice and encouragement and sometimes (Hoover) help in carrying out humanitarian initiatives. According to the book, Hoover was great at organizing and carrying out post-war recovery programs to help refugees and starving people in the war zone, something he did after World War I and before he became president and after World War II, after he was president.

Johnson was a pain and a blowhard who nevertheless agonized over his role in escalating the Vietnam War. I don’t think I would have liked LBJ very much.

Nixon came across as a very complicated, arrogant, insecure, devious, and intelligent man. He knew a lot about the Russians, and thought he knew even more than he did. He advised presidents on foreign policy, towards the Soviet Union/Russia in particular, and he very much wanted to be recognized and admired for his contributions.

The authors depict Gerald Ford as a courageous man who knew that his pardon for Richard Nixon would heal the country and strengthen the presidency but knew also that it would seriously undermine his chances to serve as an elected president.

Carter was apparently a loose cannon, talented in diplomacy, but prone to go off on his own and cut his own deals without consulting the sitting president or the State Department. He practically worked miracles when he was sent on diplomatic missions to North Korea and to Haiti, but everyone back in the U.S., the president and all his advisors, was on high alert, wondering what he would do or say next.

George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton became close friends after their time as president was over, working together to raise money for disaster relief after Hurricane Katrina and after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Then, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton became friends and cooperated to raise funds for Haiti relief.

That’s the kind of stuff ex-presidents do, and the thesis of the book is that they form a sort of “club” made up of the very few people in the world who know what it’s like to deal with the pressures and responsibilities of being the president of the United States of America. They become concerned with their own legacy to some extent, but also with the guarding of the office of the presidency. So they cooperate with each other and with the president who is in office to protect the prestige and honor of the presidency, even while possibly disagreeing in fundamental ways about policy and politics.