12 Books about Books that I Still Want to Read

By the Book: A Reader’s Guide to Life by Ramona Koval. Reviewed by kimbofo at Reading Matters.

Bequest of Wings: A Family’s Pleasure with Books by Annis Duff.

Phantoms on the Bookshelves by jacques Bonnet, reviewed at Stuck in a Book.

Howards End Is on the Landing: A Year of Reading from Home by Susan Hill. Recommended by Beth at Weavings.

Old Books, Rare Friends: Two Literary Sleuths and Their Shared Passions by Leona Rostenberg & Madeleine Stern. Recommended at Book Psmith.

A Passion for Books by Harold Rabinowitz and Rob Kaplan. Recommended by FatalisFortuna.

Reading the OED by Ammon Shea. Recommended at The Book Lady’s Blog.

Soldier’s Heart: Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point by Elizabeth D. Samet. Also recommended at Random Wonder.

Walking a Literary Labyrinth by Nancy Malone. Recommended at Indextrious Reader.

When I Was a Child I Read Books by Marilynne Robinson.

A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books by Nicholas A. Basbanes.

Buried in Books: A Reader’s Anthology by Julie Rugg, reviewed at A Bookish Affair.

Don’t all of these sound delicious? What are your favorite books about books?

12 Best Nonfiction Books I Read in 2013

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo. Recommended at Book Diary.

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

The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life by Rod Dreher.

Letters from a Skeptic: A Son Wrestles with his Father’s Questions about Christianity by Dr. Gregory A. Boyd and Edward K. Boyd.

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield.

Wisdom and Innocence: A Life of G.K. Chesterton by Joseph Pearce.

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright, reviewed at Semicolon.

Death by Living: Life Is Meant to Be Spent by N.D. Wilson.

The Girl in the Picture by Denise Chong, featured at Semicolon.

C.S. Lewis: A Life by Alister McGrath.

Saving a Life: How We Found Courage When Death Rescued our Son by Charles and Janet Morris.

Beautiful Nate: A Memoir of a Family’s Love, a Life Lost, and Heaven’s Promises by Dennis Mansfield.

Two biographies (Chesterton and Lewis), two autobiographies/conversion stories (Denise Chong and Rosaria Champagne Butterfield), two memoirs of the loss of a son (the last two on the list), a couple of inspirational apologetics titles (Boyd and Wilson), exposes of Scientology and of poverty in Mumbai, a narrative history of the assassination and death of President James Garfield, and a memoir of Rod Dreher’s encounter with death and community in small-town Louisiana: those were my favorite nonfiction reads this year. I recommend any or all of them, if you’re at all interested in the subject matter. Ms. Butterfield’s conversion story and Mr. Wright’s book about the history and inner workings of the Scientology movement were particularly thought-provoking.

Sunday Salon: Books Read in November and December, 2013

November and December sort of blended together for me, but the two months also were sharply divided by Before the Fire and After the Fire. We had a fire at our house a couple of weeks ago, and now we’re living in a rental house while the restoration people and the insurance people and the contractors and whoever else is involved, repair and restore our house. Thanks to the Almighty, all of the Semicolon family is uninjured and we are doing well.

But my reading for November and December is a little scattered and sometimes unexamined here at Semicolon.

Children’s and Young Adult Fiction:
The Runaway King by Jennifer A. Nielsen, reviewed at Semicolon.
Hold Fast by Blue Balliet, reviewed at Semicolon.
Moxie and the Art of Rule-Breaking by Erin Dionne, reviewed at Semicolon.
A Girl Called Problem by Katie Quirk, reviewed at Semicolon.
The Sound of Coaches by Leon Garfield, reviewed at Semicolon.
Allegiant by Veronica Roth, reviewed at Semicolon.
Wake Up Missing by Kate Messner, reviewed at Semicolon.
Andi Unexpected by Amanda Flower, reviewed at Semicolon.
Far, Far Away by Tom McNeal.
Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell.

Adult Fiction:
Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson.
Miss Buncle Married by D.E. Stevenson.
Mr. Ives’ Christmas by Oscar Hijuelos.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me by Karen Swallow Prior, reviewed at Semicolon.
Becoming Ben Franklin by Russell Freedman, reviewed at Semicolon.
Home Front Girl by Joan Wehlen Morrison.
Women of the Frontier by Brandon Marie Miller, reviewed at Semicolon.
“The President Has Been Shot!” by James L. Swanson, reviewed at Semicolon.
Code Name Pauline: Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent by Pearl Witherington Cornioley. Oddly organized, but this memoir might be of interest to fans of the YA spy novel, Code Name Verity.
The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World’s Most Notorious Nazi by Neal Bascomb. Strangely enough, despite the subject matter, I found this one to be mostly boring.
Tillie Pierce: Teen Eyewitness to the Battle of Gettysburg by Tanya Anderson.
Wild Animal Neighbors: Sharing Our Urban World by Ann Downer.
Yoko Ono: Collector of Skies by Nell Beram, reviewed at Semicolon.
Regine’s Book: A Teen Girl’s Last Words by Regine Stokke. Cancer memoir from a Norwegian teen with leukemia.

The 22nd Gift of Christmas in Plymouth, Massachusetts, 1820

From Daniel Webster’s Plymouth Oration, delivered at Plymouth, Massachusetts, December 22, 1820:

Our fathers were brought hither by their high veneration for the Christian religion. They journeyed by its light, and labored in its hope. They sought to incorporate its principles with the elements of their society, and to diffuse its influence through all their institutions, civil, political, or literary. Let us cherish these sentiments, and extend this influence still more widely; in the full conviction, that that is the happiest society which partakes in the highest degree of the mild and peaceful spirit of Christianity.

The hours of this day are rapidly flying, and this occasion will soon be passed. Neither we nor our children can expect to behold its return. They are in the distant regions of futurity, they exist only in the all-creating power of God, who shall stand here a hundred years hence, to trace, through us, their descent from the Pilgrims, and to survey, as we have now surveyed, the progress of their country, during the lapse of a century. We would anticipate their concurrence with us in our sentiments of deep regard for our common ancestors. We would anticipate and partake the pleasure with which they will then recount the steps of New England’s advancement. On the morning of that day, although it will not disturb us in our repose, the voice of acclamation and gratitude, commencing on the Rock of Plymouth, shall be transmitted through millions of the sons of the Pilgrims, till it lose itself in the murmurs of the Pacific seas.

We would leave for the consideration of those who shall then occupy our places, some proof that we hold the blessings transmitted from our fathers in just estimation; some proof of our attachment to the cause of good government, and of civil and religious liberty; some proof of a sincere and ardent desire to promote every thing which may enlarge the understandings and improve the hearts of men. And when, from the long distance of a hundred years, they shall look back upon us, they shall know, at least, that we possessed affections, which, running backward and warming with gratitude for what our ancestors have done for our happiness, run forward also to our posterity, and meet them with cordial salutation, ere yet they have arrived on the shore of being.

Advance, then, ye future generations! We would hail you, as you rise in your long succession, to fill the places which we now fill, and to taste the blessings of existence where we are passing, and soon shall have passed, our own human duration. We bid you welcome to this pleasant land of the fathers. We bid you welcome to the healthful skies and the verdant fields of New England. We greet your accession to the great inheritance which we have enjoyed.

We welcome you to the blessings of good government and religious liberty. We welcome you to the treasures of science and the delights of learning. We welcome you to the transcendent sweets of domestic life, to the happiness of kindred, and parents, and children. We welcome you to the immeasurable blessings of rational existence, the immortal hope of Christianity, and the light of everlasting truth!

Note that Mr. Webster assumed that future generations would value certain ideals: science, learning, good government, religious liberty, domestic life, rationality, truth, hope, and most of all Christianity. If he were to travel through time and see us here, what would he think of our stewardship of the pleasant land of the fathers and of the blessings of liberty and of the immortal hope of Christianity?

Today’s Gifts from Semicolon:
A story: about Daniel Webster, just for fun: The Devil and Daniie Webster by Stephen Vincent Benet.

A song: On this day in 1808 Ludwig van Beethoven conducted and performed in concert at the Theater an der Wien, Vienna, with the premiere of his Fifth Symphony, Sixth Symphony, Fourth Piano Concerto (performed by Beethoven himself) and Choral Fantasy (with Beethoven at the piano).

A birthday: Edward Arlington Robinson, b.1869.

A booklist: Deliberate Reader with 31 Days of Great Nonfiction.

'Tombstone of Louisa P. Daugherty' photo (c) 2013, Bob Shrader - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/A verse:
A Happy Man by Edward Arlington Robinson

When these graven lines you see,
Traveller, do not pity me;
Though I be among the dead,
Let no mournful word be said.

Children that I leave behind,
And their children, all were kind;
Near to them and to my wife,
I was happy all my life.

My three sons I married right,
And their sons I rocked at night;
Death nor sorrow never brought
Cause for one unhappy thought.

Now, and with no need of tears,
Here they leave me, full of years,–
Leave me to my quiet rest
In the region of the blest.

“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.

Suggestions for the Book Club

Camille who blogs at BookMoot was at KidLitCon in Austin last weekend, and I finally got to meet her after all these years! I found out that not only does she help facilitate and advocate for books and reading among the younger set, as a substitute librarian and all-round book recommender, but she also leads a book club for seniors at her church in which they discuss the faith aspects, in particular, of the books they read together. She told me some of the books they’ve read for the book club, which includes at least one member who is over ninety years of age.

They read Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel over the summer. I applaud their persistence. I tried to read Wolf Hall when it first came out, and I don’t think I made it to the end. I found myself skimming, trying to just get through it, and I don’t remember a single thing about its portrayal of Thomas Cromwell–except that I couldn’t tell who was talking or thinking half the time, nor when it was, nor where the scene was set. Camille said the key is to listen to it (audiobook), and that the narrator changes voices to indicate who is speaking.

Anyway, after reading Wolf Hall, Camille and the ladies thought they needed something a little lighter, so they read The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt, a book I am going to read very soon. I loved Schmidt’s Okay for Now, and I’m pretty sure I’ll fall for The Wednesday Wars, too. They’ve also read The Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (another book on my TBR list), and The End of Your Life Book Club, I think. But Camille said she was working hard to figure out what the books for the spring of 2014 should be. So I jumped in and said I’d send her some recommendations.

So, here are my book club recommendations:

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me by Karen Prior. My mom, my sister , and I are reading this nonfiction literary memoir right now.
Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas.
Unbroken by Lara Hillebrand. (If they haven’t already read it. It seems everyone has and loved it just as much as I did.)

Adult Fiction:
Peace Like A River by Leif Enger.
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.
City of Tranquil Light by Bo Caldwell.
Nanjing Requiem by Ha Jin.
Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns.
The Love Letters or The Severed Wasp by Madeleine L’Engle.
Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry. Russell Moore on why you should read Hannah Coulter.

Young Adult and Children’s Fiction:
The Hawk and the Dove by Penelope Wilcock.
My Hands Came Away Red by Lisa McKay.

As I was making this list, I came across Melissa Wiley’s post at Here in the Bonny Glen about her “imaginary book club” and the books she’d like to discuss with an imaginary group of like-minded readers. And some other bloggers chimed in with their Imaginary Book Club reading lists:

Sarah at Knitting the Wind.
Sashwee at Post-haste.

If you have a list, leave a comment here or at Melissa’s blog and I’ll add your link to the list. I love book lists, and maybe Camille will find something she can use here or there or somewhere. Camille is particularly looking for books that have some “faith aspect” or for children’s and YA books that are engaging for adults, and/or for books that would be challenging for senior adults and their season of life. However, some of the ladies asked Camille for a break from books about death and dying, since they’ve read several and many of them are dealing with the same issue in their own lives. I may also choose some of the books on someone’s list for our family book club, since I’ve actually read the ones in my list and would like to suggest books for the family book club that I haven’t read already.

Becoming Ben Franklin by Russell Freedman

51texp1OeLL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Becoming Ben Franklin: How a Candle-Maker’s Son Helped Light the Flame of Liberty by Russell Freedman.

I have several books about Benjamin Franklin in my library, including Franklin’s own autobiography. However, the other four Franklin books that I own are all written for younger readers. Becoming Ben Franklin, despite its relatively short seventy-seven pages, is written on a middle school or high school level as a basic introduction to the life of our most celebrated founding father.

Russell Freedman, of course, is quite well-known himself in the field of children’s nonfiction, having won the Newbery Award for his photobiography of Lincoln and Newbery Honors for books about Eleanor Roosevelt and about the Wright brothers. He begins his book on Benjamin Franklin with Franklin’s arrival in Philadelphia at the age of seventeen, a runaway apprentice “with a mind of his own.” In Freedman’s treatment, as in most other biographies of Franklin, Benjamin Franklin comes across as the quintessential self-made man. He asked for financial help from his father when he decided to set up a print shop in Philadelphia, but dad was not prepared to give such help without some proof that Benjamin was serious and likely to succeed. Pennsylvania Governor William Keith promised young Ben introductions and letters of credit and sent him off to England to pick out equipment for his new business, but when Ben arrived the introductions and the loans were nonexistent. So Ben was again on his own.

It seems from the narrative that although Benjamin Franklin was something of an eccentric with his “air baths” and his experiments in electricity, he won his place in the world by dint of hard work, experimentation with good ideas, and perseverance. Ben Franklin is a good subject for a children’s biography because the author can choose whether to emphasize Ben’s quirkiness, hard work, innovative ideas, or influence in politics or science or international affairs.

'JOIN, or DIE' photo (c) 2011, DonkeyHotey - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/As I said, this biography would be a good, solid middle school introduction to the life of Ben Franklin. Only one caveat: On page 28, there is a picture of this cartoon from the pen of Mr. Franklin. The caption reads in part: “The parts of the segmented snake are labeled for South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and New England (which was actually four colonies). Delaware and Maryland are missing.” Obvious mistake. I’m not sure what is missing (Connecticut? Or was it one of the four NE colonies? Maybe Georgia?), but Maryland is NOT missing. Picky, I know, but children’s informational books should be accurate to the nth degree. I wouldn’t buy it with that error in it. However, you may be willing to overlook it since the book is well-written and informative otherwise.

51kaQGvFQzL._SX258_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_Some other Ben Franklin titles for younger children:

Aliki in The Many Lives of Benjamin Franklin writes: “Benjamin Franklin was born with just one life. But as he grew, his curiosity, his sense of humor and his brilliant mind turned him into a man with many lives.” Aliki’s prism for Ben Franklin is the “man of ideas.” It’s good book that would fit right in to today’s popularity of “graphic” nonfiction with its cartoon panel pages, but it’s out of print.

What’s the Big Idea, Ben Franklin? by Jean Fritz takes much the same perspective as Aliki’s book, but with an emphasis on Franklin’s comical and entertaining side and his nonconformist, can-do attitude. “Benjamin would have liked to do nothing but experiment with his ideas, but people had discovered that he was more than an inventor. Whatever needed doing, he seemed able and willing to do it.”

Poor Richard in France by F.N. Monjo is narrated by Franklin’s grandson, Benny, and focuses on Ben Franklin’s time in France during the American Revolution when he was working to get the French to support the Americans in their fight against the British. In this story Franklin is a wise and indulgent old grandfather who always answers Benny’s questions and outfoxes both the British and the French. The emphasis is on Franklin’s wisdom. (This one is my favorite of the lot. The voice of young Benny and his interactions with his grandfather are a delight.) Unfortunately, Monjo’s book is also out of print.

Benjamin Franklin: Young Printer by Augusta Stevenson is one of the Childhood of Famous Americans series of fictionalized biographies of great Americans. Stevenson’s Ben Franklin is more serious and mature for his age. He gives good advice to his age mates, and he’s “the best apprentice in the world.” Stevenson tells stories about young Ben in the same vein as George Washington and the Cherry Tree, stories that emphasize how Ben was, even in his youth, a diligent, honest, and tenacious young man, a character to be admired and emulated.

Becoming Ben Franklin is a good addition to the stable of children’s biographies about the great man. It’s pitched for an older audience, but still quite accessible with an easy to read layout and design and lots of period illustrations, and at least one factual error that should have been noticed by a proofreader before it got into print.