Wednesday, October 26, 2011

My Most Read Authors

I love Goodreads for a lot of reasons, and here's one: it created a little link on the side of the "My Books" page with my Most Read Authors. Fun! I clicked on it and was shocked to discover Jane Sorenson at the top. A little known secret about me is that as an adolescent I devoured her series of twelve books about Jennifer Green, in all its ridiculous, born-again-Christian, totally cheese-tacular, intermediate fiction glory. These books were terrible, and yet great, and they taught me all about Haiti.  They are kind of from the Brady Bunch school of kids' art/entertainment. Despite the greatness of the so-sappy-they're-awesome "Jennifer Books," I really was appalled to see Jane Sorenson's name at the top of my list of most-read authors. I realized that although her series had a dozen books, if nothing else I had read at least as many Beverly Cleary and Dr. Seuss books when I was a child but just hadn't rated them on Goodreads. So I promptly went through adding and rating a few more books from those two authors. With no further ado, then, here are my top 13 most read authors:

1. Dr. Seuss & Beverly Cleary  (tie)
2. Jane Sorenson
3. Sandra Scoppettone
4. Elizabeth Berg & Virginia Woolf (tie)
5. William Shakespeare
6. Nelson DeMille & Douglas Adams (tie)
7. Margaret Atwood, Anna Quindlen, Judy Blume & Nick Hornby (4-way tie)

I'm good with the gender balance of the list, but my goodness, it's certainly very white-Anglo-American, isn't it? But, hey, naysayers! Check out all that genre fiction!

Who are your most read authors?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Honest Abe, Rail-Splittin' and Constitution Splittin'
(but not nation-splittin')

now finished: Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years and The War Years by Carl Sandburg
next up: The Beach by Alex Garland

So, Abraham Lincoln: a benchmark, it would seem, in my prez bios project. I mean, Abraham Lincoln is a president that other people read bios of, even people who aren't doing a wonderfully dorky read-a-bio-of-every-president-in-order-to-see-where-we-went-wrong project. That means I had a lot of choices, for the first time since Thomas Jefferson, but we settled on the Carl Sandburg.

Have I mentioned that it was originally published in six volumes?  This is one big bio. You can find just The Prairie Years or just The War Years, but I opted for the all-in-one combined volume that Sandburg himself abridged from the six volumes. It was very in depth, and I definitely feel that I spent a great deal of time with Lincoln and learned more about the Civil War than I ever came close to doing in my history classes over the years. I mean, there just isn't time to focus that deeply (unless you're a history major) as Sandburg did in researching and really becoming one with Lincoln's life.

The book has a strange style: it's a little folksy, like Lincoln himself, in relating the anecdotes of Lincoln's way with people, always able to smooth a ruffled feather or talk to anyone or get done what he wanted done without ever strong-arming people or even sometimes letting them realize they were being persuaded to give Abe his way.

Of course, nowadays it's all the rage to reconsider Lincoln's greatness by comparing him to the evil, monstrous, tragic-joke-of-a-president Dubya, because both kind of tossed habeas corpus to the wind during their wars. It's an interesting comparison (I first studied it intensively in my Foreign Affairs and the Constitution class in law school, so it's no surprise to me) but I'm not sure it's exactly spot on.

At any rate, though, the Civil War sure was a bloody mess.

I really, really hate how inevitable so many people thought it was. There should have been some kind of human decency that rose above the sectional slavery struggle. Look, I understand the need to adhere to the Constitution. And I understand that Fillmore, Pierce, and Buchanan, aka presidents numbers 13, 14, and 15, basically did not solve the slavery issue because they disliked it but understood legally that they "couldn't" do anything about it under the Constitution.  And it was true, in its way, that the Constitution protected slavery in the South. But then, simply, the Constitution was flawed. OK? It was flawed. It needed to not protect slavery, just as countries and governments and constitutions and leaders today should not protect slavery (including human trafficking!) or oppression. And the idea that Lincoln (and Grant) knew they needed to open up wholesale slaughter of the Confederate soldiers (also, of course, leading to slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Union soldiers) in order to stop this evil from happening is just so tragic, of them.

WHEN will there ever be a generation that stands up and says war is murder, and war is wrong, and we are going to solve our problems in a different way?  WHEN will we have a leader do that?

It certainly isn't our Nobel Peace Prize winner, Obama.  And my god it was not that lunatic clown murderer from Texas before him.

I agree with the man who so eloquently stated in the documentary The Good Soldier that the generation that finds a way to solve problems peacefully will actually be the "greatest generation."

And then, at the end of the horrible war, after so many have suffered so much, the night of Lincoln's death makes for one of the most gripping episodes I have yet read in any president biography.Well done, Carl Sandburg.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Finally, Abe Lincoln. Is he great?

now reading: Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years and the War Years by Carl Sandburg

So I'm reading this bio of Abraham Lincoln, as I continue along with my prez bios project (reading a biography of every president in order to see where we went wrong, a project that was obviously started during the Dubya administration). I realize that for some people Abraham Lincoln has been "next" ever since I finished Thomas Jefferson, or possibly James Madison, since many of us tend to give little thought to the likes of Martin Van Buren, James K. Polk, or Zachary Taylor. And, let's not even get started about Millard Fillmore, who is solidly in my top three along with James Madison and my boy, JQA. (That would be John Quincy Adams).

But you see, if you don't read a biography of every president in order to see where we went wrong, then you might find yourself reading a book about ol' Abe without any idea what Franklin Pierce (#14) and James Buchanan (#15) did in the decade before the Civil War. I must say that reading these presidential stories has been even more interesting than I thought it was going to be. The early-to-mid 1800s are a seriously incredible time in U.S. history, with so much going on, and HUGE problems to solve, and so many potentially mad events on the horizon, and the presidents are fascinating.  I have found my study of Abe enhanced by knowing the details of what came before.

I am totally not prepared to launch into any slavery diatribe right now, but my god was that a problem for the nation. Very few saints in the whole ending-slavery thing. For example, Lincoln: not a radical abolitionist. He was much more concerned with keeping the union together, etc., at least as president. It is interesting to read about the folksy, humorous, humble man, as presented by Carl Sandburg. Obviously most of us know Carl Sandburg for his poetry, but he dug deep and spent years creating this six-volume portrait of Lincoln, which he then himself abridged into a six-in-one 800-page volume (that I am now reading).

Obviously, I know how things are going to end, but it is nonetheless a gripping saga getting there.