Friday, November 13, 2015

September and October 2015 Book Report

For the last couple of months I've been binge-ing on a couple of TV shows instead of listening to books while I do housework and make dinner and eat lunch. I got through 11 seasons of "Cheers" in September and October. I know, it was really hard work. I only fast-forwarded through a few of them, too. (The episodes with Gary's Old Town Tavern were the worst for me. On the other hand, any episode with Nick and Loretta Tortelli were my favorites.) Now I'm watching "30 Rock" instead of reading. 

I did get through some great books during September and October, though. 

1. John Quincy Adams by Harlow Giles Unger

I think that John Quincy Adams could have been one of our greatest Presidents if it wasn't for Andrew Jackson's dumb luck and scheming. Adams was so smart and well-trained in so many ways. he was one of the youngest foreign ministers (maybe the youngest - it's been a few weeks since I finished this book) under President Washington, not because he was the Vice President's son, but because he had the most experience and he was really good at it.  

John Quincy Adams wrote the Monroe Doctrine (which prevented any European nation from colonizing states in North or South America, which was happening pretty constantly for hundreds of years before that) for President Monroe. Adams could not be stopped in the court room - he was a brilliant lawyer. Andrew Jackson's rise to fame and glory coincided with John Quincy's quietly crushing it. Everyone thought Jackson won the War of 1812 because news of a victory in the Battle of New Orleans, which he led, reached the public just after news that the war was over (thanks to a treaty drafted by John Quincy Adams), so it looked like Jackson had won the war. Then that hayseed had the nerve to bring all his drunk relatives to Washington and ruin all the social occasions. Poor John Quincy Adams, more educated and experienced than any person in the country, is left looking like an out-of-touch snob next to Andrew Jackson. Adams won the election of 1824 by the skin of his teeth (and some thought a back door deal with Henry Clay, who served as Adams's Secretary of State), but had a miserable Presidency thanks to all the shenanigans of Jackson and members of Congress who thought Adams had stolen the election. 

Pretty humiliating and anti-climatic for such a good man as John Quincy Adams. But! When his four years were finally up and after a period of depression, city leaders in Quincy, Massachusetts (a town named after Abigail Adams's kin) convinced John Quincy Adams to run for a seat in the House of Representatives. When he knew he could win, he went for it. I absolutely love this part - I'm getting goose flesh about it again! He had nothing to lose! He wasn't trying to be President like everyone else - there was no one left for him to offend. It goes without saying that I had a lot of Olympic Cries for John Quincy Adams during this section of the book. He was remarkable. Maybe the truest statesman ever in the House of Representatives. 

I didn't find his personal life as fascinating as I usually do. He didn't have an enviable marriage - they went through a lot. I did find it interesting that alcoholism ran on Abigail's side of the family and ended up ruining one of John Quincy's brothers and one of his sons. So, the difference between a member of the Adams family addicted to alcohol and one who isn't is dying on a party boat in deep debt and being brilliant and President of the United States. Stark contrast, eh?

I really enjoyed this biography. It has inspired me to read about every President of the United States, which I kinda decided to do a long time ago, but got off track when I read boring biographies of the Presidents.

2. Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling 

That's right. Another Mindy Kaling book. I think this one is better than the first one. Kaling is a huge success and I think she's getting better at her job all the time. My favorite chapter was her revised answer to a question she got at the end of a long day of press. It was great advice. I didn't care for the very long chapter on her alternate life as a Latin teacher at a prep school. Mostly because I was listening to the book and she would read the header for the imaginary emails every time. And the whole chapter was just a bunch of email exchanges. Meh. 

I laughed and found myself agreeing with Mindy on a lot of subjects again. Fun, easy read.

3. West with the Night by Beryl Markham

I'd never heard of Beryl Markham until Goodreads recommended this book to me. She was kind of awesome. She raised and trained race horses with her father in Africa, then became a pilot in the 1930s. Her memoir West with the Night is considered a classic and I can definitely see why. She can really tell a story. The introduction to this book speculates that she made some of this stuff up. Like the author of the introduction, I am totally forgiving any lies because it's so fun to read and so well-written. 

Markham's father has to sell everything during a war or drought or financial collapse or something. Beryl decides to stay in Africa while her father goes to Peru. She's only about 18 at the time. Her father's perfect advice to his daughter: "Remember that you are still just a girl and do not expect too much - there are a few owners here and there who will give you horses to train. After that, work and hope. But never hope more than you work."

Later Beryl writes, "If a man has any greatness in him, it comes to light, not in one flamboyant hour, but in the ledger of his daily work." YES! 

This is a really cool book. Beryl Markham is exactly the kind of person who should be writing a memoir. :)

4. Rutherford B., Who Was He?: Poems About Our Presidents by Marilyn Singer / illustrated by John Hendrix

I love these kinds of children's books. Smart, funny, educational. There is a poem for each U.S. President with a summation of their personality and presidency. Also, a perfect illustration of each president. Singer includes one of her famous backward and forward poems (there's a word for that - can't think of it) for one of the Presidents. I'm using this as a reference book. Ha! But, really.

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