The Book of Ages, The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin

Jill Lepore
Alfred Knopf, 2013

National Book Award winner in 2011 for nonfiction.

National Book Award winner in 2011 for nonfiction.

Excavating the remains of the “plain” lives of “merchants and gentle ladies, the busy tradesmen and the surly apprentices” for a biography earlier than 1900 who were not of royal blood or historically important is guaranteed to be incomplete and hearsay. So began Lepore as she gave her reason for attempting to unveil the life of a favorite sister of the American icon Benjamin Franklin.

The sparseness of factual detail of Jane’s life gave Lepore plenty of pages to generously lace the story with other historical details of daily life, history, and small professorial detours into subjects like whether non-fiction writing is less real than fiction writing. That came from another byway into the beginnings of modern novel writing with Samuel Richardson’s Pamela about a young servant who must keep her virtue. Yes, there are enough examples of males telling females how to act in this book to choke a whale like, “Don’t be plagued with a reading wife.”

The documented history tells the skeleton story of her twelve children, a number of whom spent

Jill Lepore

Jill Lepore

years in insane asylums and/or died well before their mother. The list of children, grandchildren and finally great-grandchildren she saw buried was crushing and yet, common enough that she did not feel alone. Richard Price’s On the Objections Against Providence provided her with comfort. Paraphrasing, since spiders lay 500-600 eggs and see a handful survive, so it is with humanity.

Ub the 1700s women could do little on their own and less if they were married. Girls were not considered worth educating and few learned to read. Women were made for childbearing and household duties and men did the rest. In the Franklin family there were seventeen children from their father who was widowed and married a second time. Number fifteen, Benjamin, taught number seventeen, Jane, the basics of reading and a bond was created that lasted over fifty years until Franklin’s death in 1790.

What survives of their correspondence is spotty. Jane kept Ben’s letters far more diligently. She is self-conscious of her limited education and often apologizes, but she manages. In an early letter she begins, “I have wrote & spelt this very badly, but as it is won who I am shure will make all Reasonable allowances for me and not let any won Els see it I shall venter to send it.”

Where I like to see Franklin's portrait.

Where I like to see Franklin’s portrait.

For the era, Franklin appears to care for his younger sister. He visits her only once every ten years but lack of traveling ease and Ben’s international living did limit his time. She made his favorite soaps and kept him up on family news. More important, he consoled her as no one else, stepped in to help her when she was at the brink of poverty, and toward and the end bought an annuity to support her for the rest of her life.

But the real end is a puzzle and also an indictment of the modern format of the autobiography. Franklin’s My Autobiography was a first of its kind, but it was an age old format of flattering history that neglected to mention even once his poverty-stricken sister. The one person in life to love him for who he was and always protect him from what nosy naysayers or greedy distant relatives came her way.


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Chasing “A Flaw in the Blood”

Such a clean box design. Made to hold treasures.

Such a clean box design. Made to hold treasures.

I got a new iPad! A major reason why is I am trying to gain control of books. I always have and always will maintain a personal, quirky library. Books have always been necessary treasures in any home I’ve lived in, but…they can be cumbersome.

Especially those that though they are beautiful to someone, when I am finished reading them I do not feel a mother’s or a lover’s need to protect. That category can become weighty and some of them are known before I buy them.

Another issue is I take personal shopping bags to grocery stores, use cloth napkins, avoid running water overlong and would take in my wine bottles for refills if it were possible. My carbon footprint is still deep, but I like to think of myself as a person who gives effort.

The iPad is an effort. My first iBook project is A Flaw in the Blood by Stephanie Barron. This book club pick sounds like an entertaining read though I am not familiar with Barron’s writing.

There's something fitting about juxtaposition of an iPad and a mythological-themed Spanish tapestry copy.

There’s something fitting about juxtaposition of an iPad and a mythological-themed Spanish tapestry copy posed on an old Robert Louis Stevenson Treasure Island and St. Ives.

Amazon sells a new book starting at $4.68, Kindle at $9.99 and used $.01 plus shipping from a supplier. Barnes and Noble sells it for $12.97 or a Nook for $11.99. Half Price Books sells paper versions for $1.89 new and $.99 plus shipping for used. I have accounts at all three. iBooks is $11.97. Apache Junction Library is free and has one copy. Now the considerations.

1. Do I need new of this title? No, but I momentarily feel for Barron that her income after countless hours is diminished, and I don’t like other people’s scrawls in used books. Small, light pencil marks are okay.

2. What is my purpose in reading this book? If it is strictly entertainment such as a celebrity biography, the cheaper or free is better. In this case it is to ingratiate myself with the book club that I have done my duty and to learn about one more author.


3. Will I keep this book? That depends on what I ultimately think of her writing. Those questions usually circle around: Does it transport me or teach me writing? Is it useful information? Will I be attached to it because I am and I don’t have to explain myself?

4. Does it have gift or charity value? Would I like to give it to someone or leave it on a park bench for the next reader, or donate it to a library.

Overall, my reservation about the author is it appears she has a cartload of books all based on rewriting history with some historical documentation and a lot of imagination. This statement is not verified. Odd how they all turn out to be mysteries. It is not a likely keeper.

So yes, I’d spend $.01 or $1.99 plus shipping to support business and recirculate a book, but in this case I’m opting for free from the library (Cost: $3.75 or one gallon of gas.). Maybe I can amortize that with several stops.

I’m still looking for an iBooks purchase because now it seems important and I have a list of “to reads” to consult.


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Interpreter of Maladies

Jhumpa Lahiri
Houghton Mifflin, 1999

UnknownIn all nine short stories included in this 2000 Pulitzer Prize winner, Lahiri seems to be inserting a karmic math to her stories. Characters are unable to see or they clearly see their life situation reflected in mundane events surrounding them. They range from the cover of evening darkness due to the power company to the last story’s running parallel math of culture changes by moving from India to America versus living to be one hundred years old.

The writing is excellent and is consistent in tone with a center in the story of internal desperation. A young couple in the first story is grieving a stillborn death and in the darkness of their separate and different griefs begin to make confessions during in the dark when the lights go out.

In the namesake Interpreter of Maladies, a tour guide disappointed in his life and circumstances imagines nuances and flirtations in a client that let him live briefly in hope.

The last story seems a mathematics story problem of seeing the

Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri

world change before your eyes in ways that seem impossible to overcome and accept as good. A young college graduate in Boston rents a room for a woman over a hundred years old who dresses as they did in the 1890s and is appalled at morality changes and that man is on the moon. Against that the student anticipates and lives through the first awkward months of his Indian bride’s arrival who has never been outside her village or away from her parents.

All the stories are told through the lens of contemporary Indian culture, often suffused with American or British culture. Sometimes the people are well-educated men and women living academic lives in Boston or New York. Other times they are told through the eyes of people who have never left India, but Lahiri gracefully writes it with the same ear to the heartbeat of need, fantasy, and fear.

The story problems work out. Or rather they end. Literary fiction is defined by a heavy and serious depiction of what is written as “real” in “real lives”. There are few if any laughs, few murders, plenty of suicides, lots of depressed grad students, and a general lack of romance that continues to happily ever after. At the end of reading the reader usually feels enlightened to “real” life, but feels no better for it.

There are no suicides or murders in this book and more people are depressed than just grad students, but Lahiri handles their puppet strings well and at the end I feel a bit more enlightened that yes, as Thoreau indicated, most people live lives of quiet desperation.

New word learned: Auscultation – the act of listening to sounds arising with organs as a tool in diagnosis.
Sentence in book: After x-rays, probes, auscultations, and injections, some merely advised BiBi to gain weight, others to lose it.

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Refugee Children and Private School Rich Children, Tens of Thousands Flood to U.S.

Is it just me or does this seem odd to others, too?

Situation 1: Thousands of children have crossed the Mexico to U.S. border in the last months from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. They are needy, hungry, mostly alone, and very poor. Some communities have gathered to help and then there’s the story out of Murietta, California where angry, picketing people turned away a bus of children.

The U.S. for all its yammering about border crossings, has had very little experience with refugees. The last great flood was in 1975 when the Vietnam War ended. In the end it did create a sea change of restaurant choices, but over thirty years later doesn’t seem to have undone the fabric of the nation. I’m getting off track. Back to my point.


Situation 2: This week it was reported that “tens of thousands” of foreign students, particularly Asian were applying to and getting into U.S. high schools with the intention of continuing into U.S. colleges. No one is picketing.

My off track comment on this fact before returning to my point is, how does this unintended result of changing our free public education to charter schools effect our children?

Now to my first of two points: It is duplicitous, blind-to-the-larger picture, and another strike in favor of the 1% that the media and too many citizens don’t see that our “fight” with the people south of our border who come thirsty, hungry, and begging for help is against people who come to lowest paid service jobs while the rich are flying overhead, laptops in hand, getting educated at the top levels, and taking the jobs we should really be squealing about.

My second of two points: Well, duh! How long did we think we could get away with growing all our marijuana, etc., in poor, desperate countries without gang wars and syndicates not forming to keep the money and enslave, torture its own people? And how long should they watch their families die and wait to be next?

I’m not making this up. Please see the Sunday, July 13, 2014 New York Times article by Sonia Nozario.

Wow! What a parallel between our gluttonous need for both drugs and crude oil on other countries and the detrimental effects that eventually, in one form or another, come home.

Are Colorado and Washington the states that are finally bringing out a little antiseptic for this wound? The very same week this is going on the sale of recreational marijuana became legal in Colorado.

Can we use the headlines in USA Today as a cosmic message for our answer to the problems on our southern border?

I don’t know the best course in dealing with the children from Central America except to afford them what our laws tell us to do and what our humanitarian selves compel as our best action.

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