Top Ten Tuesdays is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. Today’s topic was a freebie and I chose books about presidents since it is election day and, you know, I love presidential history.
- Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard: A brilliant, engaging history of President James Garfield, a man whose political potential was cut short by assassination, as well as the medical situation and labor issues of his time.
- The Presidents Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy: This book never feels gossipy, which is impressive when you consider that the entire book is about the relationships between presidents and their predecessors. There’s a lot of fascinating information here about the often complicated relationships among the few men who have held the role of leader of the United States and the respect all of them have, despite party identification, for the office of the presidency.
- The President and the Assassin: McKinley, Terror, and Empire at the Dawn of the American Century by Scott Miller: I can almost guarantee that this is the most interesting book you will find about President McKinley.
- All the President’s Men by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward: A recount of the dramatic way the two young reporters were able to uncover the Watergate scandal. I read the entire book on a bus ride to New Hampshire.
- Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America by Rick Perlstein: This book isn’t just about Nixon; it’s about the politics and political landscape of his time and how it has influenced the political situation we find ourselves in today. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Perlstein, a writer for Rolling Stone magazine, also has a book about Barry Goldwater that I really need to get my hands on.
- The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson by Robert A. Caro: I cheated a bit with this one–I’m still reading it. Lyndon Johnson was a fascinating man. This is the fourth book in Caro’s series on LBJ, and it covers LBJ’s time as Vice President and the beginning of his presidency after the traumatic murder of President Kennedy.
- Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt’s Quest to Clean Up Sin-Loving New York by Richard Zacks: I don’t really like Teddy Roosevelt, but this book is an interesting look at his time as police commissioner of New York.
- Scorpions: The Battles and Triumphs of FDR’s Great Supreme Court Justices by Noah Feldman: I can’t put it better than the blurb, so: “SCORPIONS tells the story of these four great justices: their relationship with Roosevelt, with each other, and with the turbulent world of the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War. It also serves as a history of the modern Constitution itself.”
- The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to Empire, 1898 by Evan Thomas: It’s funny how I don’t really like Teddy Roosevelt but I have two books about him on this list. I love the tie-in with Henry Cabot Lodge, Roosevelt’s best friend, and William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper giant, and how they pretty much made the Spanish-American War happen.
- Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell: My favorite Vowell book. She visits the sites of presidential assassinations and is funny and factual and pretty much should be my best friend.
The Freedom Maze
by Delia Sherman
Published 2011 by Small Beer Press
Ebook borrowed from the library
Read August 2012
My favorite book in fifth grade
was Jane Yolen’s The Devil Arithmetic
, the story of a young Jewish girl who is transported back in time to a concentration camp. I read The Devil’s Arithmetic
the way some people read Pride and Prejudice
or Jane Eyre
: over and over and over, often sneaking pages under my desk during science lessons, basically eating the book until it was falling apart and the pages no long stayed attached to the binding. So when I heard about The Freedom Maze
, a book about a young, Southern white girl in 1960 who goes back in time to live as a slave in 1860, I was unable to resist the muffled cries of my 10 year-old self, pleading with me to give it a chance.
I don’t read a lot of young adult fiction anymore, but what I can say is this: The Freedom Maze would have ended up the way of The Devil’s Arithmetic in my younger self’s hands. (I was pleasantly not-quite-surprised to read Solomon’s thanks to Jane Yolen in the acknowledgements.) In fact, as someone who tends to avoid young adult fiction, I found myself thoroughly charmed and surprised by the risks Sherman took in this novel.
Recommended: When you’re looking for a unique, well-written YA story.
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As you may have heard, Tuesday is Election Day here in the U.S., and while I am engaged and (of course) plan to vote, I haven’t been exerting as much energy this election cycle as I did in 2008. That was the year it was all news, all the time in the Cass household. This time around, I’m getting my election/presidential-nerd kicks by engaging in some Presidential pop culture.
The West Wing
I avoided this show pretty much forever, which is weird for someone with liberal politics and an obsession with presidents. In my defense, after I got super into Aaron Sorkin‘s “Sports Night” thanks to Netflix Instant, I found out that the show was cut short so Sorkin could focus on the more popular West Wing. Boooo.
Nevertheless, a while back Kim was kind enough to send me the DVD set of the first season of The West Wing, and when I realized I’d had them way too long I figured I should probably watch them and send it back as soon as possible. (Sorry and thank you, Kim!) I just finished episode 16 and I am completely addicted. What strikes me the most, though, is that even as President Bartlett is portrayed to be a super liberal president, he’s against same-sex couples adopting (not to mention serving openly in the military and other issues). There’s even a story line about a high school student who is the victim of an anti-gay hate crime and the staff avoids having the parents of the boy talk to the press because the father is mad at the president’s weak stance on gay rights.
In a year when the President of the United States has come out in support of same-sex marriage, it’s a bit of a shock to the system to realize just how far mainstream gay rights ideas have come since the first season of The West Wing (1999-2000).
Of Thee I Sing
I am currently listening to Passage of Power by Robert Caro, the fourth book in his extensive biography of President Lyndon B. Johnson. While discussing the view many folks had of the Vice Presidency in a pre-Dick Cheney world, he mentions a song from the Gershwin musical Of Thee I Sing where no one can remember the Vice President’s name. I tracked down the original Broadway recording of the musical on Spotify and I’ve been giggling over the ridiculous songs all morning. I highly recommend it for light-hearted listening.
Louis As Lincoln
From last night’s SNL episode with host Louis CK:
Just as straight readers have always done with mainstream literature, I could finally read fictional works to see my own life reflected, explored, analyzed and re-imagined Through gay literature I could come to understand my place in the world. (425)
– from How To Be Gay by David M Halperin
Queer Library is a new feature on Bonjour, Cass! Every Friday I’ll write about a queer book on my shelves, an upcoming book I’m looking forward to reading, a review, or anything else related to LGBTQ books.
There’s a new biography of Thornton Wilder out, written by Penelope Niven and published by Harper. When I went to read the New York Times review of the book I was astonished to read this:
Ms. Niven, the author of books about Carl Sandburg and Edward Steichen, has dug deeply into the copiously documented life of her subject, drawing on access to substantial troves of previously undisclosed family papers. And yet, setting aside the dubious testimony of a single man who claims to have gone to bed with Wilder,“Thornton Wilder: A Life” tells of a life lived without the sexual relationships and romantic attachments that we sometimes falsely assume to be the most momentous passages in an artist’s — or anyone’s — life.
That “dubious testimony” was from Samuel Steward: author, tattoo artist, and friend of Gertrude Stein, who himself was the subject of an award-winning biography by Justin Spring. While Spring acknowledges that it is not 100% provable that Wilder and Steward had an affair, he presents a strong case based on the papers of Steward and letters from Wilder, Stein, and Alice B. Toklas.
What gets me about this whole situation isn’t that the NY Times refuses to acknowledge Steward by name or that Wilder is presented by Niven as a man without “sexual relationships and romantic attachments” (although that bugs me plenty), it’s the implication that acknowledging even the possibility that a beloved historical figure may have had homosexual entanglements will be offensive. Especially given that Wilder wrote “Our Town,”the most New Englandy of all New Englander plays, and a perfect example of the tendency toward repressed emotions of my fellow New Englanders.
If Wilder had written less famous or less popular plays, I don’t think Steward’s “dubious testimony” would be dismissed so easily. There is a major gap between modern society’s willingness to acknowledge the effeminate Oscar Wilde’s homosexuality and our discomfort in assuming the sexual orientation or desires of a less flamboyant, more traditionally masculine artist like Wilder.
Shorter: I really wish you’d read Secret Historian instead.
Total books read: 18
# of pages read: 1785
# of hours listened: 106
- Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell (audio): I was freaking out at work because I didn’t have an audio book ready and I couldn’t concentrate. This was a free download from an Amazon promotion for their new Whispersync feature (where qualifying ebooks and audio books sync to the same place when you open one after reading the other) so it was easy to decide to listen to. I probably wouldn’t have, uh, maybe ever read this classic otherwise. It’s an endearing portrait of middle-class life in 19th century England–and then I searched in vain for literary criticism of it to get a better idea of the impact it had.
- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (audio): Another free audio book from Amazon. It’s read by Anne Hathaway, an actress I generally feel meh to yick about, but she does a really good job.
- Heart of Darkness by Joesph Conrad (audio): Yet another free Amazon book. Shorter version: WHITE IS GOOD BLACK IS BAD. Yikes. I immediately read Chinua Achebe’s famous response and felt much better for it.
- Love, In Theory by E.J. Levy
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (audio): Free amazon audio book, read by Elijiah Wood. I pretended to read this book in high school so I finally gave it a chance. I am not a fan, although Wood narrates it really well.
- Seconds Away (Mickey Bolitar, #2) by Harlan Coben: Readathon mystery fun.
- You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon (audio): My general response: meh.
- Diary by Chuck Palahniuk (audio): Enjoyable fun, performed excellently by Martha Plimpton. Hey did you know Palahniuk is gay? Cool cool cool.
- The Grave Tattoo by Val McDermid (audio): My second attempt at a McDermid mystery. I just don’t think she’s the one for me.
- Astray by Emma Donoghue (audio): Thanks for reminding me how interesting and fun short stories can be, Ms. Donoghue.
- Dancing In the Streets: A Novel of Collective Joy by Barbara Ehrenreich (audio): You know those books you generally have nothing to say about?
- Death in the City of Light: The Serial Killer of Nazi-Occupied Paris by David King (audio): When your subtitle is more interesting than your actual book, you have a problem.
- Twilight of the Elites: America after Meritocracy by Christopher Hayes (audio): Surprisingly fantastic.
- Why Have Kids?: A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness by Jessica Valenti (ebook): Birthing children is terrifying.
- But I Really Wanted to Be an Anthropologist by Margaux Motin: More readathon fun.
- Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin (audio): Shorter: Dickens was nice to prostitutes, not so much to his wife.
- Pray the Gay Away: The Extraordinary Life of Bible Belt Gays by Bernadette C. Barton (ebook): Writing reviews of academic works makes me SO nervous, but I really need to try with this one.
- How to Be Gay by David M. Halperin: I have never before encountered a 500+ page work of queer theory and thought “I WISH THIS BOOK WAS LONGER!” I could talk about this book forever.
Have you signed up for my LGBTQ Book Blogger Directory yet?
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I have been dreaming about a directory of blogs that review LGBTQ books for pretty much the entire time I’ve been blogging. In the past few months, however, I started to realize that hey, maybe instead of waiting around for this magical unicorn of a project to spontaneously happen, perhaps I could MAKE it happen.
So I am.
While the LGBTQ Book Blogger Directory is still in its very, very early stages, it now actually exists as a (granted, very empty) blog. To help me get everything up the ground, I hope you’ll sign up via the embedded Google form.
To be eligible to be listed, you must:
- Have a blog.
- Read and review LGBTQ books.
That’s it. As long as you read and review books containing LGBTQ characters or topics/themes, the niche of your blog does not matter.
Any questions, comments, ideas, or concerns can be left on this post or emailed to bonjourcass at gmail dot com or lgbtqbookblogs at gmail dot com.
I was so excited to see that Ana and Amy had organized an All Hallow’s Read book swap this year. Spoiler alert: I have a…weakness for any and all surprise book swaps. It just so happened that my giftee for this swap was Kelly from The Well-Read Redhead, the winner of my Banned Books Giveaway. (In case you’re curious, I sent her a copy of Coraline.)
Kai from Fiction State of Mind sent me an adorable package containing a Frankenweenie tote bag, Zombies Hate Stuff, and Blink Once, a YA novel. Thanks Kai!
In other news, I’m trying to not get freaked out about the impending doom of a storm that’s hitting the East coast. Last hurricane, my family in Connecticut lost power for days and it had trees fall on their house and all sorts of other fun things that I’m totally not worried about happening here. Ahem.
There’s probably some kind of battery charger for iPads, huh? Obviously I don’t have enough time to find one of those, but I am really glad I have so many print books to choose from so I’ll never be without reading material.
Yes, that concern comes vaguely before food.
PS I still haven’t bought myself a single book for my birthday. But I DID buy a new dress, wallet, and purse. I guess dresses come vaguely before books which come vaguely before food. ;)
Today is my birthday and I am busy being glamorous and day-dreaming about all of the books I should treat myself to.