Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Weekly Read: 24

Forgive me for being so far behind on my weekly reads - being out of town for 3 weeks out of 4 means it's hard to get back in the swing of things. I'm going to go back and make sure I didn't miss anything. This week was mostly for finishing up books, and then leaving for Israel. I always assume I'm going to have lots of time to read while on vacation, but when you go places like Egypt or Israel, it never really works out that way.

READ: An Education | Lynn Barber
I went into this book having enjoyed the film based upon it and expecting to read something similar. That is not what this book is about. And that's not a bad thing. The chapter that the movie version was based on is rather short and does feel quite cinematic in that it truly is quite an interesting, to-the-point story. But to be honest, I think this chapter on her "educational" experience with Simon was probably my least favorite, if only because it still remains incomprehensible. Why would her parents even allow this sort of thing? Also, she is clear in the book that she wasn't really in love with Simon, and wasn't that broken up about their destroyed relationship, and therefore, the whole experience for her was sort of clinical. What she learned from their time together was people can't be trusted. Period. Also, don't bother hiding anything, because it will come out. What was more fascinating than her brief time with Simon the liar was the chapters on her writing career and her relationship with her husband, David. Barber's writing is honest and clear, concise and descriptive. Not only has she led an interesting life, but she has the ability to look back at it and be objective. The last chapter, about her husband's failing health, is compelling and quite touching, without being mushy or overdramatic. Overall, I would describe this book as a simple portrait of life and death, with a side of journalism, and recommend it to most everyone.

READ: Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln | Doris Kearns Goodwin
It is hard to review a book that is this long because there is just so much it in. I've always found Abraham Lincoln interesting, but I pretty much knew just the basic US History class facts about him. While reading this book, though, I came to a much greater appreciation for not only the many things Lincoln accomplished during his life and presidency, but for the incredible person he was. I am convinced that the Civil War would have turned out very differently had Lincoln not become president in 1861, and Reconstruction in the South would have gone both smoother and better if he had lived to oversee it. Goodwin's central thesis of the book is that Lincoln's greatest strength was his inability to hold a grudge and willingness to work with and support those who had formerly worked against him. The key to the strong cabinet he built during his first term was skillfully bringing in all of his former opponents for the Republican presidential nomination in 1960 and making them work together as a balanced team. It was rather gratifying to see these men come to know and respect Lincoln, especially Seward, who was perhaps his biggest rival at that convention, and who had the most right of all of them to hold a grunge. Lincoln had the uncanny ability to see which way he had to maneuver politically to accomplish the tasks he desired - that in itself is how he overcame seemingly stronger opponents to actually be nominated for president. It was fascinating to not just see Lincoln and his actions, but to see him set beside his friends, enemies and colleagues, to hear in their own words what they thought about him and their actions. Some, I grew to enjoy (Seward & Stanton), others I wanted to yell at repeatedly and loudly (Chase & McClellan). All of them, though, had remarkable reactions to both Lincoln the man and Lincoln the president. Of course, we know about the heartaches Lincoln experiences throughout his life - the deaths of his mother, first love, and 2 of his boys. And we know how this story ends, too. That doesn't make Goodwin's descriptions of the events less powerful or heartbreaking. Perhaps the saddest part of the whole story was that Lincoln only had a few days to enjoy his big victory. He was finally happier than he had ever been in his life, and then it was all over. I was sad to be finished with this book, and I'm so glad I made the time to read/listen to it.

STARTED: Practical Magic | Alice Hoffman
I left for Israel last Thursday with my Kindle loaded full of books, and the first one I picked was this one by Alice Hoffman. I've been meaning to read this book for a while, mostly because I really like the movie that is based off of it. So far, the book does have the same general feel as the movie did - slightly mysterious, with characters you like and want to see happy. The book is a bit darker than the movie, though that only serves to deepen it, I think. The sisters' relationship is more hashed out, as are those of the daughters, who we actually see and feel grow up. I've reached a point where the book and the movie greatly diverge, though, so it will be interesting to see how different/similar they end up being in the end.

Next up: more vacation reading!

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