The Adams Family
Any reading life is marked from time to time by unexpected coincidence. I have been reading The Adams Family, by James Truslow Adams (no relation to the others, he says), published in 1930. The book deals with four generations: John Adams, b. 1740, one of America’s Founding Fathers and second President of the United States; his son, John Quincy Adams, b. 1768, our sixth president; JQ's son, Charles Francis Adams, b. 1886, U.S. Minister to England under Lincoln; and finally Henry Adams, who, unlike the three generations before him, never really seemed to “find himself” but who did write The Education of Henry Adams, not at all the book one might expect from its dry title and deserving of its place on Modern Library’s Top 100 books list.
The descriptions of the first two generations of Adamses (I’m almost more than halfway through the JTA book), both as they describe themselves and as the author and others describe them, are frank and occasionally startling. John was generally seen as jealous and vain, mistrustful to the point of near-paranoia. John Quincy, a skilled diplomat (a quality that did not come down to him from his father), was nevertheless cold, overbearing and harsh. But as much as the personalities of John and John Quincy, I have been fascinated by the picture of American politics during the Revolutionary Period and the first decades of the new country.
Well, now (this is the coincidence) I pick up the current New York Review of Books (June 5, 2014) and find reviewed three new books on the Adams family, one on John Quincy and two focused on his wife, the first a biography, the second her own writings. The last of the three I will definitely have to read!
Not the Book I Expected
Impatiently as I awaited Men Explain Things to Me, by Rebecca Solnit, I admit that I anticipated a funnier book. The first, the title essay, is as funny entertaining now as when I read it online (and David laughed aloud when I read it to him), but the second chapter essay is all about violence against women, worldwide, from rape to murder. Very serious, very well done – not what I’d expected at all, but I couldn’t put the book down without reading it cover to cover. The essay (the chapters are essays, written at different times and collected in this book for the first time) on Virginia Woolf was particularly insightful, lovely and haunting. And “Grandmother Spider”! Well, you know I would be taken by the image of hanging laundry on the line:
To spin the web and not be caught in it, to create the world, to create your own life, to rule your own fate, to name the grandmothers as well as the fathers, to draw nets and not just straight lines, to be a maker as well as a cleaner, to be able to sing and not be silenced, to take down the veil and appear: all these are the banners on the laundry line I hang out.
So now I am recommending Men Explain Things to Me and looking forward to reading other books by Rebecca Solnit.
Notes and Reminders
As for Ice Caves of Leelanau, I should note here that every copy I have on hand is spoken for (I won’t have more until July) and I’m not taking any more names for reservations (for fear of having more reservations than books and because I really need to have a few books available for people who walk in the door asking for them), but I have many other wonderful, beautiful, fascinating books worth attention and deserving homes! An entire bookstore full of them!
Also, please don’t forget that Dog Ears will be celebrating its 21st birthday three weeks early (so as not to conflict with the 4th of July), on Friday, June 13, with readings by eleven poets from the beautiful new Poetry in Michigan/Michigan in Poetry book from New Issues Poetry & Prose in Kalamazoo. Michigan art and poetry in gorgeous anthology published in Michigan – this one is a lifetime keeper, for sure.
Confession (or Resolution, or Warning)
I am carrying out a plan this season to be more selfish. As a child, I was tagged the "selfish one" of the three (I was also the oldest), but in my adult struggle to overcome that quality, I sometimes feel I've gone too far. My business -- and you know I love my bookshop! -- doesn't give me much time off in the summer, and summer (the Up North reward for surviving winter) is also the time when social engagements and yard chores also kick into high gear. So I'm taking a stand: no more summer meetings for me. I have to draw a line somewhere, and that's where I'm drawing it. No more meetings! It's more important for me to set aside time to draw something besides lines....