May I Refer You to the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin?

Sometimes, when reading books written hundreds of years ago, one wonders how much true relevance these works retain in our modern age. In the case of GOOD books, I believe the answer is “quite a bit.”

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is one of my all-time favorite works of American Literature, full of nuggets of wisdom (as one might expect from something done by the man also responsible for “Poor Richard’s Almanac”) and valuable lessons about life and how to make a success of oneself. Having read it multiple times, it’s become one of those handful of books that I find lives strongly enough in my otherwise pedestrian memory to be often quotable and apropos. I was reminded of this today when reading the internet news story about the kerfluffle over the “revelation” (shocking!) that actor and activist George Takei (that’s “Sulu” in the world of Star Trek, for those unfortunates who don’t know) does not write all of his own material for his Facebook and Twitter accounts. While I don’t “like” or “follow” either, both are shared often by others that I do follow. In short, they are unfailingly a great source of humor, and I’m one among probably millions who enjoy them.

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Mr. Takei’s reaction is something along the lines of “who cares who writes it,” but there are some purists who I guess are offended, thinking he should expend the necessary time and energy himself to write all his own material. And this is where Benjamin Franklin comes in…

In “Chapter X – Poor Richard’s Almanac and other Activities,” Franknlin relates how he became fond of a Presbyterian preacher from Ireland named Hemphill and often attended his sermons, finding them pleasing “as they had little of the dogmatically kind, but inculcated strongly the practice of virtue, or what in the religious stile are called good works.” The more Orthodox of the congregation, however, resisted him and made efforts to silence him for his “heterodoxy.” Franklin of course took up his cause and was almost able to win the day, until it was discovered that some of Hemphill’s sermons were retreads of those written by someone else, whose discourses had been quoted in The British Review. This revelation made Franklin’s defense of the man an impossible task, and he and those on his side were forced to “officially” give up the fight.

Franklin left them with the following parting shot, however: (underlines are my own)

“I stuck by him, however, as I rather approv’d his giving us good sermons composed by others, than bad sermons of his own manufacture, tho’ the latter was the practice of our common teachers.”

Touché.

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Top Ten Tuesday – Top Ten “Beach” Reads

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme sponsored by the literary folks over at The Broke and the Bookish. A different topic is introduced each week and participants are charged with coming up with a top ten list. This week’s topic: “Top Ten Beach Reads (however YOU define a beach read)”. I’ve decided to define it as a book I’ve read during a vacation of any kind since I’m more of a mountains and canyons guy than a beachgoer. Another “requirement” for me would be a book read more for fun and entertainment than one read to learn something from its great literary merit.

I’ll start with a couple from my childhood and move on from there.

10. The Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander

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This series was The Lord of the Rings of my youth. Great adventure and quite the page turners – all five of them.

9. Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes

First read for school (maybe 5th or 6th grade), I remember having this with my on summer vacation camping trips with my family, reading it multiple times. I had little choice than to read the same books. More than once – it wasn’t like we took a big library with us; space in the pop up camper and car was limited.

8. The World of Null-A by A.E. Van Vogt

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Although you’ve likely never heard of this pulpish sci-fi novel, I have memories of reading this one multiple times during summer vacations during high school. It was a slim volume, which also made it easy to take along since it didn’t take up much space. I believe there were several “Null-A’ novels in Van Vogt’s oevre.  I’d like to do a nostalgic re-read some day…

7. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Probably the most ’edifying’ book on this list, it made quite an impression on me, and I’ve taken it with me on multiple trips – just like an old friend.

6. Lightning by Dean Koontz

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I have a friend who was a big Dean Koontz fan when I first met her. I remember being impressed that she had a list of all his books in her purse with the ones she had read marked off. She recommended this one and I took it with me on a trip in the early ’90s. Easy read,intriguing time-travel-ly plot.

5. Wonderboy by Simen Agdestein

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This is the story of the youngest Chess Grandmaster the world as of the time of its writing. I read it in 2004 when I travelled to Minneapolis for a “vacation” and to participate in the HP Global Chess Challenge (the biggest chess tournament in U.S. History). It was a great vacation, and this book was perfect reading during my down time during the event. Oh, and by the way, Magnus is now the highest rated chess player in the world and will challenge world champion Viswanathan Anand of India in a match this fall.

4. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I guess if you’re going to read ‘magical realism,’ a vacation is the right time to do it. I remember reading through this at the lodge at Hawks Nest State Park in West Virginia in 2010. Almost incomprehensible, the book was still somehow enjoyable to me.

(below: Hawk’s Nest Lodge and it’s cable cars descending down into the New River gorge)

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3. Dr.Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

I read this during a vacation in the nineties. The only problem I could find with it was that it ended too soon.

2. Insomnia by Stephen King

I have quite fond memories of reading this one in Utah’s Zion National Park in 2006, more than once throwing it in my backpack and, while cooling down after a hike, reading it on the lawn of the Lodge or in one of its comfy rocking chairs, soaking up the sun in that beautiful setting.

(below: Zion National Park Lodge – right where I read a lot of Insomnia)

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1. The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown

While I wouldn’t argue this book has great literary merit, it IS memorable to me for sentimental reasons. Practically my whole family read it during one of our annual “getaway weekends” – this one at Clifty Falls State Park. One nephew and I have lobbied to make a ’group read’ a tradition at subsequent years’ weekends, one time reading the same author’s novel, Deception Point, but he and I seem to be the only ones willing to continue to carry the banner. We were disappointed that this year’s annual “getaway” was just before Dan Brown’s latest novel, “Inferno,” came out.

(Below: view of the Ohio River from the grounds of Clifty Falls State Park Lodge.  I like sitting out there and watching the barges go up and down the river)

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Well that’s it for me. What about you? How did you define a “beach read” and what were your selections? Did we have any in common. I’m off to The Broke and theBookish to find out…

H.G. Wells

H.G. Wells has long been one of my favorite authors. In fact, one of my all-time favorite non-fiction books was his weighty tome, Experiment in Autobiography. Like I’ve posted about before in relation to The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, this book has the power to ‘convince’ me that great achievements are possible, and one line is particularly memorable to me. Wells, in talking about all the rejections he got for his writing, has an epiphany moment and realizes that he was seeking topics too “rare and precious” and that “All the time I had been shooting over the target. All I had to do was lower my aim – and hit it!” (exclamation point mine). I love that line.

I’ve been thinking about this quotation this weekend for a particular reason. I’m a bit strange in that I will sometimes make “New Year’s Resolutions” on my birthday (hey, it’s a new year for ME); it always falls somewhere around the Memorial Day weekend, which gives me more time for reflection and introspection. And I was thinking about some of the resolutions and goals I set last “year” and maybe some were too high or unreasonable.

Anyway, regardless of all that personal drivel, you really should read some H.G. Wells. It’ll do ya good… 🙂