Abraham Lincoln: Poet(!)

I finished reading There I Grew Up: Remembering Abraham’s Indiana Youth today.  (I actually just picked it up at the bookstore yesterday, but it’s not too long.)  It’s a much more scholarly & ‘research driven’ book than I’ve been reading lately, but I did find it pretty interesting.  Perhaps I would have found it less so if it weren’t for the fact that I live in Indiana myself.

A week from tomorrow, the book discussion group at Bookmama’s Bookstore is meeting to talk about this book and the author, William Bartelt will be present.  I am looking forward to this.  The author worked for 15 years (in the summer) at the Lincoln Boyhood Home National Memorial and am sure has insight about Lincoln above and beyond what was covered in this book, which focused almost exclusively on Lincoln’s time in Indiana.

What I learned that was new to me was the fact that Lincoln also dabbled in poetry.  One excerpt given particularly struck me.  It was written around 1846, after Lincoln had made a visit to his old ‘stomping grounds’ in 1844. It is a reflection upon his seeing a person, Matthew Gentry, with whom he grew up and who also had suffered from some kind of attack of mental illness when he was only nineteen.  Lincoln was shocked to find him still alive and lingering “in this wretched condition.”  The first two stanzas give you the tone:

But here’s an object more of dread
Than ought the grave contains –
A human form with reason fled,
While wretched life remains

Poor Matthew! Once of genius bright,
A fortune-favored child –
Now locked for aye, in mental night,
A haggard mad-man wild

How sad.  I often hear discussed the question “What’s your greatest fear?”  I don’t know if I’ve ever been asked this directly, but “losing my mind” would have to be right up there…

Good book.  I’ll report back after our meeting on the 13th.

I remember as a child we had a couple ‘children’s books’ about the presidents – well, maybe just about Washington & Lincoln.  Next time I’m over at Mom’s I’m going to have to see if I can find them.  The image below reminds me of them, although I don’t think it’s from the book we had.  I have a distinct memory of one illustration of Lincoln wrestling some unfortunate rival. A quick google search of web images failed to find it though…

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So, What’s on My Reading Schedule for September?

It seems my reading for the next month has already been determined by all my “book club” commitments. This is what’s on the agenda:

1.) There I Grew Up: Remembering Abraham Lincoln’s Indiana Youth (by William E. Bartelt)

This is the September book for the “Bookmama’s” bookstore’s discussion group. I have been to a couple of their previous discussions earlier this year (Fahrenheit 451 & Some Buried Caesar) but haven’t made it back lately due to scheduling conflicts. I spoke to Kathleen, the owner of the store, yesterday and she said that the author of this book will also be there, so I hate to miss an opportunity to discuss a book with the author present. This meeting will take place on Monday, September 13th, so I don’t have much time, but there is a three-day weekend between now and then… Also, I don’t even have a copy of the book yet, but I ordered it yesterday and Kathleen said I could pick it up next weekend. This book also fits into my Project: Civil War reading.

2.) Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig

This is my book club’s September book a and is actually one that I picked for us to read. (we take turns picking from a list of suggested titles by members of the club, but one cannot pick his own suggested book). Is is one of those books that, throughout my life, friends have suggested I read, saying “knowing you, I bet you’d really like this book,” etc. I’m skeptical but we’ll see. Someone said it sounds a lot like another book my club read (Illusions by Richard Bach) which I did not like AT ALL, so I am a bit concerned… I’ve downloaded this book already from Barnes & Noble and it’s not too long, so we’ll see.

3.) Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

This will be a re-read for me (third time). My original book club back in the 90’s read it on my recommendation, and I read it myself for the first time in the late 80’s and was very pleasantly surprised, not knowing it wasn’t just a ‘monster book.” This book is the featured reading of a “Great Books” reading group on the north side of Indianapolis, a couple members of which I’ve met on my visits to the local chapter of the CFI (Center for Inquiry), an organization that promotes science and critical thinking. They have a weekly Sunday morning “coffee & conversation” at their location downtown on the canal, which usually features a lot of intimidatingly smart people. For the most part I just keep quiet and nod my head occasionally…

4.) Jailbird by Kurt Vonnegut

One of my favorite “discoveries” this year is the soon-to-open Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in downtown Indianapolis. They actually have an all-Vonnegut book club that meets the last Thursday of the month (September 30th in this case). I visited them last week for their meeting on Slapstick (more on that later) and it’s a nice group of people, one of whom was a personal friend of Vonnegut(!) and another of whom knows mNy of the Vonnegut family through her work in establishing the memorial library.

That seems like a lot of reading (“required” reading, anyway) for one month, but I think I’ll be able to handle it, and it’s not any more than I’ve been averaging this year.

Well, that’s what’s on tab for Jay this month. What are you reading? Have you read any of these four? Anything I “need to know”…?

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