May 4 2010

Europa and the Pirate Twins

Currently, I’m in the midst of a large book which I probably won’t finish until sometime in June. Rather than let this fabulous blog languish until then, I’ve decided to begin something new. Of all the categories I initially proposed to write about, “Music” has been the most neglected. So here then, is the first entry of Dennis’ Favorite Songs. The crowd goes… well, let’s face it… there’s no crowds here, so I will bask in the warm glow of the internet’s indifference. Ahhh… sweet anonymity.

I originally toyed with the idea of creating a Top 10 favorite songs list but the more I wrestled with it, the more I was convinced that it couldn’t be done. I like too many songs. Instead, I’m going to write about those songs that I’ve given a 5-stars rating in iTunes. What does 5-stars mean? I give 3-stars to songs that I don’t mind listening to. I give 4-stars to songs that I enjoy (would listen to more than once, in a sitting). I give 5-stars to songs that stand out, for one or more reasons. These might be particularly evocative, reminding me of some time or place in my past. They might be very upbeat, with a reliable track-record of being able to lift me from whatever funk I might be in. They might be terribly downbeat, with the ability to bring me back to center when jumping around just doesn’t seem appropriate. Whatever personal or magical reason it might be, some songs just overshadow the rest. For me, Thomas Dolby‘s 1983 hit “Europa and the Pirate Twins” is one of those songs.

I’m not a huge fan of pop music. Growing up in the Eighties, I promised myself I wouldn’t look back in the years to follow and get all nostalgic about the crap spilling out of the radio and MTV. That being said, not everything was crap. “Europa and the Pirate Twins” hit a chord with me early on. Here was a song about childhood friends growing-up, going their separate ways, and never being able to reclaim the imaginative adventures they once shared as children. To me, this was a song about the death of youth’s insouciance. I used to listen to it again and again on my Walkman as I mowed the backyard, reluctant to let go of the only life I’d known, and terrified that my imagination would wither with age. Were my fears justified? In some ways, yes. In other respects, I can’t remember a time when I was carefree. At least I still have my friends.

“We swore a vow that day: We’ll be the Pirate Twins again…”

5 out of 5


Apr 19 2010

Kick-Ass

On Friday night, we went to see Matthew Vaughn’s movie adaptation of Mark Millar’s 2008 comic book “Kick-Ass” (2010). The movie follows a number of “real-life” (i.e., no super powers) people who decide to don superhero costumes and fight crime. Although the movie is ostensibly about high school nerd Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) and the creation of his crime-fighting alter-ego Kick-Ass, his part is completely eclipsed by 11-year old commando/assassin Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz) and batman wannabe Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage). The movie feels like the retarded (*sigh* so soon after reading “Flowers for Algernon” too…) but lovable crotch-fruit of “Spider-Man” (2002) and “Wanted” (2008), which unsurprisingly is another Mark Millar creation. So, what about the story…

The story is pretty straight forward. Teenage boy decides to make a costume and fight crime. He has no training and gets the shit beat out of him, repeatedly. Through a particularly bad mishap, he gains the “super power” of not being able to feel pain as much as he should… which basically means he can fight longer and get beaten-up even more! Not the super power I would wish for, but if you’re going to get beaten up on a regular basis, a high pain threshold isn’t such a bad thing! During the course of his patrols, he crosses paths with a father-daughter duo who actually have training and weapons, and is shamed by how well the “pros” handle themselves. His superhero misadventures continue, eventually culminating in a grand mêlée with the army of a crime boss. A great deal of blood, broken bones, maiming, and death later… and it’s a wrap! But, is it any good…

The movie is filled with mildly funny scenes and memorable (short-term memory) fights. I wouldn’t expect more than that from a movie titled “Kick-Ass”. While the hand-to-hand fight scenes are brutal, most of the gore is candy red. Having been desensitized to movie violence (like most of us) the fights didn’t bother me a bit. The only thing that was disturbing was when the tables were turned on Hit-Girl. Here’s an 11-year old girl that can purée a roomful of armed opponents like Rambo on crack, but when she’s finally forced to suffer a few blows from her adult adversaries your brain inevitably takes a mental back-step and protests “Hey, that big guy is beating-up on a little girl!” Then you remember that the hallways are littered with the shattered bodies of her foes and you try to convince yourself that she deserves this… but… but… kind of disturbing. Overall, the movie is enjoyable but never rises to the level of other superhero success stories, e.g., “Spider-Man”, “Iron Man” (2008), “The Dark Knight” (2008). In summary, Kick-Ass is worth seeing but paying for the big screen experience is debatable.

“With no power comes no responsibility.”

3.5 out of 5


Apr 14 2010

Flowers for Algernon

Tonight, I finished Daniel Keyes‘ 1966 novel “Flowers for Algernon“. And… I’m not feeling particularly snarky at the moment. I wonder why? This is one of the few epistolary styled stories that I’ve read that hasn’t annoyed me. It’s crucial to the storytelling. The book consists of seventeen Progress Reports, written by the main character Charlie Gordon, over the course of a science experiment to make him smarter. This is no small feat since Charlie begins the book with an IQ of 68. On the surface, this is a borderline science-fiction story about modifying the human brain. Beneath the surface (snorkel depth at most) the book explores mental retardation (or whatever they call it these days) and how we treat and deal with these people. The book is sobering to say the least.

From the beginning of the book, the eventual outcome is handed to the reader in an open box. The story doesn’t succeed or fail on the reader’s ability to predict the outcome. From the start, it is a foregone conclusion that this can’t end well. Charlie’s predecessor, a lab mouse named Algernon, has undergone the same surgery and improved remarkably. Encouraged by these preliminary results, the scientists rush to find a suitable human subject for a one man clinical trial. Charlie’s intellectual ascent is temporary. The only questions are how fast and how high will Charlie’s intelligence climb before his inevitable descent. Does that ruin the story? It didn’t for me. I knew that much before picking up the book. What I didn’t expect was a science fiction story that delved into the thoughts, emotions, and prejudices of people more than the technology. This is actually the best possible use of science fiction and fantasy stories. Too much concentration on technology (or magic) is usually a sign that the story is lacking. “Flowers for Algernon” doesn’t fall into that rut. I’m also pleased that Keyes didn’t submit to editors’ suggestions that he mainstream the ending. At one point the author even returned a publisher’s advance rather than debase his work, preferring instead to wait until a publisher would accept the story as-is.

It’s hard to believe there are still people out there who support the banning of this book in schools (well, Texas I can understand). In some respects, I feel the same way about Flowers that I did about “Catcher in the Rye” (1951) the first time I read it; I wished I’d read it sooner. There’s a lot of things to take from this book, things that you may find yourself thinking about long after you’ve transplanted the bookmark into the next item on the shelf. That’s a very good thing…

“Im out of the hospital but not back at werk yet. Nothing is happining. I had lots of tests and differint kinds of races with Algernon. I hate that mouse.”

4.5 out of 5


Apr 13 2010

Robinson Crusoe

Today I finished Daniel Defoe‘s 1719 classic “The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe“. The original edition had a much longer title but I’m sticking with this one. Crusoe is considered by some to be the first English novel. Those people are smoking crack. Defoe himself wrote an earlier novel titled “The Consolidator” in 1705. For some earlier English works, check out: “The Pilgrim’s Progress” (1678), “Beware the Cat” (1553), and perhaps the most famous of all, “Le Morte d’Arthur” (1470). Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe” stands out however as being the most popular English book of the time. Not only was it popular then but it continues to fascinate people today. There have been hundreds of spin-offs. My earliest memory of a Robinsonade story is sitting at a Cub Scout meeting in a country church, watching an old black and white movie reel of the “Swiss Family Robinson” (1940). Not sure what that had to do with scouting (other than the Pioneering merit badge), but there you have it. Today, echoes of Crusoe’s castaway adventures can be found in movies, television reality shows, and even the radio plays of Herbert “Daring” Dashwood and his stalwart ghoul manservant, Argyle!

So, what about the book? The book is tedious. While I have to give Defoe credit for being a pioneer of adventure fiction, “Props!” (can I haz street cred?), Voltaire’s “Candide” (1759) is much more enjoyable. Is it fair to compare the two? Why not, it’s my blog! “Candide”, at its heart, is satire. Crusoe is a series of ship manifests in the shape of a novel. To spice-up the story, Defoe has given us insight into Robinson’s moral and religious development over the course of twenty-eight years! More please! *Ugh* From a modern perspective, this is laughable because despite Crusoe’s many epiphanies, he still refers to his Carib slave Friday as a “poor honest creature”. For me, the most interesting part of their relationship was Friday’s questions regarding Crusoe’s god in “Chapter XV – Friday’s Education”. When asked questions about the Devil, Crusoe is unable to give a well-reasoned answer to Friday, but instead of finding fault with the source (i.e., Bible) he ascribes this failing to Friday’s savage and ignorant mind. Was this risqué dialogue in the early 18th century? Defoe was the son of Presbyterian dissenters after all… To Crusoe’s (and Defoe’s) credit, he treats Friday very well.

Spoiler alert! My only other problem with the book is that it just sort of meanders to an end. Crusoe gets off the island, returns to Europe, gets his affairs in order, and sets out for other adventures (almost as an after-thought, for Defoe). There’s a completely frivolous section at the end where they fight hundreds of wolves in the French Pyrenees. Some have claimed that this is a metaphor for entering the land of Canaan (after a long journey), but it smells an awful lot like the gratuitous car explosions in “CHiPs” (1977-1983). In summary, the book is too much a cornerstone of English literature to be considered a waste of time… Not everything that is important has to be enjoyed.

“The tears would run plentifully down my face when I made these reflections; and sometimes I would expostulate with myself why Providence should thus completely ruin His creatures, and render them so absolutely miserable; so without help, abandoned, so entirely depressed, that it could hardly be rational to be thankful for such a life.”

3 out of 5


Apr 9 2010

The Hunger Games

Today, I finished a piece of juvenile dark science-fiction. There should be more of this stuff. One of my favorite books growing-up was John Christopher’s “The White Mountains” (1967). While there’s no “capping” going on in Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” (2008), there is plenty to like. The story takes place in a dystopian North America where children are selected by annual lottery to represent their colonies in gladiatorial combat. When the book begins, the Hunger Games are in their seventy-fourth year and it is time to choose new tributes. Each of the twelve districts randomly choose two kids (male and female) to represent them in the Games. Of the twenty-four total tributes, only one can be victorious. The victor is rewarded with lifelong celebrity and a years worth of food for his/her home district. All the runner-ups… Well, there are no runner-ups. The only way to win is if all your opponents die.

While the Arena is the hub around which the entire story turns, it is also the one element with which I have the most problem. I’m trying to think of a historical precedent for a totalitarian government with such power and influence, that its citizens willingly offer-up their children (ages 12 to 18) to certain (95.8%) death. Collins has cited the legend of Theseus as a precedent, wherein the government of Athens sent young men and women to sate the Minotaur of Crete. The book however offers the lottery (created by the Treaty of Treason) as a means for the Panem government to annually reassert its power over the districts. Not only are 23 children killed every year to remind the citizens of the government’s power, but their deaths are must-see tv. If you can accept that explanation, the rest of the book is much more palatable.

I learned about this book in a Fark thread where readers were listing the saddest books they’d ever read. Having now read it, I’m not sure “The Hunger Games” qualifies to stand alongside some of the other titles mentioned. There is a very sad section in the middle of the book *sniff* where one child in particular dies (did I ruin it?!!!), but other than that it’s not especially heart-wrenching. I have been accused of being an “emotional cripple” in the past however, so your mileage may vary! What the book does do well is character development. I ended-up caring about the characters and what happened to them. There’s much more to the book than children killing each other. Which leads me to my only other criticism of the book. And I need to be careful here… The author weaves the story in such a way that the main characters never have to face the most horrible decisions that the Arena threatens. At almost every turn, the author’s providential hand removes those horrible outcomes one by one, until the end.

One last point. If you intend on reading this book, do not read too many reviews and stay away from the Wikipedia write-up. You will ruin the book for yourself if you do. I’ve tried to avoid revealing too much of the story because it is worth reading. I would have been sorely pissed if I’d read an Amazon review that revealed crucial parts of the story before I even picked-up the book. What has been seen cannot be unseen. I would also suggest reading it before the movie is made (Lionsgate Entertainment now has distribution rights) for many of the same reasons.

“It goes on and on and eventually consumes my mind, blocking out memories and hopes of tomorrow, erasing everything but the present, which I begin to believe will never change. There will never be anything but cold and fear and the agonized sounds of the boy dying…”

4.5 out of 5


Mar 30 2010

Marriage vs. Unions

Marriage is an ancient institution whereby two or more people (generally one man and one woman) are officially pair-bonded in the eyes of the church and/or state (see also polygyny and polyandry). People that are married typically inherit legal, cultural, economical, moral, and spiritual rights and privileges withheld from non-married couples. Sometimes these benefits are intangible (i.e., social pressures), at other times they are very real (e.g., tax benefits, insurance premiums, health plan coverage, legal considerations). Most religions (that I’m familiar with) promote marriage as a foundation for stable and productive communities that are presumably more suitable for raising families (and future followers). Whether this is true or not is irrelevant due to the laundry list of benefits a couple can gain by Tying-the-Knot. Marriage has therefore become an entrenched institution within our society, despite ending in divorce 40% of the time (as of 2008).

Somewhere along the line, a politician got the idea that money could be made on licensing marriages. These laws may have initially been introduced as a way of prosecuting adultery (evident among 50% of males and 26% of females, according to Kinsey). They may have also been instituted to facilitate the probating of Wills. Later they were used to prevent miscegenation (as late as 2009). Whatever the reason, today in the United States, people wishing to marry are required to register with the county/state and then after a short wait period (often longer than is required to buy a handgun, and perhaps sensibly) either go before a Justice of the Peace or an official of whatever religious flavor they prefer. This final ritual is what makes the marriage official. This is ridiculous.

I am in no way against marriage. In this society, marriage has its benefits. At it’s heart, marriage is a legal contract. We can’t erase 1000s of years of historical precedence with one shuffle of the eraser, nor is that necessary or desirable. What we should do however, is sever the connection between church and state (as famously referenced by Thomas Jefferson in his 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists). Counties and states should retain the ability to issue Civil Union licenses to whomever seeks them. Restrictions based on age, kinship, and current marital status should probably be retained. After a reasonable waiting period, the interested parties should reappear before a state authority to be officially recognized. If the bride and groom wish to be married by a religious figure, there should be no problem with that, but no religious ceremony should be granted binding powers by the state. In order to make the change seamlessly however, all prior marriage ceremonies (religious ones included) should be given Civil Union status.

Why bother? Because the term “marriage” carries with it several millennia of unwieldy baggage. Many Christians for instance, insist that marriage should never join two people of the same gender. Since many religionists believe that morals stem from a supernatural source, the use of their terms are forever encumbered by the tenets of their faith. People that are not of that faith should not be similarly encumbered, especially by the laws of an allegedly secular nation. Before same-sex marriages were legalized in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Washington D.C. (and counting) many claimed that their legalization would destroy the institution of marriage and unravel the fabric of our society. It hasn’t happened yet. If it happens, same-sex marriage won’t be the cause. While the current trend of legalization is encouraging, it doesn’t solve the underlying problem. The state should get out of the marriage business and concentrate on Civil Unions as the basis for determining a couple’s  legal standing. Leave marriage to the churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples.

“There’s no reason that the government should prevent homosexuals from entering civil marriages because some religions object to the concept, any more than the government should ban atheism because some religions object to it.” – Lisa Pampuch


Mar 30 2010

Hot Tub Time Machine

Last night, a friend and I went to see Steve Pink’s sci-kitsch comedy, “Hot Tub Time Machine“. I’m not exactly sure why I wanted to see this movie; my expectations weren’t exactly high. I’ve liked time-travel comedies in the past (e.g., “Back to the Future” (1985), “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” (1989), “Blast from the Past“), so maybe I was looking for more of the same? Maybe I just liked the name, reminds me of “Snakes on a Plane” (2006). I also like a number of the actors: John Cusack, Rob Corddry (of “The Daily Show” fame), Crispin Glover, and of course Chevy Chase. The preceding list are just the actors I was familiar with going into the movie, Clark Duke (soon to appear in “Kick-Ass” (2010)) and Craig Robinson (from the American version of “The Office”) more than held their own.

The movie follows a group of middle-aged friends whose lives haven’t turned-out quite the way they expected. When one of their number tries to commit suicide they are drawn together and decide to spend a weekend catching-up at an old ski resort that they frequented when they were younger. An accident with a Russian energy-drink short-circuits the hot tub and they are catapulted back to 1986 (makes perfect sense!) to relive a pivotal night of their young lives. Thankfully, the movie does not try to explain how or why this happens. The closest we get to an explanation is via random appearances of Chevy Chase as a hot tub repairman who may or may not know what’s going-on. During the movie, I thought the older men (Clark Duke’s character wasn’t alive in 1986) had been astrally-projected into their younger bodies, but the ending pretty much destroyed that theory. Again, the mechanics don’t matter because  time-travel (short of time-dilation) is probably not possible anyway.

So, did I like it? Yes, I did. As an aside, hot tubs inevitably remind me of the slow-motion opening of “Change of Seasons” (1980) with Bo Derek (horrible movie BTW, but that section of the VHS tape had tracking problems by the time we returned it… just saying) . Back to HTTM. Sure, the movie dragged here and there. Sure, I never knew whether to laugh or cringe at Chevy Chase’s deadpan performance. Sure, John Cusack played the same character he ALWAYS plays (though curiously, his sister was no where to be seen). Sure, the sole purpose of the script may have been to put doughy middle-aged men together with beautiful young ski-bunnies…. but it was still funny. Maybe that had to do with my pre-movie ritual margarita preparations (which are a requirement before seeing any comedy) but I kind of doubt it since they were pretty weak! The movie is packed with 80s pop and music references. Warning: if you don’t remember the 80s, you won’t get half of the jokes. The catheter scene had me laughing like I haven’t laughed (in a movie) in years. Low-brow, sure. Funny, yes! Glover’s bellboy character was awesome. But more than anything else, this will be Corddry’s ticket to bigger movies, much like “The 40 Year Old Virgin” was for Steve Carell. I only hope that enough people see it (it ranked #3 in it’s opening weekend) to make that happen. So… If bodily fluids can still make you snicker, if foul language doesn’t make you all uppity, if you can laugh at uncomfortable sexual humor, and you won’t be running off afterward to see if “A Brief History of Time” has any mention of Chernobyl soft-drinks… you have a good chance of liking this movie too.

“It looks like Gary Coleman’s forearm.”

4 out of 5


Mar 23 2010

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

Last night, I finished Katherine Howe’s 2009 novel, “The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane“. According to the book jacket, the author is a doctoral student of American and New England Studies at Boston University, much like the book’s protagonist Connie Goodwin. It’s hard to write anything about this book without exposing a great deal of its unfolding contents. If you don’t want spoilers, you might want to stop reading this review now. You’ve been warned.

The story begins moving when Connie gets a phone call from her New Age hippie-dippy mother, asking her to visit the long abandoned home of Connie’s grandmother. Connie is asked to clean the old place and prepare it for sale to pay off back taxes on the property. Connie agrees to this, despite her adviser’s wishes that she devote the summer to finding a unique primary source for her upcoming dissertation. She soon discovers that her grandmother’s home is a 17th century house that has belonged to her family for generations. The mystery begins when she finds a small piece of rolled paper tucked into the end of a key, bearing the name “Deliverance Dane”. Thus commences the best part of the book. Connie uses the paper scrap to uncover a lost story omitted from the history of the 1692 Salem Witch Trials. I enjoyed how the story followed her research from source to source, even when some of those sources and breakthroughs fell into her lap. I hoped that Howe would be able to tie up the story neatly without delving into magic, but that didn’t end up being the case…

Despite my wishes, the book soon involved alchemy and vernacular magic, meaning magic that is real rather than just rituals performed by cunning folk or the fears and superstitions of pre-Enlightenment society. I guess I shouldn’t hold it against the author for writing a fantasy book rather than a historical mystery, but still I was disappointed. To its credit, the book does give a great deal of insight into the history of the witch trials. While Connie is trying to unravel the Deliverance mystery, the reader is treated to modern theories on elements that may have contributed to the panic in the first place. These included things I’d never thought of (not that I’ve ever given the Salem Witch Trials much thought) like: tensions between religious communities, witness hallucinations due to moldy bread  (I’d heard that one before), an attempt to reassert slipping Calvinist influences, and changing roles and power of women in society. The historical underpinnings of this book redeem it in many ways. I want to both pummel the author for taking the easy way out and congratulate her for exposing me to an interesting (and frightening) time in our history. In the end, the story’s history lessons won out.

I watched today as Giles Corey was presst to death between the stones. He had lain so for two dayes mute. With each stone they tolde him he must plead, lest more rocks be added. But he only whisperd, More weight. Standing in the crowde I found Goodwyfe Dane, who, as the last stone lower’d, went white, grippt my hand, and wept.” – Letter fragment dated “Salem Towne, September 16, 1692” Division of Rare Manuscripts, Boston Athenaeum

3.5 out of 5


Mar 17 2010

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Today I finished another book, Mark Twain’s 1885 classic “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn“. I’m pretty sure I’ve read an abridged version of the book before because some sections were very familiar, while others were completely new to me. I wouldn’t be surprised if I was handed an edited version in school as the 125 year old book continues to be controversial. A sequel to “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” (1876), Finn’s book humorously details the events of Huckleberry Finn and Jim’s rafting adventure down the Mississippi River. Twain’s original intent was to tell Huckleberry’s story through adulthood but he later abandoned the idea. Instead, the story ends with Huckleberry making plans to head west for “howling adventures amongst the Injuns”.

The book has been attacked by critics since its publication. Today, most criticisms of the book revolve around Twain’s treatment of Jim, the runaway slave. The language is harsh at times and the “black vernacular” sometimes made me cringe or shift uncomfortably. I guess that’s the desired result of years and years of Black History Month commercials and the cultural admonition that a certain N-word can only be used by blacks. That’s fine. More disturbing to me was the caricature of Jim as a simpleton. Although Jim’s compliance with every hare-brained scheme Finn (and others) submit him to, makes the story more manageable (for the author), it detracts from the character’s believability. In Chapter 15, it was child’s play for Huckleberry to convince Jim that he’d dreamed being lost in the fog just moments before (that’s just one of many examples). Coming out of the fog however, is the most symbolic and poignant part of the book (in my opinion… and that’s what blogs are all about, right?) because it is then that Huckleberry realizes that Jim is a person. This realization however, never seems to dislodge Huck’s notion that Jim is also property and that Huck himself is a bad person for facilitating Jim’s escape. More than once, Huck secretly laments helping Jim because, “What had poor Miss Watson [ever] done to him” to deserve this. It’s a conflict that follows Huck throughout the book and is never really resolved. I think that’s what I liked most about the book. Despite the fact that the ending is a bit over-the-top and wraps up rather neatly, the main conflict (Huck’s moral growth) is left incomplete. This is the most satisfying way for the story to end because although Huck, like the time that he “lived” may never change, they can forever remind us of what we’ve overcome.

“Well, I says to myself at last, I’m a-going to chance it; I’ll up and tell the truth this time, though it does seem most like setting down on a kag of powder and touching it off just to see where you’ll go to.”

5 out of 5


Mar 12 2010

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Today, I finished reading “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin“. My present classics crusade continues to open books that I never intended to read. This is a good thing. Franklin‘s unfinished “Memoirs” (as he referred to them) were published in several incomplete versions after his death in 1790. The reprinted edition I read, printed by John Bigelow in 1868, included a number of Franklin’s correspondences. These were included to help fill gaps but mostly distract from the narrative. Bigelow’s version also remedied changes made to the original manuscript by Franklin’s grandson William Temple Franklin in 1818. I have belatedly discovered that a more complete and accurate version was published in 1981 entitled “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin: A Genetic Text”. I mention this for the benefit of others; I have no intention of re-reading the book at this time.

The book is divided into three main sections (plus addenda), each written by Franklin at a different time and place in his life. The detailed account ends abruptly in 1757, shortly following a visit to Stonehenge. This is unfortunate since Franklin’ s story had only begun to unfold when the narrative ends. It seems strange to include a list of things omitted (because of his death) while reviewing the book, except to give some idea of what his full autobiography could have included, e.g., opposition of the Stamp Act (1765); meetings with Thomas Paine (1774); delegation to the Second Continental Congress (1775); signer of the Declaration of Independence (1776), Treaty of Paris (1783), Treaty of Alliance (1778), and the Constitution (1787); Ambassador to France (1776-1785); President of Pennsylvania (1785); opinions on the State of Franklin (1784-1790); his essays calling for the abolition of slavery (1789), &c. While the details of these historical connections can be found in most American History books, Franklin’s autobiography is most worthwhile for his observations and insights.

I was most taken by two elements of the story. The first element that intrigued me, was Franklin’s enumeration of his life’s errata. I may have to explore this concept on my own at some point. Moving on… The second element was his list of Thirteen Virtues, which he famously strove to live by and credited with his life’s great successes. He took great care to define these in such a way that their meanings would not be misinterpreted. He even developed a method for monitoring how well he lived by this plan, developed when he was 20 years old. This endeavor was particularly interesting to me as I have long considered developing my own “commandments”, being dissatisfied (for obvious reasons) with the Mosaic laws. I realize there’s a wide difference between virtues and laws, but the idea germinating in my skull could go either way, or eventually incorporate both. I now have more to think about, which (to me) is the desired result of reading.

“Human felicity is produc’d not so much by great pieces of good fortune that seldom happen, as by little advantages that occur every day.”

4 out of 5