Monday, February 8, 2010

I Have a Bit of a Crush on Ben...

I posted awhile back about reading through some of the classics this year. You know, you don't just happen to read Walden (my husband swears nobody really reads it anyway!) or The Iliad, so I decided to be purposeful about it. My plan was to read 12 this year, and figuring if I do that for the next 9 years I'll have made it through over 100 of them. A good goal, and very doable I thought. That's one a month. (And if I make it through one classic each month, I'm free to read anything else I want for fun - right now: The Underneath by Kathi Appelt.)

It's February 8 and I've made it through three already! Ethan Frome was okay - interesting to me the story line of someone who chose poorly in marriage, then regretted it, and went to dramatic measures to rectify the situation, only making matters worse in the long run. Some things just don't change, do they?

I have to admit I didn't love Kidnapped - maybe you need to be a ten year old boy to really enjoy it, or have it read to you by someone who's willing to change the voices, making themselves sound a bit like Johnny Depp. But I read it all the same. (My favorite quote from it, BTW, "‘keep your breath to cool your porridge." which I think equates to today's 'don't waste your breath'.)

Next I read the Autobiography of Ben Franklin - I LOVED that book! When I'd tell my husband, for the ninety-ninth time that I hearted it and the man, he'd ask, 'is it exciting?' Well, not exactly exciting. But really, really interesting. I think the ten year old boy in him would have preferred Kidnapped.  Like everybody else I'd heard the stories, and seen the pictures of him standing out in a lightning storm with a kite and a key. Somehow I didn't realize he started the first library, the first hospital, the first fire department, and many other accomplishments we benefit from and take for granted today. He was as much an inventor as he was a politician, and I loved reading of his efforts to end slavery.

I didn't realize he invented bifocals. The first thing I check out, when we move, is the public library. When our current town was building a new one, I drove by many, many times just to check it out - you'd have thought they were putting in a new outlet mall or something. But if Ben hadn't invented bifocals I wouldn't be able to look across our grocery store at the labels on the aisles to find a certain product, then once there be able to actually read the ingredients on the label, those written in the right size for a mouse. With the same pair of cute green glasses. Bifocals are just cuter if you get them in a fun color or get animal print on the templates or some such thing. So thanks, Ben, for bifocals.

Here's what Ben had to say about starting the first library:

“I drew up plans for a public library financed by membership fees. …. It took a lot of work but I managed to find 50 people interested in reading and wealthy enough to pay the 40 shilling initiation fee and commit to paying 10 shillings a year thereafter for the next 50 years. Thus our library began with meager funds. … Later reading became fashionable and libraries began to benefit from the donations of wealthy patrons. As the colonies lacked public amusements like theater or horse racing, many people chose to read in their spare time. After a few years, visitors observed that the colonial people were generally more intelligent and more literate than people of the same class in other countries.”
Poor Richard (Ben) also said, “The noblest question in the world is What Good may I do in it?” I'd say he did quite a bit, much more than I realized. Great read, highly recommend it. Believe it or not, I had to put my name on a waiting list for it at our public library - which seems quite appropriate to me.

If you want to know more about him, read the book, or go here for a quick overview. Then read the book.


Robin said...

I just may have to check that book out - and I am appreciating Ben and his bifocal invention more every day! I love learning about our founding fathers - they were incredible men.

Barb said...

Do you know, I knew he invented bifocals. I swear I don't know how I knew that but I did. Weird.

I'm reading a classic right now too but on a much younger level - say 10 years old. I'm reading the Little House series from start to finish again. I'll never get tired of them and knowing that Mom is reading them made me realize I wanted to read them again too. It won't be very much longer until I can read these books to Cameron.

Gretchen said...

Since I have seen the future, and it includes bifocals, I'll have to put this book on my list. THanks for the recommendation!

Bev said...

My mom emailed and told me my great-grandfather is named Benjamin Franklin McMillan - how cool is that - no wonder I'm crazy about the guy - it's in my genes!

Sarah said...

I am going to read this, really! (Remind me in a month if I've forgotten. After all, I made you read Silas Marner, so I need to remember to read this for you!!)

Sarah said...

And how on earth is Gretchen so clever all the time? She has the greatest comments; I love it!

Chris said...

I think the last time I commented here was about books too! This book sounds interesting! Thanks - I love a good book recommendation.

I recently read a biographical fiction about George and Martha Washington; much insight into their private lives and many struggles. ("Washington's Lady" by Nancy Moser)