Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Pursuit of Everything (What I'm Reading)

I'm at the downtown library working on the third of three US presidential histories for teens that I'm editing--this one is about the third president, Thomas Jefferson. 

I'm enjoying artist Maira Kalman's wonderful Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Everything (2014). It's for kids, but she nails it:
 "If you want to understand this country and its people and what it means to be optimistic and complex and tragic and wrong and courageous, you need to go to Monticello." 
Yes, and the bio I'm editing doesn't catch the man's contradictions. 
I've noticed a funny phenomenon: 
hack writers like me and my colleagues too easily turn biographies into a hagiographies.

There seems to be a psychological bias toward defending someone you've spent so much time with, like a writer's Stockholm Syndrome: 
e.g., Thomas Jefferson would have freed his slaves if he could have. 
No, the book I'm editing doesn't go that far; 
it's more that it just doesn't mention stuff, like that Jefferson's slaves made the bricks and nails and helped build Monticello. I'll tuck in some of that info.


The white-columned building behind me is one of my favorites--originally the Northwestern National Life Building, built in 1964 and designed by architect Minoru Yamasaki (who also designed NYC's World Trade Center twin towers).

I wonder if Jefferson who designed his house Monticello along classical lines might have liked this modernist take on neoclassical architecture.

I'm behind recording What I'm Reading--partly because I want to write smart little reviews of each one. Well, that ain't happening! so here's a pile I photographed a couple weeks ago:


Zhoen said...

Tried to real Maureen O'Hara's biography, gave up after less than 50 pages. Huge lack of self awareness, very self promoting, flat style as well. Modern saints, indeed.

The Old State House in Boston tells the story of the Boston Massacre with all the sides well represented. The colonials do not come off well, as they present it. Quite the opposite of what you'd expect in that setting.

Frex said...

Actors are often thus.

I was so surprised to grow up and realize the American colonial revolutionaries were often thugs and terrorists!