The Monday Check-In ~ 3/4/2019

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Life.

What a week. Insanely busy at work, and then crazy hectic at home too. So… my reading time got squished down to almost nothing, leaving me frustrated. Boo.

What did I read during the last week?

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee: I actually finished this the previous weekend, but just posted my review this week.

That Ain’t Witchcraft by Seanan McGuire: The 8th book in the super-fun InCryptid series! My review is here.

In audiobooks:

I finshed the Beka Cooper trilogy by Tamora Pierce! Loved these books so much. My series wrap-up post is here.

Also, I listened to…

The Test by Sylvain Neuvel: The audiobook version of this novella is short (2 hours, 12 minutes). I can’t say I was bored, but I thought overall that this work of speculative fiction lacked true depth, and the key plot twist is just too obvious. Not a bad way to kill a couple of hours, but certainly nowhere near the greatness of the Themis Files books.

Pop culture goodness:

What a week for theater! I ended up seeing two terrific performances this week:

What a fun production! The costumes are so eye-poppingly colorful, and the choreography was a treat too.

But the true highlight for me was seeing…

HAMILTON!!! This was my 2nd time seeing the show, and if possible, I loved it even more the 2nd time around. I saw it Saturday night, and have been walking around with a dopey grin ever since, singing my own off-key version of the songs and feeling some serious afterglow.

Oh, and I got this shirt, which makes me very happy.

Yes, I absolutely needed a Hamilton in San Francisco shirt!

Fresh Catch:

I picked up a print copy of the book I’m reading via Serial Reader, to make it easier when I need to go back and check details.

AND… it’s always a treat to get an email from Goodreads about winning a giveaway! I won a Kindle edition of this book this week:

Gorgeous cover, right? And the premise sounds amazing. Since the book doesn’t come out until September, I’ll probably hold off a bit before reading it — but I’m so excited to have a copy of my own!

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

I’m bouncing between a few books right now:

  • Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid: So excited to be starting this book finally.
  • Here by Richard McGuire: A graphic novel recommended to me by a friend.
  • Gmorning, Gnight! … because I’m high on Lin-Manuel Miranda right now.
Now playing via audiobook:

Lucky Suit by Lauren Blakely: Okay, I’ll be the first to admit that this does not look like my sort of listen. Still, it was an Audible freebie last month, it’s under 2 1/2 hours, and what the heck? Might as well go with something quick and light before committing to one of the longer listens in my library.

Ongoing reads:

Two ongoing reads with my book group, plus one more on my own just for kicks:

  • A Plague of Zombies by Diana Gabaldon: Continuing our journey through all of the Lord John books and stories.
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston: Our group classic read.
  • The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens: I’m reading this classic via the Serial Reader app. So good! I’m now at 40%.

So many books, so little time…

boy1

Reading Reaction: Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

I did it! I finally finished reading the mammoth biography, Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow.

It’s no secret by now that this 800+ page history book is the inspiration for the Broadway musical Hamilton. And — oh yeah — let me just mention right here that I have tickets to the show FOR THIS WEEKEND!

Once I actually got the tickets, I became firm in my resolution to read the book. I was not giving away my shot to learn more about the ten-dollar founding father without a father. And so, in early April, I dug in. First, I started with the audiobook — a 36 hour audiobook! — figuring I’d make slow but steady progress. And I did — but took a break to listen to a couple of other things, and then couldn’t get back into the flow.

Next, I turned to the Kindle edition, with a vague plan to treat it as a serial read — maybe I’d devote 10 – 15 minutes a day, and sooner or later I’d get through the book.

I had to finish it.

After all, there were a million things I hadn’t known.

But it turns out, I just couldn’t wait.

Pretty soon, I was reading like I was running out of time.

(Sorry. I’ll stop. Soon.)

But seriously, I’m glad I stuck with it. Alexander Hamilton is a brilliant, LONG, minutely detailed, and exhausting book — but emphasis on the brilliant.

Sadly, it also made me realize that while I thought I’d gotten a pretty decent education when it came to US history, apparently my teachers skipped quite a bit. I was fairly good on the Revolutionary War and Civil War, but this book showed me how little I knew about the early, post-war years of our country, the political factions and their intense rivalries and scorching hatreds, and the incredible animosity between Hamilton and, well, so many of the founding fathers, especially Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. I actually had only the slightest clue about the process of the creation of the Constitution and Hamilton’s role in it. The book is eye-opening in the extreme — and while said eyes did actually glaze over a bit, especially during the chapters on Hamilton’s economic plans, national debt, banking, etc — I learned a tremendous amount that was new to me and/or gave me new perspective on political discord and the origins of controversies that linger to this day.

The writing in Alexander Hamilton is quite wonderful and never dull, and I loved how, thanks to Hamilton’s compulsion toward the written word, so much of his own written record is incorporated into the book. It’s enlightening as well to see writings of George Washington and other historical figures, and particularly moving to see the written record of the love and affection between Hamilton and Eliza.

The behind the scenes look at Hamilton’s time on Washington’s staff during during the war, the maneuvering and struggling to get the Constitution ratified, the deeply bloodthirsty political battles — all are written so vividly, and with such great use of language from the historical record of correspondence, newspaper articles, and personal memoirs — that I often felt like I was in the room where it happened.

So how is it that an 800-page history book can bring a woman of the 21st century to tears?

Adieu, best of wives and best of women. Embrace all my darling children for me.

Easy. By the time the duel with Aaron Burr rolled around, I was ready to put the book in the freezer. (Yes, that’s a Joey Tribbiani reference. Always appropriate.) I didn’t want it to happen. Make it stop! It feels especially silly getting emotional over events that (a) are carved in stone and actually happened and (b) happened over 200 years ago. Kind of similar to how I felt reading Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel — I wanted to somehow have the story work out differently so that Anne Boleyn could keep her head, but damn history! It happens anyway, despite my feels.

There are places where Hamilton’s writing and Chernow’s analysis are startlingly relevant. I’ll just leave a few bits here:

After a protracted inquiry into Hamilton’s conduct as Treasury Secretary which resulted in a finding that all charges were baseless:

Nevertheless, it frustrated him that after this exhaustive investigation his opponents still rehashed the stale charges of misconduct. He had learned a lesson about propaganda in politics and mused wearily that “no character, however upright, is a match for constantly reiterated attacks, however false.” If a charge was made often enough, people assumed in the end “that a person so often accused cannot be entirely innocent.”

Hmmm. (But her emails…)

Or hey, how about how a President selects key advisers?

Washington had always shown great care and humility in soliciting the views of his cabinet. Adams, in contrast, often disregarded his cabinet and enlisted friends and family, especially Abigail, as trusted advisers.

Lest we think political discourse was more genteel and polite back in ye olden days…

On October 1, he sent a follow-up note to Adams, calling the allegations against him “a base, wicked, and cruel calumny, destitute even of a plausible pretext to excuse the folly or mask the depravity which must have dictated it.”

And then there’s this commentary on a document about Adams published by Hamilton:

“And, if true, surely it must be admitted that Mr. Adams is not fit to be president and his unfitness should be made known to the electors and the public. I conceive it a species of treason to conceal from the public his incapacity.”

I ended up highlighting a LOT as I was reading — either wonderfully phrased words from Hamilton himself or interesting bits about the customs of the day or insightful hints of how Hamilton and his friends, family, and foes thought, as gleaned from their journals and letters.

I may not be all that young, scrappy, or hungry, but I did end up devouring this book once I got into its rhythms. Again, it’s weird to say that a book about history, some of it quite well-known, can be suspenseful, yet that’s how it felt. The author manages to take the events and people of the historical record and make them feel alive, and writes with a flair for capturing the intensity and drama of Hamilton’s life, as well as the emotions and experiences of Eliza, Angelica (the Schuyler sisters!), and Hamilton’s closest friends and harshest critics and enemies.

Okay, and I did come away from the book despising Aaron Burr (the damn fool who shot him), because it seems clear that Hamilton went to the duel determined not to shoot Burr, but Burr went there planning to shoot to kill, if he could.

Beyond the dramatic ending, I gained a huge amount of knowledge about Alexander Hamilton, the man who grew up impoverished and of questionable birth, who grew into one of our nation’s finest thinkers and leaders. What an amazing reading experience!

Yes, just about everyone has fallen in love with the Hamilton musical. (I admit, I was very late to the party myself, but have been doing my best to catch up!) If you’re someone who mainly knows the story of Hamilton courtesy of Lin-Manuel Miranda, I encourage you to give this book a shot. It’s worth the effort, and gives a whole new meaning to all those amazing lyrics that we all quote at random times. (Right? Not just me? Thanks.)

It’ll probably be a while before I venture back to the non-fiction shelf to pick up a history book or political biography… but Alexander Hamilton has proved to me once again that reading non-fiction can be just as much of a thrill as reading a great novel, when done well and in the hands of a gifted writer.

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