Tag Archives: Jill Lepore

Benny & Jenny

Book of Ages

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Jane Franklin raised twelve children, as well as several grandchildren and great-grandchildren, in colonial America. She lived in poverty for most of her life, stitching bonnets and managing a boarding house to make ends meet. Her brother Benjamin was one of the most successful men of his generation, a printer, postmaster, essayist, inventor, newspaper publisher, writer of Poor Richard’s Almanac, the most famous scientist on the planet, signer of the Declaration of Independence, representative in France during the Revolutionary War, and a participant in the creation of the Constitution of the United States, among many other things. Although their two lives diverged dramatically, they each remained one of the other’s closest friends, or as Jill Lepore puts it in Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin, “He loved no one longer. She loved no one better.”

By the time I first learned that this book was being written I was already a big fan of Lepore’s (see, for example, her work in the New Yorker), and also already something of a Ben Franklin obsessive. It is a pleasure to report that Book of Ages is a strange and remarkable accomplishment. In less than 270 pages, Book of Ages does quadruple duty. (1) It tells the tale of Jane Franklin, her experiences through the American Revolution, and the views that she developed through her difficult, often tragic life. (2) It explores how Benjamin Franklin’s work was influenced by his lifelong relationship with his sister. (3) Even more, Book of Ages ends up being about the colonial world inhabited by people like Jane Franklin, common folk neither rich, nor famous, nor advantaged, nor fortunate. (4) More still, it is a book about history writing itself. Given how little remains of Jane Franklin’s correspondence, it is fascinating to watch Lepore weave together what does exist into a full narrative.

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Books that Mattered in 2013: Extraordinary Books by Women

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The last 12 months were crammed with great and celebrated books. The Flamethrowers. Men We Reaped. The Goldfinch. Life After Life. Vampires in the Lemon Grove. The Interestings. Lean In. MaddAddam. Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin. Booker prize winner The Luminaries. Flannery O’Connor’s Prayer Journal. Tampa. Night Film. Bough Down. The Lowland. Speedboat. The Woman Upstairs. The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roose­velt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism.  

If you’re not too busy trying to read them all, you might want to go see the adaptation of Catching Fire in the theater. While you’re out, you may also feel the urge to pick up some Alice Munro following her well-deserved Nobel Prize in Literature.

Then, if you get a chance, you might see if any of the books written by men in 2013 are worth reading.

As we suspected back in August, 2013 was the Year of Women. This year, offerings from Thomas Pynchon, Dave Eggers (both of whom, FYI, wrote books with female protagonists), and even the darling George Saunders we’re overshadowed by the excitement around The Luminaries, by 28-year-old Elanor Catton, or The Flamethrowers, the second novel from Rachel Kushner. Allie Brosh had ’em laughing, and dressing up in costume, at readings of Hyperbole and a Half around the country, and Joyce Carol Oates’ annual novel The Accursed was said by many to be one of her best, or at least one of her strangest. The trend was so strong that J.K. Rowling tried to release The Cuckoo’s Calling under a man’s name, only to be swiftly revealed as her true female self.

Strangely, no one seems to have much noticed The Year of Women, or wagered a guess as to why so much of the interesting and ambitious writing of the past year came from women. We welcome your ideas, but for now we’ll go ahead and take this as a good sign. The books above were never labeled or categorized as “great women’s books” — they’re just great books that people loved. It’s the best rebuke to all the Sad Literary Men and Great Male Narcissists since, well, Adelle Waldman’s The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., and has made for an extraordinary year of reading.

See other Books that Mattered in 2013.

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