Jax Freestyle Book Club blog

A tool for members of Jax Freestyle Book Club, a meetup.com group in Jacksonville, Florida, to talk about what they're reading and would like to read. Click on the meetup badge to the right to go to our meeting homepage.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Getting harder to stay with a book in the internet age?

The print and online editions of The Atlantic Monthly feature an article which reflects thoughts lots of us have had: has the habit of jumping from link to link made us incapable of the sustained attention a book needs? I see the signs in myself, although I definitely wouldn't want to give up the internet. What do you think?

Is Google Making Us Stupid?
by Nicholas Carr

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Post book suggestions for June and beyond

Jax Freestyle Book Club meetup members--please post your suggestions for books you'd like to appear on June and later editons of the list as comments to this post.

You don't need to log on or do anything special to post, but your comments won't appear until I've had a chance to moderate, just because I've found that if you have a book group related blog, lots of self-published authors want to promote themselves and the blog gets spammy.

If you use the anonymous posting mode, please do sign the name you use for the meetup in the body of your comment so that we know you're a member.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Benjamin Franklin--An American Life--by Walter Isaacson

I've had the book (Benjamin Franklin-An American Life) for years. I wish I was a better reader. It's 560 pages and I'm struggling to get thru it. So I rented the book on CD from the library and listened to it in the car on the way down to Miami. I felt like I was hanging out with Benjamin Franklin. I think he is such a cool dude. He loved women. I'm a woman so I like it that he loved women.

Walter Isaacson clearly likes Benjamin Franklin also. I think it's a pleasure reading a biography by someone that adores the man while at the same time not being blind to his faults.

Listening to the CD in the car on a long drive was easier for me than reading the book. BUT now I can go back to sections of the book. In the "Conclusions" chapter Isaacson talked about critics of Benjamin Franklin. I think of Benjamin Franklin as a visionary. Not a romantic but a visionary. Perhaps the word "visionary" can be interpreted in different ways. Even though I believe that Franklin had a vision of a better world, I don't think that word negates the possibility that Franklin also had the practicality of making that vision come true.

Here are some quotes from the "Conclusions" chapter:

On one side were those, like Edwards and the Mather family, who believed in an anointed elect and in salvation through God's grace alone. They tended to have a religious fervor, a sense of social class and hierarchy, and a appreciation for exalted values over earthly ones. On the other side were the Frankins, those who believed in salvation through good works, whose religion was benevolent and tolerant, and who were unabashedly striving and upwardly mobile.
Out of this [dichotomy] grew many related divides in the American character, and Franklin represents one strand: the side of pragmatism vs romanticism, of practical benevolence versus moral crusading. He was on the side of religious tolerance rather than evangelical faith. The side of social mobility rather than an established elite. The side of middle-class virtues rather than more ethereal noble aspirations.
During the three centuries since his birth, the changing assessments of Franklin have tended to reveal less about him than about the values of the people judging him and their attitudes toward a striving middle class.

This Age of Enlightenment, however, was being replaced in the early 1800s by a literary era that valued romanticism more than rationality. With the shift came a profound reversal, especially among those of presumed higher sensibilities, in attitudes toward Franklin. The romantics admired not reason and intellect but deep emotion, subjective sensibility, and imagination. They exalted the heroic and the mystical rather than tolerance and rationality. Their haughty criticisms decimated the reputations of Franklin, Voltaire, Swift and other Enlightenment thinkers.

American transcendentlists (such as Thoreau and Emerson) who shared the romantic poets' allergic reaction to rationalism and materialism, also found Franklin too mundane for their rarefied tastes.

Franklin's reputation was elevated by the emergence of that distinctly American philosophy known as pragmatism, which holds, as Franklin had, that the truth of any proposition, whether it be a scientific or moral or theological or social one, is based on how well it correlates with experimental results and produces a practical outcome.

Disentangling morality from theology was an important achievenment of the Enlightenment, and Franklin was its avatar in America. In addition, by relating morality to everyday human consequences, Franklin laid the foundation for the most influential of America's homegrown philosophies, pragmatism. His moral and religious thinking, when judged in the context of his actions, writes James Campbell, "becomes a rich philosohical defense of service to advance the common good." What it lacked in spiritual profundity, it made up for in practicality and potency.

....there's something to be said for Franklin's outlook, for his pragmatism and occasional willingness to compromise. He believed in having the humility to be open to different opinions. For him that was not merely a practical virtue, but a moral one as well. It was based on the tenet, so fundamental to most moral systems, that every individual deserves respect. During the Constitutional Convention, for example, he was willing to compromise some of his beliefs to play a critical role in the conciliation that produced a near-perfect document. It could not have been accomplished if the hall had contained only crusaders who stood on unwavering principle. Compromisers may not make great heroes, but they do make democracies.
More important, Franklin did in fact believe, uncompromisingly, in a few high principles--very important ones for shaping a new nation--that he stuck to throughtout his life. He was ever unwavering to his opposition to arbitrary authority. rights and power were based not on the happenstance of heritage but on merit and virtue and hard work.

His guiding principle was a "dislike of everything that tended to debase the spirit of the common people". Few of his fellow founders felt this comfort with democracy so fully, and none so intuitively.
From the age of 21, when he first gathered his Junto, he held true to a fundamental ideal with unwavering and at times heroic fortitude: a faith in the wisdom of the common citizen that was manifest in an appreciation for democracy and an opposition to all forms of tyranny.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

March meeting

Gotta do this on the fly, but at the March meeting, we talked about Benjamin Franklin: An American Life (this one will definitely be back on the agenda in April) Loving Frank, Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain, , The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, and A Free Life.

Some of the topics that these books brought up were meditation, growing up in the fifties, how our take on family issues may differ from someone in Ben Franklin's era, the immigrant experience, virtues and sources of digital book downloads, and more.

Reading real books leads to real conversation!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Reading for March

I've finished one of this month's selections and started a second (the one I'd committed to).

Bill Bryson's childhood memoir Life andTimes of the Thunderbolt Kid is a lot of fun for anyone born in America around the middle of last century. (Mr. Bryson, like me, is an alum of the 1951 birth class). If you've read Bill Bryson before, you know he likes to mix reminiscences, facts, and comic exaggeration. This works most of the time for me; when he strays too far into silliness it's a bit off putting. On the other hand, he's certainly honoring an American comic tradition. I recently dipped back into Mark Twain's Roughing It, and Mr. Clemens does the same thing. This is a light, funny book, and if you're around the same age, will give you lots of flashes of recollection, fond or otherwise.

I'm also about a third of the way through Ha Jin's A Free Life. This is a novel which seems to be at least partly autobiographical. It's about the experiences of a Chinese man who was in the U.S. to pursue a PhD for which the Chinese government was sponsoring him at the time of the Tienamen Square uprising. He decided to remain in the U.S. and make his own way, and the book is the story of how he coped and how the experience changed him. I don't think this book is for everyone; it's told in a very matter of fact way, which is not at all to say it's flat, because there's vivid description and lots of dialogue, and the protagonist's emotions are considered. It's just told in a very clear straightforward narrative way. It really puts you in the head of someone trying to cope with trying to decide what his life should be and make a way for himself someplace where the rules are very different from where he grew up.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

New format!

I've been thinking about ways to let us engage with other readers in a very inclusive way, without turning meetings into general chat sessions. This is tricky, and I don't know if I've invented a new kind of book club experience or am just creating a blip in consciousness, but my idea is to post a list of ten books that have come up as being of interest, and asking everyone who RSVPs to commit to one, and come in ready to talk about it. If everybody reads the same book, great. If no two people read the same book, great in a different way. I guess we'll find out from RSVPs for March if this has appeal.

The ten on the list (I hope) cover the waterfront. We have fiction, bio, memoirs, books about science, books about economics, upbeat books, downbeat books, boomer college, American history, turmoil in Africa, and a boomer youth era favorite. Some are long and a bit challenging, others are easy and breezy. I'll try to add some hyperlinks later, but in the meantime, you can google them or look them up on your favorite book review site.

Benjamin Franklin-An American Life by Walter Isaacson

Chronicles, Volume 1 by Bob Dylan

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan

The Life and TImes of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson

Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries by Neil deGrasse Tyson

Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream by Barbara Erentreich

A Free Life by Ha Jin

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain: How a New Science Reveals Our Extraordinary Potential to Transform Ourselves
by Sharon Begley

Friday, February 1, 2008

Hope lots of you are exploring the Feb selection

It's very interesting and definitely rewards the time!

Here's the text of an email I sent the group through meetup:

There hasn't been too much RSVP'ing (yes or no) to this month's meeting notice, and I'm thinking some might be on the fence as to whether they want to invest the time and energy it takes to read a book, into this month's selection. Or maybe you've been busy and haven't thought about it one way or the other!

EIther way,The Bookseller of Kabul is not at all a difficult read. It was the bestselling nonfiction book in the history of publishing in Norway, and it's generated an interesting controversy in the aftermath of its publication, check out the article at http://www.guardian.co.uk/afghanistan/story/0,1284,1046429,00.html or listen to/read an NPR report on the issue at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=16626180

So, still not sure if you want to snag a copy? Try a short excerpt from the first chapter at http://www.hachettebookgroupusa.com/books/83/0316734500/chapter_excerpt17708.html

Hope to see you the nineteenth (PLENTY of time between now an then to read this not long or difficult book!!!!!!!) It's readily available at the library, on the shelves at local bookstores, many used copies are available at Amazon, Powells, etc., and it's out in audio CD format.