So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Tall, Slim & Erect: Portraits of the Presidents

Tall, Slim & Erect: Portraits of the Presidents by Alex Forman

These brief biographies provide a few little known facts, normally about personal habits, love life, unusual beliefs or behaviors, hand shaking techniques, and last words. Rather than write biographic sketches, Alex Forman collected phrases from other books, and illustrated each presidential chapter with a black and white photo of that president's toy figurine from the Miniature Figures of U. S. Presidents collection of toys created by the Marx Toy Company.
This is an amusement that will be useful to someone like me who knows little about the presidents' lives.

Here are memorable lines from each brief bio:
"Nixon asked Pat Ryan to marry him the first night they went out."
"His secretary revealed that LBJ would wash and reuse Styrofoam cups."
"In 1963, JFK confided that he got a headache if he went too long without a woman."
"In 1959, Robert Woodruff, president of the CocaCola Company, scolded Eisenhower for appearing in a photograph sipping Coke from a bottle through a straw -- a sissy way to imbibe."
"Truman gave strong approval for a judicial process and said in support of the Nuremberg Trials: Never again can men say, I was following orders. And never again can men in power give such orders."
"In the fall of 1900, FDR entered Harvard and went all out to make the football team. He was turned down when he weighed in at a brittle 146 pounds. He became, instead, a cheerleader."
"Hoover's parents were poor, and he was orphaned at nine, but he amassed a fortune as a mine engineer and owner."
"A few days after Coolidge entered the White House, he wrote to Jim Lucey, a cobbler from his hometown, I want you to know, he said, that if it were not for you I should not be here and I want to tell you how much I love you." When Coolidge died in 1933 "Jim Lucey was heartbroken... He was the best friend I ever had, said the cobbler of the former president."
"Harding's wife Florence worried incessantly about Harding's grasp of events and had the cabinet report to her."
"All his life, Wilson insisted on his intensity and his strong passions. But at the age of twenty-eight he was almost certainly a virgin. His pleasures were all connected with the use of his mouth."
"Taft owned a Holstein cow, Pauline Wayne, which he let graze freely on the White House lawn. Pauline was the last cow to live at the White House."
"Roosevelt said, Our first duty, our most important work, is setting our own house in order. We must be true to ourselves, or else, in the long run, we shall be false to all others."
"McKinley had told Chicago newspaper publisher, H.H. Kohlstaat, that they were trying to force him into declaring war with Spain. As he said this, He broke down and wept as I have never seen anyone weep in my life. His whole body was shaken with convulsive sobs."
"Illness and depression caused his wife, Carrie, to imagine that Harrison was falling in love with her niece, the widow Mary Lord Dimmick. After his wife's death from tuberculosis, Harrison married his niece. He was healthy and vigorous and enjoyed again the pleasures of fatherhood."
"Charged with seduction and bastardy, Cleveland said, It is true. Tell the Truth! To the surprise and dismay of mentors and opponents alike, he remained incorruptible."
"Arthur did not like to dress himself but preferred to be dressed by boys. He kept eighty pairs of pants in his wardrobe and changed them several times a day."
"Garfield was one of the few scholarly men of the presidency. A lover of poetry and the classics, he wrote passable verse, could read and write in Latin and Greek, and used to entertain his friends by simultaneously writing Latin with one hand and Greek with the other."
"Hayes and his sister, Fanny, had affection for each other that spilled over the customary bounds of sibling devotion."
"Julia Dent Grant was by no means a beauty. As First Lady, she considered an operation to correct an eye defect, but the president liked her, he said, with her eyes crossed and would not have her different."
"Johnson did not master the basics of reading, grammar, or math until he met his wife, Eliza, at the age of seventeen. Determined that her husband should amount to something, Eliza hired a man to read to him as he worked, and she taught him writing and arithmetic at night."
"Lincoln was of Melungeon descent. Cartoonists nicknamed him, Abraham Africanus the First."
"Buchanan enjoyed a twenty-year intimate friendship with Senator William Rufus de Vane King. He referred to King as Aunt Nancy."
"In 1853, while in office, Pierce was arrested for running over an old woman with his horse. The case was dropped due to insufficient evidence."
"Fillmore was seventeen before he saw a dictionary. He was illiterate until adulthood. In 1826, he married Abigail Powers, a schoolteacher, who helped him with his education."
"Zachary Taylor had little schooling, no knowledge of law, government, or politics, and had never cast a vote in his life."
"Polk suffered from chronic diarrhea, succumbing to it three months out of office."
"Tyler is the only president to have three different First Ladies during his time in office."
"Harrison ate only cheese and milk products."
"Van Buren is the only president for whom English was not his first language. He grew up speaking Dutch."
"Jackson was called a Jackass. He liked the name and used it for a while; later it became the symbol of the Democratic Party."
"J.Q. Adams rose at five, read the bible, and took a nude swim in the Potomac." "In private,Monroe and his wife, Elizabeth, spoke only in French."
"James Madison was our smallest president, standing only 5 feet 4 inches and weighing about 100 pounds."
"Jefferson ate little animal meat. Vegetables were his principle diet."
"John Adams started smoking and chewing tobacco at age eight and continued throughout his life."
"Washington's 900-volume library was filled with all the get-rich-quick handbooks of the day."

[I have sometimes replaced a pronoun with the president's name for clarity.]

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Book of Dragons

The Book of Dragons by Edith Nesbit

The Book of Dragons contains eight short stories by Edith Nesbit that have a dragon or dragons as the main plot element. Originally published in 1900 for British children, modern American readers may find many of the references charming or confusing. However, Nesbit's imagination and writing skills are well represented in these children's stories. Being in the Public Domain, this and many other books by Nesbit are now freely available online through sites like Internet Archive, Amazon, Google Books, and others.
"The Book of Beasts" tells how young Lionel inherits a kingdom and find the in the palace library a magic Book of Beasts where the animals fly off the pages when viewed in daylight. All goes well until he gets to the page with a dragon.
In "Uncle James, or the Purple Stranger" Princess Mary Ann lives on a topsy turvy island and plans to marry Tom the gardener when she grows up. However when a dragon crash lands on the island, her evil Uncle James devises a plot to rid the island of the dragon and Mary Ann that Tom must find a way to stop.
"The Deliverers of Their Country" tells the story of two young siblings Effie and Harry who respond to an invasion of dragons by attempting to waken England's ancient hero St. George the Dragonslayer.
In "The Ice Dragon" George and his younger sister Jane go out in their backyard one cold wintery night to see the fireworks. In the northern sky they see something much more amazing, the Aurora Borealis, and decide to go get a closer look by going to the North Pole.
A mean-hearted king imprisons his daughter in the Lone Tower on "The Island of the Nine Whirlpools" which is guarded by a dragon, a griffin and dangerous whirlpools. Can she be saved by an observant young man with a talent for maths?
In "The Dragon Tamers" John the blacksmith is so poor that he lives with his family in the ruins of an old castle. One day he awakens the dragon that lives in the dungeon beneath the ruins.
When her parents die a young princess is imprisoned by her evil cousin so he can rule the land. Then "The Fiery Dragon" attacks the kingdom, and the princess with the help of a pig herder outsmart both the prince and the dragon to set things right.
"Kind Little Edmund" is a boy with an inquiring mind who wants to learn things no one else knows. His quest leads him deep into a dragon's lair where he must figure out how to trick the dragon to save his village.