Monday, February 3, 2014

Musing Mondays - February 3

Musing Mondays asks you to muse about one of the following each week…

• Describe one of your reading habits.
• Tell us what book(s) you recently bought for yourself or someone else, and why you chose that/those book(s).
• What book are you currently desperate to get your hands on? Tell us about it!
• Tell us what you’re reading right now — what you think of it, so far; why you chose it; what you are (or, aren’t) enjoying it.
• Do you have a bookish rant? Something about books or reading (or the industry) that gets your ire up? Share it with us!
• Instead of the above questions, maybe you just want to ramble on about something else pertaining to books — let’s hear it, then!

My Musing:

I've been reading I Am Abraham by Jerome Charyn for the past couple of weeks. A lover of Charyn's work, and enamored by anything about Lincoln and the Civil War, I scooped this book up right away when I heard it was available for review.

At this point in my life, I've read several accounts of Lincoln's life and even more about the tumultuous time in America's history that found the nation divided and pitted brother against brother. Never before, however, have I found Abraham Lincoln portrayed in such a way. For the most part, this is a good thing. In other ways, I find reading Charyn's latest a challenge.

Good in the sense that Charyn brings Lincoln to life in a way others have not, which makes his book unique and fresh. Told entirely in first person, this Lincoln relates to a modern audience in the way the Lincoln from biographies has never been able to accomplish. The challenge comes in, however, with Charyn's Lincoln possessing what Kirkus Reviews called, "a 21st-century sexual consciousness that at times seems rather jarring."

"I yearned to see her naked, to touch all her parts, to feel her nipples and the fur between her legs." - In reference to Ann Rutledge (page 43)

"I kept dreaming of what lay under all that fine silk, and couldn't get her fat little tail out of my mind, even while I was addressing a jury." - In reference to Mary Todd (page 92)

On the following page Lincoln is concerned his "prick" might brush up against Mary's gown while they dance because he couldn't help his own "horse's pole" inside his pants.

There are other references as the story moves along, but I'm certain this is why this book is a slow read for me. As Kirkus says, these moments are rather jarring. You wonder for a second if you're reading an eloquently written erotic novel. Now that I'm further into the story, wandering amid the Lincoln and Stephen Douglas debates, those moments are farther apart and the pace has picked up.

I appreciate that Charyn is diving deep into Lincoln's personality and bringing the 16th president closer to modern readers than ever before. And I continue to adore Charyn's style of writing. It's simply certain aspects I wish could be toned down.

Have you ever read a book about an iconic personality that surprised you in any way?


Unknown said...

Looks interesting !
Thank you for stopping by my blog and commenting.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog!
I'm not sure if I could read about Lincoln that way to be honest... Some people should just remain asexual in your mind, you know? Parents, grandparents and certain historical figures fall into that category...

Unknown said...

I usually don't read books about historical characters, but there's a first time for everything and that book seems really interesting :)
Here's my musing

The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson said...

Thank you for your honest review. It is a mystery to me why there is such a taboo against seeing Abraham Lincoln as a sexual being. Perhaps he seems too saintly, but to me his humanity makes him more heartbreaking and his life more worthy of study. I will pass your review on to the author, who perhaps will respond himself. Your reading and heartfelt review deserves an answer. - Lenore Riegel, admin of the I Am Abraham Facebook forum:

Gigi Ann said...

I hate reading those kind of books. It seems like the author has taken the liberty of crawling into Lincoln's head and reading his thoughts. Which is an impossible task, really.

Have you ever read this memoir "Behind The Scenes" by Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley. She was First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln's dressmaker. When Mrs. Keckley published this book in 1868 she was criticized severely. I, personally, view it as a piece of history that would have been lost if not for this brave woman's decision to publish the book. I'm sure at the time she needed the money, but that is sometimes the reason most people today write and publish books. If you like books about history, I feel you would like this book, whether you agree with it or not. It is a part of my Nook library.

Unknown said...

This is definitely a very different Lincoln biography than I am used to. I don't think I could read this one. Granted, I have a hard time reading non-fiction when the writer takes a certain number of liberties with hypothesizing what historical figures are thinking.

Cheryl said...

Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I greatly appreciate it.

Lenore, thanks for your comments. My full review will follow on the 18th. I don't believe the issue is in seeing Lincoln as a sexual being. Personally, I want to believe that Lincoln loved his wife deeply and was physically attracted to her. A marriage without love and attraction makes people miserable. That doesn't mean, however, that I want to read about Lincoln being afraid to spill his "jelly" before consummating their marriage. I simply believe this aspect of Lincoln's character can be handled more delicately.

Gigi Ann, it is a tough task, but I still enjoy reading books like this. Charyn's The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson is one of my favorites, as is Melanie Benjamin's Mrs. Tom Thumb. And the reason I truly enjoyed both of those books is because they made the events and people as they portrayed them totally believable.

Pamela, it does take getting used to. I read non-fiction exclusively for years, so I don't think I could have slipped into one of these types of books right away. I needed to read more fiction before I was ready to tackle them. There is a totally fictional series about the life of Laura and Almanzo Wilder's life in the Ozarks that really gets the goat of some Laura fans. I remember enjoying them when I read them about 20 years ago, but they aren't for everybody.

Thanks again for stopping by, everyone.

Unknown said...

Ooh, sounds good!

Anonymous said...

That's such an odd thing to write in a period book. I wouldn't have expected it.

Sonia Lal

The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson said...

Jerome Charyn enjoyed your discussion so much he decided to weigh in:

"Have you read Lincoln’s biographies? You may be very surprised to learn how fond he was of scabrous jokes. He told them all the time. His earliest biographer, William Herndon, who was also his law partner, believes that Lincoln feared that he might have contracted syphilis, perhaps in a New Orleans brothel.

Lincoln was not a demigod; he was a man with sexual feelings. This novel is written in his voice and we have to consider his sexual dreams."

- Jerome Charyn

So what do you think? Does this author's view change your minds at all? Please let me know or write him via his website,

Cheers! Lenore

Cheryl said...

Lenore, please express my thanks to Jerome for taking the time to share this information with me and my readers.

As writers, we must all do what we think is best and right to portray our characters--fictional and historical. I'm glad he feels so strongly about accurately portraying Lincoln. And perhaps we do have the desire to portray Lincoln in our minds as someone more godlike, which makes it difficult to handle in this novel. That might also be why it stands out to me more in the book than in Jerome's other books.

That said, I'm enjoying the move away from some of that element as the novel focuses more on Lincoln and Mary in the White House and his relationship with Robert.

Thanks again for passing my thoughts along to the author and for his response. I wish more authors were willing to engage in such discussions.

The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson said...

So glad Jerome's words were heard. Just want to let you know that Jerome told me he appreciates and respects what you wrote, as well as what your readers had to say.

It was I who thought maybe letting them know where he, as an author, was coming from might interest them. So I asked him the question and wrote you the response.

Jerome always loves to hear from readers, whether or not they are on the same page as he is - each opinion, each dialogue helps him, for as he once wrote: "Why else do we write and write except to move our readers."