Jewish World Review March 1, 2002 / 16 Adar, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com -- MY eyes were puffy and my cheeks wet when the doorbell rang. "You caught me crying," I said sheepishly to my friend.
"What's the matter?" she asked.
"Abigail Adams, wife of President John Adams, just died," I said, dabbing away a tear.
"Again?" my friend exclaimed.
"Yep. Right here on page 623," I said, pointing to the biography, John Adams, open on the kitchen counter. "It was heartbreaking," I said, pulling a tissue from my pocket and blowing my nose. "John was so devastated, he said, 'I wish I could lie down beside her and die, too.' I think if I had been there I may have climbed in the bed, too."
"Are you all right?" my friend asked.
"Well, not just yet. Jefferson says only time and silence can heal the wounds of death."
"Thomas. You know, Adam's veep, third president, Monticello? He's in the book, too. I've been peeved at him since the French Revolution, but he and Adams are rekindling a remarkable friendship by letter in their golden years. If Adams can forgive him, I guess I can, too."
My friend looked at me like I might be nuts. I get the same look from the family. They think I get obsessive and lose myself in books. It's not that I've been terribly lost in John Adams, I've just been terribly long in John Adams. The book is 751 pages long and cramps your hands to hold it unsupported. For awhile, I was reading in bed at night, only finishing one page before I fell asleep. At that rate, it would be two years and one month before I finished the book, so I began reading right after dinner in front of the fireplace (few pleasures compare) and have made considerable progress.
"We've been hearing trivia about John Adams since December, Mom," says the youngest. "Maybe you should branch out. The National Enquirer has a great story on a three-legged ice skater."
"Ice reminds me," I say. "Did you know Adams once had to sleep in the same bed as Ben Franklin, and that Franklin insisted on keeping the windows open? Adams was freezing."
"Mom, I think you need to get your nose out of the book."
"Why? Is it dinner-time already? How does mutton or wild goose on a spit with shell beans and whortleberry pudding sound?"
"Mom, lose the book!"
How could the kid understand? She's still a student who is forced to read. Reading is never as enjoyable as when you're finally out of school and able to choose your own books. That said, why is it that when I was in school I was perfectly comfortable reading in the daytime, but now when I read during daylight hours I feel incredibly guilty?
Adams wouldn't feel guilty. He loved books. He read at every opportunity and often acquired a classic in English, Greek and Latin. After Abigail died, he often slept in a recliner in his library. At least I still sleep in my own bed.
Jefferson wouldn't have felt guilty either. Jefferson had such a large private library that the government bought it after the Library of Congress was destroyed when the British torched the Capitol. It took 10 wagons carrying 6,707 volumes packed in pine cases to make the delivery. Now that's obsessive.
Frankly, I don't think a person can read enough books. It's not like you're missing something good on television.
A book buddy of mine said Time magazine recently declared that in
a few years the average American may live to be 125 years old. We both
smiled and knew what the other was thinking - more time to
02/22/02: Wrestling with prejudice
02/22/02: Wrestling with prejudice