As soon as the final out settled in Freddie Freeman’s glove, I felt a surge – not quite the relief I felt when the Covid vaccine arrived in my arm but rather the excitement of a great swath of free time, suddenly arriving.
I wasn’t reading hard-covered books during the warm months, but I kept taking notes about books I wanted to read. Now, no more long evenings obsessively watching the hapless Mets organization fall apart, in the person of Jacob deGrom’s pitching arm.
Now, World Series over, free at last.
The first book has been “The Taking of Jemima Boone,” by Matthew Pearl, about the kidnapping of Daniel Boone’s most spirited child, on July 14, 1776.
I was drawn to the subject because Daniel Boone was all over Kentucky when I lived in Louisville for two years, as the Appalachian news correspondent for the NYT, wandering the region.
Boone's statue and name were all over the Commonwealth of Kentucky, as I drove on twisting roads that had been paths for him to explore, to hunt, to escape. But somehow I never wrote about him in all the time I roamed around Kentucky.
Now Matthew Pearl, a novelist by trade, has written a taut drama, with a thick index in the back, assuring me that he was using source material and not only his novelist’s imagination.
It’s a tricky time to be catching up on an American icon, most known for barging into Native American territory, often fighting for land, as well as for his life. The U.S. is re-evaluating its memorials to slave-owning Confederate generals, as well as explorers like Columbus. What to do about Daniel Boone?
The reason Jemima Boone and two other girls in their early teens became prisoners is that Daniel Boone could not, would not, stay in coastal towns but pushed west through the Cumberland Gap and on, losing a son, driven by a tropism for space and land and “freedom.”
This American icon was taking other people’s land -- at gunpoint – but his relationship to the people of the land was more complicated than that. He became part “Indian” in style and spirit. He was captured by a complex chief, Blackfish, who adopted Boone as a son, and recognized him as a kindred soul, with skills and courage. Boone, of course, was planning his escape.
The actual “taking of Jemima Boone” occupies the taut first 75 pages of this book – how she tried to fight off the men who surrounded their canoe, how she left signals for the man she knew would come looking for her, and how she bonded, in a way, with the son of Blackfish, who treated her with respect, by all versions. Pearl, the novelist, resists going too far in suggesting a romance between captor and captive.
In fact, one of the things I have learned from recent reading about New England settlement is that Indian males almost never raped, although some did “marry” their captives. It never came to that in this Kentucky encounter, but the details seem to have survived (with revisions, with exaggerations, surely) into the 19th Century, and then the 20th, and now the 21st. Matthew Pearl makes it real.
Daniel Boone kept going, all the way to Missouri, where he and his wife Rebecca and Jemima Boone all died – of old age. He has two graves, one in Missouri, one in Frankfort, the Kentucky capitol.
I recommend “The Taking of Jemima Boone” as a well-written and well-researched visit to a distant time, leaving complexities in a nation now re-examining (at long last) its myths and heroes.
I rarely read fiction these days; so much to learn from non-fiction. In spurts of reading, I have belatedly learned about Neanderthals and evolution and DNA, as well as the earliest “settlers” of New England. This has been spurred by my wife’s vast personal research in the genealogy of her family, from England and Scotland.
Next in my reading list: “Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America,” by David Hackett Fischer
I was drawn to the book by a review by Joe Klein in The New York Times, with this overview:
“Albion’s Seed” makes the brazen case that the tangled roots of America’s restless and contentious spirit can be found in the interplay of the distinctive societies and value systems brought by the British emigrations — the Puritans from East Anglia to New England; the Cavaliers (and their indentured servants) from Sussex and Wessex to Virginia; the Quakers from north-central England to the Delaware River valley; and the Scots-Irish from the borderlands to the Southern hill country.
I consulted the index and found this one reference: “When backcountrymen moved west in search of that condition of natural freedom which Daniel Boone called ‘elbow room…’”
Do these four separate waves of emigration explain why the United States, perhaps more than ever, seems to be several different countries, with rival impulses and outlooks? Does it explain Red and Blue states or regions? I look forward to learning what Fischer has to say.
11/10/2021 12:50:14 pm
George, welcome to the wonderfully exciting world of non-fiction. Except for novels recommended by my wife or a friend, I'm committed to non-fiction about any period.
11/11/2021 04:04:13 pm
Alan, you are truly a human for all seasons. I will make one of your Zooms, soon, promise. Thanks for the tip about the spy...I think we once discussed the book about Elizebeth Smith Friedman,great WWII code-breaker. I did read about her, Also, I read "Petit Cyclone," about a Belgian member of the Resistance, code name DeeDee. (My mother's Belgian-Irish cousin also served in the Resistance and died at Bergen-Belsen..and the book passed to my mother in Queens.)
11/11/2021 05:10:11 pm
The true stories of the resistance women in France during WWII are my favorites of all the history that I have read. That anyone, not just women, showed so much courage, is amazing. No one truly knows how they will react until they are forced to.
11/10/2021 08:41:35 pm
Hi George: your love for literature is very inspirational. Thanks for these precious tips. I love to read non-fiction, too.
11/11/2021 04:13:12 pm
Dear Altenir: What a great list. I will get to some of them. I am embarrassed I have never read anything by Brazil's gem, Clarice Lispector...you know so much about US writers.
11/11/2021 04:40:52 pm
George: The synchronicity is wonderful. I liked to know that you have contacts with these writers. You are one of my favorite writers, too. I liked very much a part of your book, “Stan Musial: An American Life” where you describe the top-thirty team, and it didn’t include a single Latino star or an Afro-American. Then, you say that all lists are gimmicks, like top ten movies, top hundred books, or five worst presidents. I loved it.
11/11/2021 10:12:17 am
I'm a big fan of the fiction of Haruki Murakami but I want to recommend his non-fiction book, "Absolutely on Music-Conversations with Seiji Ozawa." I actually saw Ozawa conduct Orff's "Carmina Burana" at Tanglewood in a very memorable performance with the BSO. In the book he shares wonderful insight into the dynamics of rehearsing an orchestra and on the training of new virtuosos. I was particularly taken with Ozawa's recollections of being with the Chicago Symphony in the 1960s. Hard to picture but he says he hung out at the blues clubs on the Southside and particularly enjoyed Wolf, Muddy, and the young Buddy Guy.
11/11/2021 04:16:28 pm
Hi,Roy. Thank you for that great recommendation. I have read Murakami's short stories in the New Yorker, and from our description I think I will love his Ozawa book. Conductors are fascinating. What do they know? What are they thinking? I saw Bernstein at work more than a few times...I try to decipher the body language, the facial twitches, of conductors. Thanks so much. GV
11/11/2021 09:29:21 pm
11/11/2021 09:28:17 pm
Edwin W Martin Jr
11/11/2021 12:54:57 pm
Immediately off topic, since I am recommending a historical novel, “A LAND REMEMBERED.” It tells the story of early settlers in Florida, living ithe woods, gradually clearing space for growing food and raising a few cattle, which they drove miles to ports along the Gulf. The whips they used is where “crackers” was born.
11/11/2021 04:21:24 pm
Ed: Thank you for the recommendation. I just looked at the index of Albion's Seed, which refers to crackers on pp 757-8.
11/11/2021 05:29:21 pm
Lots of references, here is one I found interesting and does tie in with the novel, I cited.
11/11/2021 09:31:17 pm
11/12/2021 07:11:58 am
11/12/2021 12:13:23 pm
Albion's seed is a great and fascinating book. I read it quite a number of years ago, but have reflected on it quite a bit since the fall of 2016. As you write, it makes the case that there were four distinct migrations from Great Britain to the colonies, and that each involved a much different culture, with different values, politics, architecture, social structure, etc. and that these distinctions can be seen in our nation and its politics to the present.
11/12/2021 07:28:44 pm
Josh, thank you for your overview of a book I am still starting...I was well aware of the independence of a large chunk of people in the Appalachians. People gloried in it.,
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From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.