Bookworm: Leaders who are readers and music that rocked the world

Terri Schlichenmeyer

“Author In Chief: The Untold Story of Our Presidents and the Books They Wrote”

  • By Craig Fehrman
  • c. 2020, Avid Reader Press
  • $30, $39.99 Canada; 443 pages

When it comes to voting for a President, you know what you like. You like a person who's decisive but flexible. Someone who sees the big picture and beyond, who spots problems and has plans to tackle them. You want someone who thinks and acts with character and strength. As in "Author in Chief" by Craig Fehrman, you want a leader... and a reader.

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There was no other way to say it: Thomas Jefferson loved books.

As a child in a prosperous household, he always had books nearby; as an older statesman, he amassed a library of "forty or fifty books" that he kept on shelving made by one of his slaves. Later, when writing a book of his own, he toiled and fussed at its manuscript for years, says Fehrman, but Jefferson denied doing so because admitting it "collided with his presidential ambitions."

“Author In Chief: The Untold Story of Our Presidents and the Books They Wrote” author Craig Fehrman.

And there, says Fehrman, is where a split comes: most President-authors have generally fallen into one of two camps. They've either written books that will help them get elected – or they write "legacy" books after their presidency is over.

For instance, James Monroe wrote, post-Presidency, in order to squeeze more money for himself from Congress. John Quincy Adams (our seventh President) had wanted to be a poet, rather than a president, but an appointment to the Netherlands changed that. And Andrew Jackson hid nothing in his pre-Presidency biography because he understood how persuasive literature could be to a reader.

Like Jefferson, Lincoln tried to hide his authorship. Ulysses Grant approved the last changes to his Personal Memoirs two days before he died. Teddy Roosevelt finished his first book at just twenty years old. FDR died before he could write his memoirs. JFK tried to hide his use of co-authors and ghost writers, Ronald Reagan wrote a "campaign book" nearly two decades before running for President, LBJ's biographers struggled to even get his memoirs, and George W. Bush hammered out details of his biography on Air Force One.

“Author In Chief: The Untold Story of Our Presidents and the Books They Wrote” by Craig Fehrman.

Tired of politics-as-usual coming out of Washington?

Good. Then you'll love "Author in Chief."

You'll love reading it because it's really not so much about politics at all; instead, author Craig Fehrman penned a bit of biography about the writers who've lived in the White House and why those men chose to publish their books when they did, but we also learn a lot about the readers there, and their contemporaries both politically and not. Even more enjoyable, you'll read about early American publishing and reading habits, as well as other famous authors of the day and how they fit into each President's social era. That makes this a book about books, basically, and it's perfect if you need to take a new bookmark out for a spin.

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Ultimately, you'll have two main candidates to vote for in November, both of them authors. In the end, you'll have to choose just one. For now, though, immerse yourself in the book world past and present, because you know what you like, and "Author in Chief" is it.

“Turn It Up! A Pitch-Perfect History of Music That Rocked the World”

  • By Joel Levy
  • c. 2019, National Geographic Kids
  • $19.99, $25.99 Canada; 192 pages

It starts with tapping toes. It's followed by shaking shoulders, waving arms, and swaying hips: you hear music and pretty soon, you're dancing to a beat, and maybe even singing along with an artist you really love to listen to. Can you imagine your great-grandma dancing? Or her grandma? In "Turn It Up!" by Joel Levy, you'll learn that that's the way it starts!

Quick: what's your favorite song?

"Turn It Up! A Pitch-Perfect History of Music That Rocked the World" by Joel Levy.

Of course, you know all the words to that song and you know who sang it, but did you know that the human voice was "the first musical instrument"? Yep, humans sang long before they made music with instruments. Scientists think the first playable instrument was probably a flute made some 40,000 years ago of animal bones, and other instruments followed suit as humans evolved and learned.

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And boy, did we learn: early philosophers even figured out that music was a sort of math!

Levy says that the first music was probably meant for worship but over time, it became more. Melodies and harmonies were added. New instruments were invented, making unique kinds of sounds. Musicians passed down notes, then they began to write them down.

In about the mid-1700s, European musicians began organizing into orchestras, complete with instruments of all sorts. Orchestras could play music that was simple or complicated, which really depended on what the composer wrote; the most famous composers became the Taylor Swifts of their time. A hundred years later, bands also became wildly popular.

Through the decades, different styles of music meant different things to different people. Former slaves had spirituals to unite them. Japanese theater-goers had kabuki, which was a kind of drama. African Americans in the early 1920s brought ragtime and the blues to the musical table, World War II Americans loved Big Band, and rock & roll came about in the latter half of the last century. Then – as it is now – songs and instruments could signify one's culture and one's favorites, and it was fun to share.

Almost the second your preteen walks into the house, the music begins. He lives for his earpods. She can't be without her tunes app. So the next obvious thing to do is to give them "Turn It Up!"

Starting with a basic overview of tunes in antiquity, author Joel Levy explains how music came to be, a story that's layered like a good concert with history as rhythm, instruments as melody, and singers to carry the book's tune. It's a catchy one, at that: children who play will learn more about their instrument and the music it was originally meant for, while those who like to sing will be challenged by the "Listen Up" sidebars that suggest songs that kids might want to hear online.

For 9-to-12-year-olds, this book is nicely rounded, historically interesting, and includes tons of pictures to hold their attention. Don't be surprised, either, if you borrow it back to read yourself because "Turn It Up!" is something music lovers of all ages will enjoy tapping into.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.