Good Reads: ‘Book of Ages’Posted: November 15, 2013
It is not often that I say this about a book that is 400-plus pages with something like a third of them appendices and notes, but GO READ THIS RIGHT AWAY.
But if you are satisfied with my two cents: In Book of Ages (Knopf, $17.68 hardcover at Amazon), Jill Lepore manages to fascinate you and break your heart simultaneously, in ways you just don’t expect, even from a National Book Award finalist.
It’s not just that she makes you laugh at Ben Franklin’s jokes all over again, although that’s pretty impressive.
It’s not just her imaginative yet meticulous restoration of his sister’s obscure and far less fortunate life.
And it’s not just the way the teasing, life-affirming friendship between “Benny and Jenny” glows brightly throughout.
It’s how, without being heavy-handed or pedantic about her story, by simply taking us along on the quest for it, Lepore imbues this narrative with the quiet courage of ordinary lives that were unremarked, unrecorded, but still, somehow, matter.
Any of us piecing together fragmentary evidence of never-famous people we’ll never truly know must surely understand the pull on the heart exerted by Jane Franklin’s laboriously handmade “Book of Ages,” wherein she recorded the births of 12 children, and eventually, the deaths of 11 of them.
Upon finishing Book of Ages, I was struck by the sentiment that often occurs after absorbing cryptic, incomplete references to ancestors whose full stories will likely never be retrievable — the only thought there sometimes can be, really: