Some Memories Of A Long Life, 1854-1911

Thursday, June 25, 2009

I had a lot of trouble figuring out what to read today, which is completely absurd considering I have over 200 books in my to-read stack and another 20 from the library. I've become like those people who stand in front of a full closet and whine I have nothing to wear. Clearly the problem isn't a lack of reading material - I think the problem is that the part of my brain that will forever be twelve (which unfortunately happens to comprise the biggest part of my brain) is rebelling against the idea of having to read during the summer. I've woken up every day this week thinking But it's my summer vacation, I just want to watch cartoons and run through the sprinklers and not have to use my brain cells again until late August. But I decided instead to act like a grown up and read today's book anyway.

Today's book, "Malvina Shanklin Harlan witnessed - and gently influenced - national history from the unique perspective of a political leader's wife. Her husband, Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan (1833-1911), played a central role in some of the most significant civil rights decisions of his era, including his lone dissenting opinion in Plessy v. Ferguson, the infamous case that endorsed separate but equal segregation. And for fifty-seven years he was married to a woman who was busy making a mental record of their eventful lives."

I enjoy today's book - I thought it was very interesting. My one problem with it was that the introduction gave away too much. I can't stand when introductions give away the entire book away like that - not only does it remove any possibility of a good twist happening in the story, but it also makes me feel like I'm having that dream where I just keep dialing the same phone number over and over again - I just kept thinking Wait a minute, didn't I already read this part?

My favorite parts of the book where when the author was describing the social customs of the time. Here are the ones I found the most interesting:
  • Engagement: The author shared that in that time (1856) it was considered indelicate to announce an engagement. Instead invitations were sent out announcing that the family would be "At Home" on December 23rd, and in enclosed in the invitation were two cards tied together at the top with white ribbon, with the names of the engaged couple written on the cards. - What no engagement announcement in the newspaper? No advance warning? No chance to sit around for months and gossip about how "he could of done better" or "what in the world does she see in him" - way to suck all the fun out of someone getting married. And I don't even like to think about how boring engagements and weddings must have been in the pre-registry days when there was no chance to sit around and say "And just what do they plan on doing with three toasters? Who registers for three toasters? Do they not realize that one is all you need? What do they expect to have some kind of toast emergency in which they NEED three toasters at once?"

  • Honeymoon: I enjoy how in the book a honeymoon is referred to as a "Bridal Tour." It sounds so much more elegant that way. I think people should start using that phrase again, because I think it would be so much harder for people to justify going on tacky honeymoons like Cedar Point (not offense Mom and Dad) if they called it a Bridal Tour. It might also be harder to justify packing hideous clothes like pleated shorts and tie-dyed shirts. I'm a bit of a clothes snob when it comes to travel - my personal travel motto is "Ugly clothes do not cross the state line." But judging by the clothes I see while on vacation it's painfully obvious that not everyone agrees with me on that one.

  • Politics: I enjoyed the chapter in which the author describes her husbands campaigns for the Governorship of Kentucky (I also, for reasons which are beyond my understanding, really love the word "governorship.") She describes how the campaigns were run, "The opposing candidates travelled together from place to place and generally on horseback, dividing the time as to the speaking - one candidate having the opening and closing speech at one town, while the other had the opening and closing speech at the next town." She goes on to describe how these events would last for three to five hours, followed by the candidates always stopping at the same hotel or way-side inn and taking their meals together. - Three to five hours? Seriously? That's what happens to people who don't have TV, they become way too amused by things that aren't worth listening to for three to five hours. - The author also describes, "One night after a long day's ride, in the course of which they had participated in joint debates at two places they not only had to room together, but were compelled to occupy the same bed! (insert lame political joke here.)

And here's your interesting fact for the day dear readers: When Justice Harlan wrote the sole dissenting opinion on Plessy v. Ferguson he did so using the same inkstand used almost forty years before by Chief Justice Roger B. Tanney when he wrote the Dred Scott opinion.