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Books and Beyond

Library patron

Noted newscaster Jim Lehrer passed in late January 2020. He wrote many books, most of them mysteries. I had two reasons for reading Lehrer: to honor his memory, and to read a mystery, which I haven’t done for awhile. Then I had a third reason when I saw the title “The Franklin Affair.” Why not read a book that has Benjamin Franklin as a character? (The other two Lehrer books I checked out of Marshall-Lyon County Library were “Oh, Johnny,” and “The Phony Marine.”)

“The Franklin Affair” was published in 2005.

The book begins and ends with a meeting of a five-member historical committee: The American Revolution Historical Association. Each member writes books about the early days of our country. R (Ray), a member of the committee and the narrator of “The Franklin Affair,” wants to get back to writing his book about the presidencies of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson. The main purposes of the committee are to support one another, to share ideas, and to keep everyone honest about sources.

Each person on the committee is associated with a university.

We read about what books each person is writing. What are the struggles for an author of a book about a person in American history?

Another member of the committee, Rebecca Lee, is being accused of plagiarism when she wrote her book on Ronald Reagan. When the committee meets again in the last chapter of the book, the members are more open to the problems associated with writing history books. An author can make a mistake and not give the correct authorization even when they mean to give credit when they use another author’s sentence or idea.

A main character, though not on the committee, is Wally Rush. He wrote the book, “Ben One,” about Benjamin Franklin. His plan was to write the next book, “Ben Two,” but he was beginning to have health problems, so R helped him, and basically wrote the book. “Ben Two” won a Pulitzer, and it was OK with R that Wally was honored as the winning author. R reversed the plagiarism issue: He purposely didn’t take credit for a book he wrote, and he doesn’t accuse Wally of plagiarism.

We read in the first chapter that Wally has died, and the ideas for his funeral are discussed in several chapters. It is April, and Wally’s funeral is planned for April 21, the same month and day of Benjamin Franklin’s funeral. They both died on the 17th of April. They were both 84 years old when they died. Wally wishes not to have a funeral; he wants his “ashes to be tossed to the winds” (p. 12) at Christ Church Burial Ground in Philadelphia where Franklin was buried. As Wally’s life is ending, he looks and dresses like Ben Franklin.

Meaningful asides are all through the book. Example: A person who helps a committee member dresses like Patrick Henry.

The scenes in the book are all on the East Coast, in historical places such as Philadelphia: “City of Brotherly Love,” Georgetown (a neighborhood in Washington, D.C.), Williamsburg, Virginia, and Baltimore.

London is in the book, too. R has traveled there eight times to see the house where Ben Franklin lived, 36 Craven St. R mentions the bones found in the basement of the house, and writes that a doctor-friend of Ben Franklin’s had been studying these bones to learn more scientific understandings about the skeletons of human beings.

Early in the book, 12 pages are found that could have been written by a committee of Washington, Madison, Adams, and Hamilton about Ben Franklin’s personal life. Whomever wrote the pages wanted to discount and prove wrong the rumor that Benjamin Franklin had killed the woman who was the mother of his son William. These pages are referred to several times in the book.

Are any of the mystery questions answered in the book? I don’t think so. Mainly we see how historians are still interested in the early days of the United States of America.

Almost any book about early American history includes pages on Benjamin Franklin. His name may not be in the title, but you will find him in the Index. I just found our copy of Ben Franklin’s autobiography on our bookshelf.

Marshall-Lyon County Library has several Lehrer books to check out, and of course a large collection of books about Benjamin Franklin.

I’m pleased to know that we could use the library’s home-bound delivery service.

Another of the Lehrer titles that interests me is “We Were Dreamers,” c 1975. It’s non-fiction. A lover of books could buy a copy for $500.

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