James A. Garfield, the 20th President of the United States, not the orange cat! He's either my soul mate or I'm his reincarnation. I'm not kidding. Last week, the book club I run at the library read Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell. Assassination Vacation is a non-fiction book documenting Vowell's experience with historical tourism. She decided to take her love of history and her fascination with the macabre and write a book incorporating her vast amount of research and her visits to historical sites associated with the assassinations of Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley. The book was OK. I learned a lot about American history of those periods and about Garfield and McKinley - two of the more obscure American Presidents. Vowell's writing style is one that is both witty and sarcastic and her book reads like a series of blog posts.
The book really doesn't merit a blog post from me, but what does is former President Garfield himself. What I learned from Assassination Vacation is that Garfield was a voracious reader. He was frequently found within the stacks of the Library of Congress. He had a special reading chair designed with one side arm higher than the other, because he liked to sit sideways with his legs draped over one arm of the chair - not very Presidential. His diaries are filled with entries lamenting the fact that his governmental duties were keeping him from reading his newly arrived 26 volume collection of the complete works of Goethe. He even writes, "Perhaps that study of literature is fullest which we steal from daily duties". There is some sad wisdom in that statement for all confessed bookworms.
According to Vowell, the recurring theme in Garfield's diaries is: I'd rather be reading. Hey, me too! His regret over a lack of time for reading is even reflected in the commencement address he gave at Hiram College in 1880. As quoted in Assassination Vacation, he told the graduates:
It has occurred to me that the thing you have, that all men
have enough of is perhaps the thing that you care for the least,
and that is your leisure - the leisure you have to think;
the leisure you have to be let alone; the leisure you
have to throw the plummet into your mind, and sound the
depth and dive for things below.
Wow! This is the rousing speech he gives to recent graduates to go out and grab the world by the tail? Interesting. I like it! Echoes my feelings exactly. As I said, he's either my soul mate or I'm his reincarnation. Who knew a long assassinated and mostly forgotten President could be so fascinating?
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