Friday Book Whimsy: The Lincoln Highway

Way back in 2018 B.C. (Before COVID), I read a book that I’ve never forgotten. It was called Be Frank With Me, by Julia Claiborne Johnson. Read my book review here. It featured a quirky but brilliant child named Frank. I hesitated reading a book that featured a child as its main protagonist, but never regretted my decision.

I chose to read The Lincoln Highway, by Amor Towles, for a couple of reasons. First, I enjoy Towles’ writing. Second, I love the Lincoln Highway. The Lincoln Highway — which is state highway 30 most of the time — ran through the town in which I spent my formative years. The highway, in fact, runs from Times Square in New York City, to Lincoln Park in San Francisco. While I haven’t driven all of the Lincoln Highway, I know parts of it are brick because I drove on bricks outside of Omaha, Nebraska.

What I didn’t know about The Lincoln Highway is that it would feature Billy, another precocious, funny, earnest kid as a main character. I would re-read the book simply for Billy.

In June 1954, 18-year-old Emmett Watson, is released from the juvenile work farm where he served time for manslaughter for killing another teenager. He is released early due to the death of his father, leaving his 8-year-old brother Billy alone as his mother had left the family years before. The work farm’s warden drives him to his home in central Nebraska, where Emmett is determined to gather Billy and a few of their things and leave Nebraska and all its memories for anywhere else. He’s thinking Texas, but when he tells Billy of his plans, the determined boy convinces his bigger brother to go to San Francisco, where he is sure their mother now lives.

Trouble, however, awaits, as unbeknownst to the warden, two of Emmett’s jailmates have hidden in the trunk and escape when the warden is dropping Emmett off at his home. Duchess is Nothing But Trouble With a Heart of Gold. Woolly, is the direct opposite — quiet, kind, and gentle. While Emmett and Bill plan to take the Lincoln Highway to San Francisco, Duchess and his friend Woolly steal the car and head the opposite direction, heading towards New York City. When he learns of the car theft, he and Billy head east, determined to find them.

The Lincoln Highway, much like The Gentleman from Moscow, a novel by the same author, is almost a series of vignettes about the adventures of these fellows, told from different points of view. Hopping trains, sleeping under the stars, and meeting all sorts of interesting characters along the way, the four make their way to the Big Apple. Among the few things that Billy was allowed to bring is a book of tales about famous adventurers such as Lewis and Clark. That book becomes a centerpiece of the story, and the reason I loved the character of Billy as much as I did.

Billy is adorable and despite his age, he is really the one that keeps the travelers in line. He is also the character that makes the story the most interesting.

I loved this book and recommend it strongly.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: Top Five for 2018

Every year, my reading goal is 100 books. I don’t think I have ever reached my goal, and this year I fell even shorter than last year. Nevertheless, I read some books that I really liked. Not all of my top five books were published in 2018. Furthermore, it was pretty hard to narrow my book list down to five.

Here are the five favorite books I read this year, in no particular order…..

Book of Polly by Kathy Hepinstall
Willow is 10 years old, and her mother Polly was in her 50s when she was born. Willow lives in fear that her mother will die before she is grown. As for Polly she lives life to the fullest, but carries the burden of secrets that she refuses to share with her daughter. And then when tragedy strikes, they take a trip back to Polly’s old stomping grounds and Willow learns her secrets.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine Gail Honeyman
Eleanor struggles with appropriate social skills, and prefers to live her regular, if boring life in which she never strays outside the lines. And then she meets Raymond, and their friendship opens her up to new possibilities. I loved this book primarily for the characters.

 

The Word is Murder Anthony Horowitz
In The Word is Murder, author Horowitz literally writes himself into the book as one of the characters. A disgraced police detective, let go from the London police force is hired as a consultant for the case of a mysterious murder of the mother of a famous actor. In Sherlock Holmes/Dr. Watson style, the detective — known only as Hawthorne — hires Horowitz to work with him on a case, and chronicle it by writing a diary. The premise is as clever as can be, earning it a place in my top five favorites.

Be Frank With Me Julia Claiborne Johnson
Alice Whitley agrees to become the assistant to famed author Mimi Banning as she writes her first book in years to ensure that the book is completed. Part of Alice’s job description is taking care of Mimi’s 9-year-old probably-autistic son Frank, who is one of my favorite characters of all time. He is smart, funny, and loves to dress up like 40s movie stars. I enjoyed the story, and simply adored Frank.

Clock Dance Anne Tyler
Anne Tyler is one of my favorite authors of all time, but I have been disappointed in her most recent efforts. I found Clock Dance to be back to the author’s standards, featuring characters with whom I could be friends. Willa Drake has had plenty of sadness in her life. Her mother was bipolar, and her first husband died in a road rage accident. She is comfortably settled into a pretty boring marriage with her second husband, when she gets a call that takes her to Baltimore and changes her life forever.

Honorable mentions: Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn; Caroline: Little House on the Prairie Revisited, by Sarah Miller; and Then She Was Gone, by Lisa Jewell.

Next year: 100 BOOKS

Friday Book Whimsy: Be Frank With Me

I approached Be Frank With Me, by Julia Claiborne Johnson, with some trepidation. After all, it was a debut novel in which the title character is 9 years old. Still, it was being compared to Where’d You Go, Bernadette – a book by Maria Semple – that I also approached with trepidation, and that book turned out to be one of my favorite books ever.  So I dug in. I’m still patting myself on my back for my great decision.

Alice Whitley is given an unusual assignment by the publisher for whom she works. She is to become the personal assistant to writer M.M. Banning (called Mimi), who is world-famous for a classic book she wrote when she was a young adult, but she hasn’t written a book since. She lives as a recluse of sorts with her 9-year-old son, Frank.

But the unconventional writer lost her fortune in a Ponzi scheme, and now she is forced to write another novel to pay her bills. Alice will handle her affairs and keep her on target while she writes. One of her main assignments is to take care of Frank.

Frank is not your ordinary 9-year-old. He has a photographic memory, he dresses like he is a movie star straight out of the 30s and 40s, and he has no filter. He says what he thinks and he thinks what he says. He is clearly a genius. While the author never even suggests that he is autistic, it’s what obviously comes to the reader’s mind.

But eccentric though he might be, that same reader will be unable to not fall in love with this child. He is innocent and wise beyond his years. He loves his mother and Mimi loves him right back. It is a sweet – if odd – relationship.

Alice’s fondness for Frank grows throughout the book, and she sets out to learn the secrets in Mimi’s (and therefore, Frank’s) past. Who is Frank’s father? Is it Xander, the odd fellow who shows up on occasion and gives Frank piano lessons? And what has made Mimi not write for so many years?

Like Alice, everyone who reads this book will fall in love with Frank. He is a character I will never forget. I hope Julia Claiborne Johnson doesn’t wait decades to write her next book as did Mimi because I am eagerly awaiting her next book.

Here is a link to the book.