It’s the Ten Duel Book Commandments - what to read if you’re obsessed with Hamilton!
Hamilton whether you’ve actually seen it or just listened repeatedly to the cast recording. You’ve never been to NYC but you’ve seen every Ham4Ham on YouTube. You follow Lin-Manuel on Twitter and practically watched him cut his hair. I was very lucky that my younger sister bought tickets and took most of the family to see Hamilton in November 2015, and that we have had each other to share our Lin obsession in the months since – quoting and capping our favorite lines, listening to the music in the house or in the car, speculating on what we would say to him or how we can get our copy of the book signed (I carried it to NYC on my last trip, planning to go hang out at the stage door, but my sister informed me knowledgeably that Lin’s wrist was hurt). We all clearly need something new to read, to distract us from the fact that Lin, Leslie and Philippa have left the cast. . .
Some prefer nonfiction:
1. Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick. This is a new hardcover by the highly regarded Philbrick, which I hope to read on vacation later this month and feel safe in recommending. His focus is on loyalty and personal integrity in the context of the Revolution, describing the fascinating but ill-fated relationship of Washington and Benedict Arnold. Due to Lois Duncan (see Peggy below), whom I read at a young age, not to mention the Childhood Biography of Nathan Hale (I regret that I have but one life to give for my country), I blamed Arnold for Hale’s death and saw him as someone who got tired of waiting for his brilliance to be recognized (I guess most of us can relate to that) and in a self-serving way decided to betray his country (not like most of us). It is up to General Washington to recover from Arnold’s defection and to rise above the egos surrounding him to create enough unity among his worn-out staff to hold on for victory.
Of course, there is also Ron Chernow’s book on Hamilton which inspired our Lin in the first place, as well as the Hamiltome (which you can read about here) but you already know those. Also, while I have enjoyed some of Chernow’s book and despite my History and Literature roots, I am more of a historical fiction fan these days so I picked some favorites you will actually finish the same year you start them:
Dear Theodosia, what to say to you?
My Theodosia by Anya Seton. Don't you want to know more about Aaron's daughter? I recently reviewed this historical novel about Aaron Burr’s beautiful and intelligent daughter. Theodosia was unusually well educated for her time and was one of the few people Burr loved - but that didn't protect her from his ambition!
Have your seconds meet face to face!
3. Dawn’s Early Light by Elswyth Thane. As many know, Thane is one of my all time favorite authors and this is the first in her famous Williamsburg series, bestsellers in their day. Young Julian Day arrives in Williamsburg from England in 1774 amid the hubbub of pre-Revolutionary War Virginia. Will the friends he makes there overcome his Tory inclinations? Can a shy schoolteacher make his place among the bold Patriots (no, not those Patriots!) of the New World? What happens when he falls in love with the woman promised to his new best friend?
Celia Garth by Gwen Bristow. Celia is an orphan (hey, Alexander isn’t the only orphan trying to rise up) in Charleston, SC, patriotic enough to spy for the Revolution while working as a seamstress (thus I knew before Hamilton that someone discreetly taking measurements and making clothes could overhear useful information!) I also enjoyed this book for its warm depiction of Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox, a lesser known Revolutionary hero, who mentors Celia and her devastating beau.
5. Judas Flowering by Jane Aiken Hodge. Hodge is another favorite author, sister of the renowned Joan who wrote the Wolves of Willoughby Chase. This book by big sister Jane begins in 1774 as Mercy Phillips, recentlyly arrived in the colonies, witnesses her father being killed by a mob that wants his printing press. She is rescued by Hart Purchis, the young master of an old Southern family and plantation. Hart acquires some dangerously patriotic notions while completing his studies at Harvard, and returns to war-torn Savannah where his family is split in its loyalty and only Mercy shares his dreams.
Leave a note for your next of kin!
6. A Catch of Consequence by Diana Norman. First in a trilogy, with an opening scene set just blocks from my office, the heroine is a feisty tavern owner (understand this is different from being a tavern wench) who “catches” a member of the English nobility drowning in Boston Harbor and reluctantly brings him home to nurse him back to health. Makepeace is a patriot and disapproves of the British-imposed taxes but the Sons of Liberty don’t care that she’s on their side when they learn she helped the enemy, so Sir Philip saves her life in turn by helping her escape from Boston.
Confess your sins, ready for the moment of adrenaline when you finally face your opponent!
7. The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by M. T. Anderson. A fascinating and disturbing story about Octavian, a young black slave, born in the U.S. and brought up in Boston by a group of sanctimonious philosophers, who see him and his mother simply as chattel, valuable only as fodder for experiments. It is well researched and beautifully written, winning the National Book Award for Young People in 2006. I think it reads as an adult book, however, and my book group read and enjoyed in 2009.
Your Last Chance to Negotiate!
The Sherwood Ring by Elizabeth Marie Pope. This is a jewel of a YA historical fantasy from an author who wrote only two books (both outstanding). When orphaned teenaged Peggy goes to live with her cantankerous uncle in upstate New York, her loneliness results in encounters with characters from the Revolutionary War. The contrast between the 20th century and the British-occupied countryside is entertaining and British officer Peaceable Sherwood is as charming a character as you will find in a story that combines history, romance, and humor.
“A gentleman can hardly continue to sit,' he explained, in his serenest and most level voice, 'when he asks a very remarkable young lady to do him the honor of marrying him. And - 'he somehow contrived to grin at me wickedly, 'I usually get what I want, Miss Grahame,' he added, and pitched over in a tangled heap on the floor.”
9. Peggy by Lois Duncan. Duncan, who died last month, was better known for her juvenile suspense, but I read this novel about Peggy Shippen, Benedict Arnold’s beautiful wife when I was growing up and just loved its flawed characters. There is also a Betty Cavanna about the Shippen sisters, told from the perspective of a quiet Quaker friend.
10. Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes. For the younger Hamilton fans, here is a Newbery Medal winner and much beloved favorite which my fifth grade godson recently enjoyed. Johnny is the gifted apprentice of Ephraim Lapham, a silversmith in Revolutionary-era Boston where he mingles with Paul Revere and John Hancock. While it was written with a youthful audience in mind, this story is compelling and is especially suitable for parents to enjoy with their children. Johnny is a typical teenage boy with flaws and occasional arrogance but as he becomes acquainted with the local patriots he begins to believe in the cause of liberty and does some rising up himself.
What are your favorites?
(photo of Lin-Manuel Miranda is copyright to Rolling Stone Magazine)