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Siblings Unrivaled

posted by: March 7, 2014 - 6:55am

Cover art for Book of AgesHistorian Jill Lepore eloquently pieces together the sparse writings of a little-known 18th-century American woman who also happens to be the favorite sister of Benjamin Franklin. In her meticulously researched work Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin, the Harvard University professor reveals a humble woman whose station does not dampen her upbeat and quick-witted spirit.  The siblings emerge as two restless spirits, connected through their love of writing yet separated by their assumed roles of the time.


Born in 1712 in a two-story wooden house on Union Street in Boston, the youngest child of Josiah and Abiah Franklin was expected to learn to read but not necessarily how to write. Her mother taught her, as did Benjamin, who was six years older. Married at 15, Jane Franklin Mecom's endless days of cleaning, washing and mothering were in contrast to her glamorous brother's life. She cherished letters from her brother. Their lifelong correspondence reveals a keen, opinionated woman who is a shrewd political observer and a lover of books. With 12 children, she came up with her own way of chronicling births and deaths by creating her own slim book called the "Book of Ages." The book became a remembrance and her story.  It survives, while most of her letters to her brother do not.


Lepore, a National Book Award finalist and staff writer for The New Yorker, is passionate about her subject even when evidence is scarce.  She explores the political, social and commercial sides of the times in compelling character-driven prose. And while she freely draws the parallel life of the siblings, it is the juxtaposition of men’s and women's roles in Colonial America that reminds readers of the extraordinary fortitude of women like Jane. With 148 pages of notes, source material, reproduced documents and time period detail and spellings, the narrative unfolds slowly.  Readers of early American or women's history are rewarded with a fresh look at one of this country's most influential, iconic leaders and the sister in his reflection.


Revised: March 7, 2014