Category Archives: reviews

Noah Webster (NO-uh WEB-stur): (1) See “obsessive compulsive;” (2) See 1.

Joshua Kendall has written a fine new biography of Noah Webster, that obsessive compulsive hunter and gatherer of information and compiler of obscure information. I’ve got lots more to say about it, but if you wanna know more, don’t look here; instead, check out my review at the Washington Independent Review of Books.

And while you’re at it, consider subscribing to the Washington Review.  If you miss reading regular reviews of books in your local newspaper, the Washington Review can help fill the void.  Go get it.

Washington Irving Meets The 217

This week’s installment of The 217 — the magazine from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign — does a nice job looking at the two Irving bios that are currently on bookshelves, namely mine and . . . er, another. In the end, reviewer Jeff Nelson gives Washington Irving: An American Original a slight edge.

You can see the review right here.

Thanks for the kind words, Jeff.

JD Talks About WI

…and I’m back from the long weekend to find that uber-blogger and friend of this blog Josephine Damian has a thoughtful — and very nice — review of Washington Irving over on her blog, Josephine Damian. The direct link to her review is here.

I love knowing what readers think, and I especially like knowing what they’re still thinking about once they’ve snapped the book closed for the last time and put it away. And Josephine says something very astute — and interesting — in her review:

By painting such an intimate portrait of the vicissitudes and triumphs, the chronic doubts and sudden successes of Washington Irving’s process and progress as a writer, Mr. Jones allows the modern day writer to draw their own personal analogy to his or her self, and they are all the more engaged as readers because they see their own course, experience and struggles reflected in Irving’s.

Thank you, and well played. When I sat down for the first time with Kate Johnson, Curator of Historic Hudson Valley, she said almost the exact same thing: “Everyone seems to see themselves in Mr. Irving.” And I would agree; I saw a lot of myself, both good and bad, in Washington Irving, and I think (and hope) other readers will, too.

Thanks for your thoughtful review and kind words, Josephine. I appreciate it.

Washington Irving in Foreign Affairs

Continuing to make my point that Washington Irving led one of the most unique 19th century lives — even beyond his role as America’s first Man of Letters — Foreign Affairs magazine (published by the way-intimidating Council on Foreign Relations) recognized Irving’s achievements as a diplomat and politician, and gave Washington Irving a good review in its May/June 2008 issue. They called it “a pleasure to read,” and said it “belongs in the library of any serious student of the United States’ engagement with the world.” Very nice.

You can see the whole thing here.

Woof! Woof! Woof!

As I was standing in the kitchen making dinner last night, I started casually flipping through the latest issue of Mirage, the surprisingly charming alumni magazine from my alma mater, the University of New Mexico (sidenote: I have always argued that if the FBI really wants to find its Ten Most Wanted, it should simply sic their respective alumni associations on them, as they seem to have an uncanny ability to find you no matter how many times you move and fail to fill out a New Address Card). And to my surprise, right there in a two-page spread, was a piece on Washington Irving: An American Original.

Now, that was nice. I had e-mailed the alumni association months ago, just to give them a heads up on the book, hoping it might make an appearance in the “Album” that runs along the right-hand column of each page. I never expected a whole article, much less a Two-Page Feature Article. In color, even. (My only gripe, and it’s a small one, is they tagged my course of study incorrectly — I was an English major, not a history major. It only bothers me because I really liked the English department and — perhaps ironically now — never took a single history class in college.)

My thanks to the crew at Mirage for a bang-up piece. (Yes, I sent them thank you notes as well.) Eat ’em up, eat ’em up, woof woof woof!

Apple Blossom Time

One of my very favorite things to do in the whole wide world is get the mail. Not e-mail, mind you, but honest-to-gosh postal mail. Very analog of me, I know, but I love opening up the box we have nailed to the old maple tree in our yard and seeing it crammed full of stiff white envelopes, magazines, and, on a good day, that E-Ticket of mail, The Package. (Come on, is there anyone here who doesn’t love seeing that smiling amazon.com box?)

The other day, however, it wasn’t a package that made my day, it was one of the envelopes. This one was a yellow envelope, and the return address on it was one of my favorite places in the world, Historic Hudson Valley, of White Plains, New York. The fine folks at HHV, as they call themselves, were incredibly nice and helpful as I was working on Washington Irving, so any correspondence from them is always a treat. I opened it, and inside was a small, sealed envelope, with a cover note from Kate Johnson, curator of HHV. “This letter came in for you,” Kate’s note said in her perfect, spidery script, “so I am sending it on.”

The enclosed envelope — with a Rancho Cordova, California return address — had been sent to HHV, but addressed to my attention. I turned it over; “Thank you” had been written across the back tab of the envelope. Gently, I nudged it open, and slid out the card inside, a crisp white notecard with a painting of apple blossoms on the front. “My very dear Sir,” the note began, in a spiky cursive:

Thank you for the beautiful reading days you have given us with ‘Washington Irving.’ A work of art coming in with the arrival of Spring.

Sincerely yours,

Carlotta Monteverde (*)

All I can say is: wow. That small note made my day, week, month, maybe even year.

The fact that someone read and enjoyed my book — someone I don’t know — and then took the additional time to sit down, write a note, and mail it, is all at once so sweet, flattering, humbling, and inspiring. I’ve been well reviewed in the Washington Post, New York Times, and Associated Press, but I must tell you, no review means more than the kind words of a reader. To know it’s been in the hands of someone 3,000 miles away who read it and enjoyed it — and enjoyed it enough to write — really makes it all worthwhile.

In all my days as a reader, I don’t think I’ve ever once dropped an author a personal note to tell them how much I appreciated their work — I think my assumption was always “Ahhhh, why bother? They’ll never get it.” Because of Carlotta, I’m going to change that assumption. I’m going to start letting writers know when their work has touched, inspired, or just flat out entertained me. Because it sure meant a lot when someone took the time to do it for me.

I wrote Carlotta a card in return, thanking her for beautiful note — and I meant every word of it. Those apple blossoms on her card may have been a portend of the weather that’s to come, but it was the sentiment inside, in Carlotta’s sprawling handwriting, that truly brought Spring here early.

(*) Name changed to protect and respect the sender’s privacy.

Good Times

Well, blow me down!

Today’s New York Times, in the “Reading New York” feature that appears in The City section (that’s Section CY of today’s paper, for those playing along at home) ran a nice little piece on Washington Irving: An American Original. My editor called me on Thursday to tell me it was coming, but we still weren’t exactly sure what the Old Gray Lady was gonna say.

Well. They called it “charming.” (You can see it here.)

How about that.

Must go get coffee now …. if I can get my head through the door, that is.