“Abraham Lincoln: A Penguin Life” by Thomas Keneally (Viking, 2003)

Abraham Lincoln
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One would think that the biography of such a famous man and president would require many more pages to cover his entire life happenings and events, but this is one of the Penguin Lives series, whose key is brevity but accuracy.

Keneally does a great job of covering Abraham Lincoln’s life, from birth to death.  There is no lacking, as every facet of Lincoln’s life is researched and revealed, albeit not in as much depth as one would expect, but with enough information to answer any questions.  The reader gets a true sense of this changing America in the nineteenth century, with Lincoln’s love of technology in the railroads, and especially in the steamboats traveling up and down the Mississippi.  It is here that he gets his first job.

Through the pages of this narrow book, the reader learns of the over political life Lincoln led, climbing the echelons of the government until he became president, as well as learning from a young age that slavery was a thing to be severed and got rid of from the country, like an infectious cancer.  It was this decision as present that ultimately caused the session of the Confederate States and the Civil War.

Eventually Lincoln passed the Thirteenth Amendment banning slavery and achieved his goal for America, but at the price of his life.  It is here that the book justly ends, leaving the reader to contemplate what an important difference this man made with his amazing skill for speaking to the people and letting them know what needed to be done.  This is the life of Abraham Lincoln, which everyone should know about.

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Originally published on May 12th, 2003.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.

“The Young Oxford Book of Timewarp Stories” Edited by Dennis Pepper (Oxford University Press, 2003)

Oxford Book of Time War Stories
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Just about everyone has an interest in time warp stories, especially if they are science fiction fans, and the Oxford University Press has been very kind to create a short-story collection of time travel stories.  Don’t let the “young” in the title fool you; this is clearly a book for any lover of time travel stories of any age.

Two renowned science fiction writers make their presence known here: Ray Bradbury, with a story about a safari company that will take you back to any period in history (in this case, dinosaurs) and let you “bag” any animals you want; and Arthur C. Clarke, whose story entails a magical bracelet brought from the future, which can essentially stop time to less than a crawl so a perfect robbery can be carried out on the British Museum.  There is even a story about a travel agency that will take you to any time in history for a vacation, and in this story a group of people go back to the crucifixion, where a surprising reality is revealed: that it is not the Jews that condemn Christ to death, but the group of “time tourists.”

The book is an entertaining read with stories of different lengths and types that make it a really great collection, and is recommended to a reader of any age who has a penchant for time travel.

Originally published on May 12th, 2003.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.

“By the Light of the Moon” by Dean Koontz (Bantam, 2003)

By the Light of the Moon
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It’s quite interesting to discover that with the publication of each of Dean Koontz’s books, there is a formula at work: each year the stories improve, while the writing suffers.  By the Light of the Moon is no exception, with a writing style that often annoys, with its stupidly open manner and constantly inane similes that force the reader to question why bother?  The trick is to stick with it to the end, and By the Light of the Moon eventually pays off.

The story is an average one that seems to be all the rage at the moment: three characters (one an autistic man of twenty) are injected with an unknown golden liquid by a mad scientist subdues them, ties them up, and then sticks in the big needle.  There is the warning from the doctor that the effects of this liquid can be both good and bad, and then he flees.

So the three characters are irrevocably brought together to fight for their survival.  Fortunately, it turns out that the mysterious liquid does good for all of them: one gains the ability, by touching objects, to know who last touched it and if they are evil, and is unable to stop himself from ending that evil.  Another has visions of the future that actually will happen somewhere at some time.  While the autistic man has the great ability to be able to fold time and space, transporting him and anyone else to anywhere and at any time, whether it be the past, present, or future, presumably.

One would think this a great story, but the simplistic and annoying writing keeps getting in the way, as well as the plot that has very little depth.  But ultimately, By the Light of the Moon is worth working through for the amusing ending.

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Originally published on May 12th, 2003.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.

“Cosmopolis” by Don DeLillo (Scribner, 2003)

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This is my second attempt with Don DeLillo, the first being last year’s The Body Artist, and having read Cosmopolis, I still don’t know what all the fuss is about this guy.  Maybe it’s an “East Coaster” thing, for the guy just doesn’t impress me much.  He’s the kind of author who attempts to use long words, complex run-on sentence, and go off on long and boring tangents which really have no bearing on the novel, and any real meaning or truth to offer the reader.

Cosmopolis is about a really rich guy who decided that he doesn’t want to have his barber come to his skyscraper with his huge office to cut his hair.  Instead he’s going to take the limo across New York to have the barber cut his hair at his shop.  As Mr. Rich attempts to cross town, the president is at the same time coming through with his vast motorcade, and has his life threatened by an assassin.  So traffic essentially slows to a complete crawl, while Mr. Rich comfortably travels in his limo.

Along the way, for some reason (probably because he’s that rich!), he gets out of the car and meets people he knows, has sex with wives, ex-wives, and “little bits on the side” in their car and their apartment, and all this stuff happens while he is trying to get to the barber shop; essentially about a rich guy using his riches.

So if you would like to read about what it would be like to be so rich that you can get and do absolutely anything you want, read Cosmopolis, and get lost in long sentences that lead you into endless cul-de-sacs.

Originally published on May 12th, 2003 ©Alex C. Telander.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.

“The Lewis and Clark Journals” edited by Gary E. Moulton (University of Nebraska Press, 2003)

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In this beginning year of the 200th anniversary of the famous Lucas and Clark expedition, the University of Nebraska Press has released an abridgement of the definitive edition of two men’s journals as they traveled across an unknown land, mapping and recording what they saw of this new terrain for the first time in history.

The Lewis and Clark Journals is a welcome abridgement to the full thirteen-volume set that, while significantly shorter, still contains much of the magic and revelation that both Lewis and Clark experienced on their journey.  Organized in diary form with dates for each entry, one is put into the minds of Lewis and Clark as they wrote of what they saw and how they felt about it.  Accompanied with footnotes that answer any question about nineteenth century terminology, or foreign words that the reader of today cannot be expected to know; there are also maps detailing the route taken , as well as occasional pictures of the actual journal entries written by Lewis or Clark.

The Lewis and Clark Journals is a book to be welcomed by any reader interested in discovery and Lewis and Clark, or a student studying the subject and wanting to know more, or just an average reader who has always wanted to know what it was like walking into a land and world that was relatively unknown by any other white man.  This is a book of discovery that is more certainly nonfiction and remarkable.

CLICK HERE to purchase your copy from Bookshop Santa Cruz and help support BookBanter.

Originally published on May 12th, 2003 ©Alex C. Telander.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.

“The Amber Spyglass” by Philip Pullman (Knopf, 2003)

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His Dark Materials Boxed Set: Part Three of Three

In the final and lengthier conclusion to the trilogy, the full realization of this story is brought to light to such an extent that everything now becomes symbolic in some way, literature quotes begin each chapter, and the depth and complexity of the novel passes far beyond any childhood or young adult fantasy, presenting a complicated plot and moral for even adults to handle.  It is in this final book that the strengths and beliefs of our heroes will be tested to their extent, while our own beliefs will be in danger, when the basis for all religion and faith in all worlds is brought into question and threatened.

CLICK HERE to purchase your copy from Bookshop Santa Cruz and help support BookBanter.

Originally published on May 12th, 2003 ©Alex C. Telander.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.

“The Golden Compass” by Philip Pullman (Knopf, 2003)

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His Dark Materials Boxed Set: Part One of Three

Originally published as Northern Lights in 1995, this is the story of a young girl who doesn’t know what to do or what is going to happen with her life, but soon discovers that she is on a specific course of destiny that she is unable to avoid.  While The Golden Compass is considered a children’s book, like the Harry Potter series, it is written with an adult voice in an adult language, with adult themes.  It seems that British authors give their young readers a lot more credit that American authors.  The result is the first book in the His Dark Materials trilogy that is by no means “just a kid’s book.”

Lyra Belacqua is a young girl who spends her days roaming the many hallways and rooms of Jordan College, Oxford, where she makes friends with everyone regardless of class or status.  She’s just looking to have a good time and loves taking risks, whether it be climbing the roof of the college, or chasing and attacking the gyptians who show up every once in a while on the river.  This is a different world to ours, where everyday electricity doesn’t exist.  This is a world of zeppelins, steam and air powered machinery, gyroscopes and wheels and cogs, essentially a steam punk world.  Also in this world every person has what is known as a dæmon, essentially the embodiment of a person’s soul in the form of an animal.  When young, children’s dæmons can change form, but when they reach puberty the dæmon settles on a single form for the rest of their lives, giving one an insight into the person’s nature.

But Lyra’s world changes when first she saves her father, Lord Asriel, from being poisoned, and then learns of his work in the distant icy north where work is being done with something called Dust, the northern lights, and something about another world in the sky.  Lyra then meets Mrs. Coulter, who she immediately takes a liking to for she is so strong and impressive and knowledgeable, that is until Lyra discovers that she is the one who has been kidnapping children and taking them to the north for experimentation.  Managing to escape, Lyra joins with the gyptians who head north to find out what is going on with all this business about kidnapped children and Dust.  The rumors are terrible.  It is said that experimentation is being on separating children from their dæmons which, considering it is taboo for a person to even touch another’s dæmon, does not bode well for Lyra and the gyptians.

It is in the north that Lyra finally discovers everything that is going and more importantly, why it is happening, as well as a giant armored warrior polar bear, Iorek Byrnison, known as panserbjørne; and a Texan balloon-fighting man called Lee Scoresby.

His Dark Materials, in my opinion, is even better than the Harry Potter series for the subject matter is far more complex with truths that relate to every reader.  And with a move adaptation of The Golden Compass set for release on December 7th, now is the perfect time to read this magical series for the first time, or simply to reread it again.

Alternate Review

It is amusing to see how books branded as “children’s fantasy,” like Harry Potter and the Chronicles of Narnia, once they are nationally and internationally recognized, suddenly become pieces of literature to be read and fully appreciated by adults and the literary world.  The Philip Pullman trilogy, His Dark Materials, now released as a boxed set, fits right into this category, to such an extent that it seems the third book, The Amber Spyglass, has such a depth and complexity that it could be fully appreciated by the literati.

The trilogy begins with the hero, Lyra, acting out her strange life in an alternative world which could have been like ours some time in the late medieval period, but is not.  There are inventions and technologies here that do not exist in this world; there are also similar articles that have a different or similar name; finally there are objects that have long been ousted as obsolete by our standards, but are still in common use, such as Zeppelins.  Lyra, in this strange world, must take a journey to rescue her father who is imprisoned in a distant land.  This first book ends with Lyra almost losing her life many times, and having to make a very important decision at the very end.

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Originally published on May 12th, 2003 ©Alex C. Telander.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.