Two Completely Unrelated Books

This should be fun - certainly to write, and I hope to read.

I'm going to review two books I just finished, which have absolutely nothing whatever to do with one another.

I chose to do this because I was asked recently what made me select the books I chose to review, and what made a book good versus great. I'm not sure that this review will answer those questions, but it does somewhat address for me the "Why do you chose the books you do?" Much as British mountain climber George Mallory is supposed to have said when asked, "Why do you climb mountains," I would adapt his famous "Because they're there," with, "Because they happen to be at the top of my reading pile." As to the second question, what makes one book merely good, and another great - a much more difficult question to answer!

The short answer here is: neither of these books is what I would call great, but both were very, very good.

So, what are the books, you ask? The first is a thick novel called The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern. This was almost a great book, in no small part because I listened to the book on tape version, and it was read by the inestimable Jim Dale, the voiceover genius who read the Harry Potter series.

Well suited to this type of magical, mythical, is-is-real kind of story, Dale infuses each character with personality, depth, and even a kind of charm - including the villains. Not that there are villains per se in this book, still, there are the selfish characters who set a challenge in motion that might have ruined the lives of the young magical talents they put in the figurative ring together.

Old rivals, two ancient magicians (it appears that magical people live very long lives) find two young adepts (Celia and Marco) and seal them (without their knowledge or consent) to a contest of skill. The venue is a circus that only plays from dusk til dawn, and seems to disappear overnight after it has played a while in a given locale. And what we don't discover until late in the book is that while seemingly innocent, this contest has a dark side, a very dark side indeed.

In fact, the book opens in one such locale, a small town where young Bailey is challenged by his older sister to enter the circus during the daytime - something the circus makes abundantly clear is simply not to be done. Bailey manages it, and comes away with the white glove of one of the circus members, Poppet, twin to Widget. One (Poppet) can see the future, and one (Widget) can see the past - written on the persons of those they so examine.

Each member of the circus has magical talents, but eventually we learn that it is Celia and Marco who are really responsible for what goes on there. Loosely following the structure of a Tarot deck, the story is a story of stories, one chapter featuring one player, another featuring a second, or winding its way back to the first, now complemented by yet another character. And while the circus (know as Le Cirque des Reves, or Circus of Dreams) is all done in black and white, the story itself is wound  in colors you can't imagine, or even shades of grey.

While it may have one or two chapters too many, it was nevertheless a wonderful read, one that you might even share with an older child, a chapter a night, through a long winter of reading.

The second book, The Marketing of Evil: How Radicals, Elitists and Pseudo-Experts Sell Us Corruption Disguised as Freedom, by David Kupelian, is light-years away from the first book. Non-fiction, it is one of those books that will be read by people who already subscribe to its premise, and should be read by everyone else, if for no other reason that to give pause for thought.

Kupelian's basic thesis (grounded in more than a little fact) is that certain beliefs that 50 years ago we would have laughed at, scorned, or loathed, have become mainstream now. He claims this is no accident, or gradual "coming of awareness." He claims that these changes in thinking were the result of carefully crafted campaigns to "jam" our mental airwaves with ideas and associations that artificially alter our views and opinions.

In a moment, I'll get to his topics, which will probably have some readers slamming down the paper in disgust and dismissal, but before I do that, let me argue at least for the notion that we should come to new awareness as human beings because we gradually become enlightened, and embrace new thinking of our free volition, and on the strength of the evidence. Science, reason, truth, exposure, technology - all our advances - should teach us that what we have considered to be "truth" up to a certain point can no longer be supported. Electricity has been here since the dawn of time. When we "discovered" it it didn't just come to be, and it wasn't jammed down our throats. We saw it, we felt its effects, we learned we could use it. It simply "was." (And yeah, there are still some people who run around claiming the earth is flat, but no matter how much you might want to believe it, that one is pretty hard to support!)

In terms of more human truths, we now know that mentally ill people are not "possessed by devils," but often have measurable chemical changes, deficiencies, or abnormalities in brain or other chemistry that makes them behave out of the norm. But it was science and experience that proved it to us, once we had the means to measure these chemicals.

Well, ok, now for the big "reveal." Kupelian delves into the following controversial subjects, one chapter at a time:
Gay rights
Myth of church-state separation
Selling of sex
The 60's generation
Destruction of marriage
Sexual revolution based on fraudulent science
Hijacking of American school system
World of illusion created by press
Selling of unrestricted abortion
Role of Christianity in America

Oh-oh. And no, I'll say up front I don't agree with everything he writes. For example, I can't agree that "because God says so" is going to be an adequate reason for us to debate, or not debate,  the topic of abortion. (And actually, he does give it better than that, but I think you catch my drift.)

What I do think the book accomplishes is something perhaps as important as laying out his particular views on any of these hot-button topics: he makes the case that it's now become difficult to even have such discussions. I know many people who, ironically enough, are now "in the closet" about their rejection of abortion, or their belief in traditional marriage. They won't say so because it has become politically incorrect to do so, and they don't want to make enemies of people they like and respect, but who have strongly held opposite viewpoints.

Kupelian does make a good case for the benefit of continuing to discuss any subject that effects our health and welfare. And he does lay out an interesting argument that these subjects becoming "off limits" was not the result of gradual understanding and, as I said, enlightenment, but a deliberate effort to silence the debate and demonize one side. This can't be good - such forced "belief" isn't real conversion. And real conversion is what enlightenment requires.


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