Sunday Book Reviews – 3/8/20

Bookshelf books, photo by Alien Motives

The Conscience of a Conservative by Senator Barry Goldwater (1960, Victor)

This is an excellent book, brought to ruin by the age of Trump. I will explain.

The book, while attributed to Goldwater, is generally accepted to have been ghostwritten by Goldwater’s primary speechwriter, L. Brent Bozell with some likely help from William F. Buckley. As with all good speechwriters, Bozell was intimately familiar with Goldwater’s general philosophy, many of his specific views, and the politician’s favorite words and speech patterns. Because of this, he was able to present Goldwater’s views in the Senator’s voice.

What was produced was a treatise on conservatism and its value, a defense of the primacy of the individual over the state and the state over the federal government, even as it recognized the necessity of governmental actions in some Constitutional functions.

By using Goldwater’s language while addressing larger philosophical concepts within the key arguments of the day, some topics were presented in ways which resonated with different groups simultaneously. One easy example: the same championing of states’ rights which buoyed believers in individual liberty were seen as backing white nationalist views both among the white nationalist factions and in some racial minority communities.

Until the time of Trump, a strong argument could be made that such allegations of pandering to racists – or to corporations, or other groups as addressed in the book – lacked validity. While the Democrats, the primary opposition to the Republicans, often made the claim that the Republicans were secretly supporting hateful racists and the most rapine business leaders, the actions of the Republicans did not support those assertions.

Now, unfortunately, they do. And because they do, reading this book inevitably calls into question all that Republicans have stood for since the time of Goldwater. I do not believe that a large percentage of Republicans through the age of Reagan and Bush were closeted bigots, but the modern party has given weight to what had once only been opposition smears, and they’ve tarnished the history of the conservative movement as they’ve done so.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (2011, Quirk)

This is a highly appreciated, in some circles, beloved book; it’s even spawned a big-budget movie. I wish I could say I found it particularly engrossing, but I can’t. That is not to say it’s without some significant merits.

The book’s unusual hook lies in the images which accompany the novel. Designed to appear as early twentieth century black-and-white photos, the highly detailed images supplement the story perfectly. The author’s word choices and sentence construction suggest a lover of language, which in the age of texting is greatly appreciated. Some of the ideas he employs are, if not unique, at least so rarely seen as to be surprising.

None of this can hide the fact that it is at its heart an action-based adventure fantasy that has only two short busts of action through the initial three quarters of the book. Nor that it doesn’t bill itself as the first book in a series but has no satisfactory ending. (There were two other books in what was eventually revealed as a trilogy, which has since continued into a related series of books.) Nor that the plot twist revealing the primary villain is utterly predictable. Nor that comparisons with Marvel’s X-men are unavoidable.

There’s even a significant problem with the main character’s power (“Peculiars” are an offshoot branch of humanity, with genetic traits that manifest as superhuman abilities but often skip generations.) He and those of his lineage are the only ones able to see the otherwise-invisible monsters stalking and murdering peculiars, but the monsters are revealed to have been created by a comparatively recent event. They’re not able to see all invisible beings… another of the children at the home is invisible, and that child cannot be seen by the protagonist… just the monsters. A reader is left to wonder about the hundreds of generations of lineage which were recognizably “peculiar” but which seemed to manifest none of the special abilities of their peers because the monsters they could see didn’t yet exist.

Then again, I’m left to wonder how an invisible person or someone who has a colony of bees living inside them would be able to settle down with someone and have kids, then grandkids, without their partners noticing. The powers there are fun and helpful within the context of the story, but don’t bear too much consideration.

So… flawed. But amidst the flaws there’s a look at a functional but damaged family structure that doesn’t force the main character into the obligatory woke gender curiosity or civil anger of many contemporary young adult novels. It respects its target audience, neither taunting them with unnecessarily obscure style choices nor pandering to them with simplicity. It’s a solid book, and something that could easily be enjoyed by a typical fifteen year old looking for something a bit darker and more emotionally complex than superhero comics.

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About AlienMotives 1991 Articles
Ex-Navy Reactor Operator turned bookseller. Father of an amazing girl and husband to an amazing wife. Tired of willful political blindness, but never tired of politics. Hopeful for the future.