Jumper by Steven Gould

Jumper by Steven Gould CoverDavy lives with his alcoholic, stingy, abusive father. On one occasion, Davy accidentally “jumps” (teleports) away just as his father is about to beat him with a belt buckle. Seizing the opportunity, Davy runs away from home but finds himself accosted by a quartet of truck drivers. Luckily, he teleports away again. Realizing he has a strange and unbelievable talent, Davy decides to make his way in the world alone. Once in New York City, Davy finds that his age (seventeen years old) doesn’t allow him to register for school or work without a parent or papers. In desperation, Davy plans a bank heist that can only be accomplished with his unique ability.

After walking away with a sizable sum of money, Davy lives the high life: living out of hotels, buying expensive clothes and eating at expensive restaurants. Despite having nearly everything he needs only a “jump” away, he discovers that he can only teleport to places he has been to before and can clearly picture in his mind. Backed by his bank heist money, he travels extensively in order to accumulate a large number of teleportation sites. Eventually, Davy puts his ability to use in stopping airline hijackers, but this catches the attention of the NSA, which seeks to understand Davy’s ability and use him for their own purposes.

Despite the intriguing concept behind Steven Gould’s Jumper, the novel doesn’t offer much of a conflict for its protagonist until more than halfway through. While it is intriguing to follow Davy and see how he utilizes his ability, the plot is mostly just watching him figure things out. Much of the novel feels like a thought exercise in the best way to utilize such an ability to benefit oneself or others (within the confines of the mechanics of teleportation that Gould has established). It appears the drastic changes made to the movie adaptation was to create a conflict and a plot, which the book is lacking. Jumper is clearly aimed at a young adult audience, as Davy’s angst may come across as childish or simply corny to older readers. Gould’s description of New York City, and specifically Times Square, comes across as dated (the area hasn’t been that way in over a decade and a half!).

Despite the plain writing style and the sometimes annoying angst of Davy, the book was still interesting enough to keep me reading almost non-stop until I was finished. I guess it was after finishing the book that I realized that I wish more had happened. Make sure to check out Reflex, the sequel to Jumper, for a more action-packed (and better-plotted) story with Davy and teleportation. If anything, a movie should have been made from Reflex, with Jumper only serving as an introduction to the better story.

Rating: Jumper by Steven Gould CoverJumper by Steven Gould CoverJumper by Steven Gould CoverJumper by Steven Gould CoverJumper by Steven Gould Cover

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The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists by Neil Strauss

The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists by Neil Strauss CoverThere’s a good chance I wouldn’t have believed some of the extreme claims made in this book if I hadn’t seen VH1′s reality show, The Pickup Artist, first. Whether you believe it or not, Neil Strauss’ The Game is a fun and hilarious book that will suck you in and keep you reading until you hit the back cover.

The gist of the book is as follows: Neil Strauss is asked by an editor to investigate the underground PUA (pick-up artist) community. Like most people, Strauss doubted that he would find anything legitimate, but decided to look into the assignment, partly out of self-interest. After learning some PUA techniques from Mystery, creator of the Mystery Method of seduction and perhaps the greatest PUA, and finding some success, Strauss takes on the alias “Style” and totally immerses himself in the lifestyle. Style uses the skills honed by years of writing and journalism to study the many schools of seduction and eventually emerges as one of the world’s greatest pick-up artists, rivaling and perhaps even surpassing Mystery.

Strauss packs in plenty of hilarious details about the encounters of various PUA’s in many different situations, various episodes concerning Mystery and his emotional and mental disturbances, and the events leading up to the collapse of Mystery’s ambitious Project Hollywood. Most importantly, Strauss provides his own insightful commentary on all the things the PUA community has completely wrong, namely the misogynistic tendencies of many PUA’s, the lack of originality and individual thought amongst PUA’s and the complete absence of any “techniques” for staying in healthy, long-term relationships.

Despite Mystery’s self-defeating personality, the lawlessness of Project Hollywood and having a large number of PUA’s turn against him, Style manages to keep his head on straight and even lands himself the girl of his dreams-without using any seduction techniques (they have quite the opposite effect, actually)!

Even if you don’t believe in the powers of the pick-up artist, this book is worth checking out if only for Strauss’ wonderful story of developing confidence in himself and finding happiness. And if you do think there is something to this seduction thing, then this book is a good starting point for learning some things and how to not let yourself get carried away.

Rating: The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists by Neil Strauss CoverThe Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists by Neil Strauss CoverThe Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists by Neil Strauss CoverThe Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists by Neil Strauss CoverThe Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists by Neil Strauss Cover

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If You Were God by Aryeh Kaplan

If You Were God by Aryeh Kaplan CoverIf You Were God is a short book containing three works by the late Aryeh Kaplan.

The first, “If You Were God,” is a short thought experiment where Kaplan asks the reader to imagine an island with several tribes of violent natives. The reader’s assignment is figure out a way to improve life on the island without revealing him/herself. Armed with the latest surveillance, weather-controlling and telepathic technology, the reader must find a way to influence the natives of the island without revealing his/her presence. The reason why the “higher power” must be kept secret is because it would significantly disrupt the culture of the natives, either causing them to become completely dependent on the higher power for survival or to openly rebel against the higher power and erase any good that was accomplished.

Kaplan uses the scenario described above in order to explain God’s dilemma with the real world. Specifically, he addresses the questions concerning the absence of miracles in the modern age and the reasons why God allows bad things to happen. In the course of his discussion, Kaplan reasons that God’s presence must remain hidden in order to allow mankind to proceed with true free will; a verifiable and concrete revelation of God’s presence would effectively eradicate any choice man would have in his actions.

In the second part of the book, Kaplan discusses “Immortality and the Soul.” Citing the modern advances of organ transplants and digital data storage, Kaplan attempts to trace consciousness and the actual location of a person’s personality, memories, etc. Later on, he posits that an additional function of the brain (besides the obvious ones) is to actually limit the information that we are bombarded with through our senses. He uses this supposition to begin a discussion concerning the soul’s experience after death and it’s interaction with the material world, the spiritual world and God.

The final and longest work in the book, “A World of Love,” discusses God’s purpose in creating the universe. Kaplan’s main point in this section is that God created the world in order to bestow the greatest possible good upon it (this “greatest good” being God himself). In essence, God created the world as a place where humans can perform certain deeds and act in a certain way that allows him/her to resemble God (because resembling God brings spiritual closeness to God, which is in effect, receiving God’s good).

If this review seems a bit heavy-handed and preachy, it’s because the book is pretty much the same. It is packed full of Talmudic and Midrashic sources that can be pretty intimidating for someone who isn’t at least somewhat familiar with ancient Jewish literature. Additionally, many of Kaplan’s claims rely on the presupposition that everything that appears in Talmudic and Midrashic sources are given to be true and accurate. Despite this, If You Were God is still a compelling read, especially for those interested in contemplating God, the soul and the universe from a philosophical Jewish perspective. Of particular interest are the ideas of free will in this world, God’s purpose in creating the world and the experience of the soul in all stages of its existence.

Rating: If You Were God by Aryeh Kaplan CoverIf You Were God by Aryeh Kaplan CoverIf You Were God by Aryeh Kaplan CoverIf You Were God by Aryeh Kaplan CoverIf You Were God by Aryeh Kaplan Cover

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Black Dog of Fate by Peter Balakian

Black Dog of Fate by Peter Balakian CoverIn Black Dog of Fate, Peter Balakian describes his life growing up in the suburbs of New Jersey and slowly discovering the horrible event that his family tries to protect him from: the Armenian genocide conducted by the Turkish government of 1915.

The memoir relates many of the adolescent experiences that American readers are familiar with: high school football, teenage rebellion, girlfriends, etc. However, Balakian also describes the rich Armenian cultural heritage he grew up with, particularly the language and the cuisine of his people.

In college, Balakian became aware of the massacre that his grandparents and parents had escaped from before coming to America and struggles to understand why this important event in the history of his people was never spoken of amongst his immediate and extended family.

This book is a great read for anyone who is interested in learning about Armenian culture or simply in reading about the lives of Armenians who managed to assimilate in American society while retaining most of their cultural heritage. More importantly, this book is a great starting point for learning about the Armenian genocide and the subsequent denial by the Turkish government that it ever occurred. Balakian’s memoir deserves a place next to the witness testimonies of the Holocaust and other state-sponsored mass murders; the purpose of a book like this is to make sure that genocide is never forgotten.

Rating: Black Dog of Fate by Peter Balakian CoverBlack Dog of Fate by Peter Balakian CoverBlack Dog of Fate by Peter Balakian CoverBlack Dog of Fate by Peter Balakian CoverBlack Dog of Fate by Peter Balakian Cover

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The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen

The Devils Arithmetic by Jane Yolen CoverHannah is a young Jewish girl who is bored with the seemingly pointless traditions of her heritage and the ranting and raving of her Holocaust survivor relatives. During the Passover Seder, she is asked to open the door for Elijah the Prophet and finds herself transported to a small Polish village in the 1940′s.

Now known as Chaya, she is overwhelmed by the change in setting and wonders if her memories of a modern world are real or just a forgotten dream. At a wedding ceremony, the entire village is rounded up by Nazis and Hannah remembers the terrible things that are about to happen to the Jewish villagers.

Despite her pleas and protests, history continues to unfold in the same way and the journey of the villagers and Hannah to a concentration camp is described in vivid detail. Hannah is forced to experience the harsh conditions and inhumane treatment that her older relatives had described to her a lifetime ago. At the novel’s grim climax, Hannah finally understands the importance of sacrifice, and subsequently, of remembering the horrible events of the past.

Although the subject matter is heavy, this is a great book for introducing young readers to the Holocaust. It is accurate in its details, seemingly derived from Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz (AKA, Is This a Man?) and other sources. Yolen’s narrative structure is very well-suited toward drawing in readers who might not be interested in the subject.

Rating: The Devils Arithmetic by Jane Yolen CoverThe Devils Arithmetic by Jane Yolen CoverThe Devils Arithmetic by Jane Yolen CoverThe Devils Arithmetic by Jane Yolen CoverThe Devils Arithmetic by Jane Yolen Cover

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If I Did It: Confessions of the Killer by The Goldman Family

If I Did It: Confessions of the Killer by The Goldman Family CoverBeing a preteen when the events described in this book took place, I probably went into this book with a hazier recollection of the facts than other readers. Even so, it was clear to me that O. J. is relating his skewed view of the events, with a heavy prejudice towards himself. If you knew nothing about the facts, you might actually believe the picture he paints of himself: as a very sensible, family-oriented, patient man; almost flawless, but willing to accept and repent for the minor infractions that he let slip (like in 1989, when he “grabbed” Nicole too forcefully and ended up being convicted of spousal abuse for it). He also doesn’t miss any chances to describe Nicole as ill-tempered, obsessive, pedantic, violent… and a drug user to boot.

O. J. includes some actual transcripts from the court case and seems to have gone to some trouble elucidating a back-story to fit the facts that turn up in the transcripts. For example, he explains right before one of Nicole’s 911 call transcripts that someone on the set of Naked Gun 33 1/3 told him that Nicole “parties hard” with a “rough crowd.” Apparently, that got him worried about his kids and angry enough to confront her about her drug use.

Despite the absurdity and poor writing of his account, I found myself eagerly anticipating the moment of the murder (does that make me a sick person?). O. J. invents an acquaintance named Charlie who dropped by unexpectedly one evening and told O. J. some gossip about Nicole that set him off to the point of dropping everything to go scream at her. Charlie, in my opinion, was O. J’s conscience; first, he tried to prevent O. J. from going to Nicole’s condo in the first place, then refused to allow O. J. to take the knife in his car with him (why did O. J. have that knife in his car, hmm?). Charlie later tried to cool off O. J. in Nicole’s courtyard, but for some inexplicable reason, brought the knife from the car with him. At this point, O. J. grabbed the knife, blanked out for a moment and then realized he was covered in blood with two bodies at his feet. For all his confusion, he seemed to be of sound enough mind to remove his bloody clothing and force Charlie to make his clothes and the murder weapon disappear. The most absurd part, of course, was O. J.’s temporary amnesia about the climatic moment; he even wonders how he could have missed witnessing the murders when he was standing right there!

In any case, I think If I Did It is a poor title because O. J. never conjectures what it would have been like if he did commit the murders. Nor is “I Did It” an apt title because he never does admit that he did anything but be an all-around good guy.

And for those wondering why O. J. didn’t commit suicide during the Bronco car chase: hearing Dan Rather report that O. J. had a long history with the police department as a domestic abuser made him angry enough to want to stay alive so he could get the truth out there. It only took him over a decade to finally tell his side of it.

Rating: If I Did It: Confessions of the Killer by The Goldman Family CoverIf I Did It: Confessions of the Killer by The Goldman Family CoverIf I Did It: Confessions of the Killer by The Goldman Family CoverIf I Did It: Confessions of the Killer by The Goldman Family CoverIf I Did It: Confessions of the Killer by The Goldman Family Cover

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