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April 5th, 2006

I’m about halfway through Doris Kearns Goodwin’s stunning Team of Rivals: the Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. If I had read this book ten or so years ago, I would be having a very different experience with it. 

Back then, I would have had to wonder about the ways in which Americans of today might react to the federal government’s restrictions on civil rights and even the suspension of habeas corpus. I don't have to wonder any more. Back then, I would have had difficulty imagining what it would be like to see armed soldiers patrolling our cities. Ten years ago, the first Gulf War and the USSR were both a half decade gone
. The Berlin Wall had been down even longer than that.  It felt like maybe, just maybe, we were moving toward something good. I have no idea where we're going now. But as I make my way through Goodwins’ book, it is both very moving and very unsettling to see how similar and how different we are today from Americans of the 1860’s. And regardless of how you see our current President, I think most people would agree: he’s no Abraham Lincoln.
Reading powerful nonfiction like Team of Rivals sometimes makes me feel a little guilty about all the time I spend with fiction. Many of the great minds of the 19th century actually dismissed novels as just so much fluff. But that is not correct. Marcus Zusak’s new novel, The Book Thief, reminded me of that last week. 

I finished Zusak’s book while I sat on a
Florida beach. At first, I thought it was sort of wrong to be spending time with a holocaust story (narrated by Death) while palm fronds waved above my head. For this very odd and disturbing book, however, it was probably just right. The book, like all good fiction I think, made me wonder about the places where I sit and stand every day. In many ways, that’s why fiction is worthy of attention. It is fun and it is accessible and it stretches our imaginations. And it is also a way of measuring who we are against who we might be.
On a semi-related topic, check out Colleen Mondor’s excellent article, Young Adult Books Go to War over at the most book-luscious site on the web, Bookslut. I have never met Colleen, but I've been a fan of her essays and reviews for some time so I was very, very excited to learn that she reviewed my book! Follow this here link to read Colleen’s Defining Dulcie review in the most recent edition of the fantastic online literary magazine, Eclectica.