Review: The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman

Phillip Pullman is an author I haven’t read before and so it’s part of my New Authors Challenge which is hosted by the Literary Escapism blog. Check out their blog and also the challenge. I’m really enjoying all the new authors I’m reading this year!

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bannedbooksThe Golden Compass is also frequently on banned or challenged book lists. Even though I’ve had this book in print form for years and my family have all read it and told me how good it is I hadn’t read it before now. I was curious why this book would be a banned book.

Rita_h at My Home of Books has issued a challenge for readers to read at least one banned book by the end of September. There’s a list of 100 frequently banned books on her blog and at the American Library Association site (Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000-2009).

Banned Book Week 2013 was this week–September 22-28. This week I have posted my two reviews of the banned books I read

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golden compassThe Golden Compass
by Phillip Pullman
Series: His Dark Materials, book 1
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers, 1996
E-book, purchased
368 pages
Grade: A-
Synopsis: Here lives an orphaned ward named Lyra Belacqua, whose carefree life among the scholars at Oxford’s Jordan College is shattered by the arrival of two powerful visitors. First, her fearsome uncle, Lord Asriel, appears with evidence of mystery and danger in the far North, including photographs of a mysterious celestial phenomenon called Dust and the dim outline of a city suspended in the Aurora Borealis that he suspects is part of an alternate universe. He leaves Lyra in the care of Mrs. Coulter, an enigmatic scholar and explorer who offers to give Lyra the attention her uncle has long refused her. In this multilayered narrative, however, nothing is as it seems. Lyra sets out for the top of the world in search of her kidnapped playmate, Roger, bearing a rare truth-telling instrument, the compass of the title. All around her children are disappearing—victims of so-called “Gobblers”—and being used as subjects in terrible experiments that separate humans from their daemons, creatures that reflect each person’s inner being. And somehow, both Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter are involved.

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What I like about this book:

  • Lyra Belacqua is such an innocent. She’s had a very odd childhood, but she has grown up completely unselfconscious about herself. She hasn’t had a lot of formal education, but she has learned honesty, loyalty and how to make friends.
  • The world Phillip Pullman has created is very similar to ours, but just enough different to make a great fantasy world.
  • It’s a very original plot.
  • Although it’s a young adult book there is plenty to keep an adult interested.

What I don’t like:

  • It ends with a cliffhanger.

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My thoughts: 

Again, as with The Handmaid’s Tale this book paints religion in a very poor light so I can understand (even if I don’t agree) why people might want to ban the book.

However, I loved the book and look forward to reading the next two.

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What do you think? Have you read any of His Dark Materials series? Have you read other banned books?

Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

bannedbooksThe Handmaid’s Tale is frequently on banned or challenged book lists. Rita_h at My Home of Books has posted a challenge about banned books. There is a list of 100 books on her blog and at the American Library Association site (Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000-2009). Today is the last day of Banned Book week for this year. I’m posting my reviews of the two books I finished this week.

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handmaids-taleThe Handmaid’s Tale
by Margaret Atwood
Series: None
Genre: Science Fiction Distopian
Published by Random House,1986
Trade paperback, from library
311 pages
Grade: B+
Synopsis: Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now…

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I originally read this book over twenty years ago and it was a disturbing book when I originally read it. It’s still a disturbing book…and it’s supposed to be.

What I like about this book:

  • A classic science fiction novel which considers “what if” questions.
  • Most science fiction of this type is somewhat obscure leaving the reader to gradually discover what’s happening and come to their own conclusions. I like that. The reader is treated like a thinking person!
  • A distopian novel before distopian became popular.
  • I like that the ending is somewhat oblique. What happens to Offred is unknown…leaving it to our imagination–however, that’s also something I don’t like…

What I don’t like:

  • I don’t like that the ending is somewhat oblique. When I read books now I like to know what happens. I like a happy ending. However, I recognize The Handmaid’s Tale is a stronger book written as it is.
  • The Republic of Gilead’s administration creates a solution to their problem, but at a terrible cost to women.

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My thoughts: 

This book was written in the 1980’s. Ronald Reagan was president. Christian fundamentalism was on the rise. In the 1960’s Silent Spring by Rachel Carson had shown a link to pesticide and pollution. By the 1970’s the pesticide DDT was banned in the U.S. and other countries. Women were given drugs such as DES to control problems such as miscarriage in pregnancy. However, it was discovered DES didn’t help pregnancies and, in fact, caused cancers in both the mothers and children and could cause fertility problems for both the sons and daughters. Thus, there were many fears about the chemicals which were being used.

Also birth control (“the pill”), abortion and feminism all caused a certain amount of “anti-feminist” activity by some people. By the time this book was written The Equal Rights Amendment had failed to be ratified by 38 states. Conservatives led by Phyllis Schlafly were a major factor in the amendment’s defeat.

When I originally read the book I had no idea it was on banned lists though knowing it is I can see why some people wouldn’t like it and might try to keep others from reading it. The book certainly doesn’t give a favorable view of religion. But books are for widening our horizons and challenging our beliefs. If we can’t read a book without changing the way we believe our beliefs aren’t very strongly held.

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Have you read The Handmaid’s Tale? What do you think? Have you read other books which challenge your beliefs?