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16 June, 2008

Book Review: Tin Lizard Tales by Schuyler T. Wallace

Read and Reviewed for Front Street Reviews

What do you get when you put a retired couple on a train for a month? Take them from Bakersfield, California across the United States to the east coast, then North into Canada and head them back west again, across the Canadian wilderness? Tin Lizard Tales is exactly that. Part travelogue, part historical look into the cities they cross through, and part discussion/rant on various issues brought about by the former. Tin Lizard Tales is author Schuyler T. Wallace’s recollections of the cross country trip he and his wife Carol took via Amtrak (in the USA) and the VIA Rail (in Canada).

Tin Lizard Tales attempts to show various parts of the country in current days, what the author and his wife saw and visited while touring the country. The history lessons come when the author adds in looks into the history of the areas they’ve traveled in, and the cities that they visit. Even the title of the book is a bit of history, gleaned from the old time railroaders’ name for streamliners. Here and there Mr Wallace slips away from his format and shares with us his opinions and essays on topics such as homelessness, the meat packing industry, and the service encountered on the many trains he and his wife rode on their trip.

Author Schuyler T, Wallace has the following to say about his book: “I was prompted to write this book by a lot of reading and large amounts of coffee. Strangely enough, that’s probably what you will need to get through it.” I don’t drink coffee, but I don’t know if it would have helped me speed through the book any faster than I ended up doing. There is a lot of information between the first page and the back cover of this book. I could only read it a chapter or two at a time before setting it aside to process what I had read. The portion I had trouble with most, was when the author talked about their visit to the World Trade Center site, and his exploration of the events of 9/11. Even though it’s been almost seven years since the attacks, it’s still a very raw subject. I skimmed through those chapters and on to the rest of the Schuylers’ visit to the city that never sleeps. I did enjoy the descriptions of the scenery they traveled through especially the descriptions of the length of track traveled along the Hudson River, and while crossing Canada. I’ve traveled long distance via Amtrak as well, and it was a memorable experience. Reading Tin Lizard Tales reminded me of that experience, and made me look forward to perhaps exploring the country by train travel again some day.

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