What started as a well-written tale about a boy who journeys into a magical world became a deconstruction of why we value fantasThis book floored me.
What started as a well-written tale about a boy who journeys into a magical world became a deconstruction of why we value fantasy and the dangers of getting lost in that world. By the end of it, I felt like Lev Grossman had delivered a knock-out blow to my heart. Being a high-achiever, the book touched a deep part of me that has always struggled with the notion of success, and I felt every high and low of Quentin's journey into a meaningful life.
While you can read the synopsis in the book description, The Magicians is really about the definition of personal meaning in the transition periods between school structure and unstructured life. What meaning do our lives have without purpose? It perfectly captures the feeling of being afloat in those years after the structure and rewards system of school, in the "real" world, where the hardest lesson to learn is that success is no longer defined by other people or physical rewards, but by yourself.
It is Quentin's (and our) most difficult lesson to learn, to acknowledge his own small greatness, that others see in him. We long to hear the words of someone else valuing us, but these words fade into distant echoes when the self does not truly believe them. We wonder what others see in us, and we slide slowly through the world as if someone would catch us out as a fraud.
Greatness, like the monsters in this story, is a slippery beast. So few ardently pursue goals with wholehearted enthusiasm and determination. Like some of the characters in the story, it is easy to give up, to find meaning in physical experiences (drink, drugs, sex) or other people, but true greatness comes in the self-confidence that says I do not need these things to define my character, that I alone define who I am.
When Lev Grossman writes of magic, I feel as if he is writing on writing - that we use it as a vehicle for escapism, much like our desire to attend magical schools or visit worlds of the fantastic. Such as this beautiful passage on page 282:
"I think you're magicians because you're unhappy. A magician is strong because he feels pain. He feels the difference between what the world is and what he would make of it. Or what did you think that stuff in your chest was? A magician is strong because he hurts more than others. His wound is his strength."
I stopped for a moment as I read it in this book and wept, because it captured the very reason that I love reading fantasy - there is an element of pain and longing in the world that we wish to escape. We create worlds in our heads and journey to them, but as Grossman points out, when we get there, do we wish to stay? Are the worlds we create in reality the places we long them to be? Or do we keep running, never satisfied, searching for perfect world after imperfect world? ...more
Hidden is a story that stuns through its simplicity. I read through the contained short comics in an hour or so. It is the story of an art worker whoHidden is a story that stuns through its simplicity. I read through the contained short comics in an hour or so. It is the story of an art worker who deals with people with disabilities, the lack of funding for her programs and the marginalisation of disabled people in society. It is incredibly subtle and as a result, beautiful. I highly recommend it, and Mirranda Burton is definitely a talent to watch. ...more
How can you hate a book where the plot hinges on parmesan cheese? Where half the characters shout YAAAARRRRRRR? Where there's a parrot that screams "PHow can you hate a book where the plot hinges on parmesan cheese? Where half the characters shout YAAAARRRRRRR? Where there's a parrot that screams "Pieces of Eight! Pieces of Eight!"?
That's right, I challenge even the hardest hearted book critic not to fall in love with Treasure Island. So much of today's pop culture is derived from this fantastic book. It hasn't aged a bit. There's an endearing protagonist in Jim, a complex nemesis in Long John Silver and plenty of great supporting characters in the Captain and the Doctor. What child (and what adult for that matter) doesn't dream of these adventures?
So yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum, this book is an instant favourite for me. I wish I'd read it earlier. ...more
Normally I’d wait to finish a whole book to write a review of it, but at 750,000 words and over 100 stories, The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories runs just short of the Bible. But even without reading the whole anthology, I can safely say The Weird is an excellent book.*
Edited by Ann and Jeff Vandemeer, The Weird is an essential anthology for anyone interested in the difficult to define genre of weird fiction. Weird fiction has gained a large amount of interest in the past few years, owing in part to bestselling writers like China Miéville and Neil Gaiman. What is the weird you ask? In the introduction, the VanderMeers refer to the Lovecraftian definition as:
"a story that has a supernatural element but does not fall into the category of traditional ghost story or Gothic tale…it represents the pursuit of some indefinable and perhaps maddeningly unreachable understanding of the world beyond the mundane"
For me, weird usually has one or more of the following elements:
1. A giant squid or other suitably large monsters with tentacles. 2. An inexplicable and indefinable sense of the sinister. 3. A meeting point of literature and the fantastic. 4. Subversion of traditional fantasy or science fiction tropes.
I’d like to elaborate a little on the third point, in that I don’t think strict fantasy or science fiction is illiterate junk, or that their writers are not interested in literature (my heart belongs to Ursula K. LeGuin and Octavia Butler). I find that weird fiction authors are often just as preoccupied with voice and language as they are the supernatural.
It’s more than an excellent collection, including works by Franz Kafka, Lord Dunsany, HP Lovecraft, Angela Carter, Stephen King and a stack of lesser-known authors waiting to be discovered. There’s also a variety of international weird, with authors like George Heym, Ryunosuke Akutagawa, Haruki Murakami, Rabindranath Tagore, many of these stories with new translations.
The greatest compliment I can give the book is that it has reawakened my love of short stories. Not only that, but my decidedly anti-Fantasy husband has been converted to the weird (thanks to George R.R. Martin’s Sandkings). He’s reading more genre fiction than ever. This anthology has the power to change opinions about writing. Not many books can boast as much.
However, I do recommend getting the e-book version. At 2.7 pounds, this is one book best navigated electronically. It’s not the sort of collection you just throw in your handbag, unless you’re Mary Poppins. My one criticism is that on a Kindle Keyboard, the table of contents is not hyperlinked correctly.
The Weird won a well-deserved World Fantasy Award this year. The immense amount of work in compiling this tome sets a new standard for anthologies, one that will be difficult to match. Reading The Weird is like opening a chocolate box full of candied squid. There’s bound to be something in there you like, even if it tastes a little different.**
If you’re interested in finding out more about weird fiction, check out the excellent Weird Fiction Review.
* Small disclaimer, I write for Weird Fiction Review’s series of 101 Weird Authors. But I wouldn’t be involved with that project if I didn’t love the book.
** Did that make you squirm? I live in a country where peanut butter dried squid is the snack du jour at the cinema. ...more
One of the best books about WWII and the impact of nuclear war on everyday people. Hersey closes the distance between the Japanese and Americans by foOne of the best books about WWII and the impact of nuclear war on everyday people. Hersey closes the distance between the Japanese and Americans by focusing on normal people like a doctor and families affected by the bombing. Truly moving and a must read. ...more