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Magic for Beginners

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  8,833 ratings  ·  1,273 reviews
The nine stories in Link's second collection are the spitting image of those in her acclaimed debut, Stranger Things Happen: effervescent blends of quirky humor and pathos that transform stock themes of genre fiction into the stuff of delicate lyrical fantasy. In "Stone Animals," a house's haunting takes the unusual form of hordes of rabbits that camp out nightly on the fr ...more
Paperback, 297 pages
Published September 5th 2006 by Mariner Books (first published July 1st 2005)
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Jim I'd recommend George Saunders' "Civilwarland in Bad Decline" - which is yet another take on using the supernatural (like ghosts) as a significant, if …moreI'd recommend George Saunders' "Civilwarland in Bad Decline" - which is yet another take on using the supernatural (like ghosts) as a significant, if not *the*, story component.(less)

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Average rating 3.82  · 
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 ·  8,833 ratings  ·  1,273 reviews

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Oct 19, 2012 rated it did not like it
I've only got so much patience for surrealist storytelling, so maybe this was not the anthology for me. The early stories in the collection are the kind of dream-logic-based oddities that, when you stumble upon them surrounded by other writers' work, are interesting, if a little unsatisfying in their lack of conclusion. For example, when Eastern European refugees hide in a magical handbag and a wayward boyfriend makes off with it, the idea is clever and the writing both fantastic and absurd. But ...more
Mar 18, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Reading Kelly Link makes me wonder why anyone else ever tries to write anything. Honestly.

I mean, I'm sorry to have to say this to all the people who write short stories and everything, but "Stone Animals" is the absolute very best short story that has ever been written. Oh, wait, except for "Lull"; that is actually the very best short story that has ever been written ever. I can't decide, but anyway, the rest of the writing world should just give it up, nothing can top this book.

Honestly I can
Kelly Link writes what I should love - quirky, whimsical, creative and fantastical ideas with often dark imagery - but somehow all this mix of interesting things never ends up being a story.

Most entries in Magic in Beginners will draw you in with a unique idea, image or scene; this is the case with two of the best stories in the volume, The Faery Handbag and Catskin. In the first a young woman loses a handbag which belonged to her elderly grandmother, and tells its story: the handbag was a magi
Mar 08, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Like Grimm's on a hit of acid. Or Lemony Snicket if he wasn't so flaccid. Just kidding, I love Snicket, i just wanted to make a rhyme. Maybe a bit like Miranda July's night terrors would be like after a night on magic mushrooms? Murakami inside Raoul Duke's body visiting a Hayao Miyazaki movie (say, Spirited Away)? Or really, I shouldn't bother with comparisons because Kelly Link is like nothing else I've ever read.

One day I will no longer be surprised that I like books that everyone hates and
Nov 24, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Weird Modern Fairy Tales for Adults by a Writer with a Unique Voice

3.5 stars

My introduction to slipstream short story writer Kelly Link was her recently issued Get in Trouble. I got off on the wrong foot with that short story collection and did not finish it.

I'm glad I gave her another chance. I liked this collection, Magic for Beginners, a lot better, although it, too had some drawbacks.

The author's stories are extremely creative and her voice is totally unique (although there were some vague s
Dec 05, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Link garners effusive praise from Jonathan Lethem, China Mieville, Michael Chabon, Peter Straub, Alice Sebold, et al. Sometimes I get it, and sometimes I don't. Some of her stories I enjoy, some of them I don't.

For example, take the two stories in this collection that I had read previously: Catskin and Stone Animals, both of which I read in McSweeney's. I liked Catskin slightly more the second time around, but it still rates a thumbs down. It's the tale of a witch and her three children and her
You can find this review and more at Novel Notions.

Something I’ve noticed over the course of my recent reading life is that, if you’re in the mood for weird, you should definitely look into short story collections. Some of the strangest and most memorable fiction I’ve read in the past five years or so have been short stories. This is not a format I thought I enjoyed, as I prefer to dig more deeply into a story than twenty pages or so can accommodate.

Honestly, I probably never would have given
Emm C²
Mar 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: convenience store workers
Recommended to Emm C² by: fate
I have a strange split-dimensional relationship with magic realism. Sometimes we are the best of friends, sometimes it worms under my skin in an annoying way. Many books covet its charm but are not brave enough to attempt it, but that can never be said for Kelly Link, who might as well have invented it. Sewn it together into a beautiful monster out of abandoned skin shed from horror and fantasy and whatever lurks in the mind.

Link's stories can be frustrating. They are alchemical clockwork, unexp
Oct 09, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fantasy
This is a collection of weird short stories which can be loosely qualified as urban fantasy. When I said the stories are weird, I really meant it. I would not be able to tell the plot of any of nine stories from the book. Do you want to know about a man loving a cannon? How about a man marrying a dead woman and having children? What about a whole nation sitting in a handbag? A son of a witch walking around in a cat costume made out of cats? You can have all of these and more.

This is the second b
May 31, 2007 rated it really liked it
Here's the review from my twice-yearly zine (October '06). I think I preferred Link's debut short story collection, Stranger Things Happen, but I definitely appreciate what she's aiming for her. Nobody writes stories quite like hers:

Kelly Link is herself no stranger to the bizarre,
or even to charges of sometimes wading too deep
into its waters for some readers’ taste.

In a recent missive to members of her online
writing workshop, Link encouraged writers to
“submit more ambitious work....stories and
Althea Ann
Oct 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
You may officially put me down as a Kelly Link fan.

I understand why her writing might not be to everyone's taste. One of the blurbs on this books describes it as 'elliptical' - yes. She comes at ideas sideways and leaves things unfinished, ambiguous, to be considered. It can be frustrating. But at the same time, I love it.

Two of the stories here overlap with those in 'Pretty Monsters.' So this was my third time reading 'The Faery Handbag' (I'll be happy to read it some more times, too), and my s
Nov 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone tired of the same old same old
Recommended to Jen by: 2005 Best American Short Stories
I read one short story by Kelly Link in an anthology and knew that she was magical. I had to have more, so I stole my man's copy of Magic for Beginners and read through it in one sitting. The realm of the fantastic is usually not my thing, but well-written creative pieces are and this book definitely qualifies. "Stone Animals" in this collection is usually picked as the stand-out piece, and it surely deserves to be so (who else could make paint licking sound so right?), but there are others tha ...more
Evelina | AvalinahsBooks
Jul 30, 2020 marked it as dnf-shelf-of-shame
How I read this: freebie

DNF @ 24%

What did I just read? I feel like every short story collection I read puts me farther and farther away from short story collections in general. They're just too bizzare and in the end I have no idea what it was even about because you have to comb for meaning as if you're looking for a needle in a haystack.

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Oct 19, 2012 marked it as to-read
I've read the titular story twice -- once years ago in an anthology, before Link's name was familiar to me, and then again recently in Other Worlds Than These. It is, briefly, about some teens watching a tv serial about a magical library. The story is very good, but what I really want is to see the show that they're watching. Or to actually live in The Library.

And I've read The Faery Handbag which is in the anthology The Faery Reel: Tales from the Twilight Realm and also available free at the S
MJ Nicholls
Apr 01, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to MJ by: Oriana
A canny short story writer with a wholly unique vocabulary, range and personality. The closest touchstone in history would be Donald Barthelme, though Link furthers this ironical postmodern format to incorporate fables, fantasies and fairytales into her cleverly conceived mini-epics. It's hypetacular. ...more
Rachel (Kalanadi)
I enjoyed the first story, "The Faery Handbag", and then it went downhill from there. This "slipstream fiction" is simply not for me. It read like complete nonsense and I was too bored to want to try harder to understand it. ...more
Katie Long
Oct 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Every bit as good as I remembered!
Boden Steiner
Mar 20, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A short story by Kelly Link is a suicide snow cone that tastes like the best thing you never knew you could have.

Turning the pages of Magic for Beginners, you are never quite sure what you will get, but after one or two stories you quickly realize that this random unknowing is the one constant, and what you quickly learn to love about a Kelly Link story. You welcome the jump, allowing the rabbit hole door to lock behind you, even hoping that it does. When I say rabbit hole, I really mean the sec
It's somewhat unfair to put this as read, since I haven't read all the stories in it. But I'd read enough to know that it wasn't really my cup of tea. That's entirely a subjective reaction and could be as much due to what my expectations were. It's like putting an olive in your mouth thinking that it's a grape - the shock puts you off even if the olive is perfectly good for what it is.

When I bought this, it was shelved under the Fantasy section. I was expecting Fantasy a la Charles de Lint and
May 06, 2008 rated it really liked it
Nine short stories of magical realism, stories that shift effortlessly from fairy-tale mode to a much more naturalistic mode to surreal absurdity.

The thing about these stories--the frustrating, beautiful thing--is that they are not merely hard to understand. They resist all efforts to understand them. They hint at the feeling that, oh, if only you were smart enough, if only you spent enough time decoding the symbolism and the turns of phrase, everything would suddenly become bright-clear and rev
Sep 08, 2008 rated it really liked it
For some reason, I assumed this was a young adult title; I think it was the cover, or possibly the name.
Link's characters are for the most part grotesques, like those of Sherwood Anderson and Miranda July (but way better than July), only infused with a bit of magic. The stories are full of strange people doing normal things in strange places, or normal people doing strange things in strange places, or some other variation. There are some wonderful, bizarre descriptions and the little illustratio
Aug 17, 2008 added it
I can't give Magic For Beginners a rating, because it's simply a book that wasn't "for me." It's not fantasy; it's magic realism, and personally, I need some recognizable logic and structure in fiction. Kelly Link is a finely skilled writer, and there's many a delightful turn of phrase, but the complete picture of each story was unsatisfying. However, I don't care for Gabriel Garcia Marquez either, and while I couldn't even finish A HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE, I did feel driven to read all the st ...more
Jessica Haider
Oct 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
Magic for Beginners is a fun, quirky and clever collection of short stories from Kelly Link. These stories are the perfect light entry into spooky Halloween since they have a touch of the supernatural. We have a story about zombies that is not a "zombie story" but rather a story about a guy's zombie contingency plan. A story about ghosts that is not a "ghost story" but is a story about living people who are married to ghosts. And so on.

I also loved that the first story was locally set and made
Noah Soudrette
Feb 24, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fantasy
The first story is called "The Faery Handbag" is a tale about a girl's grandmother and her magical handbag. The whole thing is a bit of an obvious allegory for life, particularly the life of women and elders. Still, it's very bittersweet and a short interesting intro to the collection.

The second story is called "The Hortlak" and is really both brilliant and stupid. The whole thing is a bizarre expressionist dream about working retail and loving a woman. I feel very close to this story. It's reas
Some of these stories are cool, but then the rest of them are like "What if Borges shopped at Modcloth?"

I like both those things, but. Not here, I guess? I even made a point of reading the stories one by one, rather than all at once. (I did try reading them all at once, but then I got a sour taste in my mouth.)

The craftsmanship is, I think, rather good. And the stories I did like - "Faery Handbag," "Some Zombie Contingency Plans," and "Magic for Beginners" - were at least longish (although "Magi
Oct 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
The Faery Handbag
A young woman loses a handbag her grandmother had given her that contains a magical village within it. I liked it, but the first person character was somewhat hard to nail down; the protagonist was somewhat vaguely sketched. Whether by intention or accident, I can't say, but I found it distracting. 3/5

The Hortlak
This is a strange story that captivated me in spite of its weirdness. The world it describes is horrifying and the story goes nowhere, and yet I found myself hoping that
Jan 23, 2009 rated it liked it
The stories in this book ooze creativity and imagination, which I'm generally a sucker for. There's a risk, though, in straying too far from traditional lines, in that the stories still have to connect for the reader on some level strongly enough for us to be willing to let go of the fact that we're being asked to take this bizarre world at face value.

For all of the creative elements, many of them very well-rendered (zombies really are vastly under-utilized in contemporary fiction, and the vill
Nicholas Kaufmann
Mar 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
All the stories in Link's second collection are five-star stories. Her fiction is surreal, whimsical, fantastical, childlike in many ways, and yet it often goes to darker places than you'd expect. Put simply, it's brain food. Her stories light up parts of your brain that don't normally get lit up. On top of that, she makes it look so effortless with flawless prose and perfect turns of phrase.

However, reading an entire collection of her stories can be an overwhelming feast, or at least it was for
Jul 09, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is like the literary equivalent of a road trip. Like Kelly Link thought about getting in her car and driving somewhere but had no idea where she wanted to go, but knew vaguely what she wanted to see. Or maybe it's like she was lying asleep in her bed plugged into something that transcribed her dreams onto paper as she slept and turned them into short stories. Or it could even be like those old Magic Eye books where if you're impatient all you see is a jumble of colours and nonsense and ...more
May 23, 2010 rated it it was ok
Disappointing. I think I would have liked this book a lot better if it weren't for some really annoying technical tics, like the fact that every single one of these stories is riddled with tense changes that make no sense. There were three stories that I really, really liked even in spite of this: "The Faery Handbag," "Stone Animals" (which I actually loved), and "Catskins." The rest, though, were kind of like reading someone else's dream--fascinating if you're the one having the dream, not so m ...more
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Kelly Link is an American author best known for her short stories, which span a wide variety of genres - most notably magic realism, fantasy and horror. She is a graduate of Columbia University.

Her stories have been collected in four books - Stranger Things Happen, Magic for Beginners, Pretty Monsters, and most recently, Get in Trouble.
She has won several awards for her short stories, including th

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