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Hugo Award 2019 Shorts discuss > “A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies” by Alix E. Harrow

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message 1: by [deleted user] (last edited Apr 20, 2019 07:22PM) (new)

This is our discussion of the 2019 Hugo Award "best novelette" finalist...

A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies” by Alix E. Harrow
The story can be read on-line at Apex Magazine.


This is part of our discussion of the 2019 Hugo Award short story & novelette finalists.


message 2: by [deleted user] (new)

One of those occasionally funny and occasionally sentimental story of a witch librarian & a kid who she'd like to help find a better life. Made me chuckle and was also quite affecting. (Not as much so as STET from this batch, but still.)


message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

Sad side-note to this Hugo nomination is that after the May 2019 issue, Apex Magazine will be going on "indefinite hiatus" (though the website will remain live for previously published stories.) Sad after 120 issues.


message 4: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 2669 comments I absolutely loved the thought of it, making me imagine that a library is full of books that are aware of us, that have desires of their own, that can find their way into the right reader's hands. That a book could be smug because someone was so into it that they read long into the night to finish it. That a book can feel sad that they are outdated and no one wants to read them anymore. I guess that's why I can't throw away a book, I can donate them, even knowing it's so beaten up that they will probably toss it, but I just can't do it myself.

I would love to be a witch librarian!


message 5: by Rachel (new)

Rachel | 524 comments I loved this and it spoke to me so much and i totally am not ashamed to say I teared up at the end. A wonderful story in the way of Among Others


message 6: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 2669 comments It was interesting reading the reactions people posted to the story.

The first was a librarian that seemed to think that people reading this would assume that librarians actually magical somehow and change their lives and sense the feelings and desires of objects made of paper and ink, when the reality is, it's a good day if they don't spend it arguing with people to pay their late fees and sticking pages back into damaged books. I thought it was unfortunate the person read it from the POV that the story was saying that this is what a librarian should be, holding it up as an ideal, as opposed to this being a fantasy and that it's a "wouldn't it be wonderful if" kind of story, while at the same time everyone realizing it's not realistic. I mean I didn't think differently of real world teachers after having read Harry Potter :)

I sort of understand where this person is coming from, I'm a software developer so everyone assumes if they get some cryptic error message on their computer I'll know how to fix it (and no, I have never ever opened a terminal, typed really fast, and in a couple mins hacked into a high security system...) Yes, there are days when the Dilbert cartoon is spot on and I can laugh at how exactly that scenario happened to me the day before, but overall, Dilbert doesn't accurate reflect my day to day work. Doesn't mean I can't laugh at it though.

The other reaction was from someone who once was a "skinny black kid" saying librarians shouldn't think they know better than social workers, but missed the point that this librarian had magical powers and actually could tell what a person really needed (and could even tell what a book needed!), more so than any regular human could, no matter how much training they might have had in the field.

The third reaction was "this is an old white woman's view being imposed on a young black kid" thing. I wonder if the author had picked a skinny white kid would people complain about the lack of diversity? If the librarian had been black (do we know she is not?) then people would complain of political correctness (I've seen people say that about Earthsea with the evil white northerners and the good black southerners). Race is always a no-win situation for an author, someone somewhere will find fault even if one character is green and the other purple they will say "Well obviously the green one represents..." whatever they feel is most insulting.

But still, very interesting different reactions people had to the story. None of the other stories got those kinds of comments, and I thought it interesting since I found it less controversial than many others (but then I'm not a librarian or a black kid so my viewpoint differs). Maybe Apex readers are just more vocal :)


message 7: by Caitlin (new)

Caitlin Andrea wrote: "It was interesting reading the reactions people posted to the story.

The first was a librarian that seemed to think that people reading this would assume that librarians actually magical somehow a..."


I'm actually somewhat in that librarian's camp on this story, although not quite as vehemently. I liked the idea of books being living things and wanting to find their readers so that part was cool. But I'm getting really tired of librarians as magical creatures. Even though yes, it's recognizable as fiction, it's one of those tropes that seems to be happening more and more often. And I don't know if it's envy or what, but it feels a little...frustrating to have characters who just have this magic that tells them what book a reader needs. Like it dismisses the very hard work that often goes into that. And the occasional, frankly awful days that are emotionally draining. It's a sort of visceral reaction that's a little hard to articulate quite right. I think when you have the personal experience with the job, it's harder to draw that line between "this is totally fiction and has nothing to do with what I do" vs "this is a complete judgment of everything I do".

Overall, it's not a bad story but the little bit of frustration that I had with the magical librarian thing kept me from getting sucked into it.


message 8: by [deleted user] (new)

Caitlin wrote: " I'm getting really tired of librarians as magical creatures. Even though yes, it's recognizable as fiction, it's one of those tropes that seems to be happening more and more often...."

Sort of inevitable among people who really like books, though.

If I was feeling contrary, I'd cavil that these magical faerie-godmother librarians are invading privacy. :)


message 9: by Caitlin (new)

Caitlin G33z3r wrote: "Caitlin wrote: " I'm getting really tired of librarians as magical creatures. Even though yes, it's recognizable as fiction, it's one of those tropes that seems to be happening more and more often...."

I mean, there's a case to be made there in terms of privacy...

I'm glad people who love books see libraries and by extension, librarians, as magical. It's certainly better than the alternative, even if it's occasionally frustrating.


message 10: by [deleted user] (new)

Caitlin wrote: "I mean, there's a case to be made there in terms of privacy ..."

Yeah, I mean, who do these Librarians think they are? Amazon? :)


message 11: by Caitlin (new)

Caitlin G33z3r wrote: "Caitlin wrote: "I mean, there's a case to be made there in terms of privacy ..."

Yeah, I mean, who do these Librarians think they are? Amazon? :)"


Lol them's fightin' words!


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