Tag Archives: #magic

AMONG OTHERS and Curses

“There are some awful things in the world, it’s true, but there are also some great books.” (pg.52)

I have been wanting to read more science fiction for quite some time now but I never knew where-or I guess with whom- to start. It has been a genre that interested me but I always found kind of intimidating. There are authors that some people discuss in hushed tones. These are authors that have a cult following that few other genres could rival. A lot of these writers have been doing so for many years and have giant catalogues to show for their years of work. But I am conflicted since I have read the back of many titles but none have jumped out at me as something that I would like to read. Yet, I still have the desire to read at least one. Just to see what all the hype is about. Well, this book gave me a great list to work from. She talks about dozens of sci-fi (and some fantasy writers too) that all sounded like things that I would like to read very much. I even thought about taking a cue from Morwenna and begin from the letter A and just see what happens. It would not be unwise to start with Poul Anderson and slowly make my way down to Roger Zelazny.

However many sci-fi books are discussed does not make this a sci-fi novel though. It is far closer to a fantasy with all the fairies and magic that happens. Or does any magic actually happen? As Morwenna says herself, “You can almost always find chains of coincidence to disprove magic.” (pg.40) Since Morwenna is such an unreliable narrator we can’t even be sure that any of the fairies or ghosts that she claims to see actually exist either. Which I think is the best part of this book. It allows you to decide if you want to believe in the magic or not. You have to dig deep and really examine how you feel about the mystery of the world around us. I just really love the idea of fairies but I certainly don’t really believe that they exist. Jo Walton makes you feel comfortable giving in to the fantasy of seeing fairies or being able to say good bye to our loved ones one more time without forcing you to actually believe them in real life. Just relax and enjoy the journey with Morwenna who is infinitely interesting.

The book is worth a read just for all the wonderful things that Walton has to say about the book culture. Certainly most of us have nothing in common with Morwenna on a personal level. We don’t have a witch mother or a twin that died because of said witch mother. We aren’t in a boarding school being paid for by our rich but crazy aunts. We can’t make that connection but we all feel the same way she does about books. And as a future librarian I especially loved what she had to say about them:

Libraries really are wonderful. They’re better than bookshops, even. I mean bookshops make a profit on selling you books, but libraries just sit there lending you books out of the goodness of their hearts. (pg.59)

Is that not that best thing ever said on libraries? Well, it’s the best thing I ever read in a book about them. And how true it is too! As a bookseller I try to be honest and give the best advice and price to my customers. But I have to make money to keep the place running. Libraries have a big advantage with outside funding and they just let you browse and borrow until your heart is content. They’re good like that.

If you enjoy a good curse then you might like… 

Junot Díaz

I read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao in college and totally enjoyed every character. It is set in New Jersey which is always good for me. There are places that I know of in it. I recently gave the book away to 20 lucky strangers for World Book Night back on April 23. Read about it here in The Press of Atlantic City. It was a lot of fun and a lot of people have come back and said that they really enjoyed the book. Even some people who aren’t big readers. This book mentions a lot of sci-fi and fantasy writers as well. And is about outcasts from society dealing with major tragedies. But that’s about as far as the commonalities go. The curse in this instance is from the Dominican Republic and is associated with luck more than fairies. The references also seem more current. The book is seriously good as well though.

AMERICAN GODS and Magic

HarperTorch May 2002

“Then the lights went out, and Shadow saw the gods.”(pg.129)

Let me start out with that fact that my introduction to Neil Gaiman was going to see Coraline in 3D when it came out in 2009. I was amazed. I was enthralled. I put Gaiman at the top if my “Authors To Be Read” list. Alas, I did not get around to actually reading him until this year. (I know, I know but I just never got to him. Don’t judge!) I picked up a couple of his titles from Bogart’s. One was American Gods. I was amazed. I was enthralled. I loved every page of this book. I thought it was smart and funny. It was endearing and occasionally disgusting. Everything that a great mystery should be.

Gaiman’s style is just so cool. It reads much like a graphic novel in the sense that I feel his paragraphs would resemble a storyboard. Every line works toward giving you a total sense of not just the setting, but the overall tone as well. I could see each place that we found Shadow as a fully realized place in reality. I swear I could hear the breezes and feel the moon shining as I read. However, this does not lead to the book feeling drawn out like a Thomas Hardy novel, whose landscape descriptions could take an entire chapter and make the reader want to pull their hair out. Instead, it creates tension and intrigue. I also loved the small breaks in time and space with the additions of other voices from the American Experience. I capitalize that because each vignette seems to make up a separate essay on just that subject. They are just representations of the kind of lives that make up America. Most of the time they pertain to the story line, but others help define America. It never confuses you, just increases your understanding of what I believe Gaiman hopes to achieve with this novel.

The use of “magic” throughout the book is fun, but is also a rather subtle way at poking fun at religion. Shadow does slight of hand from the beginning and lots of the gods have a variety of powers from super strength to morphing their appearance. It helps that wonderful tension and intrigue grow since you never know what any character is capable of at any time. It also helps Gaiman with an easy way out of some sticky situations, but is still very believable. I love the use of magic in books, as long as it is woven throughout the story and doesn’t just pop up when it is convenient for the author. Gaiman does this brilliantly.

I also liked that Gaiman never has to explain the gods to you outright. Usually he just lets their personality within the confines of the narrative give you a context for the type of god that they are. There are no wordy explanations of where the god is from or what civilization worshiped them. A prior knowledge of the large pantheon of worldly god is helpful, but is not necessary. In fact, I learned a lot about gods that I only knew by name while reading this book. I felt educated by the end. Is that not what we want from any novel?  I liked so damn much about Gaiman’s novel that I have to stop myself from gushing any further. Read this when you get the chance. The size of it may intimidate, but please don’t let it. I promise it goes down easier than most.

If you liked this book, also check out…

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

If you like magic then you’ll love the concept of magical realism. And nobody does it better than Marquez. He may not have created it, but he certainly perfected it. There is any number of fabulous novels that I love of his. You can read the classic, Love in the Time of Cholera, which is beautiful and epic. Or you can also check out his last published novel, Memories of My Melancholy Whores, which is just a slim volume of beautifully written prose. I also loved his short story, “Man with Enormous Wings,” which was my first taste of Marquez . I went on to read so many others after that.

Thomas Pynchon

On the other hand, if you liked the mystery and absurdity of Gaiman then you’ll totally dig The Crying of Lot 49. It’s funny and smart and short. Most of Pynchon is like a million pages long, where Lot 49 is a much easier to digest. I read it in college and fell in love with Pynchon, only to realize that the rest of his publications were far more complicated and less accessible. So, Gravity’s Rainbow sits on my shelf and I can’t really say if you’ll like that one. However, read this one. You’ll enjoy the journey with Oedipa Maas just as much as Shadow, I think.

See you later, see you soon.