Monday, October 31, 2011

magicians

Lev Grossman is writing young adult literature for adults as much as the YA crowd. I'm sure the same could be said for JK Rowling--especially given the aging of the subject matter along with Harry--but Grossman also keeps his finger firmly on the irony button, whilst taking on this heady, and well-worn genre. The Magicians, from its very title onward, is a book about magic, and the magicians who use it, but Grossman has a completely different take on who these magicians are, and how they relate to our world.

In the Grossman-Magicians universe, pop culture still has its fantasy stories, and his characters know and love these stories as much as we do, but they know them more intimately for what the are... and what they aren't. They also know about, and live with, the rest of pop culture, and as much as magic can help them with their everyday lives, its also a burden they must bear as they move through a world that doesn't know, and doesn't understand, what its is to tap into the magical power that is available to all those who choose to put their mind to it.

That may be the biggest leap in The Magicians: that magic just is. And at its very core, isn't anything mystical or fantastic, its just a science. Granted, a slippery, hard-to-get-hold-of kind of science that is essentially invisible to the rest of us, in much the way scientists now speculate that some dimensions in our own universe may be: there, just tucked away, curled in upon themselves, such that they are inaccessible to us, if only for the way we might look for them.

Lev Grossman, spins this idea into a charming, engaging fable about a young man named Quentin Coldwater, who just wishes his life wasn't so 'normal'. I've been wanting to read this since reading a great review about a year ago. Grossman has a follow-up called The Magician King, which I'm looking forward to now.

Read this book.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

notes and scribbles

I've added a new category on the right-hand column. Its down near the bottom, and its called 'notes and scribbles.' This little doodad (like all of the others) is basically a way for me to keep track of things. So the 'notes and scribbles' text box is just what it sounds like: a place for me to jot down little bits that don't really add up to a blog entry alone, may be related to something I've written about in the past, thinking about writing about, or just general interest.

There is also a list of books down there, along with how I feel about them. Not all of these titles appear on this blog however, as I've only written about those books I've read since I started this thing, and the list includes a smattering of other books I can recall. Maybe I'll add a search bar... not sure if anyone would use it.

So check it out, and let me know if think I should add something. Put it in a comment, and stick it anywhere around here.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

american pastoral

pas·tor·al - n. (Literary & Literary Critical Terms) (of a literary work) dealing with an idealized form of rural existence in a conventional way.

Seymour "The Swede" Levov is a tall, blonde, blue-eyed Jew from a hard-working family in Newark, New Jersey. A family of immigrants who, after years of effort, have finally made it. Swede has taken over the family glove business from his now retired father--who has gone to live in Florida--and the Swede has grown the family business, married well, and moved to his dream house in the country; the setting for this American Pastoral, by Philip Roth.

This is my first Philip Roth novel, and its been on my list for a while. Reading it reminds me that I have not yet achieved the level of 'serious reader'. Oh I read it, every word, but it was slow. This novel is a thought-provoking and intensely contempletive examination of the American Dream, what it can mean, and how it can go wrong.

At its core, American Pastoral is The Monkey's Paw. You know, that creepy, fire-side tale (or bedtime story, if you grew up in my American Dream) about getting what you wish for, but not exactly in the way you imagined. It doesn't have that adrenalin-pumping, return-of-the-living-dead, something-cold-and-wet-touching-your-face-in-the-dark feeling you'd expect if this was actually just a retelling of the Monkey's Paw story. Stephen King: I'm looking at you.

The Swede succeeds in removing his family from the post-apocalyptic setting of Newark after the riots, to a lush, country manor in Old Rimrock, New Jersey. His idyllic country life can't save him and his family from the realities of modern America, however. Roth examines how people who have achieved the ultimate goal of the American Dream, can fall victim to their own isolationism by failing to understand that they aren't safe from the realities of modern America, even surrounded by a hundred acres of rolling farmland and neighbors who can trace their heritage to the origins of America.

Finally, I would be remiss not to acknowledge Roth's pastoral joke.

Slow but good. Well written, but you need to be serious about examining the inner lives of normal folks, and how they live, interact, and strive in America today, and in the recent past. There is a lot to chew on in this story. I read the Lizard of Oz in the middle of this, to get a break, but it was worth the effort.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

lizard of oz

Here is a story by a local author, written in 1974. I remember reading this book not long after it came out, after being turned on to it by my older sister. She had read it based, I think, on the recommendations of her friends. She had borrowed it from the library, and when she returned it, I went to the library and searched for it. Years later I still remembered the characters, and even some of the illustrations. I wanted to read it again, but couldn't remember the title. When I asked my sister, she didn't recall what the book was. The fragments I remembered, with the help of the internets, finally gave me what I was looking for.

The Lizard of Oz, by Richard Seltzer you should click here and see what Seltzer is up to is a modern day fairytale (or was in 1974). Seltzer tells in the afterword how he started the book in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1971, and finished it over the next few years, finally hiring a recent UMass graduate, Christin Couture, to illustrate the story. The illustrations are what I remembered most about the story.

The story itself is a morality tale; a collection of re-tellings of other myths and fables--laced together with puns and Couture's illustrations--in that outlandish genre popular in the early 70s that gave us Yellow Submarine, Charlie & Chocolate Factory, and its movie adaptation, Monty Python's Flying Circus, and the animated version of The Hobbit. You know what I'm talking about: that late, hippiesque, psychedelic, zany genre that was pretty popular with the toke and giggle crowd.

Seltzer has a serious message hidden in the story about making sure we don't lose our grip on what it means to live an 'enchanted' life, and he illustrates it by recalling to mind all of those other myths and fables we all know, and reminding us, that these stories are all telling us the same thing, regardless of their individual morals. The quest, taken up by a small elementary school class from Winthrop, along with their teachers, a green Volkswagen Beatle, and their talking fish, is to rediscover the magic that's ebbing away from our modern lives, and bring it back to us, before its too late.

And talking bacon. Angry, talking bacon... who also happens to be the public librarian.