Magic: Adult Books Division

I've had time to read lately. I'm not sure what has opened up but all of a sudden I'll find myself on the subway with a book, reading. Who knows where the time comes from? No doubt I am neglecting something large and crucial, and will figure out "Oh, you were supposed to be doing [insert name of crucial task here]! Oh, now you've missed the deadline and you will never be happy/your child will never go to college/you are now bankrupt." Still, it's been fun.

And it has gotten me thinking. I don't actually read all that much children's literature, just when the mood strikes me or the book falls into my hands or compels me in some other way. So I've been reading a lot of grown-up books. You know. Freedom. The Cookbook Collecter (more on that on an upcoming post). Waking Beauty. True Grit.

They've all, each in its own particular way, made me happy. But they've also pointed out a gap between the love I feel as a reader for books I read now, and the love I felt as a kid. Sometimes I will see one of my children standing stock-still in the middle of the stairway reading. They're so deep inside another world this one has entirely disappeared. Oh how I envy them that sense of transport!

I can love a book now, I really can. Some of my favorite books are those I've read only as an adult—Tolstoy and Patrick O'Brian come to mind. Jane Austen too. Oh, it goes on and on.

But I do miss magic.

Magic is rare in the world of adult literature. And don't start with the magical realism—it isn't the same at all. And the whole sentimental magic/vampires 'n' ladies/sexy witch sort of magic holds no allure for me. I mean magic magic, the kind of magic where the world and all that is possible within it is so much bigger and more thrilling than what you thought it was.

So that's why I'm going to tell you a bit about this:


First I must get out the full disclosure, such as it is: I got this book for free, as a review copy, from the author when I asked for it, figuring it was a novel for kids. Note: this is not a novel for kids, not the ones under 15 anyway. And I only heard about the novel when I found out the author was following me on twitter (poor man, who didn't know that with twitter I am essentially a spectator at the orgy), so there's that.

But I got it, and I read it, and I had a whole flock of different reactions.

There were moments, in the beginning of the book, when I thought it might just leap up and fly out of my hands—it felt like: Here! This is what I've been wanting to read. This is everything I've been missing.

And then there are moments when it doesn't feel like that. It's complicated; at the risk of sounding as prim and reductive as it possible to sound, it's sort of a boy-feeling book. There is lots of posturing (by the characters, not the author), lots of self-hatred and teen-aged angst with a testosterone flavor, lots of rage choked back into bitterness. There is a fair amount of swaggering.

There are, too, moments of soaring thrills, of streaming energy, of magic, in exactly the way I was missing it.

You should try it.

10 thoughts on “Magic: Adult Books Division

  1. Try “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.” It was absolutely transporting for me.
    I just discovered Patrick O’Brian– they tried to get me to read it in high school and I just never got around to it, but 15 years later I am astonished at how amazingly good it is. But it didn’t transport like “Jonathan Strange.”


  2. I know exactly what you mean. Much as I love some of the authors I’ve discovered as an adult, they never hold the same power for me that my childhood favourites did.
    One way I’ve found to recapture some of that magic is to reread certain of my childhood favourites, the ones I know so well that the prose is still in my head, even if I’ve forgotten it’s there until the moment I read it on the page. Anne of Green Gables did that for me when I reread it last year. I recaptured just a smidgen of the way the world of Avonlea rose off the page for me as a tween and a young teenager.
    I’ve found a bit of that magic when I run across a new subgenre – when I first read Neil Gaiman and Naomi Novik and when I discovered steampunk. Though in those cases, the wonder was less in being transported and more “You can DO that?!” (I’m a writer, so it gives me a creative jolt as well.) Still, that feeling ties in with what you said about the world being bigger than what you had imagined.
    Sometimes I also find it in older classics, especially nice editions with gold edging or similar. Something about the old-fashioned binding sucks me in, in a way a regular mass market paperback doesn’t. I hadn’t even realized that until I got a fancy edition of Edgar Allan Poe for Christmas this year and found myself thinking “Now THIS is a real book I could get properly lost in.” Same with the deckle-edged edition of Wuthering Heights I’m currently reading. Alas, I don’t have the space to start collecting hardcovers.


  3. I had a very similar reaction. I gave it to my 20 year old stepson, the ravenous reader of Harry Potter (he was always exactly the right age as the books came out – it was amazing), and I think he liked it. At least he had it in his hands a lot, which is all one can go by when one has a 20 year old.


  4. You might also like a book that just came out, _Among Others_, by Jo Walton. I’m starting to feel kind of like a spammer because I’ve been recommending this to so many people in my fannish enthusiasm, but it really is an adult book that’s both about magic and about that kind of absorption and transport that kids and adolescents can find in books (the 15-year-old narrator reads compulsively, and also sees fairies). I think you might like it.


  5. Wow. That’s quite a recommendation. I’m curious —
    I always find that every five years or so I read A BOOK. I guess you could say it’s like magic. In the in-between times I read books voraciously. Your post is reminding me of the BOOKS —


  6. I LOVED The Magicians. LOVED IT. I think the author does a perfect job of blending magic with reality; I felt as though if were magic were really, truly real, this would be the way it played out in the world. It’s brilliant.
    I love magical realism as well, especially Neil Gaiman, and my absolute favorite writer, Jonathan Carroll. But you’re right, there is too little magic in adult books. I wonder why?


  7. Hmm. See, that’s why I read fantasy so much, both YA and not-YA. But I also enjoy magical realism for just that experience–so it works for me in some way that it doesn’t for you. I got that experience from first reading Salman Rushdie, for instance.
    I think that rec was already on my wishlist–I’ll have to bump it up a notch & check out a sample, perhaps!


  8. There’s actually lots of adult fantasy. But it tends to be ghettoized as genre fiction and, except for a few genre-jumpers like The Magicians or sometimes Neil Gaiman’s books, doesn’t often make it onto the mental reading maps of people who mainly like literary fiction for grownups (including me). (I mean that literary fiction is most of what I read for grownups; I read a lot more kids’/YA fantasy.)


  9. “Oh, now you’ve missed the deadline and you will never be happy/your child will never go to college/you are now bankrupt.”
    Well said. That sums up how I feel all the time.
    And I’m going to put “The Magicians” on hold at the library. You know, because I think I actually have lots of time for reading right now. Don’t I?


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