Archives for Books – Fiction

In Defense of Woundedness, of Failure, and of Frodo: A Personal Reflection with Tolkien’s Letters

[ALERT: If you are not familiar with the end of The Lord of the Rings, do not continue…] I originally published this post on my now-too-Dickensian site around Hobbit Day, 2021, and thought that our #TolkienReadingDay would be a good opportunity to republish it at its new home. At the time, I was reflecting on the nature of friendships near and far, including once-inseparable friends I hadn’t seen in a long time, and on friendship in general, of the beauty hidden in human (and hobbit) failure, and of Frodo. His image was haunting me then, particularly on a Sunday when
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Archive81 and Cosmic Horror

Archive81 proved a surprise Netflix hit, a slowburn horror series that wears a number of influences on its sleeve: Rosemary’s Baby, The Shining, The Ring, The Twilight Zone, Alex Garland, David Lynch and Mike Flanagan. Never less than engaging (thanks primarily to superb lead performances and polished production values) the cumulative effect over eight episodes is like playing a game of genre Bingo: witches, haunted houses, cult rituals, cursed recordings, spooky corridors, snuff films, evil tomes, seances and sacrifices, possibly mad and unreliable narrators, and ancient evil deities. The last ingredient, readers may recognize, marks the series’ most conspicuous influence:
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Re-reading “Foucault’s Pendulum” in the Age of QAnon – Pt. 1, The Plan

I just finished my third or fourth reading of Umberto Eco‘s classic esoteric suspense thriller and sublimely wacko-satirical thought experiment, Foucault’s Pendulum. The Premise First published in 1988 in Italian, Foucault’s Pendulum tells the story of three editors at the fictional Garamond Press in Milan (and its aptly named vanity press twin, Manutius Press), who are brought an esoteric manuscript purporting to include a secret coded Message regarding the fabled Knights Templar and their alleged centuries-spanning occult Plan. (Here be potential but necessary Spoilers – Caveat Lector!) The Message is highly ambiguous—imagine a purposefully vague Nostradamus quatrain written in a
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The Day I Fell in Love

January 18 is Winnie-the-Pooh Day…Huzzah! I’m one of those folks who remembers little of early childhood. I have, however, one sun-bright memory of sitting rapt at my school desk in Mrs. G’s second grade class, aged seven, as she read aloud, over a period of several weeks, A.A. Milne’s House at Pooh Corner. That was the day I first fell in love. With books.  And now that I think of it, with fantasy literature as well. I loved Pooh so ardently, back in second grade, I begged for him for Christmas. Santa kindly came through with the hardcover edition of
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Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi: Some Initial Reflections

“The Beauty of the House is immeasurable; its Kindness infinite.” ~ Piranesi, pg. 5 I warn the reader that, although I will try not to give overt spoilers—except to name a certain character, a name which we learn part way through the book—it is impossible not to discuss Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi without risking that the very ideas brought up might constitute spoilers in some way. So, perhaps these reflections are better saved for a post-reading discussion. (And I use the words “discuss” and “reflections” because I cannot possibly review a book by Clarke. One simply follows her along the mysterious
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Worldbuilding with Specialists, Polymaths, and Dilettantes

The pace at which scientists are breaking down their foci of expertise into increasingly narrower fields is breathtaking. Kinda like the way fictional genres become increasingly niche-ified. (Can you say "Cat Mysteries," boys and girls?) It's all quite wonderful, but I hope all these specialists are still talking to specialists in other fields, else the forest will be missed for the trees. Nay, the leaves.
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The Genius of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

“Two magicians shall appear in England…” I tend to catch the tail-end of trends, like an enthusiastic gate-crasher at a party long since broken-up. When friends and family suggest—nay, insist—that I must, I absolutely must watch such-and-such a movie, listen to such-and-such a CD, or read such-and-such a book … well, I generally accept the generously proffered item with a nod of thanks, only to let the item gather dust on my desk or else serve as an improvised coaster. Passionate readers are a persistent bunch, however, so eventually I was browbeaten into picking up the bestselling fantasy novel by
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Epic Storytelling at 10 Cents a pop

My family home was a boxy old turn-of-the-century three-story turned-student rooming house two blocks from a lively state university campus—Pig Heaven for a shy introvert who craved intellectual stimulus and some elusive beauty amid the drab and the ordinary surroundings of a working class upbringing. So it was that I spent most weekends at the movies, or in campus bookstores and record shops, or checking out the latest DC and Marvel comics at the corner drugstore. Comic books were a dime in my earliest youth, then maybe a quarter, back when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby scribbled and sketched their
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Mark Your Calendars, because “Two Magicians Shall Appear in England…”

…and those Magicians are Neil Gaiman and Susanna Clarke. (Surely there are author-magicians, just as Clarke tells us there are gentleman-magicians?) I nearly jumped out of my seat to see that they would be getting together to discuss Clarke’s new novel, Piranesi, on September 2, via 5X15’s online platform, and you can register here. Having recently finished Neil Gaiman’s Masterclass on The Art of Storytelling, and being a huge fan of his writing and his exquisite audio narrations, I can’t think of a better duo to discuss the wild, almost heartbreakingly beautiful, melancholy magic that is Piranesi. Gaiman and Clarke
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Current Delights and Distractions in Genre Fiction

Well, I have promised the start of a long Dickens reading marathon, beginning with his earliest published serial novel, but I confess that my current novel-in-progress, and a couple in gestation, have led me down the rabbit hole of genre reading. (But I almost always have some Dickens reading or listening in the works anyway, and I have indeed restarted Pickwick, which always “illumines the gloom” of daily life!)
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