Reading is a writer’s bread and butter – and don’t let anyone tell you differently. This page will likely be in flux as I’m often reading odd bits here and there, when the writing allows. Some of it’s admitted trash, I’m not ashamed, and others seek to improve that good ‘ole writing muscle. Like writing protein. Take that as you will.
*Update 1/1/15* – I read more things, obviously, than this page will ever illustrate. Most YA, than adult lit, and of course comic book Tuesday is a staple in my life. (Everyone read Saga.)
The Magicians by Lev Grossman
Fantasy and sci-fi novels stole my attentions from a young age. The Giver. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Animorphs. Devoured those books like I needed them to breathe. One of my fondest childhood memories was swapping books with my older sister Kalatu and later, discussing their merits and whether any hot characters took off their shirts. One day, I brought her a delightful novel by I think, Nora Roberts and yet, I was still stoked about sharing it with her. Why? Because. It was a TRILOGY. About SISTER WITCHES. Sure, Nora Roberts hadn’t mastered basic grammar and style rules, still hasn’t really, but DAR BE WITCHES IN THIS BOOK. Where can I sign up for this shit? Put it in my veins! Upon finishing the first book in the series, my sister came into my bedroom while I was dancing to NSYNC in my skivvies (because that’s not a pedophiles’ dream) and she threw the book at my head. “Are you kidding me with this? This was terrible. You’re such a fantasy whore,” she said. And I smiled and took it as the highest compliment anyone has ever given me. You’re right big sister. I AM a fantasy whore. Tell me it’s a book about twenty-somethings finding themselves and I’ll tell you to express mail that shit to Dave Eggers or Jonathan Franzen, stat. Tell me there’s a wizard fighting a half-zombie vampire in a battle royale for golden doubloons and I’m there with bells.
Which is why I read The Magicians. Reviews called it Harry Potter for adults (insert derisive eye roll here). One of my fellow MFA-ers gave it a high recommendation. So I went into the book expecting glory in a heart-shaped box. And yet…
I mean, it’s not as if the premise didn’t entice me. Quentin, a moody amateur magician in love with his best friend’s Manic Pixie Dream Girl, stumbles upon a school of magic in an alley way or a wardrobe, I can’t remember, and finds out he has legit magical powers. After proving himself, he’s accepted to this school of wizardry by some older gentleman who I’m thus dubbing not-Dumbledore, and makes friends with an intelligent and powerful manic pixie dream girl, and a not-as talented fellow wizard. Hilarity and cribbing ensues.
Okay, I’m being an asshole. Let’s talk about what I did like. Grossman knows how to write a good main character. Even when I didn’t want to be in Quentin’s woe is me perspective, I was tuned in and wound up in the nuances of Quentin’s feelings and thoughts. Great. Also, Grossman adds a ton of personal mythos to the magical properties and powers featured in the novel. When an author knows their canon well and uses it to their advantage, it’s basically a fantasy boner for me.
What I didn’t like and why I’m not so into reading the next installment? There’s this shift that happens in the latter third of the novel that focuses on Quentin’s Less Than Zero hipster lifestyle, post-Hogwarts graduation. I was even down with that, if only as a commentary on “disenfranchised youth” living the life of excess and bohemia in Williamsburg. Sure, I have magical powers. I can also use those powers to get shitfaced and do blow. Yay!
And then, the shift happens. That niggling, let’s return to our earlier ruminations about our fake version of Narnia, Fillory! This is the purpose in life we’ve been looking for! Let’s find that fucking Lion and party. Except it’s not a party. People die. Things get sad. And I get upset. Because, it’s one thing to use an unoriginal concept and put your spin on it. Cases in point: Harry Potter. Wizardry? Not anything new. Wizards going to wizard school? Dead parents, trying to prove yourself and defeat evil? Seen it, heard it and moving on. And yet, the conceits felt real and fresh. The nuances were there. Hunger Games? Battle Royale anyone? And yet, Katniss and her revolution, her love, gave us something in which to put our stock. A lady champ, if you will, in a genre wilting under the weight of saccharine vampires that sparkle in the sunlight.
My problem with Lev Grossman is his unwillingness to admit that he basically took two really prolific authors’ works (J.K. Rowling and C.S. Lewis), amalgamated them and then, attempted to push it down our throats under the guise of fancy metaphors and mood music. And not only is that not okay, it’s lazy. And yes, a part of me is bitter that as a writer with a not as of yet finished novel, that this is the stuff that gets published. I feel as if Grossman might be a byproduct of publishing by the “it’s who you know and not what you have” standard that’s become all too pervasive in an industry that’s struggling to breathe. For every Lev Grossman, with his or her slew of fancy Time articles, there’s an MFA graduate or a stay-at-home Mom or a bartender struggling to get their shit in the doorway. And yet, you sir, with all your connections and your clout, THIS is what you bring to the table? A mash-up of other successful novels? Right.
I guess, the biggest litmus test for me is whether I’d be willing to read the sequel, The Magician King. Apparently the majority of the novel is placed in Fillory (F for Fake Narnia, I suppose) and Quentin and his rag tag band of disenfranchised friends are now King and Queen of the land. Sigh. No. No, I’m not. I’m fighting against my fantasy whoredom for the first time ever. Because I refuse to put cents in a pocket of man who can’t fully realize his spin on a trite subject. Because, he apparently hasn’t learned anything from the last time he published a book and I’m kind of an advocate for growth. Because there are millions of authors and books that I have yet to discover that deserve my time and love and support. And Dumbledore, may his beautiful bearded soul rest in peace, would not have this nonsense.
Rating: * out of ***** for trolling the literary world.
Coming soon, why I’m bitterly excited for John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars and despite the internet and the intense efforts of fangirls on Tumblr, I’ve yet to be spoiled of its plot contents!
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling
Real World Confessional Moment: I’ve only watched the first season of The Office. Not for religious reasons or anything, and it’s likely I’ll watch the rest when I’m not so busy with life, writing novels, and other life-related pastimes. I just wasn’t particularly moved by the silliness and wanted to find other shenanigans that met my needs. How I became aware of Mindy Kaling is completely happenstance. An article here, a funny self-deprecating twitter handle to follow, there. I guess I was looking for a new comedienne to help make me hate myself in a post-Tina Fey (it’s not like she’s dead or anything or less funny), she’s-off-procreating-instead-of-doing-30-Rock-and-amusing-me-(dance-monkey-dance) kind of world. And since I can count the amount of brown, smart, nerd pretty, intelligent writers on one hand (my fightin’ hand), I guess you’ve got next Mindy Kaling! Brava.
Update: I liked it! Usually, I hate when people try to patronize other authors and call them derivative of so and so. But I had a good sense of deja vu reading it, having already read Tina Fey’s Bossy Pants a few months prior. Whilst Tina’s was more of a witty and thorough examination of a career at the pinnacle of success, Mindy’s was more of a series of fun essays that maneuvered through a career in its beginning stages. Not to say that she isn’t successful in her own right, but I’d love to see the film Mindy’s currently working on and get a wider scope of her writing chops. I’d also recommend, if you haven’t already, reading Mindy’s book prior to Tina’s. One enhances the other, but only if you read them in the right order. But overall, I found the voice charming, the subject matter diverting, and I kind of want her to be my new best friend. Or that funny friend that you stalk on twitter and describe to your other, less-cool friends, by saying something like, “Oh that, Mindy. She’s a real hoot!” And that’s saying something, because I can honestly do with losing a few friends, as is.
Rating: **** out of *****
Coming soon, why I think Lev Grossman’s The Magicians turned from golden to garbage in less than 30 pages!