[Book Review] The Magicians isn’t just about the magic

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

If I read one more review of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians that proclaims it  “Harry Potter for adults,” I just might break something. Yes, The Magicians is a bildungsroman about a teenager who discovers he’s a magician and subsequently enrolls at an exclusive magician’s college, but just because the two works share certain elements does not mean that the former is simply a matured version of the latter. (Plus, as an adult, I find the implication that Harry Potter isn’t for adults quite insulting. But I digress.) In actuality, comparing Grossman’s novel to J.K. Rowling’s series does a disservice to The Magicians. It is an inventive story that stands quite well on its own. Continue reading

[ Book Review ] Diving into the Cabinet of Earths

The last time I read a children’s book was circa January 2008, my freshman year of college. Over that bitter winter break, I read (and fell in love with) Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. After that, I was up to my ears in Modernist literature and 19th century Russian philosophy, with nary a moment to spare for anything unrelated.

As I was about to graduate, I discovered that a professor in my favorite department – Slavic Studies – was about to release a children’s book of her own in January 2012. Intriguing! How would this professor, with myriad scholarly articles to her name, transition to children’s literature? Naturally, I had to find out for myself. Continue reading

[Small Chirp] Four Famous Fictional Libraries

Authors, I’m sure, are no strangers to their local libraries. What better place to gather inspiration for their own stories than the homes of thousands of others? It’s not surprising that now and then, authors like to pay homage to libraries by writing one into their books.

This week, April 8-14, is National Library Week! To celebrate this literary week, I composed a list of four famous fictional libraries.

1. The Hogwarts Library, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

The Hogwarts Library, infamous for its Restricted Section, is the key element to solving Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s mystery of the philosopher’s stone.

This magnificent library has thousands of books upon thousands of shelves, with each book being protected by both special charms and the indefatigable Hogwarts librarian, Madam Pince. Continue reading

[ Best and Worst ] Little Lo & Big Blu

Incidentally, both the best and the worst books I’ve read were courtesy of the same professor. One was an unassigned, personal recommendation, and the other required for class. One of these books I’ve read so many times in the intervening three years that I’ve inadvertently memorized the first chapter. The other I will never, ever forgive my dear professor for implanting in my memory.

Best: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Once again, I return to my original Lolita, with its ailing spine, peeling cover, and well-thumbed through pages. It’s the 50th Anniversary Vintage Edition, with fleshy pink lips gracing a cover that I know Nabokov would abhor. The précis, which I am fairly sure Nabokov would decry as a clumsy, cliché, and cursory sketch of his most complex novel, reads:

Awe and exhilaration – along with heartbreak and mordant wit – abound in Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov’s most famous and controversial novel, which tells the story of the aging Humbert Humbert’s obsessive, devouring, and doomed passion for the nymphet Dolores Haze. Most of all, it is a meditation on love – love as outrage and hallucination, madness and transformation.

When I learned that half my task was to write about my best read, it took less than a millisecond for Lolita to burst to the forefront of my prefrontal cortex. It was instantaneous, reflexive. I’m not even sure it came from my memory, but rather my spine. However, it took only another half a second for me to say to myself, “No, Whitney, you cannot write about Lolita. I forbid it.” Continue reading