Thoughts on a Thursday: Stuck With One Foot in the Past and One Foot in the Present

I have been mulling over what happen last year. I read less than I ever have in whole life. It was a difficult year on many fronts. Friends had major health issues. Family was overwhelming busy. Husband changed jobs after 17 years. I had some major healthy living changes which did not come easily. Kids were sick and injured a ton. I am not listing these for sympathy but to talk about why in a year that should have been filled with the need/desire to escape, did I only read 32 books? Books have been for years my escape. The go-to when everything else got hard. But this year I could not/did not read. Why?

Well in thinking it over, I have decided it has come down to two things.

These two electronic devices have taken over.

 cellphone  tablet

 

These are my go to now for escape. I honestly thought that having a tablet (I had a Nook until it died mid-year) would allow me to read more and in more places. What I have found out is that it also allows me to do a lot of things that are not reading. With both of these at arms reach 24/7 I found it easier to text, IM, Facebook, play games and do all kinds of things that are equally escapist but also require even less brain power. In other words, when everything else got too hard I chose brain-numbingly easy as my escape.

This resulted in a feedback cycle. The more digital I got the easier it was to do. The more digital I got the harder it was to focus and read. I wondered if this was just me or if there is research other there to support what I was thinking. (Yes I am a social scientist to my core.) It turns out that there is. It is not just me, but a whole generation of people who are going to find it difficult to focus. (You can find a collection of articles from the New York Times here.)

I am trying to not beat myself up over it. But I do want to return to my first and best love. So this year I am leaving the tablet home more and carrying old school books. I am leaving my phone in another room when I read in hopes that my natural lazy tendencies will mean I will only go retrieve it if it makes noise. I have turned all notifications off except text and actual calls (school aged kids means these are necessary). And in case you are interested the younger people in my house now have screen time limits as well. This is not go over well with the teen and tween. But here is to hoping for some balance for us all.

Cheers to a new year and new habits.


photo credit cellphone: Insert Magazine via photopin cc
photo credit tablet: jgoge via photopin cc

50 Word Friday: Poison Princess

Poison Princess (The Arcana Chronicles)
Title: Poison Princess (The Arcana Chronicles, #1)
Author: Kresley Cole

Summary:

Sixteen-year-old Evangeline “Evie” Greene leads a charmed life, until she begins experiencing horrifying hallucinations. When an apocalyptic event decimates her Louisiana hometown, Evie realizes her hallucinations were actually visions of the future—and they’re still happening. Fighting for her life and desperate for answers, she must turn to her wrong-side-of-the-bayou classmate: Jack Deveaux. But she can’t do either alone. With his mile-long rap sheet, wicked grin, and bad attitude, Jack is like no boy Evie has ever known. Even though he once scorned her and everything she represented, he agrees to protect Evie on her quest. She knows she can’t totally depend on Jack. If he ever cast that wicked grin her way, could she possibly resist him? Who can Evie trust? As Jack and Evie race to find the source of her visions, they meet others who have gotten the same call. An ancient prophesy is being played out, and Evie is not the only one with special powers. A group of twenty-two teens has been chosen to reenact the ultimate battle between good and evil. But it’s not always clear who is on which side.[1]

Review:

Likes: Post apocalyptic and dystopian. The idea that people are the Major Arcana is interesting. The quest to find Evie’s Grandmother makes for compelling forward movement. Dislikes: Jackson is supposed to be roguishly charming but is an ass. She plays a bit loose with the tarot. YA Escapism = Yes!

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Thought’s on a Thursday: A Conversation With Lev Grossman

Thoughts on a ThursdayToday I am going to step aside and go back to mourning the end of The Magicians trilogy by Lev Grossman and present a conversation with Lev Grossman. So today is Lev Grossman’s Thoughts on a Thursday. [1]

Remember Grossman’s The Magician’s Land dropped August 5.

The Magician’s Land: A Novel (Magicians Trilogy)

Q:  People considered The Magicians to be Harry Potter for grown-ups and an homage to writers like C.S. Lewis and J.K. Rowling. But in THE MAGICIAN’S LAND, Quentin is nearly thirty years-old. Can we expect any new allusions to those books? How has the series grown up over the years?

 A:  On some level all the Magicians books are written as a conversation with Lewis and Rowling. It’s a complicated conversation – sometimes it’s affectionate, occasionally it’s rather heated – and it continues in The Magician’s Land. I thought Rowling let Harry off a little easy by never showing him to us at 30. We never really saw him having to deal with his traumatic past – his abusive childhood, his experience of violence and death, his massive world-saving celebrity as a teenager – and struggling to figure out what the rest of his life is about. Those are things Quentin has to do in The Magician’s Land. When you’re a magician, and there’s no ultimate evil to defeat, when you’re not a kid anymore, what is magic for?

As for Lewis, Narnia fans will pick up echoes of The Magician’s Nephew and The Last Battle, the stories of Narnia’s creation and of its destruction. Lewis made a bit of fetish of childhood and innocence: Narnia was a place for children, and when you grow up and get interested in adult things, you lose that special magic. You see that in Peter Pan too – it’s one of the dominant tropes of 20th century fantasy. In The Magician’s Land I wanted to think not just about what you lose when you grow up, but what you might gain. You lose the magic of innocence and wonder, but do you gain a richer, more complex kind of magic?

 Q: You come from a family of serious academics. What was their reaction when you chose to write genre fiction rather than something more “literary”?

 A: It sounds funny to say it, but writing The Magicians was a serious act of rebellion for me. Coming from the family I do, it was an act of calculated treason. I had to nerve myself up to do it. But I had to – it was the only way I could say what I wanted to say.  I couldn’t do anything else.

I think it’s fair to say that reactions were mixed. My mom was cautiously enthusiastic, and my brother and sister have been hugely helpful with the books. But I don’t think my father ever read any of The Magicians books.

 Q: The Magicians books have stirred up a lot of controversy among readers.  They attack or invert the most sacred conventions of fantasy, and as a result, have divided the fantasy world.  Can you speak a bit about this diverse reader response?

 A:  No question, the Magicians books are polarizing. They’re supposed to be. The same way Neuromancer did with science fiction, and Watchmen did with superhero comics, the Magicians books ask hard questions about fantasy. What kinds of people would really do magic, if it were really, and what would the practice of magic do to them? What would really go on in a school for magic, with a bunch of teenagers in a fairy castle being given supernatural powers? What would happen if you put in all the depression and the violence and the blowjobs and the drinking that Rowling leaves out? What would happen to those kids after they graduated? What would happen if you sent these kids through the looking glass, into a magical land that was in the grip of a civil war?

These aren’t the kinds of questions everybody wants asked, but that’s how genres evolve. Watchmen was a brutal interrogation of the superhero genre – and it was also the greatest superhero story ever written. You couldn’t write a comic book the same way after Watchmen was published. I’m not saying the Magicians books are the greatest fantasy novels ever written, but they’re asking the same kinds of questions.

 Q:  What were your major influences from science fiction or fantasy genres? What about more mainstream, literary works? How do you see these manifesting themselves in THE MAGICIAN’S LAND?

 A:  What got me started writing The Magicians was reading Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell in 2004. There were several novels around that time that did things with fantasy that had never been done before, used it to say things that had never been said before. George R.R. Martin’s books were like that, and so were Neil Gaiman’s, especially American Gods. So were Kelly Link’s. When I read those books, I knew that I had to be a part of whatever they were doing.

I also have a bit of an academic background – I spent a few years in graduate school, and I studied the literary canon, particularly the history of the novel, pretty intensely – and that comes out in the Magicians books too. You can find bits of Proust in them, and Fitzgerald, Woolf, Donne, Joyce, Chaucer, T.S. Eliot. You can find a lot of Evelyn Waugh – Brakebills owes a lot to Hogwarts, but it owes a lot more to the Oxford of Brideshead Revisited. I wanted to see what happens when you take techniques and tropes from literary fiction and transport them, illegally, across genre lines.

Q:  As a literary critic, you’ve worked to promote the value and respectability of genre fiction – one year you put George R.R. Martin at the top of Time’s list of books of the year. You did the same with Susanna Clarke and John Green. Does that fit in with what you do as a writer of fiction?

 A:  In my own nerdy way I’m trying to start a revolution, or maybe I’m just trying to join one that got started without me. It’s a literary revolution, but not the usual kind, where people who are writing difficult, avant garde literature figure out a way to make it even more difficult and avant garde. I’m talking about a revolution of pleasure, where the question of a book’s worth is de-coupled from the question of whether or not it’s hard or unpleasant to read.

Q:  If The Magicians, The Magician King, and THE MAGICIAN’S LAND were made into movies or a television series, who would you envision playing Quentin and his friends?

 A:  The challenge with the Magicians characters is to convey a lot of intelligence, and also to not be overly good-looking. They’re a clever lot, and they’re also very real – they look like real people. Ben Whishaw has probably aged out of the Quentin role, but people mention him to me a lot, and that seems right. Sometimes I pictured specific actors while I was writing – Eliot, for example, I imagine as something like Richard E. Grant in Withnail and I. I often imagine Alice as Thora Birch from Ghost World.

Q: There are a lot of tech references in The Magicians books that would seem more at home in science fiction than fantasy, ie. the origin of magic is described in hacker language.  Why did you choose to juxtapose so much tech with magic?

 A: I’m very committed to the project of making the Magicians books feel real, and to that end I made a deal with myself: everything that’s real in our world would be real in Quentin’s. And that means including contemporary technology, cell phones and the Internet and so on.

But beyond that, I think the same people who are interested in technology in our world would be drawn to magic if it were real, as much as the Wiccan crowd. Magic is interesting and complicated and powerful the same way technology is, and it requires some of the same mental discipline.

Also, I’m a science fiction writer manqué. I like the way SF writers look at the world. I like to think I write about magic the way good SF writers write about technology.

Q: You have a degree in comparative literature from Harvard but dropped out before getting your Ph.D. from Yale. What made you decide not to become an academic yourself?

 A: I can’t even remember what made me decide I wanted to be one in the first place, except that I was unemployed and wanted to read books and talk about them as much as possible. Which I did get to do, and I loved it. But I knew from watching my parents that the life of an academic is not a glamorous one. It is frequently an underpaid and inglorious one, except for the superstars, and it quickly became apparent that I wasn’t going to be one of those. Fortunately I married one instead.

Q:  You have an identical twin brother, Austin Grossman, who is also a Harvard grad and successful fantasy novelist. Why do you think you’ve traveled such similar paths professionally? How do you think growing up as twins shaped your writing, respectively?

 A:  It’s a mystery. I don’t know if twins have much more insight into it than regular people have. Austin was a very successful video game designer in his 20s, whereas I spent most of that decade looking for a career of any kind. But then somehow, for some reason, we re-converged. It happens all the time, not just with our writing. We live on opposite coasts, and only see each other a few times a year, but there’s always some uncanny coincidence in what we’re doing, or wearing, or listening to, or reading.

Though I’m very conscious of the differences in our work too. We’ve read the same things, seen the same movies, and watched the same shows, so our cultural points of reference are all the same. We know all the same words. But he writes only in the first person, and I only write in the third person. We use the same raw materials to construct very different stories.

Q.  Over the past decade, fantasy has become more accepted in mainstream and literary circles. What do you think has changed and where do you see the genre going? Does fantasy get the respect it deserves among scholars?

 A.  A lot has changed for fantasy in the last decade or so. The 1990’s were all about science fiction—Star Wars, Star Trek, the Matrix—but something changed around the turn of the millennium. After 2001 the popular imagination became focused on fantasy — Harry Potter and Twilight and The Lord of the Rings. En masse, we turned to fantasy for something we needed and weren’t finding elsewhere. What that is, it’s hard to say, but it’s led to a glorious resurgence of the genre. Fantasy is evolving and maturing. It’s definitely not just for kids anymore. Writers like Neil Gaiman, Susanna Clarke, China Mieville, George RR Martin and Kelly Link are making it more complex and interesting and sophisticated and powerful than it ever was before.

But no, as far as I can tell, it still gets very little respect from the academy.

Q:  What’s your favorite part of writing outside of reality?

 A:  What makes fantasy interesting to me is what it can’t do. Magic doesn’t solve everybody’s problems. You have characters who are capable of drawing energy from invisible sources, making it crackle from their fingers, performing miracles. But when they’re done, they’re still who they are. Life is still life. Magic doesn’t change relationships. It doesn’t fix your neuroses. Those basic problems are still what they were, and they have to be solved the old-fashioned way, just like in any other novel.

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1. Thanks to Cat Boyd over at Viking Books for this Q&A.

Wordy Wednesday: The Magician’s Land

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The Magician’s Land: A Novel (Magicians Trilogy)

Title: The Magician’s Land Author: Lev Grossman
Publisher: Viking Adult Rating: 5star
Publication Date: 2014 Genre: Fantasy

Why Picked: My complete adoration of the first two.
First Line:

“The letter had said to meet in a bookstore.”

Summary:

In The Magician’s Land, the stunning conclusion to the New York Times bestselling Magicians trilogy—on-sale from Viking on August 5—Quentin Coldwater has been cast out of Fillory, the secret magical land of his childhood dreams. With nothing left to lose he returns to where his story be­gan, the Brakebills Preparatory College of Magic. But he can’t hide from his past, and it’s not long before it comes looking for him. Along with Plum, a brilliant young under­graduate with a dark secret of her own, Quentin sets out on a crooked path through a magical demi­monde of gray magic and desperate characters. But all roads lead back to Fillory, and his new life takes him to old haunts, like Antarctica, and to buried secrets and old friends he thought were lost for­ever. He uncovers the key to a sorcery masterwork, a spell that could create magical utopia, a new Fillory—but casting it will set in motion a chain of events that will bring Earth and Fillory crashing together. To save them he will have to risk sacrific­ing everything. The Magician’s Land is an intricate thriller, a fantastical epic, and an epic of love and redemp­tion that brings the Magicians trilogy to a magnifi­cent conclusion, confirming it as one of the great achievements in modern fantasy. It’s the story of a boy becoming a man, an apprentice becoming a master, and a broken land finally becoming whole. [1]

 

Review:

I just moments ago put down The Magician’s Land. I was lucky enough to be contacted by Cat over Viking and get an ARC (no strings attached). But this was a read I did not and could not rush. I have been in love with this world since the very beginning and even knowing there is the possibility of a television show, getting to the end of this is book means the end of Quentin’s story (as well as so many others) as told by Mr. Grossman. And I was not ready to let go of this story yet. But Quentin’s story is over. And it was a wonderful ending.

Let me get my issues out of the way up front. If I had it to do over again, I would have gone back and reread the first two of the trilogy. I did read summaries to refresh my memory but Grossman’s worlds are so full and stories so well crafted I was caught a few times trying to remember exact details of what happened. Also I will mention, and again these are personal preferences, there are portions I would have thinned out and plot points I would have like to see more of. These are difficult to explicitly comment on without being spoiler-ly but more of the characters at the end and less of those in the middle would have made this redhead much happier.

So you know I loved the earlier books, what about this one? Well, Quentin having been tossed out of Fillory goes crawling back to Brakebills Preparatory College of Magic. For a while it seems like things might settle into a professorial routine for our petulant hero, but through the shenanigans of a young fourth year student, Plum, both she and Quentin find themselves tossed out of Brakebills and suddenly part of a magical Ocean’s Eleven-like heist. Oh, and by the way, Fillory’s Royalty, Elliot, Janet, Poppy and Josh, might have just found out that their realm is set for a mighty apocalyptic, you can’t stop it, end. How these two plots merge and resolve is plotting and story-telling by a master.

There are enough encounters with past characters and settings to keep devoted readers happy but not so much that it seems forced and unnatural. Like I mentioned I would have love to see more of my old favorites but as with things like this are a personal quibble. I will be honest about the character of Quentin, for most of the story up to now, he has been a twit. I am firmly in the Catherynne M. Valente school of magic:

I would have run wild through a magical kingdom and never looked back. Talking animals? Yes. Witches and monsters? Yes. Dark queens? Absolutely. Give it right here. I would have said yes to all of it. [2]

So Quentin getting every damn thing he has ever wanted and being all “meh” or “It is hard” bothered me to no end. Non-magical life is meh and hard and boring and “shut up Quentin!” But these books were a fine example of how you can dislike a main character and love a world. That said, something about Quentin in this book is different, or I am different now, because he feel much less that Quentin and much more a man ready to begin again and again and again, understand that life is just damn hard and having gotten to that point he receives what fictional characters get and us mundanes may never find which is the chance for a happy ending.

Thoughts on a Thursday: Reading Slumps

Thoughts on a Thursday

I am in a quandary. This has never happened before. I have been thinking for months that I am in a blogging slump, but it is so much worse than that. I am in a reading slump. And it is frightening.

I have not read a book this year yet that has wowed me. Most of my books have been 3 and 4 star ratings. About an average 3.5 star rating for the year. Not one of them has been a 5 star. And I have read things that other people have been gushing about The Goldfinch and The Leftovers for example. I find myself doping things other then reading. Gasp!

I miss great reads. I miss losing myself in a book. I miss not being able to wait to get back to it. And I am not sure what the solution is. Partly it might be a reliance on tech, social media and electronics which are some of the major distractors. So I am thinking that Mondays posts might come very late, possibly Tuesday morning. We might try to go tech free on Mondays for the rest of the summer. No phones, no tablets, no laptops. Old fashion hardbacks and lemonades only. Maybe that will help. Wish me luck.

Anyone else ever hit a slump?

The New Deadwardians: 50 Word Friday

 The New Deadwardians

Title: The New Deadwardians
Author: Dan Abnett (Author), I.N.J. Culbard (Illustrations)

Summary:

In post-Victorian England, nearly everyone of the upper classes has voluntarily become a vampire in order to escape the lower classes who are all zombies. Into this simmering cauldron is thrust Chief Inspector George Suttle, a lonely detective who’s got the slowest beat in London: investigating murders in a world where everyone is already dead! When the body of a young aristocrat washes up on the banks of the Thames, Suttle’s quest for the truth will take him from the darkest sewers to the gleaming halls of power, and reveal the rotten heart at the center of this strange world.[1]

Review:

I wanted to love it. I settled for liking it. Maybe a bit too much mystery for my “meh on mysteries” tastes. Or maybe not enough time to develop the story / characters so I was not invested enough. The conclusion was satisfying, the art was lovely but I left unenthusiastic.

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1. GoodReads.com