From paper to screen: The Magicians as a novel and The Magicians as a show

magicians show.jpgI was excited but also apprehensive when I learned one of my favourite books was going to be reimagined as a SyFy series. On one hand, what could be better than seeing the characters come to life? But on the other hand, what could be worse than seeing other people messing around with my favourite book?

The first season is now finished and it’s looking pretty likely that it will continue on into a second one. I’m happy with the show, but also disappointed in some ways. For better or for worse, the TV show incorporates a series of additions, subtractions, and transformations – a couple of which I want to talk about here.

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Gritty magic: The Magicians by Lev Grossman

the-magiciansI’m weirdly fond of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians and I can’t quite put my finger on why. It’s campy, and self-aware, and god help me I love it.

I first picked it up because I liked the look of it – one of those judge-a-book-by-its-cover situations that works out surprisingly well. Since then it’s become one of my favourites, and one of the few books that I actually reread on a regular basis.

The plot: Quentin Coldwater is a genius – at school subjects, at magic tricks, and especially when it comes to remember details about an old series of children’s books about a magical land called Fillory. He masters calculus and classic literature with an aptitude bordering on boredom – and can’t help feeling that there must be more to life than this.

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Where have I been? What have I read?

You may have noticed that I’ve been MIA these last few weeks. Let’s call it a summer break: after finishing up the 80 pages of academic writing I had due in April, I didn’t have too many words left in my brain for book reviews. But don’t worry. I’m back, and I’m going to tell you all about the books I read while I was away – in tiny, one-sentence reviews.

You’ll probably see longer reviews of some of these pop up in the next few weeks – let me know if there are any that you’re particularly interested in hearing about, and I’ll move them to the top of the pile.

Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? / Jean Baudrillard
This book is the result of an old, grumpy, slightly terrified French philosopher thinking a little too hard about contemporary life, and it’s both really right and really wrong about a lot of things.

The Magicians / Lev Grossman
Dosed with unabashed nostalgia for the Narnia Chronicles, Grossman reimagines what it might mean to attend a school for magicians – and still find yourself disappointed at what the world holds.

In the City of Lost Things / Paul Auster
I first read this novel in the first year of my undergrad, and it’s weirdly stuck with me – and weirdly proved impossible to find in bookstores. Strong female protagonist journeys to the (apocalyptic, chaotic, decaying) city of last things to look for her missing brother – and learns too late that the city proves just about impossible to escape.

The Vegetarian / Han Kang
A Korean woman gives up eating meat after a series of unsettling, cannibalistic dreams; this small act of resistance quickly snowballs – producing social, familial, political, and artistic ramifications.

Spill Simmer Falter Wither / Sarah Baume
Okay – stop what you’re doing and get your hands on a copy of this book, because it’s easily one of the best I’ve read this year. The old, suspicious anti-hero at the centre of this novel can’t put his finger on why he’s suddenly possessed with the urge to get a dog, but once united, the two prove oddly and inseparably similar – wounded and muddling along as best they can.

All the Birds, Singing / Evie Wyld
The best way to describe this novel is as a weird one. Sheep? Sex workers? Australia? Arson? Mysterious beasts ripping apart lambs?

The Mirror World of Melody Black / Gavin Extence
The back cover makes this sound like a fun and unsettling romp through parallel worlds, but the truth is this novel is a beautifully frank look at the inside of mental illness.

The Saga of the Swamp Thing / Alan Moore (et al)
I’ve read four of the six volumes which chronicle this version of the Swamp Thing, and even though I’m not generally a graphic novel / comic sort of person, I weirdly and truly dig the trials and tribulations of this unlikely, plant-based superhero. Apocalypse! History! Memory!

A Complicated Kindness / Miriam Toews
A Mennonite girl in small-town Canada slowly and surely comes to grips (or else to no grips at all) with the fact that her gentle religion has torn (and continues to tear) her family apart. (It sounds inane but it’s not. It’s brilliant, and heartbreaking, and clever, and hilarious.)


So there you have it – that was how I spent my May. What have you read this past month that you loved / hated / felt unmoved by? Is there anything on my list you want to hear more about? Let’s chat!




Weary and musty: Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro


Too Much Happiness was my first foray into Alice Munro. I have to say: as a Nobel Prize-winning author, and a staple of the Canadian canon, I expected to like it. But I didn’t.

(This is the part where the authorities kick down my door and take away my citizenship.)

It’s not that I actively disliked it. I just didn’t really like it, either. There were funny parts and sad parts and shocking parts. There were parts that I think worked well. There were just a good many more parts that I don’t think worked at all.

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Cover to Cover with Ru

ruIn Vietnamese, ru is a lullaby; in French, it is a small stream.

This tiny, eponymous intertextuality sets the stage for Kim Thúy’s novel Ru – a novel about immigration, the flow of time and water, and the search for homeland. Ru is so lyrical that it reads like a poem; it swims from moment to moment like a fish, somehow linking fragments together out of time, space, and nationality.

Its covers – spanning more than a dozen languages – are equally delicate, complex, and lovely.

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Endearing, self-concious dithering: Nicholson Baker’s The Anthologist and Traveling Sprinkler

Two novelsThe best way to describe Nicholson Baker’s writing is unhurried. He has a beautiful way with tangents without derailing the narrative; while these novels could easily meander or drag, Baker keeps a firm and subtle hand pushing the reader in the right direction. This makes the perfect read for lazy days – nothing too serious, but still honest and sweet.

Both novels are narrated by aging poet and expert procrastinator Paul Chowder – and it’s easy enough to draw parallels between the protagonist and the author. Do we have a Kurt Vonnegut / Kilgore Trout situation, where the character is only a few steps away from the creator himself?

But perhaps its better not knowing. I’ve read most of Nicholson Baker’s work and I’ve grown rather fond of him. I like to think better of him than I do of Paul Chowder, who rambles knowingly and endearingly, but also edges on pathetic. He’s the sort of character you are willing to indulge – but wouldn’t necessarily want to be friends with.

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