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? Part II!

My last post (Where have I been? What have I read?) apologised for a couple weeks of silence and promised regular posts in the future. Next thing you know, three months have passed. In other, happier news, I’ve finished my MA thesis – which also explains what I’ve been doing for the last three months.

I’ve also been doing some reading for fun, if not exactly a lot of it. But here are some highlights of my summer reading – in tiny, one-sentence reviews. (And this time I really do promise this signals a return to my old book-reviewing ways.)

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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!

 

 

 

Cover to Cover with Fates and Furies

When it comes to covers, simple can be good. Simple can also be colossally awful. I’m still trying to figure out what it is that separates one from the other. For instance, I found the simple, similar covers for The Girl on the Train to be really, really boring. But faced with another set of simple, similar covers – Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies – I find myself head over heels. What gives?

The most common cover I’ve come across is the North American edition, but also what seems to be the pick for translated editions:

Hardcover    Layout 1Dutch_edition     Polish_edition

Something about this design appeals to me on a basic level. Is it waves? Is it frost? Is it a topographic map? Does it matter? Any of the above speak well to the title of the novel – evoking the sense of forces outside of human control. And I especially like how the waves overlap the text to a variety of degrees across these covers, even as the font, title placement, and image all remain the same.

Fates and Furies also avoids the Girl on the Train fiasco of one boring cover by supplying a couple of different designs across countries. I love the contrast between the North American edition and the UK edition – playful design and pattern, vibrancy and violence.

UK editionHardcover

Interestingly, the large print edition seems to have gotten its own cover, which riffs subtly on the original North American printing as well – confirming my perspective of waves.

LargePrint

Last but not least, the Spanish cover takes a completely different direction – keeping in the same colour scheme but moving towards more substantial imagery.

Spanish edition

Going back to the NA cover, I think my love for its simplicity comes from a place that is both surprising and unsurprising: unlike The Girl on the Train, I was bowled over by Fates and Furies. It’s funny – we’re always told not to judge a book by its cover, but I never thought I’d find myself judging a cover by its book.

How about you? What’s your favourite cover? Leave me your thoughts and opinions in the comments!

Cover to Cover is a weekly feature appearing every Wednesday. You can browse through past posts here. 

 

Cover to Cover with Boy, Snow, Bird

English edition

This week on Cover to Cover, I want to talk about one of my favourite 2014 releases and the fact that it only has two good covers. Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi is beautiful and unsettling, and lingers at the corner of your vision for a while after you’ve read it. You know that odd, bright shadow that sits in your vision after you accidentally stare at the sun? That’s what this book will do to you.

And yet I’ve only found two covers that really do it justice. How is that fair? (Luckily, one of them seems to grace the most popular edition, so that’s the one you’re likely to see – pictured left.)

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Root and tendon: the connective tissue of Lisa Moore’s short stories

Open

Lisa Moore reminds me of Thomas Pynchon, and at first I thought this was because I had just finished my first Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49, less than a day before beginning Open. But the longer I spent with Moore the more the comparison seemed to stick: hyperreal images, objects infused with surreal and sinister meaning, vivid colours and descriptions – like an image in Photoshop with the contrast and saturation turned all the way up. The result is something carnivalesque, a world that seems to spin like a drunk man. Moore has an almost obsessive eye for detail, for hidden meaning, for things that lurk beneath the surface.

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Cover to Cover with the Golden Compass

Reading The Golden Compass was a coming of age for me – it was darker and more serious than any book I’d ever read before. Philip Pullman takes his readers seriously: he might be writing for teens and pre-teens, but he pulls no punches. I mean, the series name comes from a line in Paradise Lost; rather than worry about what his readers were capable of understanding, Pullman wrote a deeply intellectual and metaphorical novel for teenagers.

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Grief, history, and metaphor: The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel

high mountains_2.jpgYann Martel’s newest novel unfolds like a flower: subtle, delicate, and intricate.

I’ve been looking forward to reading The High Mountains of Portugal for a long, long time. It’s one of those books I greeted with a sort of wary anticipation – after all, what could possibly live up to Life of Pi? 

But I am so, so, so happy to say that this novel is so, so, so good.

The High Mountains of Portugal takes a form in three parts, each connected to the next by the fingertips:

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