Tag Archives: book review

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

30 Jun

The Magicians Trilogy by Lev Grossman

A while ago I was reading an article about the progression of the series on SyFy called “The Magicians” that would be moving forward in production. Hey! I thought, I read that! That would make a great series!

I decided then that it was time to finish the trilogy in order to be fully prepared for, what I can only imagine, will be a magical and wonderful television series.

The Magicians:

In the fall of 2012 I was living in a new community, had just graduated library school, and I was looking to get involved with my local library. I was in luck because they had just introduced a sort of “books on tap” kind of book club and the first meeting was the next month. The title the librarian chose was “The Magicians” a book I had only sort of seen but not really heard of. I knew that I would love it because I enjoyed Harry Potter and I like stories with magical realism inserted into the plot.

I hated it. What was also going on in my life was that my Mother was diagnosed with cancer. Suddenly, I didn’t feel like I had time to read “frivolous” books about magic. I needed real big L literature. I went to Madrid for a visit while my husband worked and then, a few months after her diagnosis, my Mother passed away.

But this book kept needling me. It had all of the elements of a book that I would love. And I should have loved it. I ran an experiment: If I read this book a second time and still hate it: well,  I tried. But if I read it a second time and loved it, it would be proven: sometimes we aren’t ready for a book.

I loved it. Quentin was just moody enough and I was just old enough to love this. I was grieving the loss of my Mother and I got it, Quentin. I understood you. I understood what it means to be waiting for something more to happen.

The Magician King

For this title, I knew that I didn’t have a lot of time to read. I ordered the book used (and scored a used library copy at that–treasure!!!!) so I tried reading it on e-book. But it wasn’t working for me. We hear more from Julie and Quentin is getting older and I just had a hard time reading it. I was busy with a new job and I knew that I was going to really enjoy this book! I didn’t want to rush it.

So I took a chance and downloaded the audiobook. And that is the moment this series became special to me. Mark Bramhall’s voice at first appeared a little off for me. To narrate this story I had always assumed a young voice in my mind. A twenty-something young man’s voice full of sarcasm and wonder and maybe a touch of naivete.

But as the story darkened and as Quentin grew into his own I knew that this was the perfect choice. Bramhall’s voice makes it. The sparkle of wonder at being in Fillory is rightfully shadowed in a dripping sardonic tone that often colors the story much sadder than I think it would be if I were reading it on the page.

We get to know Fillory much more intimately and following Quentin is a pleasure–even if sometimes it’s so very difficult to see him flounder. And the introduction of Julia and her trials and tribulations make this story so much more real than Harry Potter could ever be–because this is a story about growing up. Harry Potter is so much more about what it means to be a child and what it means to tell a good story with characters written with the complex depth reserved for children’s literature. Here, with the Magicians trilogy we are privy to real human characters and what it means to long for one’s childhood. To long for something more–and to realize that even when you get that “more” you may not always be happy with it.

The Magician’s Land:

Because I was so transfixed with Mark Bramhall’s narration I decided to finish the trilogy on audio. I cried many times and I sat in my car on more than one occasion just to finish the chapter. Here Grossman’s talents really shine. He is able to sculpt the story into one that will become (or SHOULD) become a classic. This trilogy allows its characters to make mistakes and to grow from them. Quentin starts this story as a moody teenager who takes love and life and magic for granted. We watch him grow into a man who knows his limits, knows who he is, and understands that even with all of his failings: he matters. He struggles with his failings but he knows in his heart that while he can’t fix everything and he can’t make it right, he can make it good.

This story spoke to me in a such a very real and awe-inspiring way. Much like Harry Potter is to so many readers, this story awoke in me a passion and nostalgia for the story as I closed it’s final pages. I found myself feeling what the characters were feeling and that is a powerful way to immerse oneself into a story.

I know that I will revisit Quentin and his friends soon. I hope that you do, too.


The Traveler of the Century by Andres Neuman

1 Mar

I began reading this book, in all sincerity, while on a plane to Spain. I really thought that I would get 564 pages read in a weeks time, including the flight, waiting in airports, and during all of the coffee shop observing/writing/coffee drinking/reading I was going to do. What I hadn’t counted on was being extremely interested in exploring Madrid. So, sadly, I read the hefty book slowly between October and February. I’m glad I did.

“The Traveler of the Century” is about a traveler during the turn of the 19th century.  I do not know much about Spanish and German history and I understand this to be historical fiction, as Wandernburg–the city where the story takes place–is fictional.

The greatest revelation of this novel is that it is translation. That most of the characters speak in languages that are not there first must reflect the culture of Europe, especially during this period. Our main character, Hans is a translator and poet, and is in Wandernburg for only a short time.

Until he meets the organ grinder;until he meets Sophie. Sophie holds salons for conversation about literature, politics, and culture. It is here that Hans falls in love with Sophie and the novels biggest conflict begins: Sophie is engaged to be married to someone else.

I have to interject here and tell you something of myself as a reader. I do not like reading long books but I especially love having gotten through a long book. Much like I imagine a runner does not like all of the pain of a marathon but enjoys getting through the marathon and having done it. I also have to confess that I’m training myself with large books to eventually run the triathlon that is “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace.

Neuman brings to the reader many things: a mystery (a thriller even–a subplot of the story is a serial rapist in the very city that seems so quaint and innocent), a romance, a political and social history of Germany and Spain, magical realism–a town that is never quite the same physically and, finally, an ars poetica and an ars poetica about the translation of poetry.

In sum, “The Traveler of the Century” brings a dense text to the reader offering up something rare in the world of reading today: thoughtfulness. The novel is thoughtful in its discussion, giving pages to what feels like real discussion among scholars and readers. There are pages of dialogue where you are not quite sure who is speaking until you learn the voices of the characters and you are not surprised when you find out who is speaking. Neuman writes accurately the way philosophical and political discussions evolve and climax in groups.

Another enchanting aspect of the novel is the musings on so many different topics, this truly is a “novel of ideas.” This is what made reading the novel slowly so meaningful to me. As I read the novel, my Mother became sicker with the cancer she had been recently diagnosed with and her death coincided with a death in the novel. Neuman’s words and ideas surrounding death and dying and grief were so spot on to what was happening in my life, I knew the book had found its way, like most important books in our lives, at the right time.

Overall, I would recommend this book to the literary types and don’t worry if you find yourself saying “but I don’t read historical fiction!” You do now.

Some quotes I especially enjoyed:

“In that case I must introduce you two. He asked Hans’s name, then said: Franz, this is Herr Hans, Herr Hans, this is my dog, Franz” –pg 14 (see also the following video I could not get out of my mind: http://youtu.be/I5Zk2vUmjpk)

“The smokers blew out spirals like ribcages–a smoke animal devoured the patrons. Hans pulled a face.” -pg 15

“He even imagined he could hear someone breathing nervously on the other side of the door. But he could not be sure. Perhaps it was his own breathing, growing gradually deeper, his own breathing, his own, his.” – pg 16

“Although, Hans reflected, perhaps Lamberg’s aim was to find the quickest route to unconsciousness, and this was why he drank as though he were swallowing not only the alcohol but also all the words he never spoke.” -pg 26