set the fire to the third bar

I finished The Magicians, by Lev Grossman this weekend. It was not as good as I had hoped. It was marketed as a homage to C.S. Lewis’s Narnia and as an adult Harry Potter, but what had sold me was the elements of The Secret History that reviewers claimed it had. Lonely misfits who band together so strongly that their bonds threaten to tear apart the very people they care for so deeply. (This is what I loved about The Likeness as well, even though it has elements of the completely unbelievable.)

So, there you go. It had a lot to live up to from the beginning.

The book follows Quentin, a lonely high-school senior who magically finds himself at Brakebills being offered an entrance exam that is both ludicrous and difficult.

“…the test gave him a passage from The Tempest, then asked him to make up a fake language, and then translate the Shakespeare into the made-up language. He was then asked questions about the grammar and orthography of his made-up language, and then – honestly, what was the point? – questions about the made-up geography and culture and society of the made-up country where his made-up language was so fluently spoken. Then he had to translate the original passage from the fake language back into English, paying particular attention to any resulting distortions in grammar, word choice, and meaning. Seriously.”

Delicious, right? He gets in, of course, and we watch as he goes through his years at the college, finds himself a small loyal clique of friends, and as he flounders out into the post-college existence.

If this is any sort of homage to Narnia, it feels like a negative one. Fillory, the world born out of the writings of a perverse old man is unlike Narnia in confusing ways. The rams who seem to hold the Aslan position in the world are not god-like or in control, but are just as silly and scared as the people they claim to rule, able to be trapped and killed. Second, as far as Harry Potter goes, the hero of the story is the not the sort of guy you want on your side. Morose, determinedly unhappy, unfaithful and generally a self-centered jerk, it’s hard to be solidly in Quentin’s court for long.

This book has the most in common with The Secret History. The clique that Quentin falls in with relies on one another so heavily that they separate themselves from both their families (magical and non-magical) and the rest of the academic community they live in. When they get into trouble, their bonds with one another destroy their group.

I thought this book was excellently written but not something I would necessarily recommend. This book is full of moments of incredible writing, intense imagination when it comes to the world that Quentin lives in. But it also has some intense adult themes and it jumps quickly from thought to thought, completely character-driven by a boy-man that whines more than anything else.

I was disappointed.


I also read Sing Them Home, by Stephanie Kallos.

This is a book purportedly about grief, about three children who have lost their mother tragically, and how their adult lives have been shaped by this loss. But really, it’s a book about wallowing. Larken wallows in food and the imaginary life she leads with her married neighbor man and his daughter. Gaelen wallows in body-building and manipulating women while living the dream of a small-town weatherman. And Bonnie lives a carefree child-like life in her hometown, looking for signs from her mother in every piece of trash that floats by.

This book was so hard to read. It was long, it was decently well-written, but even the writing is wallowy. It meanders through a story that didn’t need 450 pages to set up and then suddenly brings everything together in the last 50 pages so fast you wonder if Kallos just ran out of patience with her own characters. I might read her other, Broken For You, since Jesse’s mom told me that she enjoyed that one a lot more (she lent me this one, too.)


Okay, so I know this is getting long, but I think it’s about time to make a confession.

I ordered a Kindle.

I felt a little guilty for a few hours, but then I found a bunch of classics, and then I got Alisa to pump me up about how practical and frugal I was actually being (thanks!) and I forgot about guilty and just started being excited. I have checked the tracking for my package eight bajillion times and am on the edge of my seat about whether my landlady will sign for it or if I’ll have to wait and get it from the UPS store tonight. I’ll let you know later how it works out.

I’ve seen a friend’s and I know it’s awesome, with the digital ink, and I can store my knitting pattern PDFs on it. Alright. I’ll stop talking. Going to get back to my anticipation.


3 thoughts on “set the fire to the third bar

  1. I still don’t understand how Kindles work. The screen doesn’t cause eye strain like a computer screen, but it is illuminated somehow? I mean, it sounds awesome to me, but I’m having trouble imagining it.

    I, too, package-stalk. I am convinced that all those delivery companies keep tabs on who’s keeping tabs on THEM, and they delay shipments based on the number of times per hour you check the status. They’re all just sitting at their desks, laughing at us obsessive lunatics. I still can’t stay away, though…

  2. It’s not illuminated, in fact it’s a lot like an etch-a-sketch. You need a book light to read in the dark, and it is FANTASTIC!!!! I’m in love with it.

    I know, right? Obsessively refreshing the screen is not going to hurry my package, and yet…

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