The Year
The Year of Magical Reading:

Week 1: Midnight's Children by
Salman Rushdie

Let others write about rags-to-
riches, Rushdie prefers to tell
us about riches-to-rags. Even
our hero's face, body and
internal organs take a severe
beating during the course of
these pages, and not all of his
constituent parts survive to the
end of the book...
to read
click here.

Week 2: The House of the Spirits by
Isabel Allende

"In 1981, in Caracas, I put a
sheet of paper in my typewriter
and wrote the first sentence of
The House of the Spirits,"
Allende later recalled. "At
that moment I didn't know for
whom I was doing it, or from
to read more, click

Week 3: The Witches of Eastwick by
John Updike

Parents in Medicine Bow,
Wyoming rejected Updike's
work for its frankness and
profanity, while as recently as
2010, Updike's writing was
kept out of Texas jails in order
to "protect the safety and
security of our institution, but
also aid in the rehabilitation of
our offenders."...
to read more,
click here

Week 4: Magic for Beginners by
Kelly Link

Where others offer plot, Link -
what an appropriate name
for this writer! - moves ahead
on the basis of free association.
I'm reminded of Yogi Berra's
advice: "You've got to be
careful if you don't know where
you're going, because you
might not get there."...
read more,
click here

Week 5: The Tin Drum by Günter

When granting Günter Grass
the Nobel Prize, the Swedish
Academy lauded him for
"recalling the disavowed
and the forgotten: the lies
that people wanted to forget
because they had once believed
in them." These words would
later take on unintended irony....
to read more, click here

Week 6: The Golden Ass by Apuleius

What was the first magical
realism novel? Some may
point to books by Gabriel
Garcia Márquez or Italo
Calvino or Franz Kafka or
Jorge Luis Borges, but my
choice predates those works
by almost 2,000 years....
read more,
click here

Week 7: The Tiger's Wife by Téa

This is an imaginative book
that expands our sense of the
possible, but also a thought-
provoking work about different
levels of responsibility - of
child to elder, of doctor to
patient, of people to animals,
of races and religions to each
to read more, click here

Week 8:  One Hundred Years of
Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

Readers remember this book
for its fanciful impossibilities.
Yet Gabriel Garcia Márquez
starts his narrative with the
exact opposite - tapping the
unexpected power to delight
of the commonplace: magnets,
a telescope, false teeth and a
trip to ponder the hitherto
unknown marvel of ice...
read more,
click here

Week 9: The Book of Laughter and
Forgetting by MIlan Kundera

His career, began with a joke,
which is the literal translation of
the title of Milan Kundera's debut
Zert. The punchline could
have been predicted by readers
of this author's work - who know
that, for Kundera, jokes are
seldom a laughing matter...
read more,
click here

Week 10: Gargantua and Pantagruel
François Rabelais

Forget the Nobel Prize in
literature. The highest literary
honor, accorded to a nobler
elite, comes when an author's
name enters the language as
an adjective. Hence
"Rabelasian" which my
dictionary defines as
"bawdy, coarse, gross,
lusty, raunchy."...
to read
click here

Week 11: The Famished Road by
Ben Okri

The main characters of Ben
Okri's novel
The Famished
, winner of the 1991
Booker Prize, move back
and forth between the human
and spirit worlds with the ease
of urban commuters changing
subway trains....
to read more,
click here

Week 12: Like Water for Chocolate
by Laura Esquivel

An unexpected disclaimer is  
hidden in the small print at the  
front of my edition of
Water from Chocolate
, the  
debut novel by Laura Esquivel:   
"The recipes in this book are  
based on traditional Mexican  
recipes and have not been  
tested by the publisher"....
read more
click here

Week 13:  Winter's Tale by Mark

No author has attempted a more
ambitious or thorough literary
regeneration of Manhattan than
Mark Helprin.  In his 1983 novel
Winter's Tale, Helprin aims for
nothing less than an apotheosis
of the city, a sanctification by fire
that, at times, crosses beyond
the familiar terrain of the novel
and enters into the realm of myth
or dogma....
to read more click

Week 14:  Dhalgren by Samuel R.

I have noticed that short quotes
from books are very popular
on the emerging media.  After
all, why read a 800-page novel,
when you can savor the best
passages in 140-character
tweets?  With that in mind, I
have distilled Mr. Delany's
Dhalgren into some bite-
size extracts suitable for
to read more click

Week 15:  Jonathan Strange & Mr.
Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Remember that ridiculously
long novel on magicians in
a fantastical England that
came out in 2004?  Who
would have thought that a
supersized work of
imaginative fiction—almost
900 pages long!—would find
such an enthusiastic audience?  
What’s that you say?
Potter? Hogwarts?  I don’t
know what you're talking
to read more click

Week 16:  The Master and Margarita
by Mikhail Bulgakov

Bulgakov builds his story around
a compelling idea:  the Devil
decides to visit the Soviet Union
in order to see firsthand whether
human nature has changed under
communism.  Has a new era of
collectivism eliminated covetous-
ness, greed and all those other
familiar sins? Or have the old
vices merely found new outlets,
under different names perhaps?
to read more click here

Week 17:  Dangerous Laughter by
Steven Millhauser

Steven Millhauser is
obsessed with obsession.  
Each of the stories in his
presents an
unhealthy fixation—
sometimes exhibited by
an individual, at other
times by a small cadre
of friends, or even a
community or entire nation
to read more, click here

Week 18:  Conjure Wife by Fritz

Few literary figures of the
early 20th century led less
predictable lives than Fritz
Leiber.  He was a brilliant
chess player, a preacher, a
college teacher, a champion
fencer, a Shakespearian actor,
and even appeared on screen
with Greta Garbo.  And then
there is the matter of his
writing. read more, click

Week 19:  1Q84 by Haruki

All the key characters end up
in hiding or seclusion. Take your
pick, they are either (1) held
captive  in a small room, (2) in
a coma, (3) hiding out on a
surveillance mission, (4) isolated
in a darkened room, (5) in-
accessible in a religious retreat,
(5) locked in a storage room
with a dead goat…
to read
click here

Week 20:  The Hobbit by J.R.R.

In 1961, C.S. Lewis attempted
to nominate his friend and
fellow Oxford don J.R.R.
Tolkien for the Nobel Prize in
literature.  Recently released
files from the Nobel archive
in Stockholm indicate that the
jury briefly considered Tolkien,
before issuing a terse verdict
to read more, click here

Week 21:  Aura by Carlos Fuentes

Carlos Fuentes's Aura is
a novel of implication and
atmospherics.  Even as
elements of the plot are
resolved, the aura of mystery
—and the mystery of Aura—
refuse to emerge into the
clarity of light…
to read more,
click here

Week 22:  Doctor Faustus by
Thomas Mann

In Doctor Faustus, Mann
returns to one of the most
potent themes in German
literature: the story of a
Faustian deal with the Devil
—and finds it all too applicable
to his nation's embrace
of Nazi ideology…
to read
click here

Week 23:  Orlando by Virginia

Is Orlando a 'biography' as the
subtitle states? Or is it a work of
magical realism or fantasy? Or
a socio-political commentary?
Perhaps Nigel Nicolson, son of
Vita Sackville-West, had the best
suggestion.  In his words,
s "the longest and most charming
love-letter in literature."…
read more,
click here

Week 24:  Little, Big by John

From Little, Big we can trace
a path all the way to the current-
day urban mysticism of China
Miéville and Neil Gaiman, or the
'little people' of Haruki Murakami's
1Q84 and the 'magical city' fiction
of Mark Helprin and Jonathan
to read more, click

Week 25:  The White Hotel by D.M.

This magical realism novel,
features Sigmund Freud as a
character, but readers might
be left wondering how the real-
life psychoanalyst would have
interpreted such a strange,
dreamlike tale ....
to read more,
click here

Week 26:  Neverwhere by Neil

One late night in 1986, Neil
Gaiman described to editor
Richard Evans a new kind of
fantasy fiction built on the con-
cept of a magical city.  He
pointed to recent novels  such
as Mark Helprin's
Winter's Tale
and John Crowley's Little, Big
as examples read more,
click here

Week 27:  Alice's Adventures in
Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

150 years ago this week,
Lewis Carroll took the now
famous boat trip with Alice
Liddell that inspired his book
Alice in Wonderland. But did
a little-known Anglican minister
play a bigger role than the
real-life Alice in the creation
of this classic work? ....
read more,
click here

Week 28:  Fifth Business by
Robertson Davies

The title and the epigraph to
this novel represent a hoax
—there was no such thing as
'Fifth Business' despite our
author's assurances. But this
sham fits nicely into a novel
obsessed with how myths are
created and disseminated....
to read more, click here

Week 29:  The Kingdom of This
World by Alejo Carpentier

Alejo Carpentier may not
have invented the magical
realism novel, as some have
claimed, but in this classic
work from 1949 he proved
that stories of unbridled
fantasy need not settle for
escapism and genre formulas
to read more, click here

Week 30:  The Bear Comes Home
by R
afi Zabor

In 1997, Philip Roth gave us
American Pastoral, Thomas
Pynchon released Mason &
Dixon and Don DeLillo delivered
Underworld. But the PEN /
Faulkner Award for American
fiction went to a novel about a
talking bear who played the alto
to read more, click here

Week 31:  The Color of Magic by
Terry Pratchett

What Monty Python's Holy Grail
movie was to the Arthurian legend,
Terry Pratchett's
Discworld series
is to fantasy fiction. Pratchett
may not have invented the mock
heroic tone in genre writing, but
no one has done it better, or sold
more books in the process....
read more,
click here

Week 32:  Ficciones by Jorge Luis

The stories of Jorge Luis
Borges not only anticipate
many later narratives, from
works of Latin American magical
realism to extravagant postmodern
narratives, but the celebrated
Argentinean  author sometimes
even enters into their plots....
read  more,
click here

Week 33:  Beloved by Toni

So many different strands of
the literary tradition come together
in this work, from the gothic to the
postcolonial.  But Beloved is also
a ghost story, one of the most
haunting, and a horror story all
the more terrifying because of
the authentic history at its roots.
to read more, click here

Week 34:  Dona Flor and Her Two
Husbands by Jorge Amado

The basic plot could hardly
be more familiar.  A woman
needs to decide between the
dashing and exciting ‘bad boy’
or settle for the safe but
unexciting ‘nice guy’. Leave it
to Jorge Amado to come up
with a strange new twist on this
old story....
to read more, click

Week 35:  Hard-Boiled Wonderland
and the End of the World by
Haruki Murakami

Murakami lives up to the
‘Wonderland’ designation,
cramming wild and disparate
elements into his story: unicorns,
gangsters, sci-fi concepts, spy
novel conceits, magic and mystery,
love and the unconscious. ...
read more,
click here

Week 36:  What Dreams May Come
by R
ichard Matheson

Richard Matheson, master of
the modern horror story,
abandons his scare techniques
What Dreams May Come,
instead offering a story of the
afterlife and modern day
version of the Orpheus myth
. ...
to read more, click here

Week 37:  Practical Magic by Alice

When reading Hoffman's novel,
I was constantly reminded of
Newton’s third law:  "To every
action there is always an equal
and opposite reaction."  Is
it possible that the law of
physics apply to magic too?
to read more, click here

Week 38:  Blindess by José

Blindness is a novel, but it
also reads as a myth or fable.  
The lead characters are not
given personal names, but
rather generic labels.  Their
tragedy is both personal and
to read more, click

Week 39:  The Fortress of Solitude
by Jonathan Lethem

Jonathan Lethem's ability
to probe into the dark night
of the soul by means of a
panoply of pop culture
references is both strange
and endearing...
to read more,
click here

Week 40:  The Magicians by Lev

Lev Grossman'sThe Magicians
is both a work of fantasy fiction,
and a probing critique of what can
go wrong when we seek escape
in the phantasmagorical...
to read
click here

Week 41:  Suddenly, A Knock at
the Door by Etgar Keret

Etgar Keret’s tales pack a punch,
despite their extreme concision.
Often it's a literal punch.  Most of
the stories in this 2012 collection
feature at least one character
getting slapped, hit, thrashed or
even killed....
to read more, click

Week 42:  Cloudstreet by Tim

Australian novelist Tim Winton
mixes in elements of horror,
crime and fantasy tales into
this story of two working class
families trying to pursue their
conflicting dreams under the
same roof...
to read more, click

Week 43:  The Obscene Bird of
Night by José Donoso

José Donoso's strange and
self-contradictory story starts
out as a historical novel, turns
into stream-of consciousness,
and finally morphs into a folkloric
horror tale...
to read more,
click here

Week 44:  The Fifty Year Sword by
Mark Z. Danielewski

A printer’s devil just whispered in
my ear.  He tells me that when
printers go to hell, they are forced
to turn Mark  Z. Danielewski
manuscripts into books with nothing
more than an old Linotype machine
and an X-Acto knife for tools...
to read more, click here

Week 45:  Gulliver's Travels by
Jonathan Swift

Jonathan Swift deserves credit
for his contributions to at least
three different literary genres—.
fantasy, sci-fi and the adventure
tale. But Dr. Swift's work is much
more than idle entertainment or
to read more,
click here

Week 46:  Harry Potter and the
Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

One might think it unnecessary to
make a case for this book, which
launched a series that has sold more
than 400 million copies to day.  After
all, it did more for the cause of reading
than any novel of the last century.  
But think again...
to read more, click

Week 47:  The End of the Affair by
Graham Greene

Graham Greene had established the
formula for the Cold War thriller with
his 1949 novel
The Third Man.  But for
his follow-up effort,
The End of the Affair,
Greene drew on the ingredients of a
suspense story to serve as a mask for
an existential novel....
to read more,
click here

Week 48:  The Chronicles of Narnia
by C
.S. Lewis

Is this popular work an allegory?
Or a collection of dogmas masked
as a fantasy, a kind of literary
Turkish delight?  Or is it just an
adventure story designed to
enchant the young and young at
heart?  So many interpretations of
such an ostensibly simple work....
to read more, click here

Week 49:  Hieroglyphic Tales by
Horace Walpole

The only surviving response from
someone who saw the work during
the author's lifetime comes from
Madame du Deffand, who accused
Horace Walpole of being raving or
delirious.  ...
to read more,
click here

Week 50:  The View from the
Seventh Layer by Kevin

Several of the short stories
included in Kevin Brockmeier's
The View from the
Seventh Layer
are labeled by
the author as 'fables'. It's a
peculiar choice of labels  ...
read more,
click here

Week 51:  Gods Without Men by
Hari Kunzru

This is a significant novel,
both in its own right, but
also as a sign of the changes
afoot in contemporary fiction,
from emerging narrative
strategies to new thematic
to read more,
click here

Week 52:  At Swim-Two-Birds
by Flann O'Brien

"A good book," Flann
O’Brien declares on the
opening page of this novel,
"may have three openings
entirely dissimilar and inter-
related only in the prescience
of the author...."
to read
click here
Welcome to my year of magical
reading.  Each week during the
course of 2012,  I will explore an
important work of fiction that
incorporates elements of magic,
fantasy or the surreal.  My choices
will cross conventional boundary
lines of genre, style and historical
period—indeed, one of my
intentions in this project is to show
how the conventional labels
applied to these works have
become constraining, deadening
and misleading.

In its earliest days, storytelling
almost always partook of the
magical. Only in recent years have
we segregated works arising from
this venerable tradition into
publishing industry categories
such as "magical realism" or
"paranormal" or "fantasy" or some
other 'genre' pigeonhole. These
labels are not without their value,
but too often they have blinded us
to the rich and multidimensional
beyond category that
these works share.  

This larger heritage is mimicked in
our individual lives: most of us first
experienced the joys of narrative
fiction through stories of myth and
magic, the fanciful and
phantasmagorical; but only a very
few retain into adulthood this
sense of the kind of enchantment
possible only through storytelling.  
As such, revisiting this stream of
fiction from a mature, literate
perspective both broadens our
horizons and allows us to
recapture some of that magic in
our imaginative lives.
conceptual fiction
Exploring the Non-Realist Tradition in Fiction
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Conceptual Fiction:
A Reading List
(with links to essays on each work)

Home Page

Abbott, Edwin A.

Adams, Douglas
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Aldiss, Brian
Barefoot in the Head

Aldiss, Brian

Aldiss, Brian
Report on Probability A

Allende, Isabel
The House of the Spirits

Amado, Jorge
Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands

Amis, Martin
Time's Arrow

The Golden Ass

Asimov, Isaac
The Foundation Trilogy

Asimov, Isaac
I, Robot

Atwood, Margaret
The Handmaid's Tale

Banks, Iain M.
The State of the Art

Ballard, J.G.
The Atrocity Exhibition

Ballard, J.G.

Ballard, J.G.
The Crystal World

Ballard, J.G.
The Drowned World

Barth, John
Giles Goat-Boy

Bester, Alfred
The Demolished Man

Blish, James
A Case of Conscience

Borges, Jorge Luis

Bradbury, Ray
Dandelion Wine

Bradbury, Ray
Fahrenheit 451

Bradbury, Ray
The Illustrated Man

Bradbury, Ray
The Martian Chronicles

Bradbury, Ray
Something Wicked This Way Comes

Brockmeier, Kevin
The View from the Seventh Layer

Bulgakov, Mikhail
The Master and Margarita

Bunch, David R.

Burgess, Anthony
A Clockwork Orange

Card, Orson Scott
Ender's Game

Carpentier, Alejo
The Kingdom of This World

Carroll, Lewis
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Chabon, Michael
The Yiddish Policemen's Union

Chiang, Ted
Stories of Your Life and Others

Clarke, Arthur C.
Childhood's End

Clarke, Arthur C.
A Fall of Moondust

Clarke, Arthur C.
2001: A Space Odyssey

Clarke, Susanna
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Crowley, John
Little, Big

Danielewski, Mark Z.
The Fifty Year Sword

Danielewski, Mark Z.
House of Leaves

Davies, Robertson
Fifth Business

Delany, Samuel R.

Delany, Samuel R.

Delany, Samuel R.
The Einstein Intersection

Delany, Samuel R.

Dick, Philip K.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Dick, Philip K.
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

Dick, Philip K.
The Man in the High Castle

Dick, Philip K.

Dick, Philip K.

Disch, Thomas M.
Camp Concentration

Disch, Thomas M.
The Genocides

Doctorow, Cory
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

Donoso, José
The Obscene Bird of Night

Ellison, Harlan (editor)
Dangerous Visions

Ellison, Harlan
I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream

Esquivel, Laura
Like Water for Chocolate

Farmer, Philip José
To Your Scattered Bodies Go

Fuentes, Carlos

Gaiman, Neil
American Gods

Gaiman, Neil

Gibson, William
Burning Chrome

Gibson, William

Grass, Günter
The Tin Drum

Greene, Graham
The End of the Affair

Grossman, Lev
The Magicians

Haldeman, Joe
The Forever War

Hall, Steven
The Raw Shark Texts

Harrison, M. John
The Centauri Device

Harrison, M. John

Heinlein, Robert
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Heinlein, Robert:
Stranger in a Strange Land

Heinlein, Robert
Time Enough for Love

Helprin, Mark
Winter's Tale

Herbert, Frank

Hoffman, Alice
Practical Magic

Huxley, Aldous
Brave New World

Keret, Etgar
Suddenly, A Knock at the Door

Keyes, Daniel
Flowers for Algernon

Kundera, Milan
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

Kunzru, Hari
Gods Without Men

Lafferty, R.A.
Nine Hundred Grandmothers

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Dispossessed

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Lathe of Heaven

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Left Hand of Darkness

Leiber, Fritz
The Big Time

Leiber, Fritz
Conjure Wife

Leiber, Fritz
Swords & Deviltry

Leiber, Fritz
The Wanderer

Lem, Stanislaw
His Master's Voice

Lem, Stanislaw

Lethem, Jonathan
The Fortress of Solitude

Lewis, C. S.
The Chronicles of Narnia

Link, Kelly
Magic for Beginners

Malzberg, Barry N.
Herovit's World

Mann, Thomas
Doctor Faustus

Márquez, Gabriel García
100 Years of Solitude

Markson, David
Wittgenstein's Mistress

Matheson, Richard
Hell House

Matheson, Richard
What Dreams May Come

McCarthy, Cormac
The Road

Miéville, China
Perdido Street Station

Miller, Jr., Walter M.
A Canticle for Leibowitz

Millhauser, Steven
Dangerous Laughter

Mitchell, David
Cloud Atlas

Moorcock, Michael
Behold the Man

Moorcock, Michael
The Final Programme

Morrison, Toni

Murakami, Haruki

Murakami, Haruki
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the
End of the World

Nabokov, Vladimir
Ada, or Ardor

Niffenegger, Audrey
The Time Traveler's Wife

Niven, Larry

Noon, Jeff

Obreht, Téa
The Tiger's Wife

O'Brien, Flann
At Swim-Two-Birds

Okri, Ben
The Famished Road

Percy, Walker
Love in the Ruins

Pohl, Frederik

Pratchett, Terry
The Color of Magic

Pynchon, Thomas
Gravity's Rainbow

Rabelais, François
Gargantua and Pantagruel

Robinson, Kim Stanley
Red Mars

Rowling, J.K.
Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone

Rushdie, Salman
Midnight's Children

Russ, Joanna
The Female Man

Saramago, José

Sheckley, Robert
Dimension of Miracles

Sheckley, Robert

Sheckley, Robert
Store of the Worlds

Shelley, Mary

Silverberg, Robert
Dying  Inside

Silverberg, Robert

Silverberg, Robert
The World Inside

Simak, Clifford

Simak, Clifford
The Trouble with Tycho

Smith, Cordwainer

Smith, Cordwainer
The Rediscovery of Man

Stephenson, Neal
Snow Crash

Spinrad, Norman
Bug Jack Barron

Stross, Charles

Sturgeon, Theodore
More Than Human

Sturgeon, Theodore
Some of Your Blood

Swift, Jonathan
Gulliver's Travels

Thomas, D.M.
The White Hotel

Tiptree, Jr., James
Warm Worlds and Otherwise

Tolkien, J.R.R.
The Hobbit

Updike, John
The Witches of Eastwick

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Mixed Men

Van Vogt, A.E.

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Voyage of the Space Beagle

Van Vogt, A.E.
The World of Null A

Vance, Jack

Verne, Jules
Around the Moon

Verne, Jules
From the Earth to the Moon

Verne, Jules:
Journey to the Center of the Earth

Vonnegut, Kurt
Cat's Cradle

Vonnegut, Kurt
The Sirens of Titan

Vonnegut, Kurt

Wallace, David Foster
Infinite Jest

Walpole, Horace
Hieroglyphic Tales

Wells, H.G.
The First Men in the Moon

Wells, H.G.
The Island of Dr. Moreau

Wells, H.G.
The Time Machine

Wilson, Robert Anton & Robert Shea
The Illuminatus! Trilogy

Winton, Tim

Woolf, Virginia

Zabor, Rafi
The Bear Comes Home

Zelazny, Roger
Lord of Light

Zelazny, Roger
This Immortal

Special Features
Notes on Conceptual Fiction
When Science Fiction Grew Up
Ray Bradbury: A Tribute
The Year of Magical Reading
Remembering Fritz Leiber
A Tribute to Richard Matheson
Samuel Delany's 70th birthday
The Sci-Fi of Kurt Vonnegut
Curse You, Neil Armstrong!
Robert Heinlein at 100
A.E, van Vogt Tribute
The Puzzling Case of Robert Sheckley
The Avant-Garde Sci-Fi of Brian Aldiss
Science Fiction 1958-1975: A Reading List

Links to related sites
The New Canon
Great Books Guide
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Fractious Fiction
Ted Gioia's web site
Ted Gioia on Twitter

SF Site
Graeme's Fantasy Book Review
Los Angeles Review of Books
The Millions
Big Dumb Object
SF Novelists
More Words, Deeper Hole
The Misread City
Reviews and Responses
SF Signal
True Science Fiction
Tor blog

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