All Hallow’s Read

Happy October one and all! This is one of my favorite month’s of the year. I just love the start of the holiday season. I know people get miffed when they see decorations popping up at stores “too early”, but not me. Me, I like the idea of stretching Halloween and Samhain and Christmas and Winter Solstice as far as possible. I mean, we’re always told we should keep the holiday spirit in our hearts all year long, right?

all-hallows-read12Anyway. A few years ago the awesome Neil Gaiman started a new campaign called All Hallow’s Read. It is the concept of passing out books on Halloween to encourage reading and literacy. Now, don’t go getting your knickers in a twist, it isn’t the idea of giving out books instead of candy, because no one wants their house to be egged, just the idea of doing it as well. The idea is to give out Halloween-ish books, but really, giving any book is good, you know?

I decided to join in on the fun two Halloweens ago in 2012. I bought so many books in a variety of age ranges. I had picture books and board books for tiny tots, I had short chapter books for small children and even had a dearth of Fear Street and Forest of Hands and Teeth for the occasional teenager I knew would show up. And of course I had copies of Coraline to pay homage to Mr. Gaiman.

I also had goody bags to pass out along with the books. I was ready. I was gonna participate! But I totally sucked at it. Offering books to kids expecting candy seemed so strange to me that first year. I think I gave out five books in all. I don’t know why I got so tongue tied over it. I was so disappointed in myself.

So the year went by and I still had all these books, so many books. I think I had somewhere around fifty books total. Maybe just forty five. Whatever. I had a lot of books. I had kept them all year on a shelf, waiting for the next Halloween. So, I set them out, made new goody bags and told myself I was going to do better.

photo-31And boy did I. Once I got into the habit of saying, “I’m also giving out books, would you like one?!” it got easier and easier to do. So, by the end of the night I had seven books left over – five picture books and two Goosebumps. Not too shabby. I really thought the teens would be the hardest, but they were pretty keen too. One guy, who I’m pretty sure was close to sixteen, actually got super excited when I said, “I’ve only got Goosebumps for you.”

 

This year I’ve been going to my local comic book store a lot and I think I’m gonna give out Halloween comic books with a few others. So join the fun. Let’s help promote reading as something fun, not just something teachers make you do. Spread literacy and get kids excited. And the worst that can happen is they say “no, thank you” to the book and a tiny piece of your soul dies. But hey, the next kid is gonna say “Yes! THANK YOU!” and snatch the book out of your hand and renew your faith in humanity.

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Magical Realism or Fantasy?

I read a lot. And although these days I often stick to the genre that I myself write in (i.e. YA fantasy) I do try to read widely and deeply in a variety of genres. What this usually means in practice is that in between books I actively seek out, I pick up random books at used bookstores or I take a stab at whatever the husband has just finished reading.

Neil Gaiman's latest novel.
Neil Gaiman’s latest novel.

This month, I read Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane and Haruki Murakami’s Sputnik Sweetheart back to back. While these two books come from very different places topically and thematically, they do share one distinction; they have both been assigned the rather particular designation of magical realism. And as I pondered the metaphysical oceans, metaphorical cats, and mirrored worlds that appear in both of these books under different guises, I couldn’t help but think to myself: What exactly is the difference between magical realism and straight up fantasy?

Many authors and readers don’t see a big difference. Terry Pratchett once quipped that magical realism “is like a polite way of saying you write fantasy.” Gene Wolfe humorously said that “magic realism is fantasy written by people who speak Spanish” (referring, of course, to seminal works of magical realism by authors like Gabriel García Márquez and Luis Borges). On the other hand, some critics and readers see a massive difference in terms of literary “quality;” magical realist authors like Murakami, Kafka, and García Márquez have been accepted by critics into the pantheon of literary writers, while major fantasy authors like J. K. Rowling and even Neil Gaiman are solidly considered “genre literature.”

Fantasy or magical realism? You be the judge!
Fantasy or magical realism?
You be the judge!

In my mind, I think the difference between the genres comes down to rules. In traditional fantasy, the author presents a whole new universe to the reader, complete with a system of logic, physical laws, and metaphysical laws that must be followed. Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind  is a great example of a systematic fantasy; the magic his characters employ is bounded by a comprehensive system of checks and balances that rivals real-world physics in complexity.

In magical realism, however, magical elements blend with reality to create an atmosphere that is at once familiar and nonsensical, in an effort to access a deeper understanding of reality. These magical elements are presented in a straightforward manner with no effort made to explain how they could be occurring in the “real” world. In García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, bizarre things like ghosts, heavenly ascensions, insomnia plagues, telekinesis, prophecies and family members returning from the dead are mentioned without consequence or special significance.

In short, fantasy relies on verisimilitude, or the extent to which a narrative appears likely or plausible. Fantasy presents its readers with a strange world that, by merit of its laws, could be real. Magical realism, on the other hand, challenges our knowledge of what is “real” by introducing unlikely or implausible elements to a seemingly normal universe. The world we thought we knew is gone, replaced by a simulacrum, a fake world that, by virtue of its allegorical existence, leads us closer to truth.

Magical realism is often more surreal than fantasy
Magical realism is often more surreal than fantasy

There is a continuum, of course. Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind falls on one end of the spectrum, a pure systemic fantasy. Nearly every fantastical element–magic, prophecy, myth–is explained and categorized. Something like Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle exists close to the other end of the spectrum. The author makes almost no effort to explain the fantastical elements; empty wells and missing wives and real dreams exist as perfect allegories, existing insofar as the reader deems them meaningful.

And books like Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane and Lev Grossman’s The Magicians and Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife? Those books exist somewhere in the middle, treading the uncanny valley between reality and fantasy.

But let’s be honest; whether it’s pure magical realism, pure fantasy, or somewhere in between, I’ll still read it.

Where do you think the line between fantasy and magical realism is drawn? Do you have any favorite magical realism books or authors? Share your comments below!