Posts by Rick @ AnotherBook.blog

I write about books at AnotherBook.blog. I'm into fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles. And the Princess Bride.

A Magician, a Conqueror, and a Man with One Eye

I’ve written book reviews for several different sites over the years, all of which are now defunct. This is the first in a series of mini-reviews that will parcel out some of my favourite reads over the past few years. 


CARTER BEATS THE DEVIL

by Glen David Gold

Carter Beats the Devil opens with Carter the Great executing a particularly risky trick. He murders President Warren G. Harding on stage before feeding him to a lion, only to have Harding burst from the lion’s stomach alive and well. The show is an unbridled success. But a few hours later Harding is found dead in his hotel room and Carter is considered a prime suspect. He flees, only to be pursued by Secret Service agents, most notably aging Serviceman Jack Griffin.

The novel then jumps back in time to tell Carter’s life story, of how he came to perform magic, how he met the girl of his dreams and then shot her out of a cannon to her death, how he befriended Houdini, made arch-enemies, married a blind woman, and used the invention of the electric television to propel him to heights no other magician had ever dared.

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Chasing a Novel at the End of the World

“That’s the thing about being a writer … Every bad experience you have is good material.”


Nell Stevens was just like every other twenty-something at the tail end of her education. Or, at least like every other twenty-something with a degree from Warwick, another degree from Harvard, and an MFA from Boston University. It was time to finally put all of that work, time, and money to actual, productive use. For Nell, that meant writing a novel. But there were two things standing in her way: one, she didn’t know what she was going to write about, and two, she was far too distracted to commit to anything.

But then came the perfect opportunity. She won a fellowship that would send her anywhere in the world, all expenses paid, for three months. There, she could find her inspiration and finish the novel she always felt destined to write. Her peers had chosen France for its tranquility and sense of history, New York for its vibrancy and clash of cultures. Nell chose Bleaker Island, a barren, uninhabited scrap of land in the Falklands, hundreds of miles off the southern tip of Argentina.

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This is 33: Growing Older with Nino Ricci’s Testament

I’ve been stressed about turning thirty-three since I was about twenty-five.

You see, thirty-three is largely considered to be Jesus’ age when he died. This was the year he established his ministry, rebelled against the Romans, rose from the dead, and laid the groundwork for Dan Brown to become the most unlikely gajillionaire the world has ever seen.

In short, he crushed it. He fulfilled his destiny and became the man he was meant to be (however horrid that destiny may have been).

Thirty-three has since become synonymous–insofar as the Christian zeitgeist is concerned–with a person’s figurative death and resurrection. A precedent has been set for thirty-three being the height of one’s powers, the year we tear down the walls that surround us and rebuild ourselves into something better.

It’s a testament to my Catholic upbringing and its particular brand of “gee shucks” brainwashing that I’m still so affected by its laws, taboos, and beliefs more than twenty years after I left the church for good.

Classical conditioning is one hell of a drug.

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When Books Fail Us

There’s a sacred, unspoken expectation among Readers that the right book will come along at the right time. In fact, as Alain de Botton wrote, “Most of what makes a book ‘good’ is that we are reading it at the right moment for us.”

Often we aren’t aware that the right book is needed until providence has placed it in our hands. Then comes that moment–that chapter, that sentence, that word–that reminds us why we’re Readers in the first place: because literature is transcendent; restorative, even.

Inevitably, Readers learn to rely on this moment. We put our trust in it, and expect the right book to always come along at the right time.

Then, on the day when we need it most, it doesn’t.

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The Hobbit Readalong - Chapter 1

Dissecting Gollum’s Riddle Game

In The Tragedy of Arthur–Arthur Phillips’ brilliant novel about the finding, or forgery, of a supposedly lost Shakespearean play–Phillips boldly questions the genius of ol’ Billy Shakes. Specifically, he argues that Shakespeare has been attributed too much credit by his critics, who have, in large part, done a great deal of work for him.

Here, Phillips explains it best:

“Look, look: you have a weak spot where Will’s not thinking very clearly, and the character rambles on, and Will sticks in a joke that he likes about flowers that look like wieners. It plainly doesn’t belong there. Any editor would cut it. It breaks the rhythm and the logic of the scene. And your sweet old Gertrude noticed it and rightly points out the weak spot. Anybody else, we’d say, ‘Whoops. Not buying it, Will.’ If I wrote it, they’d send me home to rework it. Instead, what do you all do? You all talk it out until you make it make sense for him. He wrote it, so it must be right. You six very intelligent people form a committee to offer him your help, and when you’ve done the best you can, consulting old books of other would-be helpers, when you actually come up with some very clever solutions, you marvel at him for composing such a subtle moment.”

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The Hobbit Readalong - Chapter 1

Tra-la-la-ohmygodshutup

One would be hard pressed to argue The Hobbit being anything other than a children’s story, but when Thorin leaves a letter for Bilbo the morning after their unexpected party it becomes clear that Tolkien wasn’t ignoring adults entirely.

“Terms: cash on delivery, up to and not exceeding one fourteenth of total profits (if any); all travelling expenses guaranteed in any event; funeral expenses to be defrayed by us or our representatives, if occasion arises and the matter is not otherwise arranged for. Thinking it unnecessary to disturb your esteemed repose, we have proceeded in advance to make requisite preparations, and shall await your respected person at Green Dragon Inn, Bywater, at 11 a.m. sharp. Trusting that you will be punctual.”

The sarcasm here is razor sharp. While the letter appears nothing more than an unusually formal contract, its purpose is to mock Bilbo for his hesitation and supposed cowardice.

First, Thorin thanks Bilbo for offering his “professional” assistance, when in fact the dwarves forced his hand and have little faith in his ability to burgle anything. Next, he waves in Bilbo’s face the very real possibilities of failure and death, knowing that Bilbo is the last person willing to risk either. Finally, Thorin refers to Bilbo’s slumber as his “esteemed repose,” mocking his overblown civility. Thorin may as well have written, “Get over yourself and get your ass to Bywater.”

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The Hobbit Readalong - Chapter 1

Tookishness is a Funny Word

J. R. R. Tolkien spoke at great length, both in his letters and lectures, about what he called “secondary belief.” For Tolkien, reading fantasy wasn’t about a willing suspension of disbelief as much as it was a secondary belief in an imagined world. As long as that world holds to an internal logical consistency, its laws can be entirely different from our own while being every bit as believable. Through this secondary belief (which is only accomplished at the hands of a master storyteller) readers can easily accept things like elves and magic and dragons.

Due to the depth of Tolkien’s Middle Earth–its people, their languages, their cultures, their histories—this internal consistency became Tolkien’s hallmark. Until the wellspring of fantasy that arose in the ’90s (with Williams, Jordan, Martin, and others), Tolkien was basically alone—with a handful of lesser exceptions—in creating entire worlds that seemed to believably exist. Secondary belief is the reason people used to regularly spray paint “Frodo Lives” on buildings in the ’60s and ’70s.

What’s curious, then, is that there is a moment early on in The Hobbit that spits in the face of this internal consistency, this secondary belief: the dwarves’ musical interlude in Chapter 1. When the dwarves break out their instruments shortly after arriving at Bag End we’re experiencing a very unusual moment in a Tolkien narrative. He’s usually so careful not to jolt his readers out of their secondary belief, but he deliberately seems to be doing it here.

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