TIME

Living in a Fantasy World

The Magician's Land
Illustration by Nick Illuzada for TIME

In an era of techno marvels, we still crave magic

When I was a kid, in the 1980s, Fantasy had, let us say, some unpleasant associations. It was fringy and subcultural and uncool. Not that this stopped me, or a lot of other people. C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Ursula K. Le Guin, Anne McCaffrey, Piers Anthony, T.H. White, Fritz Leiber, Terry Brooks: I read them to pieces, and I chased them with a stiff shot of Dungeons & Dragons. But I did these things privately. In my suburban Massachusetts junior high, to be a fantasy fan was not to be a good, contented hobbit, working his sunny garden and smoking fragrant pipe-weed. It was to be Gollum, slimy and gross and hidden away.

But that has changed. Whereas the great franchises of the late 20th century tended to be science fiction–Star Wars, Star Trek, The Matrix–somewhere around 2000 the great eye of Sauron swiveled, and we began to pay attention to other things, like magic…

Read the full story here.

TIME Books

The 5 Greatest Fantasy Novels of All Time

From C.S. Lewis to Susanna Clark, Magicians author Lev Grossman makes his top picks

TIME book critic and technology writer Lev Grossman recently published The Magician’s Land, the final book in his fantasy trilogy. To accompany his essay about how fantasy literature is transforming the pop-culture landscape, he’s also named the five most influential fantasy books ever written.

TIME Books

‘Booking’ Your Summer Travel

You may not be getting away this summer, but these books can take you places

In Flight

BOAC Stewardesses
Getty Images

Jet Set: The People, the Planes, the Glamour, and the Romance in Aviation’s Glory Years

William Stadiem

Remember when commercial flight was sexy? No, you don’t. But Stadiem does, and he’s got the cocktails, “skycoons” and sexy stews to prove it.

The Arctic

Arctic
Getty Images

In the Kingdom of Ice

Hampton Sides

The true story of the U.S.S. Jeanette, which set out for the North Pole in 1879. The voyage descended into disaster, but the crew fought on with a heroic determination that recalls Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken (8/5).

Majorca, Spain

Majorca, Spain
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The Vacationers

Emma Straub

The Post family is in heaven—or at any rate Majorca—-but they’ve brought hell with them in the form of secrets and lies and insecurities of all kinds. Straub observes it all with wisdom, good humor and no mercy.

The Middle East

Middle East
Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi Getty Images

The Kills

Richard House

A colossal (1,024 pages) four-part novel of Pynchonesque ambition that starts with graft among military contractors in Iraq and follows the tendrils of corruption outward across the globe (8/5).

Provence, France

Provence, France
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A Wedding in Provence

Ellen Sussman

Specifically in Cassis, where Olivia and Brody will tie the knot amid the splendors of the Côte d’Azur and all the tensions and drama that weddings inspire (7/15).

U.S. Virgin Islands

U.S. Virgin Islands
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Land of Love and Drowning

Tiphanie Yanique

A sprawling, century-spanning story of love, family and magic that follows the changing fortunes of a ruined family and those of their troubled home, the U.S. Virgin Islands (7/10).

New Guinea

New Guinea
Getty Images

Euphoria

Lily King

A love triangle with three scientists in the jungles of New Guinea, King’s novel is loosely based on the life of Margaret Mead and rendered in suitably lush, steamy prose.

China

Xinjiang province, China
Getty Images

The Emperor Far Away

David Eimer

China is a vast place, with millions of people from dozens of ethnic minorities living far from Beijing, in regions where Westerners rarely go. Eimer visited the fringes and tells us what he saw there (7/15).

Japan

Japan
Getty Images

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

Haruki Murakami

At 36, a Japanese train engineer seeks out his four best friends from high school to discover why they all unceremoniously dropped him (8/12).

Sweden

Rural Sweden Getty Images

The Farm

Tom Rob Smith

Daniel’s parents are peacefully retired in rural Sweden. Or are they? Suddenly Dad says Mom is psychotic and has her committed. Mom denies it and says Dad is lying. It’s up to Daniel to dig up the truth.

TIME Books

How a Book Becomes the Book of the Summer

Illustration by Ben Wiseman for TIME

And the most likely contenders this season

Most summers have a book of the summer, though not all do. We had Gone Girl in 2012, but I’m not convinced 2013 had a book of the summer. It’s hard to say why it happens and why it doesn’t. Some novels, when read in hot weather, just seem to melt and run together with their surroundings, to the point where afterward one can never quite think of that summer without thinking of that story, and vice versa.

We rarely see them coming, though after the fact it seems obvious. Of course the summer of 1991 would go for American Psycho, with its savage immolation of 1980s mores. Likewise it seems inevitable now that in 2002, the summer Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped, we should have flocked en masse to the icy brilliance of The Lovely Bones. But at the time, no one knew. If books of the summer have something in common, it’s that they tend to break rules: people pick them up because they can’t quite believe somebody actually wrote that and got away with it. Lolita (1958) rendered skeezy pedophilia as high art. John Updike’s Couples (1968) did the same with suburban adultery. Love Story: the girl dies. The Lovely Bones: the girl dies in the first paragraph. The Name of the Rose: OMG, I can’t believe how much medieval scholarship is in this book.

It’s impossible to predict it in advance, though that’s what we’re about to try to do, because the book of the summer is a surprise by definition. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out in July 2007 and sold through the roof, but it wasn’t the book of the summer because everybody saw it coming. What really makes a book of the summer is when we surprise ourselves. It’s not just about being fascinated by a book. It’s about being fascinated by the fact that we’re fascinated.

The odds:

2-1
The One Plus One
Jojo Moyes
Pros: Single mom plus nerdy millionaire equals unlikely romance. And there’s a road trip!
Cons: Very few killer sharks.

2-1
All the Light We Cannot See
Anthony Doerr
Pros: Blind daughter of a locksmith meets reluctant Nazi engineering whiz! What more do you want?
Cons: Complex, lyrical historical fiction may not have the necessary mass appeal.

3-1
The Fever
Megan Abbott
Pros: Small-town girls hit by mystery syndrome. Tense, erotically fraught, has Gillian Flynn blurb.
Cons: Much adolescent angst. Are the stakes high enough?

4-1
We Were Liars
E. Lockhart
Pros: Rich people on an island; sharp, funny-sad writing; a head-snapping fourth­quarter reveal.
Cons: It’s a YA novel, so some adults might pass.

4-1
Landline
Rainbow Rowell
Pros: Keen psychological insight, irrepressible humor and a supernatural twist: a woman can call her husband in the past.
Cons: Relative lack of violence, perverse sex.

5-1
One Kick
Chelsea Cain
Pros: Child kidnapping victim grows up to become ass-kicking vigilante looking for other missing children. Boom.
Cons: A thriller but maybe not a rule breaker.

6-1
The Quick
Lauren Owen
Pros: Set in lovely, lush Victorian London. Plus: vampires, vampires, vampires.
Cons: Owen’s pacing is slow and artful—maybe too slow for some.

8-1
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
David Shafer
Pros: Genius techno-­thriller à la Neal ­Stephenson, powered by social-media info-conspiracy à la Dave Eggers.
Cons: Low-key romance may not play to all quadrants.

TIME Books

Here Are the 15 Best Books of 2014 (So Far)

A diverse set of standout titles from the top half of 2014 have made this a memorable year for books

Readers are off to a fast start in 2014 with some truly excellent titles from every aisle of the bookstore: history, young adult fiction, literary fiction, graphic novels, espionage, gastronomy — you name it. The famous names usually wait until fall to publish, but already this year has seen great comic memoirs from Gary Shteyngart and New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast, and a racy piece of Wall Street reporting from the incomparable, indefatigable Michael Lewis.

There’s also some great work from less well-known writers, especially some marvelous literary fiction: Stacy D’Erasmo’s Wonderland, about an aging rock star, and Phil Klay’s Redeployment, a searing look at soldiers returning from Iraq. BJ Novak’s smart, funny story collection One More Thing was an extremely welcome surprise; equally welcome is a long-overdue reissue: Miracleman, a masterpiece-level comic book from pre-Watchmen Alan Moore not seen since the 1980’s. Enjoy!

  • Michael Lewis, Flash Boys

    Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.

    Wall Street is the biggest game in town, and when a small gang of oddball traders figured out that the game was rigged, they got together and forced it to reform. Lewis tells the story like a technothriller—but it’s all true.

  • E. Lockhart, We Were Liars

    Random House

    Four fast friends—three cousins plus one outsider—spend summers together on a private island off the coast of Massachusetts with their extended family, most of whom are thoroughly pickled in money and alcohol. One night Cadence, our heroine and narrator, has an accident that changes everything—but she can’t remember what happened, and nobody will tell her.

  • Kai Bird, The Good Spy

    Crown Publishing

    A lucid, thorough, fascinating biography of Robert Ames, an important CIA operative who died in the Beirut embassy bombing, by a Pulitzer-winning historian.

  • BJ Novak, One More Thing

    Knopf Doubleday

    Novak, best known for playing Ryan on the office, turns out a strange, hilarious and very very smart collection of wry and twisted comic stories in the tradition of Woody Allen’s Without Feathers.

  • Phil Klay, Redeployment

    Penguin

    These short stories about Marines in Iraq are brutally frank about the traumas and moral compromises of a new era of war. Klay saw them firsthand: he spent a year in Iraq with the Marines.

  • Sally Green, Half Bad

    Viking

    The white and black witches are secretly at war, and 16 year old Nathan, whose parents were on opposite sides, is caught in the middle. This is an enthralling fantasy in the Harry Potter tradition, powered by Nathan’s unique narrative voice.

  • Alan Moore, Miracle Man Vol 1

    Marvel

    Alan Moore’s work on Miracle Man produced some of the smartest, strangest and all-time greatest superhero comics ever written (and drawn)—every bit as good as Watchmen—but they’ve been out of circulation since the 1980s for legal reasons. Now Marvel is finally reprinting them, and they haven’t aged a day.

  • Lawrence Goldstone, Birdmen

    Random House

    A meticulously researched account of the tangled, contentious early years of flight, when the Wright Brothers and Glenn Curtiss were locked in a bitter dispute that would shape the future of the entire aviation industry.

  • Olivia Laing, The Trip To Echo Spring

    Picador

    Laing’s question is, what is the mysterious connection between writing and drinking? To answer it she weaves together the lives of great alcoholic writers like Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Cheever, and Tennessee Williams, looking at why they needed to drink, what drinking gave them, and what it took away.

  • Michael Gibney, Sous Chef

    Random House

    One day and one calamitous night in the life of a sous chef in a high-end, high-pressure Manhattan restaurant. Gibney’s writing is in Anthony Bourdain’s league: he puts across both the intense stress and the intense joy of cooking in a professional kitchen.

  • Timothy Geithner, Stress Test

    Crown Publishing

    An unsparing insider’s account of the financial crisis from the former Secretary of the Treasure, unpacking the hard decisions and terrible trade-offs that devastated the economy but staved off a deep, lasting depression.

  • Roz Chast, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

    Bloomsbury

    A new graphic memoir by the beloved New Yorker cartoonist that details her loving but exasperated relationship with her aging parents. As always Chast’s humor is poignant and acerbic, but at the same time strangely comforting.

  • Stacy D’Erasmo, Wonderland

    Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

    The heroine of WONDERLAND is an indie rock star, a cult icon, who’s attempting a comeback at 44 after seven years out of the public eye. D’Erasmo conjures up the seedy, sexy spectacle of life on the road with amazing vividness, and fills in the inner life of a woman who has one last chance to get her voice heard.

  • Gary Shteyngart, Little Failure

    Random House

    Born in Leningrad, Shteyngart came to America as a child and grew up to become the author of sharp, poignant comic novels. But the story was much more painful and much funnier than that sounds, and his memoir walks us through the highs and especially the lows.

  • Nina Stibbe, Love, Nina

    Little, Brown and Company

    In 1982 Stibbe was hired as a nanny for the two small children of the editor of the London Review of Books. Her letters home, collected here, are a (Helen) Fielding-esque comedy of errors, and an amazingly funny look at literary London in the 1980s.

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