REAL MAGIC by Stuart Jaffe and Cameron Francis (Jaffe’s a writer, Francis is a conjurer) is one I’d have loved to recommend to my friend Neil. Protagonist Duncan Rose has been trained as a stage magician but he uses his skills as a grifter instead, cheating suckers at card games. When an idiot friend enlists him to cheat some very dangerous people, Duncan winds up stumbling through his great-grandfather’s magic door into 1934. Duncan soon befriends a contemporary stage magician (the book is quite interesting about the difference between 1930s card tricks and the present) and his pretty sister, copes with culture shock, and ends up under the thumb of a vicious mobster who thinks the siblings have the secret of the magic door, which he wants for himself. Although the ending was way too downbeat, I still liked the book overall.
I MAY BE SOME TIME: Ice and the English Imagination by Francis Spufford looks at the cultural trends that would lead someone like Naval officer Robert Scott to become a polar explorer, and for England to then gush over him (as Spufford points out, his bio has been grist for movies, kids’ books, and criticism from the left and right both). Spufford sees the fascination with the poles as drawing on a number of English obsessions: sublime beauty, imperialism (the Antarctic was seen as Britain’s to explore), racial (uneasy awareness the Inuit could maintain everyday life in a world where white men could barely survive) and a conviction that exploration was as important spiritually as any practical gains; the latter, led in turn, to the belief that dying heroically in the snow might be more commendable than, say, going native and relying on Inuit survival techniques. Spufford is also aware that Scott was an incompetent explorer, though that’s not the focus of his book. Interesting, though Spufford’s attempt at literary style is a slog to get through.
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