The Sorcerer’s House

When Neil Gaiman, the author of the children’s book Coralinemaybe you’ve seen the film version – shared his reading habits with the New York Times Book Review editors in Neil Gaiman, By the Book, I discovered a new list of books I want to read:

  • The Spirit by Will Eisner
  • ALEC: The Years Have Pants by Eddie Campbell
  • Lud-in-the Mist by Hope Mirrlees
  • Just My Type: A Book About Fonts by Simon Garfield
  • Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes by May M. Talbot

But I decided to start with Gaiman’s favorite – The Sorcerer’s House. Gaiman noted…

“The Sorcerer’s House,” by Gene Wolfe, amazed me. It was such a cunning book, and it went so deep. A foxy fantasy about a house that grows, with chapters that are the Greater Trumps of a tarot deck.

Gene Wolfe’s fantasy story is an epistolary novel – a series of letters, mostly written by the main character, Bax, the holder of two Ph.D.’s, and just out of prison, who mysteriously has inherited a Gothic house. I’ve just started reading this dark tale – this one is not for children – but the strange occurrences already have my attention.

Related Article: Gaiman’s graduation address to the University of the Arts in Philadelphia – Cat Exploded? Make Good Art

Books To Look For in 2012

A full page ad for Rosamund Lupton’s Sister – a book I devoured when it first came out – appeared in the first issue this year of the New York Times Book Review.  Lupton has another book – Afterwards – that I looked for in the Heathrow terminal during a long layover.  The salesperson marvelled that I was so excited to find and purchase a book that has already gone to paperback in London, but will not be published in the United States until April.

What other books are coming in 2012 from some of my favorite authors?  Books to look for and anticipate (with publication dates varying according to your country):



  • Sister (

New York Times Top 5 Fiction Books of 2011

Four out of five – not bad.  The five best fiction books for 2011, according to the New York Times Book Review section include three I’ve read and reviewed; one I am currently reading; the fifth I will probably skip –  Ten Thousand Saints – unless you have a recommendation to reconsider?

The other four in the year’s top titles:


The Art of Fielding           Swamplandia!                       The Tiger’s Wife

Currently reading: 11/22/63

Not sure I agree with all of them – what about you – which books would you have picked for top 5?

The Subconscious Shelf

My old hometown had a restaurant with real books displayed on wall shelves around the small dining areas; the restaurant was appropriately named “The Library.”  I don’t remember the menu, but I remember the books – I dined with Mark Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson looking over my shoulder.  When the new owner replaced the real books with a painted facade of books, I stopped going.  I could find better crab cakes somewhere else where the decor may not have books, but at least was real.

color-coded books

In her essay for the New York Times Book Review section – The Subconscious Shelf – Leah Price discusses the value of book displays and the deception of fakes.  Books can “serve as a utilitarian tool or a theatrical prop…”  – the interior designer’s selection of tomes that will enhance the decor, not necessarily the brain; the coffee table book that balances the artful display of ceramics.

Don’t be fooled by those worn and battered covers that seem to carry historic weight. Did you know the famous Strand bookstore in New York City will sell or rent leather-bound multivolume sets “to connote old money”?  And a company offers “book handling” for customers – selling books that has each volume “thoroughly handled”…

{Volumes will include} a suitable passage…to be underlined in red pencil, and a leaflet…to be inserted as a forgotten book-mark in each…the smaller volumes to be damaged in a manner that will give the impression that they have been carried around in pockets…volumes to be treated with old coffee, tea, porter, or whiskey stains…

I have a few of those I can surrender – but I’ve actually read the books, which may reduce their value to buyers.   Avid readers who don’t have room for bookshelves are constantly gleaning their frugal space; others count on borrowing their books; and finally, the e-book precludes displays of content.

Price suggests that the books on display won’t tell as much about the reader as the reader’s references to the books…

“Shortly after the 2008 election, a bookstore in New York set out 50-odd books to which Barack Obama had alluded in memoirs, speeches, and interviews.  The resulting collection revealed more about {him} than did any number of other displays of books by and about him.”

It may be the books that are read but are not on the shelves that really expose the reader.  Are you among the many who are well-read – but with empty or sparse bookshelves?

Related Article:

Snooping in the Age of eBook

Required Reading for Freshmen

Remember the summer reading lists when you were in grade school?  And the book you read the day before school started?

By the time you got to college, you’d figured out how to read enough to get by.  The freshman year experience usually orients new students to college with a course around a book.  The book that was to catapult me to new vistas of understanding and an easy transition to college life was Siddhartha.  I don’t remember the discussion, but I do remember the book.

In the New York Times Book Review section, Jennifer Schuessler lists some of the books ivy-covered and brick-and-mortar institutions of higher learning are requiring for entering freshmen – Inside the List.  Have you read any of them?

  • Eating Animals by Jonathan Foer
  • Outcasts United: An American Town, a Refugee Team, and One Woman’s Quest to Make a Difference by Warren St. John
  • Born to Run by Christopher McDougall
  • Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston
  • Hamlet’s Blackberry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age by William Powers
  • The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brain by Nicholas Carr
  • Homer and Langley by E. L. Doctorow

Wondering what other freshmen are reading?

Mount Holyoke’s required summer reading was Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.  Tufts freshmen are discussing Brother, I’m Dying by Edwidge Danticat.  The National Association of Scholars has a recommended list of 37 books for discussion.   

One of my alma mater’s is requiring The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – have you read it yet?