I was making the usual rounds through the spec fic magazines that I read and came across the story A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies by Alix E. Harrow in Apex Magazine. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the title made me think of Ursula Vernon’s (T. Kingfisher) no-nonsense gardening witches and evoked memories of Patricia C. Wrede and her practical heroines.
And, you guys, I totally didn’t expect it but this story brought me to the edge of tears from the degree of resonance I felt. The depiction of reading and the importance of books, the role of librarians and libraries – these things made me feel and remember (strongly enough that italics were warranted) aspects of my childhood that I hadn’t reflected on in a long time.
The story itself is beautifully written and told using card catalog numbers as a great little framing device. The idea of librarians as a secret coven of witches whose role is to make sure you have the right book at the right time made me think of all the best teachers I have had the fortune of learning from. There are book references and little pop culture jokes peppered throughout in the most unobtrusive way possible. It all flows together so nicely.
So nicely in fact that after I read it the once, I immediately read it again to just recapture the feeling of being lost in the stacks, sitting on the floor between aisles and reading for hours – to escape, to find something that I couldn’t articulate, to live. I want to imprint this story in my brain so that I can refer to it when I’m craving connection and understanding, so that I can remind myself that the magic of books is real and has touched other people too.
I’m still a jumble of feelings about it; there are things I want to examine as to why I felt so much when I read it. But in the meantime, you should definitely check the story out.
Quick correction regarding my initial Book of Dust post – The Book of Dust is the name of the trilogy, La Belle Sauvage is the name of the first book. You can understand why I was mistaken; look at the cover again:
Okay, so actually it came out last Thursday. But my copy didn’t get here until today (I was a dummy and chose 5-6 day shipping because dumb reasons).
When I heard that Philip Pullman was writing a new trilogy called La Belle Sauvage, I was incredibly excited. The new trilogy opens with The Book of Dust and is set in the same world as His Dark Materials but ten years earlier.
Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass) had a huge impact on my formative reading years. When I picked up The Golden Compass and met Lyra and Pantalaimon for the first time, I was a child (at a guess, maybe in 5th or 6th grade). I had never read something before that resonated with me so profoundly. As Stephen Koch says, “Whenever it strikes, it is invariably telling you something vital about yourself. …The shock of recognition is a moment of excitement that shakes the soul. It may be hard to describe, but like other forms of love, you will know it when you feel it.”*
His Dark Materials left an indelible mark on my reading psyche, and taught me about loyalty and honor, friendship, sacrifice, and independence. Reading and re-reading it helped me through a lot of struggle and dark times. To this day, I still rank the trilogy at the top of my favorites list though it’s been years since I lost myself in those worlds.
All I want to do now is slide into those pages and be warmly welcomed home. (I try really hard not to hype myself up too much, but I don’t think that’s working this time.)
Excuse me now while I go devour some words. I’ll let you know how it goes.
I’ve been doing a lot of reading over the last couple months. Just devouring and devouring books upon books almost indiscriminately. Sci-fi, fantasy, horror, biographies, cookbooks, romance – bits and pieces of everything (I read a tad broadly…). I’ve been drinking these words in and swimming in them, luxuriating in them, indulging. It feels like I’m gorging on them, barely even choosing, heedless of genre (or sometimes quality). For the past two months now, it’s felt hurried and frenetic, and I didn’t stop to wonder why.