Half Price Book Raid II

A few weeks ago I had the honor of visiting two of those elegantly erudite ladies at the Egotist’s Club, Urania and Melpomene. Among the varying important cultural pastimes we took part in (an impressive Renaissance Faire, an Irish pub, stalking university grounds at night, watching me die hilariously in Assassin’s Creed 2 and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess [that darn chicken!]), perhaps the most productive was a pilgrimage to a very large Half Price Books.

Here be my (legally paid for) plunder.

Tamsin by Peter S. Beagle

Since being amazed by the beauty of The Last Unicorn, I’ve wanted to read more of Beagle’s work. This one seems to be an urban fantasy of sorts, or at least a fairy tale with a modern setting, and it comes highly recommended. I think I’m most interested in what Beagle’s prose style will be like. His Unicorn prose formed striking and beautiful similes with deceptively simple words to achieve a sublime, ethereal quality – you’re amazed at the beauty of his prose, but never so overwhelmed that you lose track of the story itself. It was perfect for that fairy tale, but something tells me that Beagle is canny enough to shift his style when tackling a story with a different tone. Of course, I’ll be sure to let you know how he does, once I read it.

The Bards of Bone Plain by Patricia McKillip

Same amazing cover art style as with “The Bell at Sealey Head.”

Likewise, The Bell at Sealey Head was so great that I’ve been eager to read more of McKillip. She has a nice habit of taking intrinsically interesting ideas, adding unique little twists to them, and then populating her story with a cast of incredibly likable and good characters who quite rightly become the story’s main focus rather than the plot itself. Urania is already a fan of this, her latest book, published in 2010, and presented it to me in the store – very politely, mind you – to add to the pile of books already in my arms. She also presented me with the series listed below:

The Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny

Sadly, my versions don’t have this awesome picture.

These have been on my desired reading list for some time, so I was delighted when we found the whole series in two volumes. At half price each, of course. Hard to ask for a better deal!

Invisible Cities and If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino

These are the Experiments, but ones I knew I wanted. I don’t know how many of you have noticed, but if you look to my right-hand sidebar, way down below the Categories, you’ll see links to some of my favorite webcomics. One of them is a dreamlike, philosophical fantasy called Hero (Urania actually wrote about it a few weeks back for the Meme), in which the protagonist gets to travel through a series of mystical cities that all embody different ideas: the City of Desire, the City of Delight, the City of Despair, etcetera. As it happens, the webcomic was itself inspired by Italo Calvin’s Invisible Cities, an experimental novel in which Marco Polo recounts to Kublai Khan various fantastical cities he’s visited on his travels. Since the comic is so fresh and intriguing, I had to check out the book as well.

If on a winter’s night a traveler I had heard about only after researching Calvino online due to my interest in Invisible Cities. I knew next to nothing about it, but the copy I found in the store was a beautiful dark blue hardback, as perfect-looking a book as one could hope. It touts itself as an “interactive novel,” which initially made me think of those dreadful Choose Your Own Adventures, but in this case means something quite different. I bought it and promptly started reading it. I’m about two-thirds of the way through it now, and I can say with assurance that I have never read anything like it in my life. See, in all the reading and studying about books that I’ve done, I hear every so often of a book or author that redefines what is possible with literature. Shakespeare did that. They say Henry James and James Joyce and T.S. Eliot did, too. Authors who do something manifestly Different than what was done before. That doesn’t make them automatically good, but it can make them very important. And Calvino, I think, is one of those authors who is very good at being very Different. Final judgment to be postponed until actual review (well, opinions on art should always be open to revision, as one grows and matures). But to give you a taste, here is the book’s first chapter. Read it. It’s short. And addicting. Everyone who loves books will immediately know what Calvino is talking about.

What are your recent book acquisitions? Borrowed? Lent? Read surreptitiously at a bookstore without actually buying?


  1. You forgot to mention that the Amber copies I found you have such fabulous ’80s pulp fiction cover art. I know I’m a dork, but I’m a big fan of those hideous covers. Those were the copies I read from the library when I first read the books, and I knew I wanted to own them.

    Tamsin isn’t exactly “urban” fantasy, since the setting is actually quite rural. But you’re absolutely right, it is a modern fairy tale. I hope you like it. It’s a first-person narrative, so the style is very different from The Last Unicorn. I really loved the narrator’s voice.

    1. Yeah yeah, I know, sorry! I searched Google for those cover images but couldn’t find any — and it was late enough at night that I didn’t have the energy to go take some photos of the books myself (which requires finding some decent lighting and a decent neutral background, which is surprisingly hard in my house) and upload them. But perhaps I will do that soon and add them to this page. And ditto with “If on a winter’s night a traveler.”

      I wasn’t quite sure what the genre was, beyond fantasy, or how exactly to label what I thought it might be. I guess “urban” fantasy should refer mainly to city settings. I can’t be sure how soon I’ll get to Tamsin, since I’d like to at least read another George MacDonald first, and maybe Ivanhoe or another long-awaited classic, but it’s sitting prominently near the top of one of my bedside book piles.

  2. When I used to do road sales, I listened to many of Zelazny’s “Amber” tales on cassette tapes as I drove across northern Arizona. Great stuff!

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