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Magic for Beginners

Magic for Beginners

3.7 9
by Kelly Link, Shelley Jackson (Illustrator)

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Best of the Decade: Salon, The A.V. Club

"If I had to pick the most powerfully original voice in fantasy today, it would be Kelly Link . Her stories begin in a world very much like our own, but then, following some mysterious alien geometry, they twist themselves into something fantastic and, frequently, horrific. You won’t come out the


Best of the Decade: Salon, The A.V. Club

"If I had to pick the most powerfully original voice in fantasy today, it would be Kelly Link . Her stories begin in a world very much like our own, but then, following some mysterious alien geometry, they twist themselves into something fantastic and, frequently, horrific. You won’t come out the same person you went in."—Lev Grossman, The Week

"Highly original."— Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Dazzling."— Entertainment Weekly (grade: A, Editor’s Choice)

"Darkly playful."—Michael Chabon

Best of the Year: Time Magazine, Salon, Boldtype, PopMatters.

Kelly Link’s engaging and funny stories riff on haunted convenience stores, husbands and wives, rabbits, zombies, weekly apocalyptic poker parties, witches, and cannons. Includes Hugo, Nebula, and Locus award winners. A Best of the Year pick from TIME, Salon.com, and Book Sense. Illustrated by Shelley Jackson.

Kelly Link is the author of three collections of short fiction Stranger Things Happen , Magic for Beginners , and Pretty Monsters . Her short stories have won three Nebula, a Hugo, and a World Fantasy Award. She was born in Miami, Florida, and once won a free trip around the world by answering the question “Why do you want to go through the world?” (”Because you can’t go through it.”)

Link lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, where she and her husband, Gavin J. Grant, run Small Beer Press, co-edit the fantasy half of The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror , and play ping-pong. In 1996 they started the occasional zine Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Intricate, wildly imaginative and totally wonderful. Whether or not you think you like fantasy, if you’re a fan of inventive plots and good writing (her use of language will fill you with awe), don’t miss Kelly Link’s collection.”
—Nancy Pearl, NPR

“Her exquisite stories mix the aggravations and epiphanies of everyday life with the stuff that legends, dreams and nightmares are made of, from pop culture to fairy tales. Some of these pieces are very scary, others are immensely sad, many are funny and all of them are written in prose so flawless you almost forget how much elemental human chaos they contain.”
Salon , Best of the Decade

“Link’s stories ... play in a place few writers go, a netherworld between literature and fantasy, Alice Munro and J.K. Rowling, and Link finds truths there that most authors wouldn’t dare touch.”
Time Magazine

Locus Award winner. Young Lions Award, Bram Stoker, World Fantasy Finalist, Story Prize recommended reading list.

“The dream-logic of Magic for Beginners is intoxicating. These stories will come alive, put on zoot suits, and wrestle you to the ground. They want you and you will be theirs.”
—Alice Sebold, The Lovely Bones

"A mind-bending blast, as funny, disturbing and poignant as anything I’ve read this year.”
Capitol Times

“The storyteller’s mantra—“It gets better”—come to life and multiplied.”
Village Voice

“Link’s powerful prose places this collection into a class of its own.”
Boldtype (Notable Books)

“Kelly Link’s second collection trumps her first on all levels. The fantastic is more subtle here, more sinister and more pervasive. Link writes fantasy fiction in clear, crisp prose that features nontraditional zombies, a fictional television show, and large stone rabbits. She’s toeing the line between literature and sci-fi/fantasy, and her books are usually found in the latter section in stores. The stories in Magic for Beginners are lengthier than typical short stories, driven by solid characters and weird, intriguing scenarios, like a 24-7 gas station that caters to zombies and humans alike. Link brings to each of her pieces a dreamlike, unsettling quality that adds to the sense that on some level of super-reality, all of the weirdness makes some sort of sense.”

“Eerie and engrossing.”
Washington Post Book World

“Dazzling.... One to savor.”
Entertainment Weekly (A, Editor’s Choice)

Magic for Beginners is worth picking up. Doing so will put you in the hands of a true conjurer.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer

“These stories shimmer like impressionist paintings.”
Montreal Gazette

“Kelly Link is the future of American short fiction.”
–Alexis Smith, Powells.com Staff Pick

“The best short-fiction writer working in science fiction and fantasy today, and her new collection, Magic for Beginners , proves it.”
–Cory Doctorow, BoingBoing

“Link’s stories are delightfully playful, almost precocious, as she creates palimpsests of secret passages, hidden doors, quiet pulses of deeper meaning…. Link is fast becoming a major talent.”
Boston Globe

“Advanced alchemy.”
The Believer

“Exuberantly eccentric.”
Time Out New York

“A complete delight.”
–Rich Horton, Locus

"Not only does Link find fresh perspectives from which to explore familiar premises, she also forges ingenious connections between disparate images and narrative approaches to suggest a convincing alternate logic that shapes the worlds of her highly original fantasies.”
Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

“One of the most fascinating writers practicing the craft today.”
The Simon

“Wishful thinking on the brink of disaster.”
Village Voice

“Magical realism meets horror meets postmodern absurdism. Very fresh and funny.”
– Michael Knight, Knoxville Metro Pulse Summer Reading Guide

“A bizarre and enchanting read, worth reading and re-reading.”
Daily Nebraskan

“Kelly Link has an uncanny knack for casting spells over her readers, for luring them into the dark places — the attic, the underworld, a realm beneath a hill. These stories bend and transcend genre as Link stirs together myth, mystery, horror, and fantasy. Fairy tales and myths may be timeless, but these stories are of this moment.”
– Nina MacLaughlin, Boston Phoenix

“Cult-favorite fabulist and Shirley Jackson-esque master of the short story, returns with an eagerly-awaited new collection of thoughtfully strange tales that sprinkle the mundane with pixie dust, a dash of old-fashioned tragedy and a bit of gallows humor.”
The Ruminator Review

“Truly magical, with masterfully crafted stories that are as dark as they are delightful.... Sometimes hilarious, sometimes disconcerting, Link’s stories demonstrate her wicked sense of humor and genius wit.”

“I am in love with Kelly Link’s new collection of stories, Magic for Beginners just out in hardcover. This book is a fairly complete list of my favorite things. She sort of summarized it best when she signed it for me: “Love, Magic, Zombies!” It’s fantastical, whimsical, and dead serious and it makes me interested in short stories again.”
–Alexander Chee ( Edinburgh ) in Books To Watch Out For

“This is one of the most extraordinary and wonderful books of the year.”
Time Out London

“Possibly grimmer than Grimm.”
The Herald

“Beautifully written short stories; eccentric and dark, the collection is an Alice in Wonderland for grown-ups.”
Dazed and Confused

“Link’s writing is bold, tender, mischievous and unsettling.”
Cork Evening Echo

“These are weird and wacky tales, each with their own barmy internal logic which draws you in, flips you on your head and leaves you dizzy with disbelief…. Link’s extraordinary use of language is as haunting as the tales themselves. She blends fantasy and reality into an irresistible melange that, at its best, becomes a powerful metaphor for the unreliability of perception.”
—Jane Wessel, Venue (****)

“Link’s magic is to show the extraordinary in the ordinary and vice versa: no mean feat.”
RTE Guide (*****)

“Just when you think you’ve read all the best magic and fantasy stories, along comes Link and the dull world is enchanted all over again. Her imagination floats free into her very own twilight zone.”

“Whether she’s writing about a suburban family haunted by rabbits or a grandmother who keeps a world hidden in her handbag, Link’s stories are witty, moving and sometimes scary.”
The Gloss Magazine

“A collection of nine stories from a talent to watch, this is a lyrical fantasy where the ordinary is made extraordinary.”
The Bookseller

“Kelly Link owns the most darkly playful voice in American fiction since Donald Barthelme. She is pushing the American short story into places that it hasn’t yet been pushed, while somehow managing to maintain a powerful connection to traditional forms and storytelling values.”
–Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

“A wonderful rattlebag of fantastic tales from far beyond the concrete sidewalks and convenience stores we know.”
–Rich Rennicks Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe, Asheville, NC

“In the very best way, I never know what is coming next. If she only parcelled out one elegant sentence at a time I would beg for each one.”
–Pam Harcourt, Women & Children First, Chicago, IL

Michael Knight
… even when I didn't know what to make of her stories, I couldn't put them out of my mind. That sort of resonance, that lingering, haunting effect, is the product of real magic, and Kelly Link is no doubt a sorceress to be reckoned with.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
The nine stories in Link's second collection are the spitting image of those in her acclaimed debut, Stranger Things Happen: effervescent blends of quirky humor and pathos that transform stock themes of genre fiction into the stuff of delicate lyrical fantasy. In "Stone Animals," a house's haunting takes the unusual form of hordes of rabbits that camp out nightly on the front lawn. This proves just one of several benign but inexplicable phenomena that begin to pull apart the family newly moved into the house as surely as a more sinister supernatural influence might. The title story beautifully captures the unpredictable potential of teenage lives through its account of a group of adolescent schoolfriends whose experiences subtly parallel events in a surreal TV fantasy series. Zombies serve as the focus for a young man's anxieties about his future in "Some Zombie Contingency Plans" and offer suggestive counterpoint to the lives of two convenience store clerks who serve them in "The Hortlak." Not only does Link find fresh perspectives from which to explore familiar premises, she also forges ingenious connections between disparate images and narrative approaches to suggest a convincing alternate logic that shapes the worlds of her highly original fantasies. (July 1) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

Small Beer Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
New Edition
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt

Excerpted from "The Faery Handbag"

I used to go to thrift stores with my friends. We’d take the train into Boston, and go to The Garment District, which is this huge vintage clothing warehouse. Everything is arranged by color, and somehow that makes all of the clothes beautiful. It’s kind of like if you went through the wardrobe in the Narnia books, only instead of finding Aslan and the White Witch and horrible Eustace, you found this magic clothing world–instead of talking animals, there were feather boas and wedding dresses and bowling shoes, and paisley shirts and Doc Martens and everything hung up on racks so that first you have black dresses, all together, like the world’s largest indoor funeral, and then blue dresses–all the blues you can imagine–and then red dresses and so on. Pink-reds and orangey reds and purple-reds and exit-light reds and candy reds. Sometimes I would close my eyes and Natasha and Natalie and Jake would drag me over to a rack, and rub a dress against my hand. “Guess what color this is.”

We had this theory that you could learn how to tell, just by feeling, what color something was. For example, if you’re sitting on a lawn, you can tell what color green the grass is, with your eyes closed, depending on how silky-rubbery it feels. With clothing, stretchy velvet stuff always feels red when your eyes are closed, even if it’s not red. Natasha was always best at guessing colors, but Natasha is also best at cheating at games and not getting caught.

One time we were looking through kid’s t-shirts and we found a Muppets t-shirt that had belonged to Natalie in third grade. We knew it belonged to her, because it still had her name inside, where her mother had written it in permanent marker, when Natalie went to summer camp. Jake bought it back for her, because he was the only one who had money that weekend. He was the only one who had a job.

Maybe you’re wondering what a guy like Jake is doing in The Garment District with a bunch of girls. The thing about Jake is that he always has a good time, no matter what he’s doing. He likes everything, and he likes everyone, but he likes me best of all. Wherever he is now, I bet he’s having a great time and wondering when I’m going to show up. I’m always running late. But he knows that.

We had this theory that things have life cycles, the way that people do. The life cycle of wedding dresses and feather boas and t-shirts and shoes and handbags involves the Garment District. If clothes are good, or even if they’re bad in an interesting way, the Garment District is where they go when they die. You can tell that they’re dead, because of the way that they smell. When you buy them, and wash them, and start wearing them again, and they start to smell like you, that’s when they reincarnate. But the point is, if you’re looking for a particular thing, you just have to keep looking for it. You have to look hard.

Down in the basement at the Garment Factory they sell clothing and beat-up suitcases and teacups by the pound. You can get eight pounds worth of prom dresses–a slinky black dress, a poufy lavender dress, a swirly pink dress, a silvery, starry lame dress so fine you could pass it through a key ring– for eight dollars. I go there every week, hunting for Grandmother Zofia’s faery handbag.

The faery handbag: It’s huge and black and kind of hairy. Even when your eyes are closed, it feels black. As black as black ever gets, like if you touch it, your hand might get stuck in it, like tar or black quicksand or when you stretch out your hand at night, to turn on a light, but all you feel is darkness.

Fairies live inside it. I know what that sounds like, but it’s true.

Grandmother Zofia said it was a family heirloom. She said that it was over two hundred years old. She said that when she died, I had to look after it. Be its guardian. She said that it would be my responsibility.

I said that it didn’t look that old, and that they didn’t have handbag two hundred years ago, but that just made her cross. She said, “So then tell me, Genevieve, darling, where do you think old ladies used to put their reading glasses and their heart medicine and their knitting needles?”

I know that no one is going to believe any of this. That’s okay. If I thought you would, then I couldn’t tell you. Promise me that you won’t believe a word. That’s what Zofia used to say to me when she told me stories. At the funeral, my mother said, half-laughing and half-crying, that her mother was the world’s best liar. I think she thought maybe Zofia wasn’t really dead. But I went up to Zofia’s coffin, and I looked her right in the eyes. They were closed. The funeral parlor had made her up with blue eyeshadow, and blue eyeliner. She looked like she was going to be a news anchor on Fox television, instead of dead. It was creepy and it made me even sadder than I already was. But I didn’t let that distract me.

“Okay, Zofia,” I whispered. “I know you’re dead, but this is important. You know exactly how important this is. Where’s the handbag? What did you do with it? How do I find it? What am I supposed to do now?”

Of course she didn’t say a word. She just lay there, this little smile on her face, as if she thought the whole thing–death, blue eyeshadow, Jake, the handbag, faeries, Scrabble, Baldeziwurlekistan, all of it–was a joke. She always did have a weird sense of humor. That’s why she and Jake got along so well.

I grew up in a house next door to the house where my mother lived when she was a little girl. Her mother, Zofia Swink, my grandmother, babysat me while my mother and father were at work.

Zofia never looked like a grandmother. She had long black hair which she wore up in little, braided, spiky towers and plaits. She had large blue eyes. She was taller than my father. She looked like a spy or ballerina or a lady pirate or a rock star. She acted like one too. For example, she never drove anywhere. She rode a bike. It drove my mother crazy. “Why can’t you act your age?” she’d say, and Zofia would just laugh.

Zofia and I played Scrabble all the time. Zofia always won, even though her English wasn’t all that great, because we’d decided that she was allowed to use Baldeziwurleki vocabulary. Baldeziwurlekistan is where Zofia was born, over two hundred years ago. That’s what Zofia said. (My grandmother claimed to be over two hundred years old. Or maybe even older. Sometimes she claimed that she’d even met Ghenghis Khan. He was much shorter than her. I probably don’t have time to tell that story.) Baldeziwurlekistan is also an incredibly valuable word in Scrabble points, even though it doesn’t exactly fit on the board. Zofia put it down the first time we played. I was feeling pretty good because I’d gotten forty-one points for “zippery” on my turn.

Zofia kept rearranging her letters on her tray. Then she looked over at me, as if daring me to stop her, and put down “eziwurlekistan”, after “bald.” She used “delicious,” “zippery,” “wishes,” “kismet”, and “needle,” and made “to” into “toe”. “Baldeziwurlekistan” went all the way across the board and then trailed off down the righthand side.

I started laughing.

“I used up all my letters,” Zofia said. She licked her pencil and started adding up points.

“That’s not a word,” I said. “Baldeziwurlekistan is not a word. Besides, you can’t do that. You can’t put an eighteen letter word on a board that’s fifteen squares across.”

“Why not? It’s a country,” Zofia said. “It’s where I was born, little darling.”

“Challenge,” I said. I went and got the dictionary and looked it up. “There’s no such place.”

“Of course there isn’t nowadays,” Zofia said. “It wasn’t a very big place, even when it was a place. But you’ve heard of Samarkand, and Uzbekistan and the Silk Road and Ghenghis Khan. Haven’t I told you about meeting Ghenghis Khan?”

I looked up Samarkand. “Okay,” I said. “Samarkand is a real place. A real word. But Baldeziwurlekistan isn’t.”

“They call it something else now,” Zofia said. “But I think it’s important to remember where we come from. I think it’s only fair that I get to use Baldeziwurleki words. Your English is so much better than me. Promise me something, mouthful of dumpling, a small, small thing. You’ll remember its real name. Baldeziwurlekistan. Now when I add it up, I get three hundred and sixty-eight points. Could that be right?”

If you called the faery handbag by its right name, it would be something like “orzipanikanikcz,” which means the “bag of skin where the world lives,” only Zofia never spelled that word the same way twice. She said you had to spell it a little differently each time. You never wanted to spell it exactly the right way, because that would be dangerous.

I called it the faery handbag because I put “faery” down on the Scrabble board once. Zofia said that you spelled it with an “i,” not an “e”. She looked it up in the dictionary, and lost a turn.

Zofia said that in Baldeziwurlekistan they used a board and tiles for divination, prognostication, and sometimes even just for fun. She said it was a little like playing Scrabble. That’s probably why she turned out to be so good at Scrabble. The Baldeziwurlekistanians used their tiles and board to communicate with the people who lived under the hill. The people who lived under the hill knew the future. The Baldeziwurlekistanians gave them fermented milk and honey, and the young women of the village used to go and lie out on the hill and sleep under the stars. Apparently the people under the hill were pretty cute. The important thing was that you never went down into the hill and spent the night there, no matter how cute the guy from under the hill was. If you did, even if you only spent a single night under the hill, when you came out again a hundred years might have passed. “Remember that,” Zofia said to me. “It doesn’t matter how cute a guy is. If he wants you to come back to his place, it isn’t a good idea. It’s okay to fool around, but don’t spend the night.”

Every once in a while, a woman from under the hill would marry a man from the village, even though it never ended well. The problem was that the women under the hill were terrible cooks. They couldn’t get used to the way time worked in the village, which meant that supper always got burnt, or else it wasn’t cooked long enough. But they couldn’t stand to be criticized. It hurt their feelings. If their village husband complained, or even if he looked like he wanted to complain, that was it. The woman from under the hill went back to her home, and even if her husband went and begged and pleaded and apologized, it might be three years or thirty years or a few generations before she came back out.

Even the best, happiest marriages between the Baldeziwurlekistanians and the people under the hill fell apart when the children got old enough to complain about dinner. But everyone in the village had some hill blood in them.

“It’s in you,” Zofia said, and kissed me on the nose. “Passed down from my grandmother and her mother. It’s why we’re so beautiful.”

Meet the Author

Kelly Link is the author of three collections of short stories, Stranger Things Happen , Magic for Beginners , and Pretty Monsters . Her short stories have won the Nebula, Hugo, Locus, and World Fantasy Awards. She was born in Miami, Florida, and once won a free trip around the world by answering the question “Why do you want to go around the world?” (”Because you can’t go through it.”)

Link and her family live in Northampton, Massachusetts, where she and her husband, Gavin J. Grant, run Small Beer Press, and play ping-pong. In 1996 they started the occasional zine Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet.

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Magic for Beginners 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As an avid reader and an embarrassed fan of the strange and paranormal, it takes alot for me to be even faintly surprised by any ghost story these days. Link's collection of short stories did more than surprise me, they actaully thrilled me, alarmed me and most especially puzzled me. Don't expect your average gothic spooky tales here--even her obligatory ghost story is incredibly bizarre and positively dripping with post-modern conventions. Beyond the shock-and-awe factor, Link's stories resonate with the full range of human dilemas--apathy, cynicism, alienation and disgust--as well as at times presenting remarkably touching moments. I reccomend this one--but only for the adventurous and lovers of the eccentric. Those who prefer more straight forward, predictable pieces might want to steer clear, or at least wait for the paperback.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
khk-67 More than 1 year ago
Magic for Beginners is a collection of short stories full of ism's; mainly magical realism (as the title infers) and surrealism. My favorite was the Stone Animals. This story has touches of Gulliver's Travels and psychological thrills as some of the characters slowly are removed from existence. Another is Grandma's magical purse, The Faery Handbag and what powers does it really hold? The Lull has stories within stories, you go forwards and backwards and travel through time. If you enjoy magical realism and a good story this is a book to read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
[ I received this book free from the author through GoodReads/ First Reads . I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising] This book, a collection of short stories in the magical realism relm, is probably not written for someone my age, but aimed toward a younger reader. IMHO, the best story is the first one,"The Faery Handbag", where the narrator keeps telling us NOT to believe a word that is said, but there's just enough reality for you want to. That seems to be the tie together, every story has just that touch. Unfortunately, just not my cuppa, and I reluctantly will not recommend it
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was highly recommended by Time Magazine so I decided to purchase it. What a disappointment! The sentence structure and shallow characters could have been penned by an 8 year old. Save your money.