The Sunday Salon: Laura Miller


After reading The Magician’s Book last winter, I, quite frankly, fell in love with Laura Miller’s writing. There is a short list of people whose writing I will read, no matter what it is. That list is as follows—Michael Chabon, Jeffrey Eugenides, Jacqueline Carey, and Laura Miller. But while Chabon also writes fantastically on the subject of reading, Miller is the only one who regularly reviews books for Salon.com. Her bookish thoughts on a near-weekly basis… be still, my beating heart. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a Laura Miller appreciation post.

I thought about a lot of ways to share my love for Laura Miller, but I think the best way to show just how awesome she is is by letting her speak for herself. As you know, I keep a commonplace book, and the following quotes are just a small sample of the Miller entries.

From The Magician’s Book:

I vowed to be scrupulously honest about this assignment, and that meant acknowledging that the most momentous passage in my reading life came when I was in second grade. A teacher I idolized handed me a copy—her copy—of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It was this book that made a reader out of me. It showed me how I could tumble through a hole in the world I knew and into another, better one, a world fresher, more brightly colored, more exhilarating, more fully felt than my own. This revelation really did make a new person out of me. (4)

Lucy can’t remember any more from the story than “a cup and a sword and a tree and a green hill,” but that doesn’t mean she isn’t able to recognize it when she meets it again, even when it appears in a different form. “Ever since that day,” the narrator continues, “what Lucy means by a good story is a story that reminds her of the forgotten story in the Magician’s Book.” I’ve read a lot of great literature since the day my second-grade teacher handed me a clothbound copy of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I’ve read both towering masterpieces and less exalted novels that, when it comes to felicity of craftsmanship, thoroughly trounce any of Lewis’s fiction. But none of these is my Magician’s Book, the story to which all other stories must be compared. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, my introduction to Narnia, is that book for me, not merely because of its form or style or historical significance, but because of how it made me feel, which is at heart the fundamental question with any work of fiction. In the right light, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe will always be the best book I’ve ever read. (12)

The honest, educated reader, when tackling the towering literary works of the past, now faces a different, though no less precarious task: how to acknowledge an author’s darker side without losing the ability to enjoy and value the book. Prejudice is repellent, but if we were to purge our shelves of all the great books tainted by one vile idea or another, we’d have nothing left to read—or at least nothing but the new and blandly virtuous. (171)

From her article “How novels came to terms with the Internet”:

Which brings us to the other designated special province of the literary novelist: museum-quality depth. The further literature is driven to the outskirts of the culture, the more it is cherished as a sanctuary from everything coarse, shallow and meretricious in that culture. It is the chapel of profundity, and about as lively and well visited as a bricks-and-mortar chapel to boot. Literature is where you retreat when you’re sick of celebrity divorces, political mudslinging, office intrigues, trials of the century, new Apple products, internet flame wars, sexting and X Factor contestants – in short, everything that everybody else spends most of their time thinking and talking about.

From her review of The Night Circus:

As it is, “The Night Circus” embodies a certain endearing early-21st-century DIY sensibility that’s equal parts Victoriana, YA fantasy, handmade diorama, romance fiction and domesticated gothic. Think of it as the first Etsy novel.

Miller’s writing reflects her wide reading experience, her eye for detail, and, above all, her ease, which I greatly appreciate. She’s comfortable writing on any genre without making excuses for it (which some professional reviewers feel is necessary when it comes to speculative fiction; boo, hiss), and evaluates books with an even hand—but when it comes to something that she’s truly loved (like, say, Narnia), her passion and love shine through without undermining her serenity.

And that’s why it feels like my birthday when she posts a new review.

This week has been busy. As you may know, I’m directing (well, co-directing) my first show, which is a small school production and eating up my evenings. I did manage to finish the Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire audiobook and Lavinia this week, which means I’ll be starting on A Fire Upon the Deep soon, which I’m very much looking forward to. I’m also making my way through Blood Rights, which has turned out to be an entirely different genre than I expected. Hmm.

Stuck in YA Books is giving away Vanish, Firelight, and The Duff until tomorrow. Fantasy Book Critic is giving away a copy of Spellbound and a signed copy of Spellwright until October 7. Tor/Forge is giving away a Repairman Jack bundle until October 17; you must register for their newsletter to enter. The Baen Free Library is full of free downloads, including The Shadow of the Lion and On Basilisk Station. Night Shade Books is offering Butcher Bird and Grey as free downloads at the moment. Vertigo Comics is offering free downloads of the first issue of several series, including Fables, The Unwritten, and Y: The Last Man. (And you will go download The Unwritten.) If I’ve missed your giveaway or freebie, drop me a line!

Do you have a writer you love so much that you’ll read anything they put to paper?

  • Miller, Laura. The Magician’s Book. New York, Little, Brown and Company. 2008. Print.

14 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon: Laura Miller

  1. I do love Laura Miller but I’ve been a bit leery of reading The Magician’s Book. I think I’m afraid she’ll be angrier at CS Lewis than I am, and less forgiving than I am, and then I’ll be complicatedly cross with her because I’ll know she’s right and I’m wrong but I loved CS Lewis first and I can’t get rid of that fundamental emotional loyalty in order to objectively evaluate him. Sooooo….conundrum.

    • Oh, goodness, no! She loves Lewis; yes, she’s angry at him for a bit, but she writes about him with warmth and real fondness, especially as she focuses on his personal life and the trials therein. She’s recalling a time when she was put out by him, but the Laura Miller writing it still loves him. (She even discusses the idealization of authors in it. I can’t recommend it enough.)

  2. I’ve unfortunately come to think on Laura Miller with mild resentment because one of her articles convinced me to finally slog through The Last Ringbearer…and I’m still scratching my head at how she could ever recommend that bizarre Marxist send-up of Tolkien. (I wrote a review of the book itself soon after: http://onelastsketch.wordpress.com/2011/03/05/eastern-european-fantasy-post-tolkien/)

    Other then that, I’ve enjoyed her work quite a bit. And I feel kind of bad always think back to “Middle Earth According to Mordor” when someone brings her up.

  3. I would say this made my day, but it’s more like it made my year. Thanks so much for all these kind words and for being such a passionate reader. That goes for the rest of you, too. The Sunday Salon crowd never fails to inspire me.

    Michal, I confess, I did pretty much skim The Last Ringbearer, which I think of as more of a curiosity — political criticism in the form of fiction — than a stand-alone book. Given 1) the average standard of Tolkien fan fiction posted to the Web and 2) the essentially didactic nature of the enterprise, it struck me as accomplished and still does. But I would never urge anyone to read it for the sheer pleasure of it. I apologize if it came across that way!

  4. Pingback: Review: The Influencing Machine « The Literary Omnivore

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