Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

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The 150-word Review: When I think of magic realism, I think of one book:  Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. This book is a conjuring – a cacophonous explosion of sounds, flavors, colors, and textures – and a chronicle of India during its nascent independence.  All of which could only be accurately described with magic realism.

Saleem Sinai is the first of the one-thousand-and-one “midnight children,” born at the stroke of midnight during the first hour of India’s independence, with a gargantuan nose and a unique gift.  Saleem is a telepath.  He can communicate with all of the midnight children, each who have magical abilities of their own.  Saleem appreciates the significance (and the burden) of his birth and sets to tell his life’s story to his wife.  Thus Saleem becomes Rushdie’s Scheherazade, weaving together the miraculous tales of the midnight children and serving as witness to the tumultuous events that envelop the sub-continent during his life.

You will enjoy this book if you are a fan of: a polyglot of languages and local dialects, the crystal blue skies of Kashmir, cheroot and betlenut, historical fiction and allegory, old Bombay, chutney, One Thousand and One Nights, and following one’s nose.

Clavinism (stuff that will not make you look cool in a bar): Actually Norm, Midnight’s Children has twice been recognized as the “Booker of Bookers.”

The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem

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The 150-word Review: If you’ve ever been bullied relentlessly (been yoked); if you’ve ever had to desperately project a mole-like inconspicuousness as a means for survival; if you’ve ever withdrawn within yourself to a world of music, art, and imagination for solace; if you’ve ever hidden your devotion to another because it would mean suicide in your world; if you’ve ever somehow grew up, moved away, and found success; if you ever returned home in despair; Jonathan Lethem speaks to you.

“The Fortress of Solitude” is the story of a young motherless white boy and his equally motherless, preternaturally hip, black friend (masters of skully games, comic books, midnight graffiti missions, and superpowers) growing up in Boerum Hill (née Gowanus Houses), Brooklyn in the 1970’s. Featuring a deeply personal soundtrack, Lethem meditates on a not-so-idyllic coming of age, the struggle for identity, and how returning to ones youth can sometimes lead to redemption.

You would like this book if you’re a fan of: top-to-bottom burners, album liner notes, gentrification, early-era Hip Hop, intellectual punk rock, avant-garde art, genre bending fiction, and suspect magic realism.

This book would go great with: YooHoo, Rheingold, Manhattan Special

Clavinism (stuff that will not make you look cool in a bar): Actually Norm… Jonathan Lethem was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship, the so-called “genius” grant, in 2005.

Reading this book would impress: Fab Five Freddy, Philip K. Dick, DJ Kool Herc, Lou Reed, and Brooklyn hipsters.