New Fiction, “The Book Finder”

For me, walking into a book store is an odd experience. I’m in a room full of books and I can’t red any of them. Books and reading is where I live—where I have lived for most of my life, but as a blind person, access to print books has always been an issue.
This doesn’t mean I don’t like walking through book stores. I will visit with a friend—always feeling a strange expectancy as whomever I’m with reds titles and backs of books. If I buy, I mostly buy for other people. But my world of books is audio and digital, not print.
I’ve always been able to find books to read, books that take me into worlds I haven’t yet imagined, but many of my most memorable reads have come from other people—teachers, friends, and relatives. I always pay attention when someone tells me about a book. It might be something I’ve already read, but often not. And you never know how a book is going to alter the way you see the world—whether that’s a biography of Charles Darwin, a hefty Dickens novel, or a book about little people who live in holes in the ground. Every book is both mirror and lens—it shows you something of yourself while enabling you to see the world in new and interesting ways.
All of this thinking went into a story I wrote last year called “The Book Finder.” It’s a story about a mysterious woman who works in a bookstore. People talk about her, but no one seems to be able to find her by looking. If you ask at the bookstore, they will invariably shake their heads and send you to the reference desk.
Here’s the opening from “The Book Finder”:

You couldn’t always find her. If you went looking for her, you would never find her—that’s what some people said. You just had to be in the store—by accident, by chance, or just because.
Most people who claimed to have met her didn’t remember her clearly. They would frown, trying to recall.
“I was in there … a Tuesday, I think,” they would say, vaguely. “But I didn’t know what I was looking for. Then she came over and just started asking me what I liked to read. I told her … and she handed me a book.”
The stories went like that. Some said it was an older woman—one was convinced it was a man. But most said it was a girl, or a young woman, smiling, inquiring, and asking what you liked to read.
And maybe that was it. You couldn’t go into the little shop intentionally. You couldn’t walk in and ask for her. If you did, the person behind the counter would say something vague in response: ”Oh, you must mean Sarah (or Sally, or Jane). She’s not here today, but if you go to the reference desk, someone can help you.”

I want to thank the editors of The Evening Street Review for publishing “The Book Finder” in their summer, 2020 issue. You can purchase a copy of the journal at the following address:
The Evening Street Review.
The summer issue is loaded with poetry, short stories, and nonfiction. Remember, purchasing a copy of the magazine helps such journals to continue bringing us stories that will live with us for years to come, and perhaps, even change the way we see the world.

George MacDonald, The Father of Modern Fantasy

George MacDonald is one of those Victorian authors whom people dislike, don’t understand, or simply have never heard of. I love The Princess and the Goblin, but try reading At the Back of the North Wind, which is Dickensian in its depiction of London, or The Princess and Curdie, which is a baffling and disturbing sequel to The Princess and the Goblin, written ten years after the first book. More baffling still are his fairy tales. These are not the beautifully written and finely drawn fairy tales of Oscar Wilde. MacDonald’s fairy tales can be dark, strange, and metaphorically jarring.

Here’s a passage from “The Golden Key” that will give you an idea:
“The sun was now set, and the darkness coming on, but the child thought of no danger but the bears behind her. If she had looked round, however, she would have seen that she was followed by a very different creature from a bear. It was a curious creature, made like a fish, but covered, instead of scales, with feathers of all colours, sparkling like those of a humming-bird. It had fins, not wings, and swam through the air as a fish does through the water. Its head was like the head of a small owl.”
MacDonald, George. “The Golden Key.”)

George MacDonald worked as a clergyman, but left the church to pursue writing full-time. He knew Charles Dodgson—yes, Lewis Carroll—and was a fan of the Alice books. People often think British fantasy for children gets its start with Lewis Carroll and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. But it doesn’t.
MacDonald is a father to British fantasy in the way that Daniel Defoe is the father to the survival story. Virtually every survival story, from Coral Island to Gilligan’s Island to Survivor, can be traced back to Defoe and Robinson Crusoe. As for MacDonald, people may know about him, but they probably haven’t read his books, and they usually don’t know how profoundly this writer influenced the development of fantasy in the twentieth century, particularly for such writers as C. S. Lewis.
If you want to know more about MacDonald, his life and influence, check out this truly fabulous online exhibition,
George MacDonald: The Forgotten Father of Fantasy Fiction.
The canvas was created by Live Life Aberdeenshire in conjunction with the BBC. It includes prints, photographs, and everything you will ever want to know about MacDonald. Just remember to read one of his books as well.