My favorite books about living and dying in the shadow of our own invented selves

Why am I passionate about this?

Robert-Houdin, Houdini's first and greatest inspiration, famously said that a magician is an actor playing the role of a sorcerer. When I started out writing professionally, I quickly found myself drawn to characters who are at odds with themselves, living in their own shadows. There's a core tension in the stories these people inhabit that, for me, reflects the structure of a magic trick, with its misdirection and layered realities. I always try to incorporate the principles of magic into my writing, and the figurative masks my characters wear to function in worlds that alienate them are a major part of that.

I wrote...

Indifference Engine

By Cy Dethan, Rob Carey (illustrator),

Book cover of Indifference Engine

What is my book about?

Responding to a strangely specific job advertisement, underachieving suburban slacker Alan Blake suddenly finds himself the newest recruit of an interdimensional task force staffed entirely by superhuman alternate-reality versions of himself. Blackmailed by an insane supercomputer, Alan is forced to kill in order to live. With every murder he commits, another world ends—but, inevitably, the only person he ever hurts is himself.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America's First Superhero

Cy Dethan Why did I love this book?

My professional background's in magic, so Houdini's an endlessly fascinating character to me—both in his real life and the grand illusion he built of himself as the early 20th century's greatest showman. Erik Weisz was a skilled performer with a passion for physically testing himself. Harry Houdini, by contrast, was a superhuman master mystifier, a tireless crusader against psychic fraudsters—and also, allegedly, a rather successful spy. What emerges in this book is a man at war with his own constructed alter ego. A man who literally escaped his own grave many times before falling victim to the very claims of invincibility that established his legend, and who ultimately died believing himself a fraud. It's an immensely powerful story to me, inspirational and chilling in equal measure. 

By William Kalush, Larry Sloman,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Secret Life of Houdini as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Synopsis coming soon.......

Book cover of The Glorious Deception: The Double Life of William Robinson, aka Chung Ling Soo, the Marvelous Chinese Conjurer

Cy Dethan Why did I love this book?

I instinctively gravitate toward characters stricken with identity issues. It's one of the reasons I've spent years specialising in writing comics, where alternate personae and false realities are fundamental storytelling tools. Growing up, I first read the story of Robinson in a conjuring book, and it caught my imagination fiercely. Like Houdini, Robinson's commitment to maintaining his performance identity was full-blooded—to the point that the myths surrounding his death have virtually swallowed the story of his life. Steinmeyer navigates a complex tale of dual identities with the ease of a seasoned magician. Chung Ling Soo, one of the world's greatest vaudeville stars, died on stage in 1918 when a bullet catch trick went tragically wrong. William Robinson, however, had been fading away for many years by then.

By Jim Steinmeyer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Glorious Deception as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In a biography woven from equal parts enchantment and mystery, master illusion designer and today's foremost magic historian, Jim Steinmeyer, unveils the astonishing secrets behind the enigmatic performer Chung Ling Soo, the "marvellous Chinese Conjurer" , a magician whose life of intrigue and daring remains unparalleled to this day. He learned his art during a revolutionary era in show business, just as minstrel, circus, and variety saloons were being stirred together and distilled into a heady new concoction: vaudeville. Soo's infamous death in 1918 astonished the world: he was killed during a performance of "Defying the Bullets," his popular act…

Book cover of Fight Club

Cy Dethan Why did I love this book?

Fight club is a chainsaw-dissection of the concept of 90s masculinity, a nihilistic poem of self-destruction set against a violently consumerist backdrop. Crucially for me, it's essentially a story of warring identities. All of the narrator's fiercest, most intense struggles are against himself—or a version of himself he creates as a brutal critique of his own shortcomings and flawed ambitions. The film adaptation is occasionally misused to prop up some very dodgy politics, and I haven't quite forgiven Palahniuk for accidentally putting the term "snowflake" into popular use as an insult, but Fight Club is still a savagely powerful depiction of a character undergoing a crisis of identities.

By Chuck Palahniuk,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Fight Club as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Chuck Palahniuk showed himself to be his generation's most visionary satirist in this, his first book. Fight Club's estranged narrator leaves his lackluster job when he comes under the thrall of Tyler Durden, an enigmatic young man who holds secret after-hours boxing matches in the basements of bars. There, two men fight "as long as they have to." This is a gloriously original work that exposes the darkness at the core of our modern world.

Book cover of Chopper

Cy Dethan Why did I love this book?

As a model unreliable narrator, you couldn't pick a more disarming armed robber than Mark "Chopper" Read. He described his pseudo-autobiographical book series as "the truth, the half-truth and nothing like the truth," which may be the most honest statement he ever made. None of this is to suggest that Read wasn't every inch the ultra-violent toecutter he sketches out in his writing. It's just that every word in Chopper is working toward the same goal: building a larger-than-life self-caricature to outshine and outlast the man himself. The cover quote boldly declares, "I regret nothing." The final line of the book admits, "I regret everything." Chopper Read lived and died within that contradiction, and his story's all the more mesmerising for its gunsmoke and mirrors.

By Mark Brandon Read,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Chopper as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Bullied at school, and growing up dreaming of revenge, Mark 'Chopper' Read determined to be the toughest in any company. He became a crime commando who terrorised drug dealers, pimps, thieves and armed robbers on the streets and in jail - but boasts never to have hurt an innocent member of the public. Streetfighter, gunman and underworld executioner, he has been earmarked for death a dozen times, but has lived to tell the tale. This is his story.

Book cover of The Strange Case of Mr Pelham

Cy Dethan Why did I love this book?

This book, for me, stands alongside The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as a necessary stepping stone toward all modern 'dark double' fiction. I actually first encountered the book via one of its looser adaptations, The Man Who Haunted Himself, starring Roger Moore. I must have seen that some time in the 70s, and it stuck with me across five decades without losing its core power. The Armstrong original, written in 1940 then expanded later, is still a legitimately creepy tale, particularly in terms of the questions it refuses to answer. Watching Pelham's slow-motion collapse into paranoia and chaos is a genuinely uneasy experience, like seeing The Picture of Dorian Gray through the eyes of the portrait itself.

By Anthony Armstrong,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Strange Case of Mr Pelham as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

First published in 1957 The Strange Case of Mr Pelham is Anthony Armstrong’s masterclass in suspense, a slow-burning examination of one man’s descent into paranoia.
Filmed several times for television in both the UK for the BBC, and in the US as an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Armstrong’s Pelham eventually hit the big screen in 1970 as the movie The Man Who Haunted Himself, starring Roger Moore.
Reissued here for the first time in more than half a century, this classic period piece is set to bring one of the great 20th century thriller writers to a new generation…

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Book cover of Adventures in the Radio Trade: A Memoir

Joe Mahoney Author Of Adventures in the Radio Trade: A Memoir

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Broadcaster Family man Dog person Aspiring martial artist

Joe's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Adventures in the Radio Trade documents a life in radio, largely at Canada's public broadcaster. It's for people who love CBC Radio, those interested in the history of Canadian Broadcasting, and those who want to hear about close encounters with numerous luminaries such as Margaret Atwood, J. Michael Straczynski, Stuart McLean, Joni Mitchell, Peter Gzowski, and more. And it's for people who want to know how to make radio.

Crafted with gentle humour and thoughtfulness, this is more than just a glimpse into the internal workings of CBC Radio. It's also a prose ode to the people and shows that make CBC Radio great.

By Joe Mahoney,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Adventures in the Radio Trade as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"In dozens of amiable, frequently humorous vignettes... Mahoney fondly recalls his career as a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio technician in this memoir... amusing and highly informative."
— Kirkus Reviews

"What a wonderful book! If you love CBC Radio, you'll love Adventures in the Radio Trade. Joe Mahoney's honest, wise, and funny stories from his three decades in broadcasting make for absolutely delightful reading!
— Robert J. Sawyer, author of The Oppenheimer Alternative''

"No other book makes me love the CBC more."
— Gary Dunford, Page Six
Adventures in the Radio Trade documents a life in radio, largely at Canada's…

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