The best books that feel magical without actual magic

Why am I passionate about this?

I fell in love with magical realism and stories that have a sense of whimsy after hearing my grandparents tell stories of their lives. They always embellished a bit, making a simple detail of a bread line or a penny found on the ground feel massive. Then I read Tom Robbins’s Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates. I didn’t understand at the time that the light touches of magic or moments that felt magical, even if not truly enchantment, were uplifting in stories both light and dark. I quickly fell under the spell and have placed elements of magic or whimsy in my own writing ever since. 

I wrote...

Life Between Seconds

By Douglas Weissman,

Book cover of Life Between Seconds

What is my book about?

When the ghosts of Peter and Sofia’s pasts creep into their present, the histories they have run from threaten the lives they have settled into, forcing them to confront their nightmares. 
For fans of Karen Russell’s Swamplandia! comes a new tale of found family and magic. Unfolding over three decades, Life Between Seconds sets Peter and Sophia on a collision course toward either redemption or damnation. Engrossing, heartbreaking, and surreal, Douglas Weissman’s first adult novel is a meditation on trauma, family, and how to heal after a great loss.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone

Douglas Weissman Why did I love this book?

On the surface, this book is about a person haunted by a single incident from their past but beneath the surface, How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone is a gorgeous meditation on the moments in life that affect us, big and small.

The novel has a heavy subject but the stunning turns-of-phrase and imaginative world our narrator shares can make even the mundane and lived-in reality feel like the fantastical summed up in my favorite line, "Missing someone, they say, is self-centered. I self-center you more than ever."

By Sasa Stanisic, Anthea Bell (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Aleksandar is Comrade-in-Chief of fishing, the best magician in the non-aligned States and painter of unfinished things. He knows the first chapter of Marx's Das Kapital by heart but spends most of his time playing football in the Bosnian town of Visegrad on the banks of the river Drina. When his grandfather, a master storyteller, dies of the fastest heart attack in the world while watching Carl Lewis's record, Aleksandar promises to carry on the tradition. However when the shadow of war spreads to Visegrad, the world as he knows it stops. Suddenly it is not important how heavy a…

Book cover of The History of Love

Douglas Weissman Why did I love this book?

Nicole Krauss creates a story that both speaks to and around the Holocaust while never really speaking about the Holocaust.

Instead focusing on the atrocities of the World War II, the novel talks about connection, misconnection, and the power of story. We get memorable characters like Bird, a boy whose nickname means more than his actual name because of how often he tries to fly, and Bruno, named for the Jewish writer and artist Bruno Schultz.

We look at age, how people can feel invisible young and old, but also how we can sink into grief without noticing, embodied by the line, “There are two types of people in the world: those who prefer to be sad among others, and those who prefer to be sad alone.” 

By Nicole Krauss,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The History of Love as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Leo Gursky taps his radiator each evening to let his upstairs neighbor know he's still alive. But it wasn't always like this: in the Polish village of his youth, he fell in love and wrote a book...Sixty years later and half a world away, fourteen-year-old Alma, who was named after a character in that book, undertakes an adventure to find her namesake and save her family. With virtuosic skill and soaring imaginative power, Nicole Krauss gradually draws these stories together toward a climax of "extraordinary depth and beauty" (Newsday).

Book cover of The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Douglas Weissman Why did I love this book?

The Perks of Being a Wallflower makes you feel young again. It encapsulates the magic of youth, the struggle of youth, and the promise of youth.

I read it when young, scribbling notes in the margins for friends while reading the notes others had written for me. The novel asks you to become part of it simply by the narrator speaking directly to the reader, confiding in you.

Much more than a singular perspective, the story feels infinite, easily speaking to everyone in its specificity and showcased complexity featured in the idea, “…I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I'm still trying to figure out how that could be.”

By Stephen Chbosky,

Why should I read it?

16 authors picked The Perks of Being a Wallflower as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

A modern cult classic, a major motion picture and a timeless bestseller, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a deeply affecting coming-of-age story.

Charlie is not the biggest geek in high school, but he's by no means popular.

Shy, introspective, intelligent beyond his years, caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it, Charlie is attempting to navigate through the uncharted territory of high school. The world of first dates and mixed tapes, family dramas and new friends. The world of sex, drugs, and music - when all one requires to feel infinite is that…

Book cover of The Instructions

Douglas Weissman Why did I love this book?

The Instructions blew my mind from the moment I read the first page. At the time the novel was released, it took place in a near future recently reached.

We quickly dive into bullies, othering, and also the concept of judging without knowing focused on the lives of pre- and young teens, specifically Gurion ben-Judah Maccabee, our main character. The novel is over 1,000 pages but I will never forget diving deep into the story quickly and hungrily, wanting to devour every sentence.

“It is dangerous to exist in the world. To exist is to be threatened. We must live with threats.” The quote exudes Jewish anger, a possible messiah, but also fear, history, and violence making the pages feel magical and shocking, yet grounded firmly in our world. 

By Adam Levin,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Beginning with a chance encounter with the beautiful Eliza June Watermark and ending, four days and 900 pages later, with the Events of November 17, this is the story of Gurion Maccabee, age ten: a lover, a fighter, a scholar, and a truly spectacular talker. Expelled from three Jewish day-schools for acts of violence and messianic tendencies, Gurion ends up in the Cage, a special lockdown program for the most hopeless cases of Aptakisic Junior High. Separated from his scholarly followers, Gurion becomes a leader of a very different sort, with righteous aims building to a revolution of troubling intensity.…

Book cover of Three Assassins

Douglas Weissman Why did I love this book?

Three Assassins almost feels like the movie Bullet Train with Brad Pitt.

It’s a series of seemingly unrelated events that connect a network of assassins together and pit them against one another, knowingly or unknowingly. The novel itself is less about the action and pace and unfurls like a twisted puzzle, making every piece lean into a seemingly surreal universe.

We see all the characters, good and bad, their flaws, good and bad, and the ones we can stand up for, good and bad. “All the knowledge and science that human beings have, it only helps humans.” But even when we’re cheering, I didn’t necessarily know what to believe until I reached the end. Even then, I walked away holding doubts and a smile. 

By Kotaro Isaka, Sam Malissa (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?


Seeking justice, he leaves his old life behind to infiltrate the criminal gang responsible. What he doesn't realise is that he's about to get drawn into a web of the most unusual professional assassins, each with their own agenda:

THE WHALE convinces his victims to take their own lives using just his words.

THE CICADA is a talkative and deadly knife expert.

THE PUSHER dispatches his targets in deadly traffic 'accidents'.

Suzuki must take on the three assassins to avenge his wife - but can he keep his innocence…

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The Midnight Man

By Julie Anderson,

Book cover of The Midnight Man

Julie Anderson Author Of The Midnight Man

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I write historical crime fiction, and my latest novel is set in a hospital, a real place, now closed. The South London Hospital for Women and Children (1912–1985) was set up by pioneering suffragists and women surgeons Maud Chadburn and Eleanor Davies-Colley (the first woman admitted to the Royal College of Surgeons) and I recreate the now almost-forgotten hospital in my book. Events take place in 1946 when wartime trauma still impacts upon a society exhausted by conflict, and my book choices also reflect this.

Julie's book list on evocative stories set in a hospital

What is my book about?

A historical thriller set in south London just after World War II, as Britain returns to civilian life and the men return home from the fight, causing the women to leave their wartime roles. The South London Hospital for Women and Children is a hospital, (based on a real place) run by women for women and must make adjustments of its own. As austerity bites, the coldest Winter then on record makes life grim. Then a young nurse goes missing.

Days later, her body is found behind a locked door, and two women from the hospital, unimpressed by the police response, decide to investigate. Highly atmospheric and evocative of a distinct period and place.

The Midnight Man

By Julie Anderson,

What is this book about?


Winter 1946

One cold dark night, as a devastated London shivers through the transition to post-war life, a young nurse goes missing from the South London Hospital for Women & Children. Her body is discovered hours later behind a locked door.

Two women from the hospital join forces to investigate the case. Determined not to return to the futures laid out for them before the war, the unlikely sleuths must face their own demons and dilemmas as they pursue - The Midnight Man.

‘A mystery that evokes the period – and a recovering London – in…

5 book lists we think you will like!

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