The best black magic books

Many authors have picked their favorite books about black magic and why they recommend each book.

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Little Labors

By Rivka Galchen,

Book cover of Little Labors

A friend once described her early years of motherhood as non-stop work but also total idleness. Galchen’s slim book of collected observations and witticisms about babies and motherhood, some only one dazzling paragraph long, made me pause to savor each word. I liken reading this book to reading fun poetry or admiring a pop-up gallery. You can read a bit of this book every day, without losing the thread. Each chapter (they are very mini chapters) made me see the world in a new light. Many made me laugh out loud with joy. 


Who am I?

I am fascinated by work, especially women at work. I am an immigrant, a child of immigrants, a former scientist, and for most of life, have been conditioned to work because if I could not work, then why else was I here? Yet work is not strictly an emblem of immigrant grit or the model minority mindset. It can be made funny, surreal, existential, and it’s a rich subject to tackle. More often than not, work is treated as taboo. It’s ignored or deemed too prosaic to discuss.  Who wants to see what goes on inside the factory? I do. I’m obsessed with stories that showcase the factory. 


I wrote...

Joan Is Okay

By Weike Wang,

Book cover of Joan Is Okay

What is my book about?

Joan lives on her own terms. And she is okay. Really. Caught between the cultural expectations of her Chinese heritage and her American upbringing, Joan has chosen instead to make work her home. As a successful doctor at a busy New York City hospital, she finds comfort in being just another cog in the vast, orderly machine of the ICU. But to those who know her, Joan can be a puzzle.

Life, unlike medicine, doesn’t always follow a prescribed set of procedures, of course. Family turmoil and loss start to permeate the boundaries Joan has drawn around her. And all the while, cases of a new virus keep rising, and the world hurtles toward an uncertain future. Will Joan be okay?

Saint's Blood

By Sebastien De Castell,

Book cover of Saint's Blood

I picked the third book in the Greatcoats series as it contains the fight sequence I remember the most, but every entry in this series has some incredible swordplay and memorable action. The Greatcoats take all the swashbuckling bravado of the Three Musketeers but thrown into a far more dangerous world with black magic and angry deities. There’s a cavalier joy to every sword fight, which often details the specific strategies to the point where you feel like you’re learning how to fight for yourself. There’s tons of honor and bravery in the face of a brutal, bleak world, and worth every page.


Who am I?

As a stage combat choreographer myself, fight sequences are always important to me: they have to be believable but exciting, they have to keep up the pace so the reader is experiencing the action at the same speed as the characters—but most importantly, they have to tell a story. Action just for the sake of action always feels empty, but great fight scenes that are both exhilarating and bound to the forward momentum of the plot and emotion will stay with me for a long time. Here’s some that I still remember long after I finished the book.


I wrote...

Nottingham

By Nathan Makaryk,

Book cover of Nottingham

What is my book about?

Sure, the story of Robin Hood has been done over and over again, but somehow I’ve never seen the version I really wanted. I’ve always hated “good guys” vs moustache-twirling “bad guys.” I wanted a Robin Hood with questionable motives, and a relatable Sheriff of Nottingham with good intentions.

Nottingham is my answer to a more complex look at Robin Hood lore, in which we see the world from multiple points of view on both sides of the conflict. There are still plenty of famous tentpole Robin Hood moments that will keep the story familiar to a reader’s expectations, but there are just as many Robin Hood tropes dismantled along the way, in favor of something more realistic and morally ambiguous.

Stealing with the Eyes

By Will Buckingham,

Book cover of Stealing with the Eyes

Since the 1980s, anthropologists have been confronting the fraught ethics of representing other people, other places, other cultures much more directly than their counterparts in journalism or travel writing. Will Buckingham didn’t stick with anthropology, and this book about his fieldwork with woodcarvers in eastern Indonesia – written two decades after the events it describes – goes some way to explaining why. It’s wry, funny and thought-provoking. The title refers to the theft committed by every travelling writer.


Who am I?

I’ve been fascinated by nonfiction since my teens, by the idea of books about things that really happened. Fiction gets all the kudos, all the big prizes, all the respect. But as far as I’m concerned, trying to wrestle the unruly matter of reality onto the page is much more challenging – imaginatively, technically, ethically – than simply making things up! My book The Travel Writing Tribe is all about those challenges – and about the people, the well-known travel writers, who have to confront them every time they put pen to paper.


I wrote...

The Travel Writing Tribe: Journeys in Search of a Genre

By Tim Hannigan,

Book cover of The Travel Writing Tribe: Journeys in Search of a Genre

What is my book about?

Where can travel writing go in the twenty-first century? Author and lifelong travel writing aficionado Tim Hannigan sets out in search of this most venerable of genres, hunting down its legendary practitioners and confronting its greatest controversies. Is it ever okay for travel writers to make things up, and just where does the frontier between fact and fiction lie? What actually is travel writing, and is it just a genre dominated by posh white men? What of travel writing’s queasy colonial connections?

Travelling from Monaco to Eton, from wintry Scotland to sun-scorched Greek hillsides, Hannigan swills beer with the indomitable Dervla Murphy, sips tea with the doyen of British explorers, delves into the diaries of Wilfred Thesiger and Patrick Leigh Fermor, and gains unexpected insights from Colin Thubron, Samanth Subramanian, Kapka Kassabova, William Dalrymple and many others. But along the way he realises how much is at stake: can his own love of travel writing survive this journey?

Mr. Clarinet

By Nick Stone,

Book cover of Mr. Clarinet

Pied Pier, soul stealer, serial killer. Who is Mr. Clarinet? On the island of Haiti – not yet recovered from the sickeningly corrupt rule of Papa Doc Duvalier – children are vanishing amidst rumours of black magic and voodoo. Private investigator, Max Mingus, is hired to track down the son of a wealthy islander. Nick Stone lived for many years in Haiti, and his in-depth knowledge of the place seeps through the book like the blood of its numerous victims. The Haiti of this novel is dark, lawless, dangerous, and utterly fascinating. 


Who am I?

I love dark, creepy stories set on remote islands; I love writing them and I love reading them. There is something about an island that lends itself so well to the thriller. A closed community with its own set of rules, a far-flung location, probably at the vagaries of oceanic weather, poor communications, local people whose loyalties can’t always be trusted, few places to hide. When the sun goes down on an island there is often, quite literally, no way of escape. I’ve set some of my best books on islands (Sacrifice, Little Black Lies, The Split) and love all of the ones on this list. I hope you do too. 


I wrote...

The Split: A Novel

By Sharon J. Bolton,

Book cover of The Split: A Novel

What is my book about?

She’s got nowhere left to hide. 

A year ago, in desperation, glaciologist Felicity Lloyd signed up for a lengthy research trip to the remote island of South Georgia in the Antarctic ocean. It was her only way to escape. And now he’s coming for her. Freddie Lloyd has served time for murder. Out at last, he’s on her trail. And this time, he won’t stop until he finds her. Because no matter how far you run, some secrets will always catch up with you.

Envy

By Helmut Schoeck,

Book cover of Envy: A Theory of Social Behaviour

A thick science book on envy is just what we need to help us release this feeling. The author looks at “Man the Envier” in an anthropological way. He shows how diverse cultures have struggled to manage this natural impulse, even using “black magic.” That may sound crazy, but my Italian ancestors did this. They believed that suffering is caused by malocchiothe evil eye from a person who envies you.

I like this book because it shows how humans create envy inside themselves. You may not want to see inside yourself. It’s easier to dream that the perfect society that will relieve your envy. But you make yourself powerless when you do that because you can’t control society. You are better off building your power over your emotions, as my books explain.


Who am I?

I grew up around a lot of suffering over status. I didn’t want to suffer, so I kept trying to understand why everyone plays a game that they insist they don’t want to play. I found my answer when I studied evolutionary psychology. This answer really hit home when I watched David Attenborough’s wildlife documentaries. I saw the social rivalry among our mammalian ancestors, and it motivated me to research the biology behind it. I took early retirement from a career as a Professor of Management and started writing books about the brain chemistry we share with earlier mammals. I’m so glad I found my power over my inner mammal!


I wrote...

Status Games: Why We Play and How to Stop

By Loretta Graziano Breuning,

Book cover of Status Games: Why We Play and How to Stop

What is my book about?

People care about status despite their best intentions because our brains are inherited from animals who cared about status. The survival value of status in the state of nature helps us understand our intense emotions about status today. Beneath your verbal brain, you have a brain common to all mammals. It rewards you with pleasure hormones when you see yourself in a position of strength, and it alarms you with stress hormones when you see yourself in a position of weakness. 

But constant striving for status can be anxiety-provoking and joy-stealing. It releases those stress chemicals when you think others are ahead of you. Loretta Breuning shows you how to rewire your brain to avoid the trap of comparison and status-seeking to achieve more contentment and satisfaction in life.

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