Fantasy Choices for Literary Book Groups

Millions of readers love Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings, but these successes aren’t always enough to get adults to allow themselves the pleasures of other fantasy fiction. That’s too bad: this sophisticated, diverse genre isn’t just fit to enjoy with your children. Here are good bets to try with a book group that usually reads literary fiction:

For readers of memoir, family stories, and those who seek the meaning of life:

The Stolen ChildThe Stolen Child, by Keith Donohue 

In an unnamed American suburb, a boy named Henry Day is kidnapped by hobgoblins and replaced by a shapeshifting lookalike. The old Henry lives outdoors with the troop of lost children, learning their strange ways and waiting for his turn to kidnap a child and rejoin the human world. The new Henry must hide his true identity from his parents and others while pursuing his dreams. This languidly paced, meditative novel has many layers, but ultimately it’s about themes such as feeling like an outsider, finding one’s identity, accepting adulthood, and the disappearing ways of a simpler time in America.

For fans of the parable, those interested in the afterlife, and those who ponder our connection to others:

Brief History of the DeadThe Brief History of the Dead, by Kevin Brockmeier

In Brockmeier’s story, those who die go on to a city where they reside until everyone who knew and remembered them has also died. As the city starts to empty, some inhabitants of this afterlife begin to realize that they are connected to one or two individuals: a plague has decimated earth’s population and only a few survivors remain. The story goes back and forth between the city and the adventures on earth, particularly those of Laura Byrd, the last survivor, who is trapped at an Antarctic research station. This lyrically written, gentle elegy examines the power of memory. It will leave readers thinking about the impact that people have on each other and pondering their own connections to those who have gone before.

For romantics and historical fiction lovers:

Lions of Al-RassanThe Lions of Al-Rassan, by Guy Gavriel Kay

Kay re-imagines medieval Spain and its conflicts between Muslim, Christian, and Jew in a fantasy context. At the core of the story are three extraordinary people: the woman doctor Jehane, the poet and political advisor Ammar, and a soldier Belmonte. Relied upon but often betrayed by less capable leaders, immensely respectul of each other but often placed in opposition, this passionate triangle must balance their feelings for each other with many other responsibilities. The world that Kay creates is spot-on: deeply believable and highly involving.

Fantasy works from both literary and mainstream currents of the genre make great book group choices. Here are a few more suggestions from literary fantasy: The Confessions of Max Tivoli, by Andrew Sean Greer; The Book of Lost Things, by John Connolly; A Winter’s Tale, by Mark Helprin; Little, Big, by John Crowley; or the stories in Portable Childhoods, by Ellen Klages or Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link.

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About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

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