What intrigues me are the effects certain stories have; the ways they enable us to experience the world as the surprising gorgeous shifting fun house we’ve always suspected that it is. We know there’s more to this deal than meets the eye, so we try to look slantwise and catch the world doing its secret dance.
So why start naming genres at all? Well, we writers do like to name things. We also like to define and describe. But if you’re the type of reader who doesn’t care what fancy categories post-postmodern writers and critics are forever coming up with and going on about, you should click away from this post immediately and find a juicy story to immerse yourself in. I won’t mind.
The books I love most seem to get placed into many different genres or modes. Many are called simply literary fiction, which tells us almost nothing except that some critics and/or the academy have deemed it well-written and culturally worthwhile, or even less useful, that the publisher simply decided to market it as such. Other books might called fantasy, but that’s another marketing category that is so broad as to be almost meaningless by itself, and often evokes hobbits, elves, swords and Authurian legends.
Not that there’s anything wrong with high fantasy (I enjoy reading that, too, from time to time), but The Metaphysical Circus is dedicated to stories with characters and settings that exist in the borderlands between the real and surreal, which explore the existential questions encountered by those who venture into such liminal spaces.
Magical realism or the fantastic are two of the most likely labels for this kind of story. Others include: interstitial, fabulist, mythic, slipstream, fairy tale redaction or retelling, and (soft) science fiction (especially those that take place in the near-future, an alternate reality, multiple realities or alternate histories), metaphysical, and post-modern.
I will also recommend some works of non-fiction, the type that explores the fringes of human knowledge through metaphysics, spirituality, and cutting-edge science. This is because, for some of us, the fantastic is not merely a clever literary device, it is central to our ways of exploring, seeing and being in the world.
As we learn, our brains form new synapses, new pathways, so I don’t believe it is a stretch to say that the books, stories and ideas that you embrace can literally rewire your brain, if you let them. The books recommended here are the ones I and other reviews found the most entertaining, beautiful, profound and useful. Books that opened a door where before there was only blank wall.