Guest Post by Author Jenny Davidson + Giveaway

The Magic Circle by Jenny DavidsonToday I’d like to welcome Jenny Davidson, author of The Magic Circle (see my review here). Since Jenny is a professor of literature, I was interested in her take on the difference, or the similarities, between the immersive experience of reading a novel and the immersive experience of playing a game, particularly role-playing games, whether live action or any other kind.

Immersion by Jenny Davidson

I am an addicted novel reader. I’ve stayed up all night reading books – I don’t do it so often any more, but I think the Harry Potter books produced the feeling in many readers that huge numbers of alluring crime novels, fantasies and so forth produce in me. That said, there’s a limit to how much time you can spend immersed in the world of a particular novel, or even reading novels more generally. Whereas a game like World of Warcraft can suck you in to the extent that it really impinges on normal life. Novels can do this too, or television, but I think in this case the difference of scale makes for a qualitative difference between the two.

If games and novels offer an immersive experience that’s basically similar, series fiction seems to me to try to reproduce the greater intensity of a role-playing game. The world of a one-off novel is finite, but the world of a series can be revisited at regular intervals, and the appearance of new installments makes the world seem near-infinite – the fictional worlds that make fans role-play in large numbers (I’m thinking of Firefly in particular, or anything along the Star Trek continuum) have persuaded them that the world of the fiction is infinitely more alluring and appealing than the real world.

_HouseMDOfLeavesTelevision seems to me to work in ways similar to both RPGs and novels, especially as we now tend to view it: a full season in a weekend, in a “binge”-watching experience (either streaming or as a DVD after the initial season has been released). I can immerse myself in bad television as readily as in good: it is true, The Wire or Fringe or The Closer are my preferred fictional worlds, but I once streamed all eight seasons of House from start to finish over about three weeks (I’d hurt my back and couldn’t sit at my desk to work!).

In the end, I fall down on the side of thinking that immersion is something we’re built for, and that we can take it in all sorts of different forms. No fundamental difference between immersion in reading (or immersion in the world of a novel) and immersion in a game, except that some of us are more vulnerable to the pull of certain kinds of world. I like swimming, and I find that immersion in water is almost always very soothing to me – the same can be said for immersion in all different kinds of fictional worlds.

Jenny DavidsonAbout Jenny DavidsonJenny has published four novels and two academic books; forthcoming in 2014 is Reading Style: A Life in Sentences. Jenny teaches in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University and is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship.

To learn more about Jenny, visit her blog or follow her on Twitter and Goodreads


Jenny is kindly giving away one copy of The Magic Circle (Kindle or paperback, at the winner’s choice; paperback can be sent to U.S. addresses only!) to a lucky winner. To enter, please use the Rafflecopter below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.

Review: The Magic Circle by Jenny Davidson

The Magic Circle by Jenny DavidsonFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook, paperback, audiobook
Genre: women’s fiction
Length: 208 pages
Publisher: Little A / New Harvest
Date Released: March 26, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

Three smart young women—the scholarly Ruth, her poet roommate Lucy, and their exotic, provocative neighbor Anna—are obsessed with games of all kinds. They’ve devoted themselves to both the academic study of play and the design of games based on the secret history of the neighborhood around Columbia University, from Grant’s Tomb to the former insane asylum that once stood where the campus is now.
When Anna’s mysterious brother Anders gets involved and introduces live-action role-playing based on classic Greek tragedy, theory goes into practice and the stakes are raised. Told in a variety of formats—including Gchat and blog posts—that bring the fraught drama of Euripides screaming into the 21st century, The Magic Circle is an intellectual thriller like no other.

My Review:

Live action role-playing, otherwise known as LARPing, is normally the sort of geeky fun that adults, or quasi-adults, play at science fiction conventions. Another frame of reference for the average person might be teenage boys playing Dungeons and Dragons and going several stages too far.

In Jenny Davidson’s The Magic Circle the only part of either of those frames of reference that remotely applies is the bit about going several stages too far. That certainly happens.

Most of us don’t even know that game-playing is an academic field of study. Getting a degree in “ludology” seems vaguely ludicrous to most people, no matter how much we might enjoy playing games ourselves.

In The Magic Circle, Ruth and Anna are both game designers in pursuit of their Ph.D.’s. Lucy, Ruth’s roommate, is working on her MFA in Creative Writing. They live in the “magic circle” of academic life, and Ruth and Anna create other “magic circles” in their games.

A “magic circle” in this instance is a game environment. The board a game is played on, the table around which the players play a card game, or the place where LARPers live out their fantasy game.

Academia definitely has aspects of a game environment. The difference is that the stakes in the academic game of degrees, jobs, committees, publishing and tenure are real.

In a LARP, the game blends into the real. It is, after all, a LIVE-action role-playing game. Anna and Ruth are playing a game with each other, only Ruth doesn’t know it’s a game, a competition to see who can create the more immersive game.

When Anna’s brother Anders sweeps in and upsets all the players on the board, the stakes become very real, and permanently life-altering.

BacchaeEscape Rating B+: The Magic Circle reminds me of the phrase about the riddle wrapped in the enigma. There’s the big game that Anna and Ruth create based on the Greek tragedy The Bacchae. It’s wild and liberating and incredibly immersive, until the game becomes all too real.

It’s a bad idea to base a game on a tragedy. The gods still do not like to be mocked.

But there are also games within games, like wheels within wheels, and those are what keep the story moving forward. Who are Anna and Anders? What game are they playing with each other, and with Ruth and Lucy? Is any of what Anna and Ruth and Lucy have experienced together real? Or was it a game all along?

I still have unanswered questions about this story. But that’s the way this one is supposed to end. It’s not a neat and tidy book. It’s not meant to have a happy ending. This one is meant to shake you up, and haunt you. It definitely did its job on me.

This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.
***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on My (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 4-21-13

Sunday Post
This morning’s newspaper was filled with information about the capture of the second suspect in the Boston Marathon Explosion. There are no words for this. Nothing makes sense about it. But it made people pull together again. One of the Occupy Wall Street groups, The Illuminator, lit up the side of the Brooklyn Academy of Music with the image below. Hope springs.

NY Heart Boston

Past Tense by Nick MarshMoving back to bookish topics, a writer friend asked me to mention that he reached the nirvana of getting his rights back and edited and re-released his books. I was supposed to mention this a couple of weeks ago when they were free on Amazon. Nick, I’m sorry. I have a soft spot for Nick Marsh’s Conduit Novels, Soul Purpose and Past Tense, because Past Tense was one of the first books I reviewed for Book Lovers Inc. (I reviewed Soul Purpose here), because the crew time-travels back to Roman Britain, a period I adore, and because one of the villains is a librarian. We don’t often get to be the bad guys. The books are good fun. Give them a try. (Also, Nick’s day job is as a vet, and he was awesomely supportive last year when my kitty was going through chemo).

The delayed winners announcements from last week. Shelley S. won the copy of Robyn Carr’s The Wanderer. Jennifer K. won one of the $10 Amazon Gift Cards from my Blogo-Birthday. Veronika chose a copy of Ruthie Knox’ About Last Night, and Erin F. picked up a copy of Ruthie’s Big Boy. Joy F. was the big winner. Rafflecopter chose her as the winner of one of the $10 Amazon Gift Cards and the set of Victoria Vane’s Devil DeVere series. Way to go winners!

Slam by J.L. MerrowLast week’s complete recap:

B Review: I Kissed A Dog by Carol Van Atta
Guest Post by Author Carol Van Atta + Giveaway
B- Review: Werewolves Be Damned by Stacey Kennedy
B Review: His Southern Temptation by Robin Covington
B- Review: Stealing Home by Jennifer Seasons
B+ Guest Review: Slam by J.L. Merrow
The Magic Touch Blog Hop

Magic Touch Blog HopThere is still plenty of time to get in on The Magic Touch Blog Hop! It’s open until April 30. I’m giving away a $10 Amazon Gift card, and there are 50 other blogs participating. LOTS of chances to win.

Tomorrow starts another week. Let’s take a look at what’s on tap!

Monday starts out with a laugh riot. Elise Sax will talk about life from her character Gladie Burger’s skewed point of view. And since Gladie Burger is the woman on the spot in her new book, An Affair To Dismember, I’ll have a review of her series-starter, along with a giveaway.

River Road by Suzanne JohnsonOn Wednesday and Thursday, we’ll be visiting one of my favorite cities in the world, New Orleans, courtesy of Suzanne Johnson’s Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series. I’ll be reviewing book 1, Royal Street, on Wednesday and book 2, River Road on Thursday along with an interview with Suzanne.

Friday I should have my review of The Magic Circle by Jenny Davidson along with her guest post. The Magic Circle is a somewhat spooky story about immersion in real-life gaming, and all of us involved in the arrangements got a bit too immersed in real-life and had to postpone this from last week to this week!

Return next week for another exciting adventure of “as the blog turns!”

The Sunday Post AKA What’s On My (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 4-14-13

Sunday Post

People filing tax forms in 1920
People filing tax forms in 1920

I wonder how many people in the U.S. are spending this weekend frantically doing their taxes? Not a pretty picture, is it? We did ours early this year, but last year we filed an extension, so I’m in the position of one of those people in the glass house not being able to throw stones.

And isn’t e-filing a wonderful thing?

Speaking of wonderful things, the winners of all the giveaways from last weekend are in the process of being notified. I haven’t heard back from everyone yet, so the announcements will be in next Sunday’s Post.

There is still plenty of time to enter Sheila Roberts’ tourwide giveaway of a $25 eHarlequin Giftcard and along with print copies of the latest book in her Icicle Falls series, What She Wants.

Big Boy by Ruthie KnoxThis weeks’ complete recap:

B+ Review: Lucky Like Us by Jennifer Ryan
A Review: Big Boy by Ruthie Knox
B Review: What She Wants by Sheila Roberts
Guest Post by Author Sheila Roberts + Giveaway
B+ Review: The Trouble With Sin by Victoria Vane
C+ Guest Review: Star Trek The Next Generation: The Stuff of Dreams by James Swallow
Stacking the Shelves (41)

What’s coming up this week?

First, I have to kiss a dog.

I Kissed a Dog by Carol Van AttaTomorrow my guest will be Carol Van Atta, the author of I Kissed a Dog, the start of a new paranormal romance/urban fantasy series about werewolves and other creatures. I’ll also have a review of this rather fun start to a series that just might fill the Sookie-sized hole in your reading schedule.

Thursday my guest will be Jenny Davidson, talking about her rather spooky book about immersion in real-life gaming, The Magic Circle. That story was one to read with the lights on.

And the week ends with The Magic Touch Blog Hop. But there’s magic all week long!