Best-selling fantasy author Neil Gaiman has become a household name to fans of the genre, with books and graphic novels such as The Sandman, Coraline and Anansi Boys. As a child, Gaiman found that short stories were ideally suited to how he read, offering potent mouthfuls of other worlds, just the right size to be swallowed whole before lights-out. Another benefit of story collections is their diversity if one tale doesn't suit, the reader can always skip ahead to the next. Both of these elements make Gaiman's inventive new collection, M Is for Magic, a particularly good choice for summer reading.
One of my favorite stories is "Chivalry," in which an elderly widow purchases the Holy Grail from her neighborhood thrift shop. An errant knight appears and attempts to win the Grail from her, only to be put to work on delightfully mundane tasks, his offers staunchly refused. A favorite of a different sort, "The Price" leaves readers with an unsettled chill. A devoted rescuer-of-cats learns that a favorite stray is actually rescuing him, fighting a losing battle with the devil, who is stalking the narrator's family. And then there's the dreamy, utterly terrifying "How to Talk to Girls at Parties," where two would-be Romeos crash the wrong party in search of some action and end up angering a universe.
"Horror stays with you hardest," Gaiman says. "Fantasy gets into your bones." Stories can terrify or entrance; in M Is for Magic, they do both at once.