The Shameful Book Club: Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman for June

And the crunch begins for me to finish this book challenge! I’m months behind in all aspects. Ugh. But I’m finally at June, so here we go! As a very witchy person who absolutely loves the film adaptation of this book, it was really quick surprising to me that it took me so long to pick it up! When I worked at a small public library in the next county over, I saw a beautiful hard copy of Practical Magic in the pile for the book sale. I had to have it for so many reasons, but honestly the book jacket is everything…

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I just started reading Hoffman this past year. I started with her newest release, Faithful, and then jumped right to Practical Magic. Very rarely in my life do I feel that I encounter the right thing at the right time. As you read through my Shameful Book Club posts you will see a trend of me saying, “Oh, if only I read this when I was 15/13/18/24!” But no, I believe that picking up Hoffman at 29/30 is the best thing I could have done. She writes with such an amazing subtly, and her work drips with feminine power/pain/strength. Just what 29-year-old me needs! I love it!

June is kind of a wild card month for the Shameful Book Club. It’s Reader’s Advisory month, where I ask a librarian friend to suggest a book to me. This year I asked my friend Lora and she basically screamed at me to read this book. I had already really wanted to read it, so she didn’t have to scream for long. Lora is a legit witch, and she has suggested so many amazing books to me over the year-plus we have known each other.

How witchy am I? I own many black candles, live in an apartment full of plants and a cat, own a copy of Spiral Dance, and really love John William Waterhouse paintings…you tell me. As I wrote in a social media post on Mother’s Day this year, my Mom raised us in a very magical way whether she realizes it or not. We were very attached to nature and our primal selves (read: we were constantly covered in dirt and were little shits), and there was always a strong focus on female strength and power.

As a non-religious woman in this day and age, it is really nice to sink into a philosophy that encourages these things. Luckily for me, you can still be an atheist and embrace feminine power and hold a healthy respect for nature. Aka: I still don’t believe in deities. And I hate to break it to you witch-haters, but no witch believes in the devil let alone serve him. Any kind of witch or pagan beliefs exist outside of that dichotomy SORRY!

Reading Practical Magic was perfect for me this summer. Its witchy vibe is right in line with my own…subtle as shit. It had just the right amount of magic. The movie, which has been such an important “home sick from school” or “just want to crash on the couch this weekend” movie in my life shows the sisters’ powers very overtly. They make things float, magically alter documents, start fires, and–oh yeah–bring dudes back from the dead. None of that is in the book. Instead, it’s all just suggested… unexplained… coincidence… old family superstitions. It’s a wink and a nudge, and man do I love that! The entire book and all of its elements have the surreal feeling not unlike the air right before a tornado. It’s heavy but weightless, completely still and silent, and kind of green. You can’t really tell the extent of the magic, and this is the most real thing about the concept of magic today in terms of practicing witches.

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A deck of BEAUTIFUL oracle cards (similar to tarot) that was gifted to me by an equally beautiful friend <3

One of the biggest differences between the book and the film is that in the book, they don’t actually bring Jimmy, Gillian’s abusive ex, back from the dead. He does die, not of their hand, and Gilly brings him to Sally because she has no idea what to do. They bury him under the roses and his spirit begins to slowly and insidiously infect their home and themselves. Gilly is never possessed, and (as far as I can remember, it’s been a while since I read the book now) Sally never casts a love spell for an impossible man in order to avoid being in love. Sally’s daughters are also older in the book and the aunts are even weirder.

There are some differences I liked better in the movie. For example, I do sometimes really love that overt display of magic. I love how much the aunts’ house is on display (because it’s just so cool). I really love that they bring Jimmy back from the dead, man is that a cool scene! And I like the Owens family curse, which is something like all their true loves will perish etc. etc. Those things I really enjoy! But the book is just a totally different beast. In fact, I don’t think I can compare the book to the movie and say what I liked and didn’t like in each in a way that is effective because they are insanely different. Another good friend of mine told me that she actually disliked the book and was disappointed by it because some of these elements were missing.

I also loved the less magical aspects of the book. The relationship between the sisters is very interesting. They had a strange childhood, losing their parents and moving in with their eccentric aunts at a young age. They saw some weird shit go down at the house. Both girls decided to go in different directions with this shared experience, but part of you is left wondering if this was preordained in the Owens’ line, or was it just a naturally occurring thing? It reminds you that your experiences growing up are not always your siblings’ experiences. What you might view as benign might have been traumatic to your sister or brother, or they might not have paid attention to a little detail that ended up changing your entire life or personality. As much as this book is about magic, it is also a really well done family drama. But these two things blend together very well.

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If my sister showed up at my door with a dead body, you better believe I’d have her back!

Practical Magic, the book, is an interesting celebration of the magic in the mundane and the mystery of human life. It approaches human struggles like love, PTSD, death, even general existence, like it has some kind of magical quality. The PTSD of surviving a horribly abusive relationship and escaping because of a confusing death manifests itself as the haunting spirit of that evil partner. The emergence of new and deep romantic love long after each partner has given up must be the product of something supernatural. It is a charming way to look at life. It’s the way I looked at life as a kid. I wanted to believe in fairies living in my Mom’s ferns, that my Hogwarts letter was coming, and that there were spirits living in our house. It makes things more interesting.

But it gets better! There is a prequel coming out THIS OCTOBER! October 10th, we will get The Rules of Magic, which focuses on the aunts from Practical Magic and their life in New York in the 1960s, so we get to back track a bit. I feel weird about delayed sequels/prequels to beloved works (looking at you The Cursed Child and Go Set a Watchman), but I’m going to buy this one immediately. I don’t even care.

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Next up for Shameful Book Club is a post on Atonement (god I loved it) which will include a couple fun life updates. I’m behind in my reading now. August was adventure, Treasure Island, and September was classics, Persuasion. I’m also STILL listening to Mists of Avalon…good lord. October is horror and I’ve actually already read it! It’s The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. I just couldn’t wait until October, so I read it months ago. I’ll be thinking of October as a catch-up month, wish me luck and feel free to read along!

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