Best known for the mid-90s cult classic, Practical Magic, American author Alice Hoffman has become one of the nation’s most enchanting modern novelists. With a penchant for conjuring the mystical from the mundane, her four-decade oeuvre encompasses over thirty novels, three books of short fiction, and eight books for children and young adults.
Born in New York City in 1952, Hoffman was 21 and studying at Stanford when she published her debut, Property Of. She continued to release stories of love, loss and sisterhood at a rate of about a book a year before catapulting into the limelight with Practical Magic. A multigenerational tale of magical women, it inspired a hit film starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman and made Hoffman a household name.
Her subsequent bestsellers include Here on Earth, a modern reworking of Wuthering Heights, and The Museum of Extraordinary Things, a spellbinding account of a Coney Island curiosity show. She made her first foray into historical fiction with The Dovekeepers – a book lauded by Toni Morrison as “beautiful, harrowing, a major contribution to twenty-first century literature” – and returned to the Practical Magic realm in recent years, penning the prequels The Rules of Magic, Magic Lessons and The Book of Magic.
In a 2022 interview with Goodreads, Hoffman reflected on a lifelong love of magical realism, and was kind enough to include a list of her favorite representations of the genre. She mused:
“I’ve always loved stories that contain real life mingled with magic. After all, many of our oldest stories were made up of magic, whether they were fairy tales, myths, ghost stories, or folk tales. Our own very real lives are often influenced by the unexpected, the unusual, and the magical, especially when love is involved.
This list includes books that are made of magic, in one way or another, and all are favorites of mine. Some are books I read as a girl, others are books I often re-read, and some are by very modern authors who make magic their own. Get ready for mythic worlds, dark fairy tales, true love, ghosts, broken hearts, and dreams. Reader, I think you’ll have a blast.”
Alice Hoffman’s Reading List
“A fable about the magic of the choices we make and the lives we might have lived. This brave novel about death is filled with life; it’s a feel-good book with a heart about a woman who regrets her choices, until magic allows her to see what might have been. It’s a huge pick-me-up in these difficult times.” -AH
“The greatest psychological novel ever written, Wuthering Heights is also a love story, a mystery, a history, and a ghost story. Who haunts us and who we haunt in return is at the heart of this tragedy set in the gloomy moors of England. You will fall in love with Heathcliff or you’ll despise him, but you won’t stop reading. Check out my introduction in the Scholastic edition.” -AH
“A brilliant retelling of a Greek myth, this book brings a witch to life and turns an ancient story into a page-turner. This is ‘once upon a time’ at its beautiful best. If you’re not a witch already, you’ll want to be one.” -AH
The Island Child by Molly Aitken
“This gorgeous and enchanting debut novel is a fairy tale about loss and love that combines Irish folklore and modern life. Motherhood is at the heart of the book, which is set in a world of seas and storms, and the prose is a force to be reckoned with.” -AH
The Changeling by Victor LaValle
“This dark fairy tale is scary and original, a one-of-a-kind magical tour de force. The pages are full of quests, madness, and secrets. The book reads like a thriller of the best sort. Keep the lights on and keep reading. Victor LaValle is awesome.” -AH
Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
“In this novel about Yale’s secret societies, New Haven becomes pure magic. Dark, academic magic. Bardugo employs one of my favorite fairytale themes: a girl who has to save herself from real life and from the ghosts that haunt her.” -AH
“One of my favorite novels, written by the master of magic. Halloween comes early when a shadow show arrives in town, and two boys come of age in a dangerous world as they learn the truth about good and evil. I read this book when I was twelve, and after that I knew I would write about magic.” -AH
The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George
“I promise you will fall in love with this novel about books and broken hearts. Floating on a barge in France is a dream, a sort of magic that might actually be possible. And here’s a tip: you may want to buy two copies and give one to someone you love.” -AH
Grimm’s Complete Fairytales by Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm
“The Grimm brothers collected all of our great-great-grandmothers’ tales and took the credit, but we will always be grateful to them for helping these stories survive through the ages. The best fairy tales tell the truth about being human. They’re dark, twisted stories about survival and grace, and it’s good to read them every now and then to remind ourselves that magic is everywhere.” -AH
(via Goodreads; photo by Deborah Feingold)