What’s black and white and turns up unexpectedly at night?

As the new year has rolled around and I know that exactly none of you (well, maybe a special few) have resolved to read more complex and meaningful fiction. That said, if I may humbly ignore your inferior resolutions to recommend the following:


Here’s what happens: magicians Celia and Marco are raised from a young age as part of an ongoing series of competitions between their two magical mentors. No one is sure what the rules of the competition are, but it involves a night circus: le cirque des rêves, the circus of dreams. Unsure where to start, Celia and Marco begin instating a series of magical tents; one features a labyrinth, another an ice garden. But as the circus becomes ever more volatile and its members more involved, the two magicians find out a footnote of the competition that changes everything.

Here’s the bottom line: It’s a fabulous 5-star work of art, and I don’t call just anything art.

Ultimately, we could break down the narrative structure and look at how Morgenstern creates tension and intrigue. We could examine the information that she holds back throughout the novel and how it amounts to a read that is mysterious without being obnoxiously perplexing.

Or we could celebrate what I think is less academic and thus undervalued about the greatest of fantasy stories: the wonder.

a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable.

Besides the well known book Wonder by Raquel J. Palacio, the mention of this might bring up one of the greats: the Harry Potter franchise. After finally getting around to watching Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, I was reminded of how powerful the presence of wonder can be in the shape and tone of a story. Here’s an excerpt from The Night Circus that speaks to some of that tone and experience:

“Despite the name, she is not prepared for what awaits her inside the tent.
It is exactly what the sign described. But it is so much more than that.
…The air itself is magical. Crisp and sweet in her lungs as she breathes, sending a shiver down to her toes that is caused by more than the forewarned drop in temperature.
…Curious, Celia picks a frosted peony from its branch, the stem breaking easily.
But the layered petals shatter, falling from her fingers to the ground, disappearing in the blades of ivory grass below.
When she looks back at the branch, an identical bloom has already appeared.”

-The Night Circus, pages 152 and 153

Here we see Celia lost in a beautiful magical world that is at once detailed yet easy to experience. She experiences wonder in its rawest form. Which brings us to the ultimate point: so many things happened in 2016. Some were not happy. Deaths, elections, votes, personal events…in the face of the inexplicable, people have tried to explain these away in every way they can. For many in 2016, that which is incomprehensible became synonymous with that which seems to threaten ruin.

But in 2017? Let’s realize that we can’t understand everything. Let’s remember that the world is a big and crazy place; while that’s no excuse to stay ignorant about what matters, we have to learn that we’re never going to be able to understand everything.

And that’s a good thing. Frosted peonies are all the more beautiful when you let them be the beautiful, impossible flowers that they are. We need not fear that impossibility for all of its unknowns. We need only admire them.

Friends, here is to a beautiful and wondrous 2017.


5 thoughts on “What’s black and white and turns up unexpectedly at night?

  1. Isabella K

    Very inspiring, Katia. Events like the election have been major for many people, leaving both sides wondering about, arguing with, and lashing out at the other, accompanied by a persistent feeling of wonder. Wonder no longer means the awe and beauty of the unknown (or perhaps of unexpected success); it means the fear of the unknown. Many of the socio-political global affairs that have occurred in 2016 are leaving people uncertain, and this uncertainty has led to fear and violence. I hope 2017 is a year of wonder, the good kind of wonder.


  2. Jack Riley

    What the heck! Your writing is so good! I admire how clear and concise you make your blog posts. You don’t drag on forever, and you give bolded sections to help the post flow. Plus, you just have an incredible voice in your writing that just sounds so Katia. You don’t feel fake, every word feels genuine.

    Usually in blog posts you have to sacrifice how many topics you address at once because you work in a very limited space and don’t want to lose the depth of topics. But somehow you managed to get me interested in a new book, reference various other noteworthy books to read, make me question my new year’s resolution, and bring me some much needed optimism, all in one post. And it’s not even incredibly long! Wowsa.

    Keep on writing, please! It’s inspiring, smart, witty, and exactly what our world needs right now.


  3. Adna

    Oh my goodness.

    The moment I expanded this blog post, scrolled down a bit, and saw the cover: my heart jumped. It jumps every time I think about the book.

    I can’t thank you and Christina enough for recommending it to me, and I’m so glad I bought it for my own at Barnes & Noble soon after. You remember my periodic texts to the two of you, reacting to different elements of the plot – and then ultimately my 3am text upon completing the book.

    It truly was wonderful, in every sense of the word. It had been a while since I was taken on an adventure with a book, and be so totally consumed by a novel in the middle of junior year? Liberating.

    That being said, you offer the same feeling with your blog post, regardless if the reader ends up reading the book or not. It’s so important to recognize that we are not meant to dwell on the incomprehensible – to be sucked into the void of the unknown – but, rather, anticipate the wonder that is yet to come.

    We talked about that in Psych at the beginning of the year: people are so eager to provide an explanation for absolutely everything. The danger of that, of course, being over-generalization, speculation, scapegoating, and outright misunderstanding. Regardless, we sometimes seem to be willing to risk that in order to provide ourselves with some arbitrary solace.

    But I digress.


  4. Ginnie White

    I have actually read this book, though admittedly a long time ago. I do remember that sense of wonder you’ve talked about here in this post. Good fantasy books, from the Lord of the Rings to Harry Potter, should do exactly that. Perhaps I should revisit this book when I have more free time in second semester.


  5. I enjoy the fact that with your smooth-as-smooth-Jif-peanut-butter writing and palpable excitement about the topics you choose, you tricked me and enticed into reading something insightful and inspirational.

    I did not feel preached at.

    I did not think “OH, here it comes” as the beautiful and impassioned words began.

    I just sat there and read, because I wanted to.

    There is something very human about wonder and I actually moved. You seamlessly incorporated such message as broad and cheesy as optimism into a book review and, in doing so, I really believe you.

    You have reminded me to appreciate all the little things, despite everything that goes on.

    You didn’t tell that everything will be okay. You didn’t tell me to think about something else. You just told me to appreciate EVERYTHING that there is, and there is something really natural and beautiful about that message, not to mention your delivery of it.


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