Back in my glory days, I was Editor-in-Chief of a little literary magazine called Helicon. What do you know, but way back in 2010 when I was an itty-bitty freshman in college, I contributed the following post to the now-defunct Helicon blog. Not too bad considering I wrote it four years ago. And I still love this book.
“I love fiction. Particularly the magical, suspended reality type. Reference books are great!…and meant to sit on library shelves until miserable seniors desperately search through them, trying to find some information germane to their theses.
I’m not really much of one for short stories, but occasionally I’ll read them in book format. One upon a time in English class in high school, my teacher assigned us part of a short story written by Steven Millhauser. It contained magic carpets, sphinxes, griffins, mermaids, jugglers, mazes, owls, and forests–in short, all of those typically magical things that we read about when we are little, and still love when we are older, though we often refuse to admit it.
Luckily, The Barnum Museum by Steven Millhauser is adult enough so that we don’t have to be embarrassed to read it. It’s actually a fabulous collection of short stories. It goes beyond merely describing fiction to contemplating the power and nature of the phenomenon that holds captive every human mind.
So I’ll leave you with a little taste of The Barnum Museum:
The Chamber of False Things contains museum guards made of wax, displays of false mustaches and false beards, false-bottomed trunks, artificial roses, forged paintings, spurious texts, quack medicines, fakes fossils, cinema snow, joke-shop ink spills, spirit messages…The meaning of the exhibit is obscure. Is it possible that the directors of the museum wish to enhance the reality of the other displays by distinguishing them from this one? Or is it rather that the directors here wittily or brazenly allude to the nature of the entire museum? Another interpretation presents itself: that the directors intend no meaning, but merely wish to pique our interest, to stimulate our curiosity, to lure us by whatever means deeper and deeper into the museum.