Review — MAGIC HOURS by Tom Bissell (Uzbekistan)


Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creation
by Tom Bissell (Uzbekistan 1996)
Vintage — Reissue edition
352 pages
March 2018
$16.95 (paperback), $11.99 (Kindle)


Reviewed by Dan Campbell (El Salvador, 1974-77)

TOM BISSELL IS AN AWARD WINNING writer from Escanaba, Michigan. He studied English at Michigan State University and in 1996, Bissell joined the Peace Corps and served for seven months with the Peace Corps in Uzbekistan. In an interview in BookBrowse, Tom describes how illness and personal crisis forced him home early and states that his experience in Uzbekistan “was extremely haunting for me personally and I felt I had really failed the people I joined the Peace Corps to help.”

Magic Hours is a thoughtful collection of eighteen essays. In the introduction, he states that “to create anything, whether a short story or a magazine profile or a film or a sitcom, is to believe, if only momentarily, you are capable of magic.”

The essays are on a wide range of topics and personalities and include essays on“The Big Bang Theory” comedy show, the first novel of Ernest Hemingway, the final work of David Foster Wallace, the films of Werner Herzog, war documentaries, the survival of books, video games and more.  Each of the insightful essays provoke thought and some are downright hilarious. The essay on why some books survive and others vanish make for unforgettable reading.

One of my favorite essays was about Jim Harrison, who is one of my favorite poets and a great novelist. You can feel Bissell’s affection for the poet as he writes about Harrison’s powerful personality and his total dedication to the craft of writing. Harrison was a great influence on Bissell when Tom was growing up in Michigan. Bissell writes about how, at the age of fifteen, he underlined, for the very first time, the phrase “the low pelvic mysteries of swamps” from one of Harrison’s novels “not to retain its information, but to acknowledge its mystery.”

Reading this book made me appreciate Bissell’s insightful nature and his respect for all forms of creativity. I will definitely read his past and upcoming literary creations.

Reviewer Dan Campbell (El Salvador  1974-77)  has worked on a series of projects for USAID’s Global Health Bureau. Dan and his Salvadoran wife, Zoila, both hope to retire soon and start a non-profit organization or enterprise that will benefit the people of El Salvador.



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