I have recently read Jasper Fforde’s first three Thursday Next novels: The Eyre Affair (2002), Lost in a Good Book (2003), and The Well of Lost Plots (Feb. 2004). Where do I begin in describing this offbeat series? One reader complained that The Well of Lost Plots wasn’t a very good mystery. But perhaps that’s because it’s not a mystery at all. Although these are clearly genre novels, it’s not at all clear which genre they fall into. If I had to label them, I would call them science fiction, but only in the sense that the Hitchhiker trilogy by Douglas Adams could be called science fiction. Or perhaps they’re fantasy, in the Tolkien tradition. But actually they’re mostly like Lewis Carroll, especially in their delight in wordplay and their construction of an amusing fictional world that is sometimes a satire on our so-called real world and sometimes just fun. Fforde’s books take place in England in 1985, but it’s an alternative 1985, apparently fitting into the traditional science fiction theme of alternative history. In this universe there never was a Soviet Union, Russia is still fighting the Crimean War, Wales is an independent (apparently communist) country, there are no airplanes, vampires and werewolves are real, dodos and mammoths are no longer extinct thanks to genetic engineering, etc., etc. But what’s most important is that popular culture includes a universal reverence for literature, and there is a “book world” in which all the fictional characters of literature actually exist. This is a new twist on Marianne Moore’s “imaginary gardens with real toads in them,” because all the imaginary worlds created by all the authors in the past and the present have literally become real, and sometimes people can even move back and forth between the real world and the book world. Anyway, no more here for the moment, but I highly recommend the Thursday Next series unless you are totally turned off by the whimsy of Carroll and Adams.