The Kingkiller Chronicle #1: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Read: 14 March, 2014

Many stories and rumours surround Kvothe, but now, for the first time, he will tell his own story – the real story.

I was blown away by Name of the Wind. I first heard of it when it was mentioned in Game of Thrones and Philosophy as a book with a consistent magic system. That was enough to intrigue me, and I bought the book, sticking it on my overflowing “to be read” bookcase. I finally read it after I heard enough people raving about it.

And I can see why. The story is long and, for the most part, rather mundane. Kvothe travelling with itinerant performers, Kvothe living in the streets, Kvothe worrying about money, Kvothe enrolling in university, Kvothe counting his coins (again). Yet despite this, even with long stretches between the action scenes, I found the narrative very compelling.

There’s a good deal of humour in the novel, and it’s well-used. The narrative is quite serious, of course, but whenever there’s a danger that it might take itself a little too seriously, Kvothe makes fun of himself. It breaks the tension, and it keeps a certain amount of humility in the first person narrative of what is, essentially, a Perfect Character.

I quite enjoyed the little games the narrative plays as well. For example, when Kvothe – as narrator – tells his audience that the next part of the story is about meeting the woman he would fall in love with. Then, over the next few pages, several women are introduced. It’s cute, a fun little narrative device that I don’t see used too often.

As I mentioned earlier, the magic system is definitely something special. I struggle a bit with fantasy because I always feel like the magic system needs to make sense, and I feel like verisimilitude is broken when the magic system is too powerful, or contradictory, or doesn’t make sense. In Name of the Wind, the naming system of magic is pushing my threshold (though I hold out hope for explanation in future installments), but the sympathy system is fantastic.

I also really enjoyed the religion. It’s not front and centre in this book (though I suspect that it’ll feature more prominently later in the series), but the glimpses of it are quite interesting. On the surface, it’s very much like Christianity – there’s a single god, the god dies and the people await a return, the people wear a symbolic torture device on a necklace, etc – but it takes on a distinct quality as more is revealed. I especially liked the variations, the many local traditions that that give the religion distinct flavours in different regions, the appropriation of older religions, and the schisms. I’ve very much looking forward to a deeper exploration of it as the series continues.

I have a few minor complaints about the book, but nothing worth mentioning. I enjoyed it an awful lot, and I’m looking forward to getting The Wise Man’s Fear.

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    The app that makes reading faster

    A friend told me about a new-ish app called Spritz that makes reading books much faster. It works by displaying only one word on the screen at a time, and by identifying the “Optimal Recognition Point” (ORP) (“the precise point at which our brain deciphers each jumble of letters”) and aligning the words on that point. That way, your eye no longer needs to move and locate itself with each new word.

    Reading App

    You can read the whole article for more information.

    When I first read the article, I wasn’t sure how I felt about this idea. On the one hand, it sounds like a great way to get through school textbooks or other non-fiction where the purpose of reading is not enjoyment and where the prose doesn’t particularly matter. On the other hand, it sounds like a terrible idea the prose is important.

    So I looked around and found a couple articles essentially saying the same thing, including this one that argues that Spritz is “reading to have read.” It’s a bit melodramatic, but the essentially point is one that I agree with – that a method like Spritz gets you through content fast, but not necessarily well.

    Still, I think of all the stress I could have saved myself in university, and the idea certainly has its appeal…

      The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

      Read: 6 March, 2014

      Mists of Avalon retells the story of King Arthur and his knights, but from the perspectives of the women in the story – Guinevere (called Gwenhwyfar), Mogana le Fey (called Morgaine), and others.

      I loved how complex the characters were, and how seamless their transition as they grow older and change their opinions. I loved the religious discussions and the tug-o-war between old and new. I loved getting to hear all the familiar King Arthur stories, but from the perspectives of characters who had always seemed to be on the outside.

      It was a long book, and it took a long time to read, but it was well-worth it. I found it exciting and interesting and wonderful and so totally “up my alley.”

      I highly recommend this book for its complex and nuanced look at life, religion, gender, sexuality, and so much else.

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        The Handmaid and the Carpenter by Elizabeth Berg

        Read: 24 February, 2014

        Berg re-imagines the story of Jesus’s birth from the perspective of his parents – following them from the moment they met until Joseph’s death.

        I picked up the book because I’ve enjoyed similar attempts to re-tell such a well-known story in the past, such as Lamb, or Testament. I find it an interesting exercise with a lot of potential. Handmaid, however, is absolutely terrible.

        Firstly, there’s the writing quality. Some reviews describe Berg’s writing as “poetic,” by which I assume they mean “full of purple prose and stilted faux-historical dialogue.” If that’s the case, then yes, it’s very “poetic.”

        The plot of the book shows that while Berg has probably picked up her Bible a few times, she’s done very little research besides. For example, when the angel comes to Joseph, it tells him that Mary’s son will be fulfilling the prophecy of Emmanuel, born of a virgin (p.97), except that there’s no such prophecy. The whole thing is based on a wonky translation in Greek – which Joseph had no reason to be familiar with in the first place – and a bibliomantic search to shoe-horn “prophecies” into a text after the fact. It’s one of Matthew’s most well known errors, and Berg should have known that. At the very least, she might have just skipped over it and avoided looking the fool.

        She also follow’s Luke’s narrative and sends the family to Bethlehem for a census. This makes no sense in the gospel account anyway, since a census strives to document a population’s current positions, not their positions at birth. The premise is absurd. Then Berg makes it all the more absurd by having Joseph and Mary go all the way to Bethlehem for the supposed census, give birth, and then immediately leave for the circumcision in Jerusalem, without the census ever actually taking place.

        This also means that Joseph puts a woman who has literally just given birth – mere hours earlier – onto a donkey’s back for an 8km walk. And when they finally arrive at their destination, Mary is “sore from the ride” (p.126). Not from giving birth, but from riding a donkey.

        I don’t know if Berg has children of her own, but if she does, she clearly hasn’t let that experience temper her theology. Jesus is, of course, a calm newborn who “cried rarely: only to show his want for food” (p.132). That’s pretty typical for a newborn, first of all. But also, crying is a baby’s last resort when it’s hungry. I dislike it when books so blindly promote this idea of crying as a feeding cue because babies left to starve until they have to resort to crying are often too upset by that point to be able to actually nurse. Many women who wish to breastfeed and don’t know any better give up because their babies just won’t stop crying long enough to nurse – all because of this media image of only taking crying as a hunger cue. As a feminist, it really bugged me that Berg so casually and uncritically furthers that image.

        Then there’s Joseph. Despite multiple angelic visitations, and all sorts of strangers – including the Magi – pointing out that Jesus is the messiah (something which has had disturbingly little impact in the fortunes or lives of his family), he still firmly believes that Jesus’s father was a Roman soldier. Further, he forced a woman so close to her due date to accompany him on a long journey – knowing that it would be painful for her and potentially disastrous if she went into labour – because he didn’t trust her enough to leave her alone at home (p.130). This is abusive behaviour, by the way. Then, with a newborn in tow – a mere few hours old! – he forces his family on even more journeys for no reason other than to avoid his personal discomfort that a few shepherds stopped by to see a new baby. Surely, Joseph must have known how precarious newborn lives are, how easily and how quickly they can die. His selfishness is absolutely astounding.

        The whole book is trash, a little piece of theological masturbation for people who, I guess, really don’t want literature to challenge them. Thankfully, the book is blessedly short and the font very large, so it’s quickly over with.

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          Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne

          Read: 20 February, 2014

          As a child, I never liked the Winnie the Pooh books. My father thinks that it’s because the dumbed-down Disney versions came out at around the same time and spoiled me, which is quite possible.

          Thankfully, I’ve had the opportunity to read them again as an adult, as I’ve just finished reading the first book - Winnie-the-Pooh – to my son. He’s quite enjoyed the stories, which is a little surprising because at his age (he’ll be 3 in a few weeks), he doesn’t often have the patients for such a high test-to-picture ratio.

          For my own part, I really enjoyed it, and I found it very interesting to see the “new” perspective on all the characters. Eeyore especially, I think, got a bit of a short stick when it came to the Disney version. He is hilarious!

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            Who Has What? by Robie H. Harris (illustrated by Nadine Bernard Westcott)

            This is the story of a little boy, Gus, and little girl, Nellie, on a trip to the beach. While there, they talk about their bodies, and the things that are similar and different between males and females.

            To begin with, the book talks about how we use our bodies, and I was very impressed (though it saddens me a bit that I should see this as impressive) that these were phrased as similarities. Boys and girls both like to swing, catch frogs, make lots of noise, take their dollies for a walk, run fast, play with stuffed animals, etc. It’s a real acknowledgement that preferences are not indications of sex/gender. More than that, it didn’t seek to give it’s “we can do lots of different things regardless of gender” simply by giving girls permission to do things that are often categorised as boy activities, rather than letting the permissions go both ways.

            Next, the book covers the parts of a body that are the same in both males and females, and then expands the comparison to dogs. I thought that was quite neat. The comparison continued on into the listing of sex-specific physical traits, where the little girl is seen changing into her bathing suit with her female dog beside her, and their parts are both labelled, then the same scene for the little boy.

            The level of the discussion is totally appropriate for a toddler. It’s not overly detailed, but matter-of-factly labels and describes the visible parts, and then gives an explanation of the internal ones (such as testicles, ovaries, uterus, etc). If parents are squeamish about the proper labelling of sex organs, I think that having a book for them to read out would be very helpful.

            There were quite a few other things that I quite liked about the book, such as how it showed a woman breastfeeding, a father bottle-feeding his baby, a mixed-race family, and even a woman wearing a hijab. No explicit attention is drawn to several of these details, but they are there for parents to discuss if they wish (or, at the very least, just serve to counter some of the “normativity” found in so many children’s books).

            I really enjoyed reading this book with my son, and I think it’s a great resource for toddlers and preschoolers.

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              The Great Culling

              Great Culling

              My husband has often threatened to burn my books, particularly when we’ve had to move (twice now) for the extra space to accommodate them. When we were moving into this house, his “deal” was that I could keep my books but I had to move them all myself. I showed him in the end, though, because I totally did and build some mad muscle definition in the process. 
              His next “deal” was that I could only keep as many books as I could fit on our bookshelves. No more stacks! Thankfully, two friends have each gifted me a bookcase since then. Even so, I’ve developed a new system – all the books I’ve read go on the bookshelves in the livingroom. Then I have a bookcase in my office for books that I’ve bought but not read yet (with two rows of books per shelf, plus stacks on the top of each row). As I read them, I either move them onto the primary bookshelves if I love them, or I donate them to the library if I don’t. As more books are added to the primary bookshelves, they knock off ones already there that I’m not completely attached to. So far, it’s working fairly well. 
              (h/t: Edward Spoonhands)