"W hat story are you telling yourself these days? As a working mother of a bright-eyed, two-year-old boy with another baby due in December, I have a lot on my mind. The story I’m often wrestling with is, “who am I beyond the potty training and toddler tears?” Topics like what my son eats or whether he’s pooped today can feel all-consuming. And maybe you’ve found this blog, like myself, as an encouragement that there is still space for who you are beyond the piles of laundry, etc.
Books are a wonderful place for exploring the way we see the world and the stories we tell ourselves, so this week I’m reviewing one of Mary’s favorite books, The Name of the Wind. She asked me to review it because her review would be biased. But I’m afraid I’m not much better. This novel that has a fantastic way of taking you along on a coming-of-age adventure while also reminding you of who you are.
With over 500,000 ratings on Goodreads.com averaging 4.55 stars (out of 5), it is one of the highest rated books online. And I would argue that it is because this book has something for everyone. A story told in two timelines, past and present, details the life of mysterious Kvothe, a famous magician, warrior, and hero hiding incognito as a common innkeeper. But as he weaves the tale of his boyhood, readers experience theater, music, science, philosophy, romance, and good old fashion mischief with him. Likewise, the voices of the characters are as diverse - poor, rich, young, old, male, female, educated, insane, and downright evil. And it is in coming in contact with these experiences and people that Kvothe grows.
For fantasy fans - The theater and music elements are reminiscent of Station Eleven. The University, a magical school, is a completely different take than Hogwarts or Brakebills. And the female voices are stronger than those in stories like Tolkien even if they are still only allowed to certain roles in this old world society.
This world is a pretty realistic one, and the author doesn’t spend too much time teaching readers hefty terms and language for this new world. It’s a fast read as fantasies go. Sure, 700 pages seems like a lot, but let's just put it this way: the Harry Potter series is 4,224 pages long - Order of the Phoenix is 816 pages on its own!
And although there is a lot of traveling in the story, understanding physically where characters are in the world is not terribly important. For those who have felt overwhelmed by the maps or the sheer number of characters in stories like Game of Thrones, this book is a manageable one. Not to mention, many of the magical “oddities” that categorize this book as fantasy are often explained with reason/logic. Even the magic or “sympathy” is scientifically explained and more plausible for those who lose interest in other overly fantastic worlds. One of the most interesting themes in the novel is how stories are made more “mythical” when they are misunderstood by communities. Fear often arises in society from a lack of understanding… a theme certainly pertinent in our world today.
There are books that have enthralling plots or great pacing, but this book is chock full of beautiful writing. Probably because the book itself is so reflective, there are moments where it feels like the author has walked through experiences with the reader and then written about them through the eyes of one of his characters. Grief, hunger, lust, frustration, revenge - these emotions feel so tangible, so human in the pages of The Name of the Wind.
The writing also feels very self-aware, frequently commenting on itself. Tidbits like, “Isn’t that the way of the world? We want sweet things, but we need unpleasant ones.” Sure there are a few cliche moments, but when other authors call Rothfuss’ writing “true music with words,” we should take the hint, right? I’ll just leave the opening line of the prologue here, “It was night again. The Waystone Inn lay in silence, and it was a silence of three parts. The most obvious part was a hollow, echoing quiet, made by things that were lacking.”
And did I mention that Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote Hamilton, not only openly tried to craft one of his scenes after a pub scene in The Name of the Wind, but he also begged for the job of creative director when this series is made into a movie.
Maybe you have a stack of parenting books on your bedside table. Good for you! But don’t talk yourself out of fiction as if it’s merely entertainment. The Name of the Wind is a chance to continue getting to know yourself, to realign yourself as you juggle all the new names and identities motherhood brings with it.
As a Forbes contributor wrote recently on the importance of fiction, “Our answer is that we don’t just read great books — they read us as well. The human condition is complex and contradictory, layered like an ice-cream parfait, with flavors blending among the layers. A great novel reflects that complexity. We may read it several times, as we do with our favorites, and each time it is like finding an old friend and gaining new insights from that friend. We put it down with new understandings of the world around us and, most important, of ourselves.”