Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Get Over Yourself, You Overgrown Damaged Adolescent: A Non-Spoiler Review of Patrick Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind

Bonus post!  I just wrote this over at Goodreads and thought I'd share my salty mood with you all today.  And okay, sure, there is maybe one very mild spoiler, but it doesn't really reveal anything.  Read on!

There's nothing worse than a good story poorly told, unless it's a mostly good story mostly poorly told.  I'm not sure which this book is, but either way it's bad news.

Image taken from

I've seen Rothfuss and his work ballyhooed for some years now and was really looking forward to the chance to get into the first book of "The Kingkiller Chronicles."  By all accounts, it seemed to be a genre-mover, an epochal work that moves the boundaries of fantasy forward while paying homage to the best of what came before.  I was intrigued by the promise of a frame narrative, of a famous man mysteriously brought low, and of a creeping, misunderstood, demonic threat.  There seemed to be echoes of my loves, "The Wheel of Time" and "A Song of Ice and Fire" in the promised themes of real-world events turning to legend and myth before our eyes and of the meaning made by stories determined by the skewed perspectives of the individuals through whose eyes the stories are experienced.  It all sounds so good!

Sadly the book does not deliver.  Or it only delivers up to a point, which makes it supremely frustrating rather than just bad.

First of all, Rothfuss' work needs to come with a trigger warning for grammar-lovers.  Seriously, how did this book get past first draft like this?  Who is this guy's editor?  He or she should be canned immediately.  Small but noticeable problems abound, the most frequent being an inconsistent and maddening lack of facility with the conventions of dialogue and tags.  "'I think,' he said. 'That you are pretty.'"--that is NEVER RIGHT.  (Okay, it's right if your character hesitates and makes the statement into two sentences.  But if that's the case you should let us know that that is happening.  And I know, Patrick Rothfuss, that you were just doing it wrong, because you did it 50-75% of the time.)

Sorry.  I feel strongly that writers should know how to write.

The next big problem: the main character, Kvothe, is a baaaad example of whatever the male equivalent of a Mary Sue would be called.  Let's say a Marvin Sue.  (Oh, I guess some people say 'Gary Stu.'  I like mine better.)  The point is.  Kvothe is perfect perfect perfect, he was better at everything as an 8 year old than you will ever be at your one passion in life at age 30, he runs rings around the authorities, and everything bad in his life is inflicted upon him by his enemies and/or his cruel destiny, boo-hoo for Kvothe, but wait, thanks to his daring and cunning, he always gets his way in the end!  This human being is SO. DAMN.  FRUSTRATING.  And yes, he's charming, and occasionally shows some sensitivity, just enough to get you to want to follow his story and feel bad for him.  But his entire personality is so much revenge porn for the downtrodden nerdlings of the real world, and, speaking as one of them, I feel like we deserve better than that kind of pandering in our fiction.

(To say nothing of Kvothe's supposedly rapier-sharp wit.  Seriously, he talks like the picked-on kid in the schoolyard who hasn't yet come up with any better coping mechanisms.  But Kvothe is rewarded with gales of laughter at every turn.  Sigh.)

Then there's this authorial tendency throughout the text to seem tragically holier-than-thou compared to all that *snooty voice* run of the mill fantasy.  We're constantly reminded how real life isn't like the stories and Kvothe has to work so much harder than the heroes of his world's folklore and mythology because god damn it there is no God or Narrator who's just going to hand us a win.  Rothfuss makes such a point of it that it's obvious we're supposed to perceive Kvothe's story as this somehow rarefied, uber-realistic version of fantasy that, aside from magical metaphysics, abides by real-world laws of cause & effect and rationality and whatnot.  At one point, he says something very much like, "I wasn't going to find their plans written out on an accidentally-discarded piece of paper!"

A few pages later, enter the convenient plot swineherd.  He only travels this remote area once in a while, but he happens to be here at the same time as Our Hero, with not only the info Kvothe's looking for but also additional intelligence to propel the plot forward.

Look, I'm all for dissecting fantasy tropes and realism now and then.  But don't preach about it and then substitute the deus ex machina you just had your character basically decry as lazy writing with another one that you hope your audience won't notice (or perhaps that you, yourself, did not notice).

The sanctimonious attitude gets old, and it extends to Kvothe's rhapsodizing about music, about how non-musicians just can't understand beauty and love and perfection.  Oh, God's body, get over yourself, Patrick Rothfuss, you overgrown damaged adolescent.

And yeah, now I'm reading book 2.  That's the most frustrating part.  I almost feel as though Rothfuss structured his story as cynically as possible, knowing that no matter how disagreeable readers find the first volume, they will want the full story on all the hints and clues and intriguing bits seeded throughout.  I feel manipulated, and I'm 7% in and grinding my teeth at the same old usage errors, but I'm not stopping.

And yet this book is as highly-rated as I've seen anywhere.  I don't get it.  I honestly don't.  I'm usually fine letting people have their taste and enjoy their enjoyment ("I don't want to yuck your yum"), but this book violates the various laws and maxims and pet peeves that I've seen cited by numerous readers complain about OTHER books.  (Poorly written--check.  Mary Sue--check.  Sanctimonious underpinnings--check.  Manipulative--check.)  And everyone is eating it up.  I am saddened.

Maybe this will convince you to trash this book: Rothfuss writes "make do" as "make due."  Twice.

*cheery smile*  I hate what you've done to us, Patrick Rothfuss.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Westward Ho!

Welcome back to my blog, y’all!  I had a great time in the mountains the past couple weeks, exploring Denver and that playground of the rich, Aspen.  I also visited some relatively more rustic and rugged locales in and around Pitkin and Eagle counties, hiking, eating, and taking way too many low-quality pictures.

If I’m traveling, it means I’m visiting libraries, for my edification and for yours!  And I explored some great ones out in Colorado.  The three that I was able to spend time in felt like they had a lot in common: they provided clean, peaceful environments for research and study, a variety of innovative programs, and each seemed suspiciously like they had been built or remodeled in the past couple of decades.  I thought this especially interesting since the three libraries served different population sizes and types of communities: one was the vast Denver Central Library, the next the modest, rural Basalt Public Library, and the third the Pitkin County Library, a hub of posh Aspen itself.  To me this speaks of a unity of mission of libraries in the state as well as an encouraging unity of support from the community.  Granted, three libraries does not a thorough investigation of a state make, and all three are in the orbit of some of the most monied people in America (at least for part of the year), but I thought that the consistency of excellence across these three distinct libraries must be indicative of a supportive environment.

(My theories of a unified environment are further borne out by Colorado Libraries Collaborate, a statewide resource sharing initiative sparked by libraries volunteering to pool their materials for the good of the people of the Centennial State.  That’s my kind of ethos!)

I won’t bore you with the details of my trips through each library, but I did want to call out a few of the coolest features I noted!

Located just down the street from my hostel and at the confluence of downtown and a somewhat less affluent area, this central library seems perfectly situated to serve the needs of a big city’s diverse population.  The building itself, completed in the mid-90s, is beautiful, constructed in a style I have come to recognize as de rigueur in classy mountain design--stained hardwood, rustic touches, clean lines.  It’s a very inviting edifice.

The coolest thing about the long central entry hall is the automated conveyor belt book return.  So neat!  Thrill to the sight of librarians scurrying about behind glass like ants in a charming childhood memory.  Seriously, though, opening up this ‘behind the scenes’ business of the library is a great bit of outreach.

Off in one corner was another interesting touch: power check meters available for patrons to check out.  Perhaps not unexpected in a crunchy city like Denver, but I thought this was really cool.  Seems like the kind of thing a lot of well-intentioned people might think about getting around to doing someday, but never do it because--well, where do you start to figure out how to check your power usage?  The library takes the question away and hands you the tool to do it.  Fo’ free.

Obviously, me being me, I had to check out the graphic novel collection.  It was pretty sizable and seemed focused on adult, literary titles, including some I’d never encountered before.  They’re also arranged on a series upright racks with mostly outward-facing shelving, making browsing a breeze.  No chance here of that old problem of freezing in the face of an over-stuffed shelf full of wee little spines.  

I was probably most excited about visiting this little rural library, since it hosts one of my favorite innovative services--a seed library!

But first, again, the building itself is lovely.  Possibly the loveliest I’ve encountered, all earthy greens and browns and surrounded by bright mountain flowers that just invite you to roll around in them like an oxygen-starved puppy.

This library struck me as a true gathering-place and central community repository for a spread-out area, its bulletin boards overflowing with notices for events near and far.  And it’s just comfy, with big windows letting in plenty of mountain light over a fireplace-equipped sitting area.  One section of the library was given over as a ‘business center’ with staplers, paper cutters, and so forth, a feature that neither I nor my fellow librarian companion had ever seen before.  And in a sop to my Pagan heart, a Lunar phases poster was tacked to one wall!

The star of the show is the seed library, though, which ended up being a slightly unassuming-looking area right in the front of the building.  Unassuming, but brilliant and, by all accounts, effective.  For the uninitiated, a seed library is just what it sounds like: a way for folks to share seeds and grow their own food, “borrowing” the seeds from the library that they then “return” in the form of the seeds from their harvest.  The library here offers delicious-sounding seasonal veggies and some flowers, with one stated goal being the adaptation, from generation to generation, of these plants to the local environment.  And again, this is a service that might provide on-the-fence patrons with the means, and thus the excuse, to finally get started on a long-considered project.  Library as to-do list trimmer FTW!

What I liked about this one was the veritable explosion of adult and teen programming available.  All over the boards and their digital video screen were notices of upcoming events in the library and the community: adult story time, a tattoo talk, teen read-alikes.  They are all presented very professionally--someone on staff is good with design--and cover an interestingly broad range of topics.  Very nicely done.

The graphic novel section is much more super hero-y here, which I certainly enjoy, though the all-ages items are tucked away in the teen section.  I might make a different decision there, but perhaps space is a concern.

The extensive music collection downstairs offers not only popular and classical musical recordings, but a very impressive spread of music-related books.  Biographies on Brahms rub shoulders here with Beatles songbooks.  Aspen is, after all, the home of the Aspen Music School and Festival, an annual masterclass that brings upcoming talent together with some of the greatest names in contemporary classical performance, and a town where you can often find fresh-faced young musicians shredding away at their violins and cellos on street corners, giving you a taste of impromptu selections of Sibelius and classic rock and contemporary pop in between your pit-stops at Rocky Mountain Chocolates.  (Mmmm, chocolate-covered oreo…)  Appropriately enough, the library has a complete collection of Aspen Music Festival recordings available for your historical listening pleasure--though access is, reasonably enough, restricted.  (And, music students, please mind the signs posted and addressed to you on all major exits: return library materials before leaving for the summer!)

Thus ended my exploration of Colorado public libraries.  I’m quite impressed by what I’ve seen, and if the whole state is filled with such vital, responsive institutions, I’m jealous indeed of all you Coloradans out there--rivers of hail notwithstanding.  (What is up with that, anyway?)

Sunday, August 4, 2013


Just a quick post today as I prepare (mostly mentally) to fly to Aspen and see my boyfriend at his summer gig as an orchestra librarian at the Aspen Music Festival...

If you’ve read through most of my dozen or so blog posts so far, you may have noticed that I have a thing for ‘modern’ board games.  Unlike most of the gamers of this type out there, I am a relatively recent convert, so I’ve dived in headlong and am trying to learn about the medium on several levels at once--its fundamentals, its pedagogical value, its library value, etc--while simultaneously trying to sample as much of it as I can.  

I just wanted to write briefly about another aspect of the whole thing I’m pretty jazzed about--not merely consuming board games, but producing them.

It’s a really cool, rigorous mental exercise, and it’s fun too.  You can make a board game out of anything--go ahead, pick your favorite novel and try it.  The puzzle is in how to express the source material or domain’s flavor thematically, what game mechanisms to use that will be fun and play into the chosen theme, the ever-confounding matter of game balance, the object of the game, scoring, and how to trigger the end--it’s really hours and hours of the most fun labor you’ll have.

I’m currently working on my own little board game based on one of my favorite fantasy literature properties, the Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson.  Okay, so it’s huge and sprawling and will probably take 20 hours to play (once I decide HOW to win the game, anyway, rather than my current play-into-infinity model--which is actually kinda thematically appropriate...).  

That’s the thing--in the world of modern board games, epic is okay.  And in this case, I didn’t want to ape the tendency other amateur designers have had to make a Wheel of Time territory control game (think “Risk” or my previously-reviewed “Game of Thrones: The Board Game.”)  Yeah, armies marching and nations falling are very important in these books, but there’s a human and interpersonal element that trumps all that.  The modern board game is a great medium to explore these more literary concerns, and actually put living human beings in the position of enacting them--getting them to think more deeply about the events of a book, and the conventions of a genre, as they do so.

But I’ve just had a ball deciding such things as whom, exactly, each player is playing; how to represent the world’s unique magic system, which is described like a kind of metaphysical weaving of five different materials into beautiful and destructive patterns; and just as important, how to represent the books’ pervasive theme of mistrust and intrigue and hidden danger alongside the rewards of all-too-infrequent collaboration.

I guess you could say it’s sort of like “Guess Who?” meets “Battleship” with, yes, a hint of “Risk” in there.  It’ll all take place on a giant map, after all.

Board game design would make an awesome library program, one that I intend to experiment with as soon as some nice library decides to hire me.  The games that our patrons create needn’t be as complex as the one  I describe and the ones that board game enthusiasts love to dig into; but of course, they needn’t not be, either.  Who knows what our patrons might come up with when we let them loose with some knowledge of game design?

To make a program even more library-relevant, if a little less free-wheeling, make it a challenge for participants to design a board game based on a classic work of literature that they choose.  Deciding how to represent Wuthering Heights on a piece of cardboard with a plastic “Sorry!” pawn representing Heathcliff might teach young adults more about the novel than any SparkNote could.

(And thank you, Wikipedia gods, for informing me that there actually is a Wuthering Heights role-playing game, which I did not know when I wrote that paragraph.  But--point proved!)

I would like to base my next game design venture on another topic very near and dear to me: librarianship.  Dear readers, what do you think some critical elements of a good library board game would be?