brendon barnes, culture editor -
My partner hipped me to The Name of the Wind (DAW Books, 2007) by Patrick Rothfuss, and though I wasn’t reluctant to read it, life kept putting it off in all the ways life can. Months ago, though, I started listening to Unattended Consequences, a podcast hosted by Rothfuss, and became interested enough in his fantasy aesthetic and his regard for rules and tropes of heroic fantasy, that I bought the audiobook version of The Name of the Wind, read beautifully by Nick Podehl, and have been loving it ever since. This novel is the first in a planned trilogy; the second part has been released, and there are some other, shorter works in its canon, but fans eagerly await the finale.
In the novel’s outer frame, Kvothe is working as an innkeeper with his friend Bast. When a Chronicler arrives, he and Bast entice Kvothe to spend three days narrating the story of his life, a life that people know bits and pieces of through rumor and innuendo, but lack the full picture. For example, why is Kvothe called “The Bloodless,” or “The Kingkiller?” Kvothe’s story makes up the inside of the frame, and there are periodic interludes to catch up with what is happening at the inn.
When my friend Adoma asked for fiction recommendations that could completely take over her life for a little while (because, politics), I and several of her friends independently each suggested The Name of the Wind. It is rare to find a book of such length (662 pages in the hardcover edition) that reads so tightly, and is so full of rich detail and carefully realized characters. To be reductive, this story feels like a much more mature – and perhaps better-written – version of Harry Potter. Especially in this first novel which, so far, sees Kvothe growing up in a caravan of traveling actors and musicians, suffering immense personal tragedy, living on the streets of a Byzantine city for three years, and hustling his way into a revered university wherein he can continue his study of all the magic he would need to set his world to rights.
Oh. And Lin-Manuel Miranda is working with Rothfuss on adapting the novels into films and television series. Why Lin-Manuel? Because, before anything else, Kvothe is also a world-historic musician and singer. So, these adaptations will likely be dope. And while I normally advocate watching a filmed adaptation of a story before reading the book, I think starting with the books here is a good path. They’re just too fun to ignore.
madison bernath, managing editor -
Right now, I’m in the midst of that effortful editorial reading Eric mentions below (spoiler alert). Jack Kerouac lived in Orlando—the city in which I currently reside—when he wrote Dharma Bums. That little bit of history was forgotten until a man named Bob Kealing reported on the fact in 1997. Now, that house is a home to a writing residency, the Kerouac Project. I was kindly invited by Geoff Benge, Vice President of the Residency Program, to read submissions. I’ve worked on a few magazines, and I know what it’s like to sift through the slush pile. This was an especially interesting experience for me, though. The reading began blindly, with no reader knowing what any other reader had voted, until a few days ago when Geoff revealed our choices to each other. I felt like I was at an orgy, and someone just flipped the lights. Who am I in bed with? Who was actually into that strange thing? Multiple people? Holy smokes, I guess I’d better give it another shot. Seeing what other people find intriguing makes you reexamine your own inclinations. I’m finding beauty in places I didn’t look hard enough at before, embracing the new and the strange.
eric fershtman, editor -
There are various types of effortful reading: there’s the breathlessly engaged sort of reading you do when you’re reading a blockbuster book series like Game of Thrones or Harry Potter, or when you’ve reached the denouement of just about any good narrative and the big picture’s hewing into view; and then there’s the alert-and-focused kind of reading one does when reading to extract specific information as, e.g., a student does who’s seeking the perfect quote to include in a research paper; and then there’s the editorial sort of reading, which comprises most of what we do here at sinkhole, which is a little bit defensive and kind of a bummer, because you’re reading hyper-critically, to try and pick out anything that’s wrong – editorial reading is like that annoying friend who, when you’re watching a movie, just can’t keep him or herself from pointing out all the dumb little plot holes and ruining the whole experience for you.
There are these sorts of reading, and then there’s the other kind, the glorious, effortless, zoned-out kind of reading, in which your eyes are clearly touching the text but your brain’s not gleaning any information; it’s peaceful disjunction: you’re engaged in the act of reading, which is pleasurable, and quiet, and nice, but your mind is elsewhere, lost in thought or memory, which is equally pleasurable, and quiet, and nice. Certain books have a lyrical quality to them which tend to induce this state – which seems at first blush to work against the author’s purpose of transmitting information, but: there is more than one way to entertain, and a book that sets one thinking, even if it’s not about the book’s own professed subject matter, is a good book, in my book.
That’s what Rick Bass does in The Black Rhinos of Namibia: Searching for Survivors in the African Desert (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012). At least for me. The book is an environmental travelogue, about Bass’s trip to Namibia to see and hear about the endangered black rhinos, and to see and hear about the various conservation efforts underway to save them. However, his writing is so singsong, so lulling, that I just kept falling into these weird little reflective reveries. Which, because life has been so terribly busy lately, was, frankly, wonderful. I’ve not retained a single bit of information from the book, and yet it has left its mark, for which I am grateful.
sean ironman, design editor -
I’m reading James Wright’s The Branch Will Not Break (Wesleyan University Press, 1963). I have a bookshelf overflowing with books various people suggested to me and this was on it. I forget who suggested it to me and why, probably because I’m always looking for poetry recommendations. I don’t think there’s much to say about a poet who is a Pulitzer Prize winner. Wright’s poems are haunting in a way that comes out of nowhere. Each line hits. The everyday, familiar language is direct and effortlessly leads the reader through each poem. Poems catch me completely off guard. For example, in “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota,” the speaker describes their simple surroundings of trees and hearing cowbells, and out of nowhere the poem ends with, “I have wasted my life.” Wright places the reader in the moment with the speaker and these deep thoughts surprise me but feel so real, as real as any image he offers. I’m only about ten poems in, but so far, the poems are striking, intimate, and precise. Each line displays the work of a craftsman in total control.
allie pinkerton, creative editor -
I picked up Kevin Wilson’s The Family Fang (Ecco 2011) because the blurbs on the back said it was literary and fun at the same time. I was in the mood for fun, because politics. The Fangs—Caleb and Camille, and their children Annie and Buster—are performance artists interested in spectacles: Caleb and Camille get married fifty times to draw attention to the façade of the institution; Caleb sets himself on fire and carries Buster in his arms through a mall.
Annie and Buster (often addressed as Child A and Child B by the larger art community) do not have free will as children to decide whether or not to participate in their family’s art. There’s even a scene when Caleb and Camille reveal they rigged the school’s production of Romeo and Juliet so their children would play the lovers. Here Wilson gets into the darker side of performance art – the pain caused by facade.
The book alternates between scenes of Annie and Buster’s tense childhood and their bewildering adulthood, when they are pulled into another charade after their parents go missing unexpectedly.
Are Caleb and Camille dead? Is this just another performance? What does it mean that the parents would leave their children to pursue art? It is here that Wilson seems to be making a specific comment to his audience – other artists, supposedly, as this is literary fiction – How far do you go for your art? Who will you hurt?