Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A large helping of seconds

Amazon came through for me in a big way yesterday, delivering two items to my doorstep on the very day of their retail release: the complete first season of Game of Thrones on Blu-ray, and the paperback edition of The Wise Man’s Fear. The discs and the book just happened to be slated to come out on the same day, and also coincidentally are both part of my big re-read project for 2012.

I actually finished re-reading The Wise Man’s Fear this morning; I didn’t quite manage to turn the last page as the train pulled into my destination station, but I carried the hardcover across the street to the Starbucks in the underground, sat at one of the tables outside the coffee shop, and finished off the last five pages before continuing on to work. And so, just in time, I am as prepared as I am likely to get to discuss The Kingkiller Chronicle with my wife as she reads volume two in the more convenient (to her mind) paperback format.

I will be sad to see the end of his tale.
The first time I read The Wise Man’s Fear was almost exactly a year ago, and that was three and a half years after devouring its predecessor The Name of the Wind. This time I read both back-to-back and I was faintly amazed by how well it all hangs together. I know, from vaguely keeping tabs on the author’s blog, that the process of writing and editing the second installment was long and arduous, but it reads as if he had started on page one of book one and just kept going and going in one beautiful sweeping rush. I was especially impressed by the opening of the first book, which uses a tried and true trick of world-building in the form of having several characters make very offhand, unselfconscious references to the history, religion, and culture of the imaginary place in which the story is set. An embarrassingly hacky writer will have the characters utter extremely improbable expository dialogue like “That food tastes worse than the tongue of Zorgleblork, which you know is the legendary poisonous serpent!” A slightly less hacky writer will work the same exposition into the omniscient narration. A good writer will skip the exposition altogether and trust a reasonably intelligent audience of readers to understand that unexplained references fly fast and furious in everyday conversation and you can get the gist of 75% of them from context. I noticed that Pat Rothfuss fell into the latter category the first time I read The Name of the Wind, as I let the steady stream of unfamiliar names wash over me and immerse me in his rich tapestry of a setting. What I only came to appreciate the second time around is that most if not all of those initial, unexplained references do get explained eventually, when they come up naturally in the narrative, and once you know their backstories it adds tremendous meaning to the opening passages. So, cool beans.

The other thing I spent most of my time on while re-reading The (as yet unfinished) Kingkiller Chronicle was scouring the text for clues to the mysteries being set up for resolution in the third and final volume. You may recall this was another one of my big prompts for the big re-read: my buddy Clutch read both published volumes of the series back-to-back last year and we discussed them at length and he noticed connections and possible solutions I had either missed or forgotten. They seemed glaringly obvious the second time around (and after someone else had pointed them out) which, again, sustains at least the illusion that Rothfuss knows what he’s doing and has a plan for the big finale. Whenever that may be.

So, the first and shortest leg of the big re-read is over, and I find myself wondering what I should turn my attention to next. I know the immediate answer, which has nothing to do with re-reads. I have another long movie to watch for the 1001 Film Club, so that will take up most or all of the remainder of commuting time this week. After that I’ll probably read a couple of non-fiction books, finally knocking out Fast Food Nation and then seeing how I feel about King Kaiser Tsar. (This past weekend my family and I met up with some friends of ours and their daughter at the big used bookstore, said friends being the people who had introduced me to that store many moons ago. They had brought several boxes of books to sell, although a few of those were politely declined by the store, including King Kaiser Tsar, which the wife of the pair assured me was a good read as she pressed it into my hands rather than carry it home herself. Also on that same visit I very nearly persuaded the husband to pick up The name of the Wind because, basically, I try to push that book on everyone I know who reads for fun. Just to tie everything together there.)

But after that, it looks like I’m going to wade back into Stephen King’s Dark Tower magnum opus. I’m reasonably certain that I can keep Roland’s world of Gilead and Jericho Hill separate in my mind from Kvothe’s world of Atur and Severen, as I read and refamiliarize myself with the first and engage in bookclub-style discussions with my wife about the second. That’s my hope, anyway. The seven kingdoms of Westeros from Game of Thrones would be a bit trickier.

Yet Game of Thrones is a world I can visit via the tv, and I’m eager to do so. When I originally made the re-read plan I hadn’t quite known when I would end up acquiring the season. I knew I wanted it on Blu-ray but lacked a Blu-ray player (something which has been rectified by my loving wife recently) and wasn’t sure when I’d be able to justify the expense (until Amazon put it on some absurd 50% off sale which essentially rendered it a must-buy). I figured it could wait until summer, after the regular television seasons were over, right around the time when I would want to start rereading the Song of Ice and Fire books in anticipation of the fifth one coming out in paperback anyway. And yet, and yet, and yet. Every episode is already in my house, the first one a tear of shrinkwrapping away from hitting the player and lighting up the screen. Can my enfeebled old brain handle talking about The Wise Man’s Fear while rereading The Drawing of the Three while absorbing the spectacle of A Game of Thrones (no doubt condensed and modified somewhat from the book, further playing havoc with my faltering memory)? An embarrassment of riches like this is not such a bad problem to have, and I suppose only time will tell how my faculties hold up.

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