Part 2 of the Ice Girl is the continuing story of Lora, an American who has just left her Czech hockey star boyfriend and gone to stay with friends in Russia. Promising herself she's done dating hockey players, she finds that's easier to say than to do, especially now that she's living with two KHL players. Here's the book blurb:
Lora's new life in Russia is going about as well as can be expected. She's picking up the language and enjoying her job as an ice girl with the local KHL team. But living with two hockey players (and one in particular) is getting to be difficult. One minute she and Lev are fighting like cats and dogs, and then the next it feels like they're ready to jump into bed. But what Lora really wants to know is what Lev is doing playing in the KHL in the first place. Has he been drafted by the NHL? And if so, why isn't he playing there? Find out in Part 2 of The Ice Girl, a serialized novel, published chapter by chapter. New releases every two weeks.
If you like ice hockey and will they or won't they romances, then check out Part 2 of the Ice Girl: When in Russia. It's just $0.99 on Amazon, but if you sign up for my mailing list (top of the page) I'll let you know when I'm running free downloads. If you read it and happen to enjoy, I would so appreciate a review because it really helps my author ranking. Thanks!
(If you missed Part 1, you can find it here.)
Good morning! How're you doing? Lots has been going on with me lately, the most exciting of which was I saw Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie give a talk (pictured above). No surprise, she was amazing.
I've also been reading lots of books, flipping back and forth between what I feel like reading (The Door into Summer, by Heinlein, which was meh) and what we're discussing in my book club. Right now that's White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi, and once I got passed the confusing prologue I've been completely sucked into the story, which is about pica, twins, and family ghosts in a bed and breakfast in Dover. It's very gothic in the best sense of the word. Be on the lookout for a review soon.
My other big news, in case you missed it last week, is that I published the opening story (chapter?) to my serialized novel, The Ice Girl, on Amazon, which is exciting. I'm editing part 2 now and will post it next Sunday, in case anyone's in the mood for a story about moving to Russia and working as an ice girl in the KHL (Russia's version of the NHL hockey league). I like to think of it as When Harry Met Sally crossed with a slightly more serious version of Slapshot. It's got a will-they or won't-they romance going on, and if that's your thing, you might check it out. Available to download for just $0.99.
Ok, but on to what I really wanted to talk about, which is the amazing Adichie.
I love going to author talks because they tend to be some of the most eloquent, interesting people on the planet. I guess that makes sense when you make your living on words, and Adichie was no exception. She talked about everything, from her first novel Purple Hibiscus (my review here), to racism in America as assumptions on how you believe a person is or will behave based on the color of their skin (so true), and how the fight for gender equality isn't over. She also spoke about her struggle as a writer, which was the recurring anxiety that the day's writing wouldn't go well. I think a lot of us feel that way when we sit down to write.
The talk seemed to end way too soon because we were totally engrossed. I bought a copy of Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions and got it signed. It's a short read and a great roadmap for how to raise feminists (both boys and girls) and make sure you're applying those same lessons in your own life. I would definitely recommend it for new mothers, which is why the book was written after one of Adichie's friends asked her for advice on how she should raise her daughter to be a feminist. If you're interested in the subject, I've also linked to Adichie's seminal TED talk "We Should All Be Feminists" in a previous post. It's worth watching.
Have you read any of Adichie's work? I still need to read Americanah, and will admit that I'm a little intimidated by its length on top of my other reading commitments (and after a long day of editing, sometimes the last thing I want to do is read more, which is a shame). Still, sometimes you just have to put on your big girl pants and do it, because you know it's going to be good.
Have a great week and see you next Sunday!
So I finally decided to write a story I've been kicking around in my head for a while and published the first part on Amazon yesterday. It's called The Ice Girl, and it's your not-so typical hockey romance novel. I like to think of it as When Harry Met Sally goes to Russia. It's not literature, but I think it's kind of fun. I'm going to be publishing the book in serial format, chapter by chapter every 2 weeks, and then compile them at the end into a full book. Here's the blurb for part 1:
Fresh from a breakup with her Czech hockey star boyfriend, Lora travels to Russia to stay with a friend and get her life back on track. “I can’t keep doing this. I’m only 19. I don’t have to be a puck bunny forever.” But without speaking Russian, there are few options for Lora and so she takes a job as an ice girl with the local KHL team. Promising herself she’ll be good and not fall for another player, she’s excited to get back on the ice where she really belongs. But a chance encounter threatens to turn her life upside down all over again. Will Lora ever learn? And can an American make it in Russia? Find out in Part 1 of The Ice Girl.
If it sounds like something you might enjoy, check it out. It's only $0.99. Plus I'll be running giveaway days so you can download it for free, which you can find out about by signing up for my newsletter in the form at the top of the page. Don't worry, I won't spam. Just want to give my Wordly-Bird readers a chance to save some money.
And if you read and happen to like it, a review would be much appreciated! It really helps support my author page on Amazon.
Ok, self-promotion time over. Thanks for listening!
Well the National Book Festival was everything I had hoped for and more. I had SUCH A GOOD TIME.
I've always liked hearing authors talk. I like to hear about their process and what events or questions inspired their books. I just love getting a peak into that world. As an adult, I've been lucky enough to hear Tony Morrison and Salman Rushdie. And when I was a kid, Mary Downing Hahn (Wait Till Helen Comes) and Priscilla Cummings (Chadwick the Crab) visited my school, which had a profound effect on me (You mean real people write these books? And they live in my state?). Reading can sometimes feel lonely, so bringing readers and authors together helps me feel part of a shared experience.
And that's exactly how I felt yesterday at the National Book Festival in D.C. I can't even tell you how much fun it was. Let me give you a quick run down of the people I heard:
David McCullough: What a storyteller! I left this talk wanting to read everything he has written. I loved his book John Adams, and now I really want to read his one about the Wright brothers. He did an especially great job of talking about all the women that are a part of these histories and don't get the credit for the roles they played. And on that same theme, he also credited his wife extensively for helping him during his revision process. I really liked that. McCullough still writes on a manual typewriter, which is adorable, AND he talked about how important it is to read your work aloud as you're writing and editing. I must have looked like a bobblehead in the stands, I was nodding so hard in agreement with that. I caught the tail-end of Alice McDermott's talk too, and she said the exact same thing. You've got to hear the sound of the words to get them right, they're not just marks on the page. Anyway, no one writes about American history better than McCullough and I feel really lucky that I got to hear him speak.
Diana Gabaldon: So full disclosure, I've read about half of Outlander, and while it's pretty good, it just isn't my cup of tea. Despite that, I was still so excited to hear her talk and she did not disappoint. I have a lot of respect for her genre-blending. I mean, who would have thought historical fiction could be crossed with romance and science fiction! I'm sure publishers wouldn't naturally bet on that horse, so the fact that Gabaldon has been so successful at making it work is incredibly impressive to me (she's sold a massive 28 million copies of her books, on which a hit TV show has also been based), She was funny, a little naughty, and incredibly inspiring. After hearing her talk, I almost wanted to leave the festival so I could get writing. The fact that she transitioned her original career as a biology professor in academia to becoming a novelist is another thing about her story that I really admire. I mean, if she can do it, maybe I can too! Gave me hope.
Colm Toibin: Of all the talks I saw, this one was definitely the most literary. I really, really loved his novel, Brooklyn, and it was just fascinating to hear how the tiny, quiet details of his childhood in Ireland informs his work. He made a great case for making stories out of almost nothing, just the mundane, but incredibly human details of our lives. Kind of a great reminder to wake up, listen, and observe all the stories that are already taking place in your life. The hard work of putting them down on paper still remains, but they're there if you bother to notice.
Thomas Friedman: So Friedman may have been the biggest crowd-draw, but I'm actually not very familiar with his work. He's a columnist for the New York Times, and as he stated up front, he considers his job to illuminate ideas that provoke an emotional response (which sounds like high-level click bait to me, but what do I know). He gave a great, incredibly well-rehearsed presentation that was much more like a TED talk than any other speaker's (who were typically more conversational). I don't know. Friedman was kind of impressive, but it felt like he was exaggerating a lot of ideas. I didn't walk away from that talk feeling like I had learned much other than Thomas Friedman likes to make connections about globalization, climate change, Moore's law, human adaptability, and that those connections may or may not be real. He was promoting his book Thank You For Being Late, and it sounded pretty good, but also kind of suspect. I don't know, wasn't my favorite talk. Just a little too slick. Big ideas are complex and I feel like he way over-simplified everything so they would fit into his convenient unified theory.
Michael Lewis: Lewis hardly needs an introduction. If you've read or seen The Big Short, Moneyball (movie), or Liar's Poker, then you know his work. But until I saw his talk, which was actually more of an awesome conversation between him and Joel Achenbach (whom I've been reading in the Washington Post for years, so it was really cool to finally see him in the flesh), I hadn't made the connection that he had written ALL those books. Of all the talks I saw, Lewis's may have been the most downright entertaining. He made everything he said sound like the most interesting thing you've ever heard. Of all the authors yesterday, for me he was the most like David McCullough - incredibly curious people, asking all the right questions and digging to find the answers. Lewis's talk may have been my favorite of the whole day. Like McCullough's, I left wanting to read everything he had ever written.
Condoleezza Rice: I mean, CONDOLEEZZA FREAKING RICE! Look, I was never a fan of the Bush administration, but I always admired Rice, and the more I've learned about her over the years, the more impressed I get. She grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, smack in the middle of segregation and the Civil Rights movement (she knew some of the little girls who were killed in the Birmingham church bombing). And yet, she grew up empowered by her parents and herself to become a world-expert in Soviet and Eastern European foreign policy (she has a Ph.D. and was a professor at Stanford University). She speaks Russian, was part of both the George H. W. and W. Bush administrations as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State (America's top diplomat), and, if that wasn't enough, she's also an incredibly talented classical pianist. Her talk was about her new book, Democracy - basically what institutions are needed to make a successful system (independent courts, free press, etc.) and why it's thrived in some parts of the world and not in others. The moderator had her talk about the state of democracy (or lack thereof) in different countries and geopolitical situations, and holy shit, does the lady know her stuff. She's back teaching at Stanford, and if I could, I would definitely take her class. The only "bad" part about Rice's talk was that it was scheduled at almost the same time as Roxane Gay's, whose new book, Hunger, I really want to read. Hopefully I'll get to see her another time.
Ann Telnaes, Mike Lester, and Roz Chast: Finally, I closed out the fairly long day (I got there at 10 am and didn't leave until 7 pm) with the cartoonists panel. I'm a massive cartoon fan, in all forms of the medium, so this was a real treat for me. Ann Telnaes (of the Washington Post) and Mike Lester are editorial cartoonists on opposite sides of the political spectrum. I'm sure you would recognize Telnaes's work. I really enjoyed hearing her talk. She was such a strong, intelligent voice against Trump and his attempts to bully the free press (in ways that aren't unlike some of the warning signs Rice was discussing in her own talk). I just love her cartooning style, and had no idea that all these years I've been reading her work that it was a woman behind it. There aren't many female political cartoonists and she takes a lot of heat on the internet for it. Because how dare a woman speak up! I didn't love Mike Lester. Our politics don't agree, which isn't the end of the world, but beyond that, he just wasn't very coherent or nearly as interesting as Telnaes. I also hate his comic strip, Mike du Jour, but it was interesting to at least put a face to the name. The last talk I heard was with Roz Chast, whom I'm a big fan of (you can read my review of her graphic novel Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? here). For years, I didn't really appreciate her work, and then one day it just hit me how amazing it is. She's by far my favorite New Yorker cartoonist.
The only slightly annoying part was her talk was a little ruined for me by a group of incredibly impolite teenage boys I happened to be sitting next to. The room was so packed, I couldn't change seats, and for the life of me, I don't know why they even bothered to be there. They kept getting up and down from their seats, spent 99% of the talk playing games on their cell phones (while one "helpfully" described the cartoons and jokes being projected on the screens to his companions, so I could hardly hear Chast talk). And then when someone tried to sit down in a seat in the middle of the row, and politely asked the boys if he could get past them, the kid looked up from his phone and sneered, "Can you get in on the other side?" (meaning the other side of the aisle, so he wouldn't have to be bothered to scoot his knees out of the way for the all of 2 seconds it would take for the older man to get a seat). Makes you wonder what the world is coming to. I wanted to tell that kid off, but it would only have made a bigger disruption than it already was.
Anyway, despite that last bit, the National Book Festival was amazing and I can't wait until next year. I mean, in one day I heard more authors speak than I have in my entire life up to that point. If you're a word nerd like me, the Library of Congress's National Book Festival is well worth it. If I weren't local, I would definitely plan a long weekend in D.C. around it. There's plenty to do in the city and free events like this one make it even better.
Have you ever been? If so, tell me about it in the comments! Would love to hear your experiences.
If anyone follows my reading list (scroll to the bottom of the page to see the books I've read in 2017), they might have noticed there's a lot of Nora Ephron in there lately. So why is that?
Well, it's because I decided to leave my marriage.
And to make a sad situation a little more bearable, I also decided that the late great Nora Ephron would be my "spiritual" guide through it all. I'm joking of course, but you know what I mean. I figure if you can write a story like When Harry Met Sally, then you might have some helpful thoughts to share about love and heartbreak.
My husband and I went through some problems about a year and a half ago. We even separated for a little while, but got back together after deciding we could work things out. Unfortunately, even though I thought we had made really good efforts to work through those problems, they kind of reared up their ugly heads again. I guess I finally realized that I had done everything I could think to do to save my relationship, but it wasn't enough. I know I gave it my best shot, which makes this time around marginally easier. Last time I felt like I hadn't actually done anything to fight for my marriage and that it wasn't fair to ourselves to walk away so easily. So we tried, we definitely did. At least I feel good about that.
It's one of those sad situations where no one has been "wronged." There was no bad behavior. I never stopped loving him, and I don't think he stopped loving me. We just wanted different things. We also needed different things and weren't able to communicate those wants and needs very well, if at all. Talking about hard issues was never our strong point as a couple. So it's nobody's fault, really, or maybe it's everyone's fault. I don't know. But that doesn't make it any less sad or frustrating.
I go through waves of feeling ok, and then waves of despair where I can barely function. And then more often there are the waves of numbness where it feels like I'll never be genuinely happy again. It's also really hard to let go of the good memories and what they meant to me. It feels almost impossible to say goodbye to a man who has been my best friend for 13 years. So yeah, to say this is rough is an understatement.
Anyway, what does that have to do with Nora Ephron again? Having been divorced twice and married three times, I find she has a funny sense humor and poignancy about it all that I'm finding very comforting. Of the three books of hers I've read in the last week or so, I enjoyed Heartburn the most, which is a thinly veiled novel about her divorce from Carl Bernstein (of Watergate fame) when she was 7 months pregnant. The other two are collections of essays, I Feel Bad About My Neck and I Remember Nothing. Some of the essays are excellent, others are more or less blog posts, but this one really helped me put things in perspective:
"For a long time, the fact that I was divorced was the most important thing about me. And now it's not." - Nora Ephron, I Remember Nothing
I guess the point is, although this may seem like the end of the world, that everything I've ever known or worked so hard to build is falling apart (and I'm the one who's actively torpedoing it, which makes it feel even worse, even though I feel like there's no other way for us both to move forward with our lives and ultimately be happy) - well, this too will pass. There's going to be a new normal, even if I don't know what it looks like yet. And one day in the future, this divorce will not be considered the most important thing that ever happened to me, even if it feels that way at the moment.
So right now I'm just trying to be grateful for all the things I have and have had, and trying to be as hopeful as possible. I'm incredibly fortunate to have two supportive parents who've opened their home to me, my dog, and my cats while I figure out our next step and deal with the necessary logistics of the situation. I'm also incredibly fortunate to have a job that I can do anywhere, which makes it possible to move here for the moment.
And I also don't regret my marriage or our time spent together. We did, saw, and made some pretty amazing things as a couple. 13 years together and I wouldn't take back a single one. He's a wonderful person and I really wish him all the happiness in the world. So all things considered, I'm really incredibly lucky. The present is a challenge, to be sure, but I can work through this and everything will be alright in the end.
If you're into Science Fiction or Fantasy, I think you'll enjoy this week's Friday Kindle deals.
First up, there's a $1.99 sale on Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, which happens to be one of my fantasy-loving brother's favorite novels ever. It's about two magicians in 19th century England. Also, apparently it's a TV series now? Interesting.
Then we have the Dirk Gently box set ($1.99), which includes TWO books (Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency and The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul - best title ever) by Douglas Adams. If you liked The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe, you should definitely check out this other series by Adams. It's equally zany and fun.
And finally, you can read about time-travel and slavery in Octavia Butler's classic science fiction novel, Kindred, for just $2.99 on your Kindle or any other device that has the Kindle app.
Not a bad showing this week! Four great books that are worth reading.
Happy Friday! Although, it doesn't really feel like a Friday to me. My family and I just got back from a once in a lifetime sailing trip in the British Virgin Islands (post on that next week), so I hardly feel like I need the weekend to rest. I'll probably end up working through it in order to catch up on some editing jobs instead.
Meanwhile, I thought it would be fun to start a new Friday series to alert any interested readers to good Kindle book deals that I've found on Amazon. A few months ago, I stumbled on a fantastic kindle bargain ($1.99) for Bill Bryson's Notes from a Small Island. I've only gotten around to reading it now, and of course it's hysterically funny (as Bryson always is), which reminded me how useful it is to hear about these kinds of deals when they roll around.
I did a quick scan of the Literary section of Amazon's monthly kindle book deals and found out they're running a great sale on Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got His Gun for $2.99. This is one of those books I think everyone should read.
It's about an American WWI soldier who is horribly disfigured in combat and wakes up in a French hospital without his senses of sight, hearing, or smell. He can't even talk, which kind of gives you an idea of the awful extent of his injuries. It's pretty horrifying, especially as he slowly figures out how badly hurt he is, and how he's essentially incapable of communicating with any of the hospital staff. To make things even worse, he's also lost his arms and legs...
Johnny Got His Gun is a book that's unequivocally about war and pacifism. It's written in the first person, which gives it a particularly frightening edge (and in fact, I think I first heard about it on a list of the scariest novels of all time).
Interestingly, the author, Dalton Trumbo, is probably more well known as a classic Hollywood screenwriter, who secretly wrote the Audrey Hepburn film, Roman Holiday, for which he won an Oscar while still technically blacklisted during the McCarthy era. It's a fascinating story. If you're interested, there was a recent movie called Trumbo (staring Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston), which documents his and other blacklisted screenwriters' experiences during this time. Unfortunately, the movie is only OK, but not great, mostly because the screenplay and dialogue are fairly weak (ironically enough). The substance and the story, though, depicts a very interesting moment in history that's worth learning about if you're keen on writing.
Anyway, check out Johnny Got His Gun if you're up for a classic piece of literary/horror fiction. I don't think you'll find it cheaper and I'm not sure if this deal will last beyond the end of the month.
So Happy Friday and Good Reading :)
I'm having the worst reading rut lately. I've been trying to finish this Eudora Welty book for weeks now. It's only a hundred pages long. How am I only on page forty? I just can't get that interested in it even though a book about writing should totally be in my wheelhouse.
Maybe it's because, lately, I've been reading for others and not for myself. The Welty book was given to me by my mother, which was very sweet of her. The problem is, I've never even read any of Welty's fiction, so starting with her memoir is awkward. I guess I'm only reading it out of some sense of obligation to my mother, not because I'm really that taken by it.
Before that I read Escape, which was an interesting (and terrifying) memoir about FLDS culture, though the writing itself was nothing special. That was just research for a story I'm thinking about writing.
And then before that, I read and reviewed Childhood's End, which was good, but I never felt like I completely submerged myself in it. It's a classic sci-fi book I thought I should read, again, out of some interior obligation, but it wasn't very escapist like I think the best science fiction can be.
You can see in the right side-bar that the next book on my to read list is Mark Twain's Pudd'nhead Wilson, which I know very little about. I haven't read any Twain since high school. I hope it's good. I'm reading it for a book club that my friend invited me to. Again, obligational reading, but I think it will be worth it for the social aspect. (Plus, the book club takes place at my favorite local brewery, Mystery Brewing, in cute Hillsborough NC.)
But I'm dying for a good escapist read. Work has been a slog. I need a good book to forget about it. I've started re-reading one of my favorite manga series, Dragon Ball Z, but I'll finish those soon enough.
I'm open to suggestions. What's your favorite escapist read?
When I first met my husband, way back in freshman year of college, we did the usual getting to know each other thing. Where are you from? What’s your major? Do you want to come back to my dorm room? etc. Standard stuff.
Slowly we got to know each other a little more deeply, largely over AOL instant messenger (which was absolutely huge back then, so don’t make fun). We’d be typing away in the evenings, each in our own dorm room across campus, having fun. But I distinctly remember an exchange in which T professed his love for a book called, The Last Opium Den. Seeing as I was head-over-heels for this kid, I found a copy at the University’s library and read it in one sitting.
I remember thinking, “This is his favorite book?”
I had a moment of doubt. What did he see in this absurd little story? For those who’ve never read it, The Last Opium Den is about a guy… looking for the last opium den. See, he doesn’t want heroin or any other prosaic drug. He just wants opium. Spoiler alert: he finds the den, smokes some opium, and feels something? I don’t even remember what he concluded about the experience. Perhaps something existential? Seems like a good guess. But considering The Last Opium Den is about the size and thickness of a Beatrix Potter book (seriously, it’s like, Benjamin Bunny sized), to me the story was like a little bit of nothing whittled off to a point.
I asked T what he saw in it, after I admitted I didn’t really like it, and he rattled off a philosophy heavy explanation. And since I’ve never been able to get remotely excited about philosophy, I was able to chalk it up to a difference in opinion. I just happen to prefer my stories light on the philosophy and heavy on the practical human experience, and for T a good book is almost exactly the opposite.
But it makes you wonder, should you ever share your favorite book? I’ve mentioned before my love for A Canticle for Leibowitz. I’ve even given a copy to my brother-in-law, but I wonder if he a) he’s read it, and b) if he liked it all?
Maybe it’s pointless to share your favorite novel with someone else? Reading is highly personal. I mean, what is reading but the interpretation of symbols on a page as images in your mind. Obviously, we’re all going to see very different images, based on a collage of items we've already seen and experienced, and thus feel very different things depending on how immediate or real those syntheses may seem.
In high school, my favorite novel was Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News (don’t judge the book if you’ve only seen the crap movie, two totally different things). The Shipping News was the first novel where I decided the author was really something special to write such a story.
I had a friend at school who was also a big reader and I made her borrow The Shipping News from me, because I couldn’t stop thinking about it. She was a sport and read it, but I remember the expression on her face as she returned it back to me; it was apparent she was completely unchanged by the experience. The book meant little to nothing to her. What crushing disappointment that was for me! I wanted to talk about the story and the writing, and that was just not going to happen. Whatever I got out of it, it didn’t do the same for her. And she was one of the few people I knew who actually read.
See a trend? When was the last time you made a reading suggestion that was actually enjoyed and appreciated? My parents loved A Primate’s Memoir, based on my recommendation, but how unbiased an opinion you can ever hope to get from your parents? Maybe they just liked it ok.
Anyway, it doesn’t matter whether or not someone else likes your favorite book, but it can make reading feel even lonelier than it already is. That's part of the reason I felt compelled to start this blog. If there was anywhere I could connect with other readers, you'd hope the internet would be the place, but there's just so much noise. It's hard work to make those reading connections.
What’s your favorite book? Have you ever recommended it, only to be disappointed by the result?
Alright kids, in keeping with tradition, I'd like to highlight two books in a series and make an argument that the second, less popular book is superior to the first (see my earlier defense of Speaker for the Dead in favor of Ender's Game).
I don't know why I do it. Maybe it seems unfair that such great books are overlooked just because they weren't written first? Or maybe, as I believe, after the author has gone through all the hard work of building a world in the first book, they can at last write the story they really wanted to tell in the second book, resulting in a far better story. Just a theory.
I want to talk about Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea Cycle; a fantasy series that begins with the eponymous A Wizard of Earthsea. The series started as a trilogy, and you'll sometimes see it incorrectly described that way online, but Le Guin had since expanded it into a quartet with the publication of Tehanu. (Edit: Writer Janet Ursel was kind enough to alert me that there's actually a fifth book as well! The Other Wind.) Strangely, I've only read the first, second, and fourth books, but not the third (Edit: or fifth...). Guess I need to put them on my list.
A Wizard of Earthsea is one of my favorite fantasy books. I love the world, which had a more mythological tone than high fantasy. I thought its concept of magic was cool when I was a kid, and then when I learned about semiotics in high school, the significance of Earthsea's magic system blew my mind. The idea that you can control anything as long as you know it's one true name (when sign = signifier), well, that just makes sense to a bookworm (or a fantasy minded linguist).
Our hero, Ged, also known as Sparrowhawk, studies this magic of words and mistakenly believes he has mastered the language. That hubris almost kills him when he summons an evil spirit into the world that he cannot control. He spends the rest of the book sailing about the archipelago of Earthsea to understand this dark magic he has unleashed, simultaneously hunting it and running from it. It's a beautifully written story, short and sweet. The world-building is particularly strong, as you'd expect from Le Guin. I found it a lot more interesting than the Tolkien-imitations that tend to dominate the fantasy genre.
But A Wizard of Earthsea isn't perfect. It touches on this great sense of evil, but I always found its shapelessness to be slightly unsatisfactory. The book also meanders, especially towards the end. To be honest, I can't even recall the conclusion beyond the most basic plot. It was just a little too abstract for me.
Regardless of these shortcomings, I enjoyed the book, and as soon as I could, I used my babysitting money to purchase the second book in the series, The Tombs of Atuan (I was probably around 13 or 14 when I first read them).
As the second book in the series, The Tombs of Atuan does a lot of things that tend to annoy readers, which probably explains its lack of popularity. First, it introduces a totally new character, Arha, who is unrelated to anyone in the previous book. Arha is the current and reincarnated priestess of "The Nameless Ones," an almost forgotten religion of ancient gods who existed before the world had a form.
Second point against this book? She lives in an isolated nunnery with other novices, old virgins, and eunuchs. I'm sure every boy who ever picked up this book read that setting and put the book right back down again. Maybe I'm stereotyping, but I've found that boys don't like to read books about girls, not at least until after they've grown up a little.
Then it takes Ged almost three quarters of the book to show up. No one who thinks they're reading a direct sequel to A Wizard of Earthsea is going to push that far through the story to find out whether their original hero reappears.
But that's the trick, Tombs is not really a direct sequel to Earthsea.
Despite everything that is working against it, I don't remember struggling with The Tombs of Atuan at all. The opening chapters were strange enough and the writing simple enough to pull me right into the story. I liked Arha, who was spoiled and haughty, but also lonely and increasingly frightened. I was interested in the mysterious tombs of the ancient ones, and the modern temples of the god-king and other cults. Where did these religions come from? Why was one dying and the other thriving? And like Earthsea, Tombs is a coming of age novel and has a school-ish air to it, which I always enjoy. Arha spends her time learning the rituals of the high priestess and the secrets of the labyrinth that lies buried deep in the earth beneath the tombs. How can you not enjoy that?
You could read Tombs all by itself, having never read Earthsea, and I don't think the story would suffer at all. Ged is a catalyst in the novel, practically a plot device, but the story is really all about Arha. What do the Gods mean to her? And what does she mean to them? That's part of the mystery and it takes a while to really understand her.
Just because Ged isn't the star of Tombs doesn't mean it isn't good, if not better without him. Throughout the Earthsea cycle, I don't know if we even understood Ged. What motivated him? Why did he feel compelled to fix his mistake? But I felt like I knew Arha by the end of Tombs, and felt for her.
I've subsequently loaned this book out so many times and people never return it, so I've had to buy it again and again to ensure I always have a copy ready to reread whenever the mood strikes me, which is fairly often. It's a great book, overlooked, but special.
What do you think? Have you read The Tombs of Atuan? Did you like it? Or is the classic, A Wizard of Earthsea better?
Writing Streak: 3 days
My Books on Amazon:
Waking Lions by Avelet Gundar-Goshen
Never Let Me Go
by Kazuo Ishiguro