Sunday, November 30, 2014

A Reading in Madison

Publishers never think about the weather when they design books.

I discovered this a couple of summers ago, as I sat by the city pool while the girls splashed about in the water.  It was one of those hot midwestern August days, all brilliant sunshine and breathless humidity, the kind that encourage people to think about emigrating to places with more temperate climates.  The leaders of Our Little Town feel that three large umbrellas provide all the shade that a city’s worth of poolgoers need, and the rest of us can just baste in the sun.  Unless you get there early you can expect the full solar experience.

So there I sat, absorbing UV rays.

Fortunately, I had a book with me.  Because I always have a book with me.  That’s how I am.  I had picked up a rather thick paperback on a trip to the local bookstore not long before – one of those secondary world fantasy novels that I so dearly love – and I remember kind of half hoping that it wouldn’t be all that good so that I could put it aside and wouldn’t have to wait for the second volume to come out.

Except that it was one of the best-written books I’d ever read, darkly lyrical and compelling, and I sat there in the bright sunshine turning page after page, completely enraptured by this doorstop of a novel.  The one with the cover that was almost entirely black.  In the sun.  Getting hotter and hotter.  Eventually I had to hold the book with a towel, but I kept reading.

Later I would buy it in hardback, because it was just that good.

Fantasy is not a genre that rewards good writing, in the main.  It’s an idea-driven genre, much like its cousin science fiction (from which it can be exceedingly difficult to tell apart at times).  When I was younger I would accept this and slog through an awful lot of awful writing if I felt the ideas were worth the price.  I am no longer willing to do that.  I have come to value good writing as an end in itself, and when someone who can write actually has a story to tell, well, it doesn’t get much better than that I think.

Patrick Rothfuss has since published volume two of his Kingkiller Chronicle – The Wise Man’s Fear, to go with The Name of the Wind, the book I was reading that day.  It was just as good as the first one.  He just came out with a stand-alone story set in that same world, and as a promotional event he gave a reading last night up in Madison.

So Kim and I went.

It was a lot of fun.  You should have been there.

Despite having a fever, he spent an hour with us.  He read from his picture book, The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle, first all the way through and then rewinding and skipping back through it a second time to point out how the ending was there all along if you were paying enough attention and how the book becomes a second story entirely after you’ve read it through the first time.  It was a fascinating display of craftsmanship.

He also answered a lot of questions from the audience, but as he said at the beginning, “We can do this one of two ways.”  There was the way where people could record it and post it online, which would become, as he said, “a first-date conversation,” or we could agree that it would just be between those of us there and some interesting things might actually happen.  We chose the latter course.

And interesting things happened.  He has a great sense of humor.  Really, you should have been there.

After he finished he went to a table by the podium and signed books.  He was remarkably gracious, signing all three of the books we’d brought and even talking with me a bit – not long, as the line was out the door of the room, but enough to be friendly and actually listen to what I said.  It was mostly about the difficulties of translating his writing into other languages (particularly Swedish, as I believe I am personally responsible for at least two of his books being sold there).

And then it was over, and out we went.

1 comment:

KimK said...

Yes, but it didn't end without a group sing-along of the chorus of "You Are My Sunshine." :)