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Reading Challenge Review: The Slow Regard of Silent Things (or: “Write What You Love”)

A book from an author you love that you haven’t read yet (#16 on my 2015 Reading Challenge List): The Slow Regard of Silent Things, by Patrick Rothfuss

I recently read a book by one of my favorite authors and didn’t like it. And unlike some of the people who’ve written angry reviews of the book on Goodreads, I’m okay with that.

In April of 2014, Pat Rothfuss announced that he would have a new book coming out before the end of the year. After getting out of the way that this book wasn’t The Doors of Stone, the third volume in the Kingkiller Chronicle, he went on to explain that it was a story he’d had “tickling around in [his] head” for a while, about a comparatively minor character from the Kingkiller Chronicle universe, and that after some experimentation and consultation with his editor and others whose opinion he trusted, he had decided this story should be a book of its very own.

Over the course of the next few months, Rothfuss continued to drum up soft publicity for the book on his website. And he also expressed some hesitation that not all his fans would like it. On the publication date, October 28th, he wrote a post wherein he confessed that “When I finished [the book], I honestly expected it to just sit in a trunk for years. I knew I liked it. But I also knew it wasn’t like any sort of fantasy story I’d ever read before. At best it was arty, at worst it was incomprehensible.” The foreword to the book itself begins with the words “You might not want to buy this book.”

Like many of Rothfuss’s fans, I read the post; I read the foreword; and I bought the book anyway. And as I suspected might be the case, I didn’t like it nearly as much as I like his longer novels. Rothfuss is a skilled storyteller, and a solid worldbuilder, but it’s very clear to anyone who reads more than 3 lines of his prose (or any of his blog posts on writing) that one of his most cherished identities is as a wordcrafter. And that’s the side of him that gets let loose to play in Slow Regard of Silent Things. The book’s as much a prose poem as it is a plotted story; the protagonist lives in a mental world full of verbing and nounage, and most of her possessions have names, and a lot of them aren’t given explicit description outside of their names. Add to that the fact that she sees the world differently from most people (the reasons for which haven’t been canonically established in the series yet, but have been implied to do with something that went wrong in her magical studies) and you have a book spanning seven days, where the most plot-driven thing that happens is the main character spending a chapter making soap. She spends time trying to find a gift for her friend; she rearranges things in her home underneath the University so that they’re in their proper places (in a thought process that felt like something between schizophrenia, OCD, and a deep understanding of feng shui); and she hides from the world above. That’s what this book is about.

I finished the book in part because I’m a completist, especially where my favorite authors are concerned, but I don’t think I’ll be reading it again. I’m definitely not the target audience: what hooks me into a book are culture, discussion of interesting ideas, and moments between characters. All of these are qualities Rothfuss’s other books have in common, but they’re not what this book was about. That said, I’m already considering which of my poetry-inclined friends would like it best. And I’m okay with an author writing something that’s not for me.

In the last year or so, I’ve done a lot of reading about creativity and “the artist’s life,” whatever that means. One of the things that’s resonated with me deeply is that in order to maintain their creative well, artists — professional or otherwise — need to be able to follow their muse where it takes them once in a while; to do something fun even if they don’t think it’ll be “profitable” or “mainstream.” I’m also a firm believer in the principle that every well-written work has its audience. Maybe I’m being naive, but I don’t believe that Rothfuss wrote this book because he was getting pressure from his publisher to put out something to keep his name in readers’ minds, or because he wanted the cash; I believe he wrote it because he had a story to tell, and he was lucky enough to have a creative team who could help him get it out to a place where it could find its audience.

I’ve written here before about how firmly I believe in the principle that you should write what you love and trust that people will read it; it’s advice that I’ve heard, among other places, in the 2014 Comic-Con panel where Rothfuss talked about worldbuilding. And I’m glad to see that it seems to be advice that he’s taken for himself.

I hope this book finds its loyal fans. And I hope that if I ever become a famous author someday, I’ll still be able to write the odd little stories that come through my brain from time to time. Because after all, isn’t that what this writing life is about?

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17 Comments

  1. K Smith

     /  January 25, 2015

    I absolutely loved this book. Not in the same way I love the Kingkiller Chronicles, but I completely felt like this story was for me. Thanks Pat!

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    • Honestly, I’m glad that Pat feels confident enough in his fan base that he can write things that aren’t for everybody — as one of my favorite writing teachers said, “if you try to please every reader all the time you’ll end up with mush.” (and thanks for commenting!)

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  2. Melanie

     /  January 25, 2015

    I’m also a huge Rothfuss fan who didn’t like Slow Regard. I was almost one of those people who wrote an angry review about it, though. This wasn’t because I didn’t enjoy the book, however; it was because the afterword made me feel like there was something wrong with me for not liking the book.

    In said afterword, Rothfuss describes a conversation he had with somebody about his fears for releasing the book. He says he’s worried that people will feel cheated because the novella has no dialogue, no conflict, and no action. I personally think he was right to be a little worried, as a story without conflict isn’t going to sit that well with a lot of people, but he doesn’t owe anybody anything, he can write whatever the hell he wants. My problem is that the response to those fears was literally, “fuck those people.” Fuck those people who aren’t going to ‘get’ the book, because this book is only for those special few who really understand life, or hardship, or what it’s like to be an autistic little girl living underground.

    I get that these aren’t Rotfuss’ own words, but including that as the ‘moral’ of your afterword is basically the same thing as saying it myself. So, as touchy as it sounds, I felt offended when I finished the book because it was basically telling me that I fucked up by not liking the book. That It went over my head, or was too artistic for my simple little brain.

    Like I said, maybe I’m being too sensitive, but spending $10 on a short novella by my favorite where making soap is the only action was disappointing. Going on to read about how I’m just not a big enough fan to get it was a punch in the gut for me.

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    • Thanks for commenting! From other reviews I’ve read, I know you’re not the only person who felt that way, but for what it’s worth, I didn’t get that sense from the afterword at all. The way I read it was “I’m so glad to hear that this book resonated with people who saw bits of themselves in Auri,” rather than an indictment of those who didn’t. Maybe because I’ve spent a LOT of time recently thinking about the importance of representing all kinds of non-traditional heroes. …and Kvothe is a pretty traditional hero in most ways, so I don’t think Pat has any trouble with finding love for the mainstream story either 😉

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      • Melanie

         /  January 25, 2015

        I’m honestly glad that you didn’t get the same impression from the afterword. It gives me hope that maybe I’m just being overly sensitive and that the attitude I picked up on wasn’t really there. Because the worst thing about having read this book for me wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the time spent reading it, or that it didn’t add much to the Kvothe’s story, and certainly not the money spent on it. The worst part is that it made me think less of my favorite author for (seemingly) alienating fans like myself. Perhaps worse, it made me feel like he thinks less of me because it’s not my cup of tea.

        I realize that’s pretty childish, and I’m not the kind of person who goes out of their way to find ways to be offended by something, but that’s how it made me feel.

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  3. I really enjoying reading this book, but simultaneously had a lot of issues with it. I personally didn’t see the necessity to write so many disclaimers about who might or might not like the book, about who it might or might not be for. That, more than anything that happened in the book, seemed more heavy handed than needed.

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    • Given the ways Pat interacts with his fans in other forums, I actually took it as a bit of illustrated vulnerability on his part; that he was nervous about the book’s being “non-traditional” and so felt the need to justify it more than he would have otherwise. But that’s just me guessing…

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  4. Brian

     /  January 26, 2015

    I happened to love this book. I don’t consider myself artsy, I was an infantryman for twelve years, and our ilk are not typically well known for our appreciation of art… especially something as hard to quantify as language.

    Nevertheless one of the pleasures of reading an author like Mr. Rothfuss or Guy Gavriel Kay is that there is pleasure on two levels; the story and the words the story is crafted from, and over the years I have noticed how frustratingly difficult it is to actually explain the latter to people.

    I also like that the character here got more depth, we didn’t know a lot about this character and after reading this the character has a notably darker side and the frequent assurances of protection don’t seem quite as childish.

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    • Thanks for the comment! Beautiful prose is definitely one of the things I like about Pat’s work, too (as well as GGK — Under Heaven is one of my favorite books written in the last few years). I think the difference with this one is that it felt like the prose was taking center stage in a way it doesn’t in Pat’s other books — Name of the Wind and Tigana have forward movement as well as beautiful prose and deep character insights, and I like those kinds of stories more than this one. That said, I don’t think that liking wordplay for its own sake (or not) necessarily makes someone “artsy” (or not). 😉

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  5. I will be reading this for the same week challenge and have heard similar sentiments from people. I guess I have lucked out in not reading the angry reviews, lol. These kinds of reviews I appreciate because it helps me check myself when I pick up the book, and remind myself “Okay, this isn’t part of Kvothe’s story.”. Thank you for this review.

    (And by the way, if you didn’t know, I came across this after Patrick Rothfuss shared it on his Facebook.)

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    • Thanks for posting! I was also glad to have read Pat’s disclaimers before picking up the book, it let me modulate my expectations accordingly. And yes, I know that he shared the post on Facebook (which made my week) — I figured it out when I woke up Sunday morning and saw that my stats had gone from an average of 20-30 views a day to 5500 views since I’d gone to bed the night before. I’m falling back toward my “normal” numbers at this point a couple days later, but it was still extremely cool to be so popular for a moment 🙂

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  6. Nancy D.

     /  January 31, 2015

    I just finished listening to the audio book of this & loved it..! It was wonderful being taken in & through a week in Auri’s life.

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    • Thanks for commenting, Nancy! I don’t have much experience with audio books — how do you think they’re different from experiencing the book on the page?

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  7. Hated this book! Don’t know if i had misunderstood what it was going to be about but i was under the impression it would explore the character Auri. It didn’t.

    It should have been promoted like a poetry book or a prose, this wasn’t a book with a story. Though the lack of a story isn’t its worst problem, it’s the failed opportunity to explore the backstory and motivation of a beautiful character. I could have been happy with the no-story part if we got some more allusions about her background, motivation or emotional issues.

    I don’t know maybe i just had the wrong expectations about the book. Still looking forward to book three and until that comes out i guess im re-reading The name of the wind and the Wise man’s fear.

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    • I think this is why I was glad that Pat gave us the context he did; I felt as though the book did give a lot more information about Auri, but it was Auri the way she sees herself rather than the way some outsider might view her. And thus maybe not that easy to understand for those who aren’t Auri.

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      • I’ve been looking over what Pat wrote about the book beforehand and i must say that what he writes doesn’t correspond with what we got…

        “So the story got longer. I hit 7000 words without even realizing it. I kept going, unearthing more secrets about Auri and the Underthing…”

        What secrets? That you could make soap there!? Or that she felt uneasy over that one special place in the underthing? Didn’t deliver on that… No secrets about Auri was “unearthed” at all.

        “What’s more, the story had unfurled into something full of secrets and mysteries. Something sweet and strange. ”

        I don’t know what book he thought he wrote… The “mysteries” alluded to was extremely vague, that’s the most generous thing I can say.
        Secrets? What secrets…

        Anyway this is what motivated me to pick up the book was expecting secrets about Auri and the underthing as well as some mysteries about the world Patrick crafted. I got none of that. That’s why I’m disappointed with the book.

        Here’s Patrick’s blogpost i lifted the quotes from: http://bit.ly/16hwddT

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  8. Bibbit

     /  February 9, 2015

    I read the Bast story first in Rogues which intrigued me to read the main books. Loved them and then loved Auri’s tale. Auri reminds me of my favourite book as a child, The Borrowers. Auri hides from the ‘Big Folk’ and she ‘borrows’ forgotten or lost things to put to practical use. She’s a green warrior at recycling. I did not find Auri’s story banal. It is terrifyingly real. It hints at Auri having been raped which has caused her to retreat into her own, safe world. She knows the true names of things. She could have fae blood in her viens. She sees blue lights in Haven so the Chandrian are at the Uni! Or an agent for them! Are they on Kvoth’s trail? She knows evil times await Kvothe. She is terribly lonely. I hope she meets Bast one day. She needs some fairy magic to heal her or take her home or make her strong. She reminds me of that old song Starry Starry Night and the words But I could have told you Vincent, this world was never meant for one as beautiful as you. And soap is an essential. Just imagine not having soap for a week! So she is a survivor and I love Auri, fiercely. The world’s axis spins on Auri’s halo. Does Auri mean the sun or the moon? The hopes and dreams of all the years are met in Auri’s eyes. Beautiful & unforgettable character.

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