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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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