Category archives: Recommended

Tangled Up in Denna

by June 6, 2014 in Books, Fantasy, Recommended

Tangled Up in Denna

One of my favorite aspects of reading is the way a good book will permeate everything else I take in, whether other books, music, or just everyday conversations. I recently had one such connection when, while listening to Bob Dylan's "Tangled Up in Blue", I considered the relationship between Denna and Kvothe in the Kingkiller Chronicles. Though the connections aren't literal - Denna and Kvothe don't partake in any of the various events or situations in the song - for me there were definite moments where listening to the song feels like reading about Kvothe and Denna's back and forth relationship.

My reaction starts with title of the song. In The Name of the Wind one does not enter into a straightforward relationship with Denna. You become wrapped up, trapped, and tangled up with her. She permeates your thoughts and life. This obsession is more apparent with the men she entraps, but Kvothe suffers from it as well.

The second verse elicits more similarities:

She was married when we first met

Soon to be divorced

I helped her out of a jam, I guess

But I used a little too much force

Denna is never married, of course, but she is always with a man when Kvothe sees her. Moreover, a not insignificant number of the trouble Kvothe finds himself in throughout the series is the direct result of helping Denna out of a problematic situation.

Split up on a dark sad night

Both agreeing it was best

She turned around to look at me

As I was walkin’ away

I heard her say over my shoulder

"We’ll meet again someday on the avenue"

Tangled up in blue

And, as we see above, the two can never seem to stay together for long, as they each must go there separate ways to deal with their own unique problems. No matter what affection they may feel for one another, it always eventually ends up better for them to split up, until fate brings them back together again.

She was workin’ in a topless place

And I stopped in for a beer

I just kept lookin’ at the side of her face

In the spotlight so clear

Though Denna is not strictly speaking a topless dancer, there is clearly a certain level of impropriety in her life beyond Kvothe. And, as with the nameless singer in the song, Kvothe more or less ignores this aspect of her life, knowing Denna must do the same with the aspects of his life he would rather keep hidden.

And later on as the crowd thinned out

I’s just about to do the same

She was standing there in back of my chair

Said to me, "Don’t I know your name?"

I muttered somethin’ underneath my breath

She studied the lines on my face

I must admit I felt a little uneasy

When she bent down to tie the laces of my shoe

Tangled up in blue

Here I'm reminded of the playful and reserved reunions between Kvothe and Denna as they attempt to feel out their relationship once again, and Kvothe struggles with his ever-present uncertainty around such a beautiful woman.

Then she opened up a book of poems

And handed it to me

Written by an Italian poet

From the thirteenth century

And every one of them words rang true

And glowed like burnin’ coal

Pourin’ off of every page

Like it was written in my soul from me to you

Tangled up in blue

How can we not be reminded of Kvothe's time away from the university, in which he wrote songs and poems for another man, but inspired by his love for Denna? What better representation of his affection for Denna could there be than burning coal pouring off of a page (or out of a song), from his soul to hers?

She had to sell everything she owned

And froze up inside

And when finally the bottom fell out

I became withdrawn

The only thing I knew how to do

Was to keep on keepin’ on like a bird that flew

Tangled up in blue

Denna and Kvothe both know the struggle of needing to sell their own possessions, even their own safety, either for each other, or just to make it through the next span of days. And Kvothe certainly knows the pain of withdrawal in the face of Denna being gone, being forced to simply survive in the hopes that she will return again.

So now I’m goin’ back again

I got to get to her somehow

All the people we used to know

They’re an illusion to me now

Some are mathematicians

Some are carpenters’ wives

Don’t know how it all got started

I don’t know what they’re doin’ with their lives

But me, I’m still on the road

Headin’ for another joint

We always did feel the same

We just saw it from a different point of view

Tangled up in blue

In reality, I could probably have restricted this post to this last verse and nothing else. Kvothe, his only thought to find Denna and to meet with her again, to the extent that the rest of the world fades away. Kvothe, on the road, an Edema Ruh with a song on his heart, lute on his back, travelling from town to town. Denna, willing to serve a master who beats her and Kvothe, willing to attend a university where his actions leave him whipped, the same problems, the same outlook, only each looking at it from their own unique perspective - a point of view just different enough to always keep them apart, but still seeking one another out.

Finally, considering Kvothe's own passion for the power of music, the most important insight of all is in the span of a single song Dylan is able to capture many of the aspects that make the relationship between Kvothe and Denna so interesting, heartbreaking, and frustrating. And like with so many connections with literature, by reflecting upon the relationship between these seemingly disparate works, both become richer and more meaningful.

If you're not familiar with this song, you should check it out. It's one of my personal favorites.

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First Line: Dangerous

by May 7, 2014 in Books, First Line, Recommended, Science Fiction

First Line: Dangerous

"The warehouse was coffin dark."

Initially this may strike you as a really solid opener - it gives a sense of foreboding and danger with just a few words. However, as it turns out, I found this first line to be pretty disappointing because of what immediately follows in the one page prologue this sentence initiates. The prologue continues with the sense of fear, finally culminating in "But I didn't want to kill again. And I didn't want to die."

Honestly, this probably wouldn't strike me as such an overplayed, melodramatic start of the book if not for the painful similarities to the opening of each book in the Twilight series, and for the fact that the first sentence in the first chapter was so much better.

"Every superhero has an origin story."

I enjoy this opener so much more for several reasons. First of all, it doesn't bring to mind unfortunate comparisons to Twilight. This book is not a melodramatic romance wrapped inside a silly vampire story. Instead, it's an exciting sci-fi action adventure with original and well-wrought characters. Don't get me wrong, sometimes you want a melodramatic and silly book to read, but ...

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The Lord of the Rings: a Calendar

by April 26, 2014 in Books, Fantasy, Recommended

The Lord of the Rings: a Calendar

At some point in college I remember thinking "The Lord of the Rings is so well-constructed that you could probably put together a complete, day-by-day calendar of events, so that the age old question of "what happened on my birthday in The Lord of the Rings?" could finally be answered.

Well, 10+ years later and I've finally started down the long dark road of creating such a calendar. The efforts so far, which consist of the first book only, can be found here: Today in the Lord of the Rings. There are a few caveats that I should mention. First, since it's only the first book, it only has events from 9/21 until 2/26. Second, Tolkien did not follow our actual calendar, but instead used a calendar with 12 30-day months. As a result, there will be no results for the 31st of any month, and February will have entries on the 29th and 30th.

I'll keep adding entries as I work through the 2nd book, so more days will get added over time, and not all at once like the first. Any questions, suggestions, or corrections are welcome, as are comments reiterating what I ...

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Japanese Literature: Some Advice on Where to Begin

by March 26, 2014 in Books, Fiction, Recommended

Japanese Literature: Some Advice on Where to Begin

Seven or eight years ago I was burned out reading what felt like the same type of book, by the same type of author. In my effort to resolve this I decided I wanted to read something “foreign”, and so ended up picking up Haruki Murakami’s A Wild Sheep Chase. Since then I have read over fifteen books written by Japanese authors and, while I am certainly not an expert, I feel like I can at least offer some recommendations on where interested readers could start.

Ultimately, I think there are three different ways to start reading Japanese literature, depending on your reading goals and your long term commitment. You could start at any of these points, or use them to build upon one another, but I’ll present them from least to most commitment required. Finally, this list is by no means exhaustive, but simply an attempt to provide a less daunting path in.

Getting Started

The easiest place to start is with Haruki Murakami, the most popular Japanese author worldwide. Murakami’s books cover a wide range of subjects, and themes, while still being filled with consistent elements across books. These consistencies are especially fun as you ...

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First Line: Sanshirō

by March 28, 2012 in Books, First Line, Fiction, Recommended

First Line: Sanshirō

There are going to be a few thematic spoilers to this book, but I'll be careful not to spoil too much for those who want to read Sanshirō.

"He drifted off, and when he opened his eyes the woman was still there."

Despite its simple appearance, this is a really great first line. Even without being informed by the rest of the novel, we can learn a lot about Sanshirō as a character from this opener. If we build the imagery of what is happening here in our minds, we see that Sanshirō took enough interest in the woman nearby to notice her, but allowed himself to drift off to sleep. When he does awake from his brief rest, he immediately notices the woman again.

What does this mean? Clearly women are something of interest to Sanshirō, evident by the fact that nothing else about his surroundings is mentioned as he falls asleep, or as he wakes up. And yet, there is something about the choice of the word “still” that implies Sanshirō is not entirely comfortable with the woman nearby. As though by closing his eyes and drifting off to sleep Sanshirō hoped the woman would be gone ...

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The Bartimaeus Trilogy

by Feb. 16, 2012 in Books, Fantasy, Recommended

The Bartimaeus Trilogy

I picked up The Amulet of Samarkand last year, the first book in the Bartimaeus trilogy, on a total whim. No one recommended it, and I knew nothing about the book or its author. I simply needed a new audio book and the description looked interesting enough. Grabbing a book like this can be risky, but when it pays off, it’s great. Reading an excellent book with no preconceived notions is one of my things as a reader.

The premise: Nathaniel is an up and coming wizard in London. The twist in this magical world, however, is magicians get their power from enslaving demons from “the other place”. Bartimaeus is one such demon, or a djinni to be more specific, who Nathaniel summons early on in his magical career. This makes for an interesting story in and of itself, but what makes the Bartimaeus trilogy so great is Bartimaeus himself.

The books transition between being told from third-person omniscient for “Nathaniel” chapters and first-person for “Bartimaeus” chapters. Of course, if you ask Bartimaeus he might tell you that his sections are from an omniscient perspective as well, such is his charming over-confidence. He’s sarcastic, ironic, and just unreliable ...

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Catch-22

by Jan. 25, 2012 in Books, Fiction, Recommended

Catch-22

You’ve just read a book so good that you want everyone else to read it immediately, but you know that if you approach the subject with too much enthusiasm, you risk overselling the book and causing the opposite outcome. In fact, the more you say, the more likely you’ll mention something that person hates about books, thus ensuring they never read it. Or, in your haste and excitement, you might offer your own rash interpretation, implying the book is about something it isn’t, and thereby cause yet another person to pass on a wonderful piece of literature. Such is the unresolvable dilemma I find myself in with Catch-22.

Suffice it to say, I absolutely loved reading this book. It starts slowly, as Heller’s writing style (and the way he jumps back and forth through time) has its own unique rhythm. Once you grow accustomed to it, however, it becomes utterly engrossing. This is an especially odd thing to say because there’s nearly zero plot in the book. Instead, it focuses almost entirely on characters, and the crazy, bizarre, emotional, disturbing, horrifying, hilarious antics that fill their lives during war.

Yes, Catch-22 is a book about ...

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The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

by Jan. 12, 2012 in Books, Recommended, Science Fiction

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

I read Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land last year and I didn't enjoy it, despite its strong start. In addition to my disappointment over the book, I was also surprised by the fact that I didn't like it. Here we had what is considered one of the greatest science fiction books of all time, and all I can do is criticize it for being heavy-handed and dull. Shouldn't this be exactly the kind of thing I love to read?

Since my experience with Stranger last year, I really had no intention of reading anything else by Heinlein. Still, he is considered a master in the genre and there were definitely some promising aspects to Stranger. And if C.S. Lewis is right when he says you can't criticize a book the first time to read it (shh...don't tell him I do that every time), I certainly don't have the right to ignore everything else by Heinlein just because of one reading of one book.

And a good thing I didn’t give up on him, because everything Stranger gets wrong, The Moon is A Harsh Mistress gets right. Mistress tells ...

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Across the Nightingale Floor

by Sept. 23, 2010 in Books, Fantasy, Recommended

Across the Nightingale Floor

One of the things I love about reading is being able to draw connections between the story I just finished and a conversation I'm having with a friend, or some other book I just read, no matter how different the two may seem. Whether it's Tufte's Visual Display of Quantitative Information and getting people to go to church, or the asides of Don Quixote and the Tale of Genji, it's all connected. Or, as Thomas Foster says in How to Read LIterature like a Professor, it's all one story:

"We – as readers or writers, tellers or listeners – understand each other, we share knowledge of the structures of our myths, we comprehend the logic of symbols, largely because we have access to the same swirl of story. We have only to reach out into the air and pluck a piece of it" (192).

Across the Nightingale Floor and C.S. Lewis' essay "On Stories" is yet another example. In this essay, Lewis emphasizes that what makes a story great isn't as simple as a sense of danger or excitement, or not knowing what will happen next. Instead, it is all the elements of that story ...

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Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories

by Aug. 23, 2010 in Books, Recommended, Science Fiction

Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories

I've never felt the need to defend the enjoyment I get out of reading science fiction or fantasy novels. As a result, though, I've never really considered what it is about these types of books that interests me so much. Fortunately, C.S. Lewis has, and in this collection of essays, he perfectly articulates why such stories are worth reading, writing, and discussing.

It's not worth summarizing each of the essays here (they are so efficiently executed that it's hard to trim anything out in summary), but there are a few points that Lewis makes that I want to highlight.

First, he repeatedly points out that, regardless of audience or subject matter, a good book is simply a good book. If it's not good enough for adult's to read, then why should our children? He also enjoys emphasizing the idea that one should not arbitrarily choose a genre, but should let the story dictate the best means of delivery. These are just two of the many points he raises, and I'm hardly doing them justice. Lewis brings so much warmth and humor to each essay that you should really just read them.

In ...

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