“It's like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.”
Plenty of books touch me and move me. There are stories that enchant me and carry me away from reality. There are writers whose prose I meditate upon as I read, choosing a handful of sentences to store within my self like a private lyrical bouquet so that I can recall the beauty of said prose always. There are authors whose creativity and craftsmanship I trust so much that I will purchase anything they write and consume it with pleasure.
But books that actually become part of me because I love them with such depth and vibrancy that I’ll still remember them on my death bed? Books that I actually yearn to reread over and over and over again? Books that I purchase again and again because I can’t help but give them away because I desire so deeply to share the experience of them with those I love or even those who are little more than strangers? Books that I would choose to cling to if I was only able to keep a handful in my possession?
There just aren’t many books of that caliber or quality.
As much as I love Nora Roberts, her books wouldn’t make it onto a list that limited. While I dearly love Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archives, I wouldn’t haul them with me if I had mere moments to clear out of my house. I would mourn their loss, sure, but they wouldn’t be the first books I instinctually protected.
The Stand. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. The Emperor’s Soul. Ender’s Game. A Little Princess. The Resurrection of Joan Ashby. A Wrinkle in Time. Till We Have Faces. Jane Eyre. The Chronicles of Narnia. Watership Down. Harry Potter. The Hobbit. My tattered Bible, the copy that has seen me through good times and bad. And The Name of the Wind. These are the books I would save from a fire. These are the books, if informed that there was a law going into effect that only allowed for the ownership of a dozen books, I would be struggling to choose between while sobbing in the middle of my shelves. And I can guarantee that one of the others would lose their spot to The Name of the Wind.
Why do I love this book so much? It’s book one of a supposed trilogy that might never be completed. The author has been known to be less than gracious to his fans. In the scheme of things, not a whole lot happens plot-wise in the book. There’s a magic school, but we don’t learn an awful lot about the magic itself. The financial aspect of the book is far larger and more important than I usually enjoy.
Kvothe is one of the most compelling characters I’ve ever come across in literature. This is how an unreliable narrator is supposed to be crafted. I have no idea how much of his story I’m supposed to believe, but I choose to believe the vast majority because he’s just so convincing. Kvothe is insanely intelligent and innately talented and able to develop any skill he puts his mind to. Or, at least, so the stories say. I’m desperate to know what happened to turn Kvothe into Kote, and I will indeed mourn if Rothfuss never finishes his tale.
The prose is exquisite. I’ve read some books that were beautifully written, so lovely that I read them through a sheen of tears. This is one of those books for me. There are entire sections that I will underline or highlight or type into my phone as a note or jot down in a journal, just to ensure that I don’t forget them. Some of these lines or sections are profound. Some are simply lovely. But Rothfuss is working with the same twenty-six letters that serve as the building blocks for every other author who has ever published a book in the English language. He can’t be doing anything that remarkably different, right?
I think the reason this book resonates so strongly with me is how it presents the power of music. Music has always been a huge part of me life. It’s a huge part of me, and possibly the best part. Nothing speaks to my soul like music, and there is no way I express myself more fully or passionately than through music. And Rothfuss understands music, or at least understands how to write about music, better than any other author I’ve come across in my life. His descriptions of music, and Kvothe’s passion for his instrument, ring so true to me that it makes my heart ache. There have been times in my life when nothing could touch the pain I was in; nothing, that is, but music. I have played guitar until my fingers were flayed and bruised, with tears streaming down my cheeks not from the pain in my fingers but from the relief playing the music brought. I have sang until I had no voice left, and I have sobbed in front of audiences because the music moved me so deeply. Music is the language of my heart. It is also the language of Kvothe’s heart. How can I help but love him and his story?
There are so many things to love about this book. The framework tale of Kote and Bast at the Waystone Inn, of the Chronicler on his journey for the story of the Kingkiller, is a wonderful tale in its own right. Kvothe’s childhood, and witnessing his trials and his growth, is a fascinating experience. The friends (and enemies) Kvothe makes along the way are well developed and interesting. I know a lot of people dislike the character of Denna, But I find her intriguing and sympathetic and I understand Kvothe’s obsession with her. The Arcanum is a vibrant setting, well conceptualized and easy to see in your mind’s eye as you read. The portrayal of music is impeccable. And as I stated earlier, the prose is beyond reproach; Rothfuss has a beautiful way with words, and his style manages to be unique while also harkening back to classical writings.
“Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts… But a word is nothing but a painting of a fire. A name is the fire itself.”
I’ve read this book three times, and have owned four copies. I still have two of them, and I never collect more than one copy of a book. I buy books for the stories they hold, not for the beauty of the cover. But I made an exception for the tenth anniversary edition, because the illustrations within simply add so much to the story. I don’t have the words to express just how deeply I love this book, but I’ve made my best attempt through this review. If you haven’t read it, maybe because you’ve heard that the series has no completion date in sight or that the author can be a jerk, please don’t let those things deter you. This is a gorgeous tale exquisitely told, and it deserves to be read regardless of the notoriety surround it and its author.