Been a while, hasn’t it? Some days (weeks, months) life catches up on you in an unexpected way. Between editing, school stuff, work stuff (the “pays the bills” kind of work) and family stuff, I’ve struggled to find time to hammer out a bit of blather on the blog. So unsurprisingly, I do believe I have a fair amount to discuss.
Let’s get to it, shall we?
When I last posted, I was in the process of reading Sofia Samatar’s A Stranger in Olondria. I’ve finished it since, and moved on to The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan.
I enjoyed A Stranger in Olondria very, very much. I’m still sort of processing Samatar’s book, still trying to figure out exactly why I found it so appealing. To an extent it’s the style, the very floral and slow and lovely prose Samatar uses, but I think there’s something deeper as well. Something small and strange which just happens to strike the right chord inside me.
Perhaps it’s just that the novel is about a book nerd, Jevick, who ostensibly travels to the learned land of Olondria to sell pepper (his wealthy family’s crop) while, in truth, hoping only to find more stories to read. Samatar’s use of invented folklore and mythology is a delight in my eyes, one which makes the land and culture of Olondria come alive. We discover more and more about Olondria as Jevick wanders, haunted by a beautiful, terrible ghost. His haunting is the catalyst for many major events in the politics of Olondra, but Jevick himself is only tangential to them. Jevick sparks a war about books, falls in love with a ghost, and then goes home.
The nearest comparison I can think of for Samatar’s book–measuring both prose and plot–is Ursula LeGuin’s fiction. It is intentional and stylized throughout, and the action of the story, while occasionally involving swords and magic and blood, is really much more quiet. It is about a man, and a few of his friends, and his books. If you read a great deal of fantasy, like me, and enjoy reading rather floral prose, like me, I think you’d like A Stranger in Olondria. It mixes a lot of good things in a good way.
The Silk Roads is a nonfiction volume I picked up in an airport, while on my way home from visiting family in Pennsylvania. I don’t know an enormous amount about the history of the silk road, or the surrounding regions, but the ancient cultures of the region are something I’d like to know more about (along with ancient China). I’m about 100 pages into the book at present, and so far it’s interesting, if not as detailed as I’d like. Of course, the areas of time and geography I’m most curious about are also areas with less trade, less travel on the silk roads.
The history covers, roughly, the period from Alexander the Great through the World Wars of the 20th century. Frankopan’s interests are the cosmopolitan aspects of this wide span of time; how the cultures interacted and grew via trade and mutual mercantile interest. Although I’m far, far from an expert, it does seem to me that he glosses over the conquest required to build the world he finds so interesting.
In any case, I shall be continuing to read The Silk Roads this week, unless it reaches a point where I have little-to-no interest in the material. Frankopan writes well, so I don’t anticipate this (even once it reaches regions and times that I’m less curious about), but I’m not setting a hard expectation for myself to read this whole book.
I won’t be setting a writing goal this week (although I will be discussing it briefly, below), but just focusing on reading. In addition to The Silk Roads, a new fantasy novel came out recently (yesterday?) that I want to read: The Forbidden City, by Deborah Wolf. I read her first novel, The Dragon’s Legacy, last year. While it wasn’t as good as I’d hoped (because man, my expectations were raised super high by that spectacular cover art; seriously, check out that link), I still enjoyed her novel quite a lot, and I’m looking forward to the sequel. At the very least, I’m sure that I’ll enjoy the prose; even where The Dragon’s Legacy‘s plot and characterization were weak, Wolf’s prose continued to be enjoyable to read.
In the writing end of things, I finished my second draft of my “Thrun” short story, and submitted it to my current workshop class, as part of my MFA. Overall responses seemed fairly positive, and I like to think I’ve got a good idea where to take the next revision and rewrite. My thinking is to draw from Tolkien, particularly The Hobbit, and try to emphasize the narrator as a (non-omniscient) character. If I pull back a bit from the newly-created main character, hopefully the narration will flow more smoothly.
I’ll be hitting this hard next week. As I said above, I’m going to set the writing aside for a little bit, and try to recharge the brain-juice by reading a lot.