Thursday, December 31, 2009

The History of Love, by Nicole Krauss

Art is one of those funny abstract concepts that resist definition. We want art to be something grand, something glorious, something that no one but an artist can create. We want art to be something so simple that it cannot help but be greater than its parts -- brighter than just paint on canvas, words on paper, movements of dancers. Yet we want art to be something bigger than ourselves, something that has touched the divine in humanity and brought pieces of it back to the world on slabs of stone.

And yet, we cannot say what, exactly, makes art art.

Whatever art may be, though, I know it includes The History of Love. This is the kind of book that inspires me to write, to create, to find that spark in me and share it with the world. It is beautiful. It is masterful. But it does not stand apart from those who read it. It is not elusively aloof or ineffable. It touched me deep. And that, more than any definition of style or technique or category, is art.
And at the eleventh hour, I conclude the inaugural year of Alone at the Microphone. No stragglers left over for the new year, none left behind to be filed in the wrong section of Blogger's archive. (Well, except for one. But it has good reason.)

Thank you to all of you who read, follow, share, comment on, enjoy, and support this blog. It's been a project good for my soul. And I'll keep it up so long as I keep reading. But knowing people are out there in several states and countries checking in, wondering what I have to say or what I'm reading... well, that's what really keeps it going.

Guten Rutsch ins neue Jahr. May you find at least one book this year that changes your world.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The First Law, by Joe Abercrombie

In the post on The Name of the Wind, I discussed the RPG test for certain stories. And I read this trilogy by Joe Abercrombie just because the commenter Ultrablam wrote, in response to that post:

"Well, you've brushed me off a couple of times about it, presumably because it represents fifty-eight thousand tons of reading in paperback, but if you want fiction that passes the RPG test with flying colors, you've just gotta read The First Law series by Joe Abercrombie."

Now, book recommendations are often like life advice from your great aunt. But Ultrablam, who is writing his own RPG (which you can read about here), knows what he's talking about. So when he said these books passed his own RPG test, I listened.

I'm not in the business of reviewing books here, but these three -- The Blade Itself, When They Are Hanged, and The Last Argument of Kings -- are awesome.

Because of how I found out about this trilogy, the RPG test was constantly on my mind when I wasn't reading them. They were too good to think about anything else while reading. But I had to discuss with Ultrablam why he thought these books would ruin the curve for all the other books taking the RPG test. Yes, they were awesome. Especially for the characters, which, well, make an RPG what it is. But the stories themselves would, in my opinion, make for poor games for any group larger than two players, simply because the characters spend so much time apart. The number one rule in my RPG experience is: Never. Split. Up. Not only do bad things happen, but the rest of your gaming crew gets left out of huge chunks of the action.

Turns out Ultrablam's personal RPG test is different than mine. Where I look at whether the story itself could have been born of a group of geeks sitting around a table eating chips and fruit snacks, Ultrablam looks at whether the world of the story -- the geography, the cultures, the populace, the politics -- would be conducive to a good RPG.

In that model, The First Law would make for a kick-ass game.

I'm not revising my model for evaluating certain books for RPG quality. But the theory is under evaluation. Because as a role-player, all I ever have to focus on is the development of characters and interactions within a given world. It's the easy part. But the great GMs of the world (like Ultrablam himself) have to be the Universe. They have to create the world for the characters to move around in. And that lends itself to a whole different style of evaluation.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread, by Don Robertson

Just as Morris Bird III wouldn't take too long to voice his thoughts, neither (for once) will I.

Sometimes it takes a kid to tell us what we already know, but are all too often sure to forget or to ignore. Be brave. Be courageous. Make mistakes. Make big old, crazy, why-the-hell-not mistakes, because they might not be mistakes after all.

And life sure wouldn't be much of a Big Adventure if we didn't take that rebellious step once in a while.

Irish Renaissance, by Richard Fallis

Once again (how does this seem to happen?), I have fallen behind on my book-blogging duties. So for this book, at least, my comments will be cut short. It only becomes a duty when I fall behind and the unwritten posts hanging over my head become a stress. So out with the old, in with the new!

Irish Renaissance marks the end of the Ireland-themed run of books. I'll be reading more, without doubt, but without the feeling of necessity that came with the Mitchell application.
When all the history of Ireland and Irish literature is put aside, when the politics of the authors and the publishers and the theaters is sifted through, what comes through is that the Irish have a simply incredible collective literary consciousness.

And I love its style.

If you talked to me at all during that application process -- perhaps it came through in some of my posts, too -- you heard about how much I was impressed with and moved by Irish lit. Its simplistic-seeming yet incredibly elaborate technique. The concentration of politicization and opinion on the island, and the way it burst forth in words. The way movements created new styles of writing, of expression, of creativity.

So the title of Irish Renaissance is far from presumptuous. The book explores in very great but still comprehensible detail this unique conjunction of time, place, and spirit that has given the world an Irish voice.