The Slow Language Movement

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Yesterday I came across an article by Author/Poet Nick Laird, about how the Internet, social networks, and texting are affecting the way we process the written word. He writes about the difficulty that he has had lately in re-reading Dr. Johnson and Henry James, and suggests that in a world that is moving so fast, we forget what it is to sit and ponder the subtleties of language.
I agree. Often the constant bombardment of information, noise and technology that I absorb leaves me feeling overstimulated and dull-witted, and at the end of the day I am left with little patience for heavy language, turning instead to fluffy novels for entertainment.
So, how are we to combat this apathy of thought? Laird suggests that poets, and those who read poetry, are part of a Slow Language Movement (a nod to Italy's Slow Food Movement). Poetry is a medium that does not lend itself to speed. Poetry is not something that can be devoured, it must be savoured; each word and every sentence rolled around inside of our minds before the full meaning can take root.
In honor of the Slow Language Movement, I have decided to feature a poem on this blog every Friday. I hope you will take a moment to sit and ponder the poetry with me.
Let's start with one of my very favorite poets, and one of my very favorite poems:

E.E. Cummings
October 14, 1894 – September 3, 1962

anyone lived in a pretty how town
anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn't he danced his did

Women and men(both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn't they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain

children guessed(but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew
autumn winter spring summer)
that noone loved him more by more

when by now and tree by leaf
she laughed his joy she cried his grief
bird by snow and stir by still
anyone's any was all to her

someones married their everyones
laughed their cryings and did their dance
(sleep wake hope and then)they
said their nevers they slept their dream

stars rain sun moon
(and only the snow can begin to explain
how children are apt to forget to remember
with up so floating many bells down)

one day anyone died i guess
(and noone stooped to kiss his face)
busy folk buried them side by side
little by little and was by was

all by all and deep by deep
and more by more they dream their sleep
noone and anyone earth by april
wish by spirit and if by yes.

Women and men(both dong and ding)
summer autumn winter spring
reaped their sowing and went their came
sun moon stars rain

"Warbreaker" by Brandon Sanderson

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

About the Author
Brandon Sanderson is fairly new to the writing scene (his first novel, Elantris, was published in 2005); but he is already shaping up to be a prolific author. Warbreaker is his 8th published work, and was released just last month.
Despite being a virtual unknown, Brandon was chosen by Robert Jordan's widow to complete the well-loved Wheel of Time saga, and has also signed a contract with Tor for a ten-book epic fantasy series. I, for one, look forward to seeing more from him.
Brandon's most popular work is the Mistborn trilogy. You can find my initial reactions to Sanderson and Mistborn here and here.

About the Book
Warbreaker was an experiment for Brandon. He released early versions of the chapters and all subsequent rewrites online for fans to read. He wanted to show his writing process and let his readers get a glimpse of the evolution of the story. He also accepted feedback from readers of the early drafts. You can still find the drafts online through Brandon's Blog or his forum at the Time Waster's Guide.

My Review (spoiler free)

As a fan of Sanderson's Mistborn Trilogy, I expected a lot out of Warbreaker. I went into the book ready to be blown away by yet another unique system of magic, a character driven plot and some astonishing plot twists. Unfortunately, Warbreaker only delivered part of the time.

Don't get me wrong, it does have its strengths. The magic is, of course, one of the best parts of the book. Once again Sanderson gives us a glimpse of his vivid imagination, creating a world where magic is made possible by gaining extra "BioChromatic Breath". Every person is born with just one Breath, but Breaths can be given away, and are often bought and sold. While lacking the dynamic that Mistborn's Allomancy had with its Kung Fu-like action, this new power (called Awakening) is very interesting in that it has an obvious price, and the method used to gain it is questionable. The bad part is that I didn't get to see as much of the magic as I would like, and didn't get a thorough explanation of it until well past the book's halfway mark.

Warbreaker is also interesting in that it explores the idea of a living pantheon of resurected gods, called 'Returned'. The Returned are supposedly people who died in a heroic way and were sent back for a specific purpose. Unfortunately, the Returned can't remember anything of their previous lives, and don't know the reason that they were sent back.

There are four 'main' characters between which the POV shifts:
Vasher- A shady character who is first seen breaking out of prison, and who keeps you guessing as to his identity throughout the book.
Siri- The youngest daughter of the king of Idris, a rebellious and headstrong girl who enjoys being 'redundant' and having no specific duties to perform.
Vivenna - The oldest daughter of the Idrian king, who has been promised since before her birth to Susebron, the God King of the neighboring country, Hallandren. She is described by Siri as 'Perfect'.
Lightsong- One of Hallandren's Returned and, in his own words, 'Possibly the only God that doesn't believe in his own religion."

The book had a strong opening, introducing us to the enigmatic Vasher in the prologue and giving us a glimpse of the magic right away. From there we switch perspectives and meet Siri, who lives in Idris, a land that forbids the use of magic or any kind of 'ostentation', including colorful clothing. We learn that the king of Idris has decided that he can't part with his oldest daughter, Vivenna, and has decided to send Siri, unprepared and uneducated in the ways of Hallendren, to wed the God King in Vivenna's place. When Vivenna learns that Siri has been sent in her place, she journeys to the gaudy and 'ostentatious' city of T'Telir, Hallandren's capitol, to rescue her little sister... All good stuff. But then the book starts to sag.
We have some good comic relief in the form of Lightsong's self-deprecation and the mercenary humor of Denth and Tonk Fah, but very little in the way of action or incident. While everything that happens does serve to forward the plot, I feel that it does it at too slow a pace. There is also entirely too much focus on Vivenna, as far as I am concerned. She is my least favorite of the characters, and often falls a little flat in terms of personality. The last third of the book picks up the pace quite nicely again, but then the various threads seem to come together too quickly, and too neatly. The book suffers from a bit of a pacing problem.
But... I was generally satisfied with the story and, though it was originally meant to be a standalone novel, I hope that Sanderson reconsiders and lets us revisit the colorful world of Warbreaker sometime in the future. He certainly left it open to sequels...

In Summary
The Bad:
-The Prose, while competent, is a bit uninspired and lacks color.
-The word 'ostentation' is actually used eight times on one page!
-There are some pacing problems.
-The ending suffers a bit from Dues ex Machina syndrome.
-The witty banter, while generally funny, can sometimes be a bit much.

The Good:
-Nightblood. My favorite character isn't even really a character!
-The dynamic between Siri and Susebron.
-Vasher's use of Awakening is pretty cool.
-The idea of The Lifeless. You can't go wrong with zombie armies. I especially loved the Lifeless squirrel.
-There were a couple of plot twists that came out of nowhere!

My Rating
I give Warbreaker a 7.5 /10
I would recommend it to any Fantasy or Science Fiction fans, but wouldn't say that it is representative of Brandon Sanderson's best work, or even a top shelf Fantasy/Science Fiction book. Maybe second shelf. It is definitely nowhere near the caliber of Mistborn.

From Book Club to Book Reviews

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Because the book club idea turned out to be a bust, I've decided to use this blog as a place for my book reviews, instead. Even though barely anyone will read them. Ah, well.
I changed the name of the blog to 'Outside of a Dog' because of the quote by Groucho Marx, thinking that it was a clever idea for a blog title; but when I attempted to change the url of the blog to match, I realized that too many people had the idea before I did. Not so clever, I guess.

The words and phrases that I have tried to use for my url:

Words and phrases unrelated to the Groucho Marx quote that I've tried to use for my url:

Yeah. They're all taken. And the saddest part? Most of these blogs have been abandoned. Grr. So what now? Anyone have any ideas for a url to tie the blog's theme together? 'Cause I'm all out.

Tomorrow's post: A review of Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson