The Big Read Blog (Archive)


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 "Woman reading under wisteria" by Simon Blackley via Flickr ( / CC BY-ND 2.0)

I'm sure I'm not the only one who has heard people say they don't read fiction because they'd rather read about "real" life. But it seems to me that even the most fantastical fiction can have a lot to say about the realities of being human, no matter what our "everyday" looks like. In reading the excerpt below from Michael Chabon's talk with the NEA about A Wizard of Earthsea, I can't help but be reminded of how many times we've seen this story play out in the headlines---from sports superstars to Hollywood heros (and heroines) to multi-platinum musicans. What do you think? Can fiction teach us anything about real life?

A Wizard of Earthsea is the record of the discovery, training, growth, testing, and, ultimately, triumph of one young wizard. We meet him when he?s a boy, and he's first encountering his innate gift for magic. In a way it parallels the story of the discovery of a great entertainer or a great mathematician or music prodigy. It?s discovered at a very early age that he has a talent. And it can only be sort of crudely recognized at first because there?s no one around.  Like someone who?s a great violin prodigy growing upon a farm in the middle of a prairie somewhere. There?s no one around who can really quite recognize just how powerful his gift is, and yet, it is evident. Very early on he uses his completely untutored, untrained, but, apparently, mighty power to save his people, to save his village and the people of his island at which point he?s kind of discovered and is picked up by a talent scout, if you will. This wizard takes him on and attempts to train him but he, clearly, he?s been meant for bigger and better things, and so he is sent off to this academy for wizards, which might remind some readers a little bit of the situation in the Harry Potter novels.

It?s really the story as well of this young wizard, Sparrowhawk, as he?s usually called, his struggle with himself, with the responsibility that comes along with the power that he has been granted.  And it?s a lesson that comes very hard for him, very dearly to him.  It?s very difficult for him to realize that being a wizard doesn?t mean that you can do anything you want to, even though, actually, you can do anything you want to. That when you attempt to overreach or go beyond the sort of natural limitations that the world places on us, you can do grave harm, even with the best intentions or even with the most innocent intentions. And it?s in the course of committing one of these sort of childish pranks that are typical at this school for wizards that he unleashes a terrible power, a terrible force on the world which then he must reckon with, and which he?s finally obligated to reckon with at the end of the novel.

Don't forget that if you're interested in applying for a Big Read grant, applications are due a week from tomorrow. And don't forget to visit The Big Read calendar to find out where The Big Read is taking place near you this winter.


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