The Big Read Blog (Archive)

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Park University was recently lucky enough to have book critic Michael Dirda kick-off its Big Read with tips on reading and appreciating Marilynne Robinson?s Housekeeping. In the excerpts from an interview with the NEA below, Michael Dirda provides the reader some tips for understanding the writing style in another of our Big Read books?Ursula K. LeGuin?s A Wizard of Earthsea:

The style of A Wizard of Earthsea is appropriate, I think, to the kind of characters in it.  Fantasy novels tend to deal with people who are heroes, and heroes need to be somewhat separate from, you know, run of the mill people and I think their language needs to reflect that. It can?t be stilted and it can?t be too foreign, but it needs to possess a kind of nobility, a plainness, a slight sense of gravity, of formality, even. And these Le Guinn uses throughout A Wizard of Earthsea in all of her sentences.?A Wizard of Earthsea is all about balance, so that it?s never, I think, overly stylized, or stilted or anything that would be off putting to the reader, but is instead a kind of hypnotic, elegant prose.?But throughout, there is this sense of this serene, self-assured, musical prose that carries you along that is really, I think, one of her great gifts as a novelist.

The writer Nabokov---not perhaps a writer that you would think of in connection with fantasies of this sort, although many of his books are, in fact, fantasies---he said that a writer only needs one talent. He said that it doesn?t always have to be skill as a particular kind of stylist or anything at all, but as a storyteller, he needs to possess what he calls the wand of the enchanter. If, through your prose, or through your story, or through the voice you present on the page, you can enchant the reader, then you?ve done your job.  And this is what Le Guinn does with her sentences in A Wizard of Earthsea.?This is one of the great powers of the book, that not only are you reading about magic, but you?re reading it in prose, it seems, somehow, magical itself, and that reinforces the power of the novel altogether.

Click here for the NEA?s A Wizard of Earthsea Audio Guide and more insight into the novel from Dirda, as well as Michael Chabon, Pico Iyer, R. L. Stine, and the author herself, Ursula K. Le Guin.

Please read more about Park University's Big Read.

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