My cousin’s fiancé gave me two fantastic books this past Christmas. One of these books was The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. (The other was Hard Magic, which I’ve already posted about). It kept me up reading long past the hour when wisdom dictated putting it down. I’m going to have to read it again, probably more than once, because there are so many layers to the story.

I read some negative reviews on Amazon, apparently from fantasy-snobs. In multiple reviews, the reviewers claimed to be “angry and betrayed” by this book. I say that if the book is capable of evoking a feeling of anger and the experience of betrayal, that’s a further testament to the book. I’m perfectly happy to jump on the bandwagon. I won’t say that it’s the best fantasy book of the decade or anything along those lines, mainly because I haven’t read enough of the other material out there to credibly make that statement. Standing on its own, it’s just a damn good book.

The story is about a man named Kvothe who has gone into hiding due to the fact that there’s a price on his head, disguising himself as an ordinary innkeeper in a small town. A ghost-writer arrives in town and asks for the privilege of writing his story. (Naturally, I was able to immediately relate to this character.) The book consists of Kvothe’s recounting of his own life story, from his upbringing as an traveling actor in a troupe, to his days as a starving orphan in the streets of an unkind city, to his days studying magic in a university. Harry Potter fans will notice that the university in this story is not like Hogwarts. It has a darker, more sober feel. That’s all I’m going to say about the content of the book, other than the fact that everybody should read it.

Reading The Name of the Wind made me realize just how critical fiction is for a writer.  I have spent most of the last few years reading non-fiction business books. Whenever I’m driving, I try to follow Zig Ziglar’s classic advice and keep an audio book playing. Unfortunately, most non-fiction is terrible. Not because most authors don’t make valid points—they do—but because most non-fiction authors simply don’t recognize and respect the power of storytelling. The vast majority of non-fiction that I’ve read is written as a how-to manual. “Do these things and you will succeed.” It’s usually true, but not useful. I say it’s not useful because if a book isn’t entertaining, readers won’t be inclined to finish it.

I endlessly praise Jim Collins for Good to Great, not because he recommends better business strategies than other authors do (although I think he does). I praise his book because the presentation is outstanding. He filled it from cover to cover with compelling stories.

Reading fiction is essential for any writer. Great books are born of imagination. If you’re having a hard time coming up with ideas for your writing and you haven’t read fiction in awhile, I would strongly suggest picking up a novel in your favorite genre. Or, get a recommendation from a friend about something new. The value of fiction lies in the simple fact that it exercises the skill of visualizing. The more you exercise this muscle, the more creative ideas you will produce in the natural course of your day.

Have you read The Name of the Wind? What was your impression?