11/12. ‘The Tombs of Atuan’ and ‘The Farthest Shore’ by Ursula K. Le Guin

Fantasy was one of the genres that inspired my love of reading. In honor of one of the greats, Ursula K. Le Guin, I decided to reread her Earthsea stories and relive my childhood. This week I finished the second and third volumes of the original trilogy. You can read my review of A Wizard of Earthsea here.


It had been so long since I read these books that it really did feel like the first time. This trilogy was so different than others because each one featured a different protagonist. The original hero Ged, also known as Sparrowhawk, appears in both books but more in the form of a mentor to the main characters. Despite a different change of pace for each one, I still found myself enjoying both books immensely.

While the first book serves as a classic quest narrative where the young wizard Ged is hunting down a dark force he unleashed, The Tombs of Atuan is more self-contained taking place within one particular region of Earthsea. Although the young wizard Ged is essentially on another quest, he does not actually appear until about halfway through the book. Instead, the novel is centered on Tenar, a young priestess who is going through her own internal journey.

As a child, Tenar was taken from her family by those that serve the Nameless Ones, believing her to be the next reincarnation of their high priestess. In a ceremony, her name is taken from her and going forward she is known as “Arha” meaning “the eaten one.” Her life becomes a lonely one as she is trained in the duties of a priestess, and often seems like she is more a prisoner than a ruler. Tenar learns of the dark labyrinth beneath the temple, and she makes it her own domain. Her life of service is disrupted by the appearance of Ged who is seeking a lost magical treasure. Although she initially wants him destroyed, Tenar also begins to question her entire worldview as Ged teaches her that the world is a much larger place than she ever imagined.

I really enjoyed The Tombs of Atuan a lot, and in many ways more so than the first book. The absence of Ged from the first half of the book allows us to get to know Tenar and sympathize with her character. The story moves through about a decade of her life from when she is taken from her family until she is a teenager. As Le Guin explores Tenar’s loneliness and isolation, we get a very feminist tale. The high priestess has no choice in whether or not she will serve the Nameless Ones. Although she theoretically is supposed to have all of this power, she really is just a slave to their beliefs. Her entire identity is stripped from her and even her name is taken away. Her plight made me think about women who become prisoners of a cult. For me, the story was much darker than A Wizard of Earthsea. 

I also liked the way Ged was portrayed in this book as the voice of a mentor. Although he is still young, he has obviously learned a lot from his past adventures. Through him, Tenar learns that she has been brainwashed and has the ability to choose her own path. I think this is a great book for female readers, and it is not necessary to have read the first volume to dive into this one.

“Living, being in the world, was a much greater and stranger thing than she had ever dreamed.”

When he was first introduced in A Wizard of Earthsea, Ged is a young and reckless magician that has to face the darker half of his nature. In The Farthest Shore, Ged is now much older and serving as Archmage on the island of Roke. When a young prince named Arren arrives with news that magic seems to be fading from the world and the inhabitants of Earthsea are slowly losing their knowledge. Ged decides to set sail with Arren on his boat Lookfar to discover the source of this malaise. While The Farthest Shore is not without problems, it does work beautifully as a fitting end to the original Earthsea trilogy while serving as the perfect reminder of the original book. As this is the final outing for the wizard Ged, Le Guin change pace back to a more physical world-spanning quest. Ged and his young apprentice have an adventure than takes them to the very edges of Earthsea while also carrying them to the line that crosses life and death.

Ged’s new role as a wise old mentor works well with the young and idealistic Arren. There are several moments that call back to Ged’s younger days when he was young and reckless. My main problem though was I found that I didn’t sympathize with Arren nearly as much as I did with Tenar. I think had there been some deeper backstory with the character as there was in the previous book, that problem may have been rectified.

I also think this one could have been fleshed out a little more and worked as a longer novel. Ged and Arren do a lot of traveling in this book as they attempt to uncover the cause of what is destroying magic. Since the novel is less than 200 pages, Le Guin doesn’t allow for time to stay in one place too long. I did enjoy their adventures, and the two men are taken to some extremely dark places but more time with it would have been helpful. It seems like they were on the boat a lot reflecting on the nature of life and death. There are some truly fantastic adventures along the way, including the return of dragons! I found that I loved the adventures way more than all the reflecting taking place back on the boat, but it seemed like way too much time was spent there.

Another qualm I have with this one is the main enemy, a dark wizard named Cob, isn’t introduced until late in the book. Cob has a deep past with Ged, but unfortunately those events happened between Atuan and Shore so we really don’t get to know this character for very long. It would have been fantastic if he could have been someone we had actually met in A Wizard of Earthsea. Instead, it didn’t feel as emotional as it could have been. I love how Le Guin brought the tale of Ged full circle by having him face the type of wizard that he almost became himself had he not chosen the path of light. One of the main themes of this novel is about balance, such as good and evil, and life and death. I think Cob’s desire to cheat death makes him a compelling villain, but again this could have been even stronger with further backstory.

This book is filled with Le Guin’s beliefs and works as a great exploration of life and death. Nobody does existentialism in fiction better than Le Guin as the internal struggles of the characters are just as compelling as the fights. Earthsea remains one the best fantasy realms ever created. I plan on reading the next volume Tehanu in the near future. In the meantime, it was a wonderful experience getting to read these original tales of Earthsea all over again. There books are definitely worth reading as they have been immensely influential to modern fantasy. Although Le Guin is no longer with us in this realm, she has achieved her immortality with this series.

“No darkness lasts forever. And even there, there are stars.”

Have you read these books? I’d love to know your thoughts!


How Writing is Like Exercise

Recently, I made a commitment to start exercising daily. As most of you who read my blog know, I have also promised to write on a more consistent basis. As I moan and groan about my lack of energy in both of these enterprises, I am reminded of a chapter from Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones where she compares writing to physical exercise. Motivation can be difficult to find at first. Once you get going, both can become part of a daily routine.

Here are five pieces of advice to inspire you in both writing and in exercise.

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1. Self-motivation is key

When it comes down to it, we call the shots for ourselves. In order for writing or exercise to be successful, we have to be self-motivated. There will always be that voice in your head that says “Hey it’s been a long day, just write tomorrow” or “You’re tired, don’t bother with the gym tonight.” Self-sabotage has always gotten the better of me. No more! Find quotes that inspire you. Write yourself motivational notes. Remember that tired is often a state of mind.

2. Start slow

I have met a lot of people who approach huge goals with lots of energy, only to burn out within the first month. In fact, I’m one of those people! While there’s nothing wrong with having long-term goals, sometimes it’s best to break the journey down into smaller steps. Wasn’t there a famous quote about Rome and taking your time? You know the one. Maybe your exercise goal is to eventually lose 30 pounds. Perhaps you want to complete the great American novel. There’s no shame in starting slow. My plan for this month is to write two short stories. I also plan on committing to 15 minutes of exercise a day. The point is make the goals doable for you and build off of them.

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3. Schedule time

People that know me have learned that I can be quite the scatter-brain. I’m not putting myself down, it’s just that I’ve come to realize that I’m a disorganized mess. When it comes to my job or just getting anything done in general, I function much better when I have scheduled time. Take this little blog of mine for instance. Typically, I schedule two posts each week, one review and one general post. This has helped me to keep the blog updated on a consistent basis. In order to be more successful at exercise and writing, I will have to do the same. They say once you’ve done something for three weeks, it becomes routine (not sure who “they” are but I remember hearing that somewhere). So get out those planners and plan dammit!

4. If you want to do it, then it’s important

Another obstacle to success is the guilt we feel. You are ready to go work on yourself, when all of a sudden you remember something important that you forgot to do. Don’t avoid responsibilities, but also remember that your personal goals are important. A friend once said “It all gets done in time.” If being a writer is something you want to do, then it’s no silly. If training so you can run a marathon is your fitness goal, this is not ridiculous. Do it!

5. Take pride in the small victories

The first time you went running, you probably didn’t make it very far. The second time maybe a little further. Next thing you know, you’ve run a full mile. As I said earlier, baby steps are important. Writing and exercise are alike because you have to start small and build towards those bigger goals. When you get one page written, take pride in that. Maybe just getting 500 words done was your starting goal. Don’t judge what you have written right away. Just feel good that you did it. This is exactly the same with exercising, just be happy that you managed to survive for two minutes on that treadmill before falling down. You were able to do 10 jumping jacks today, when before all you could do was half that number. There’s no shame in being pleased with yourself. Even if you only made it one step on the right path, that path is not going anywhere.

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I hope this post provides a little motivation today. Whether it’s writing or exercise (or both), you can accomplish anything. Just don’t rush it. You got this!

10. ‘Writing Down the Bones’ by Natalie Goldberg

I have been wanting to improve my writing abilities, so I thought it would be a good time to reread one of the most celebrated tools of the craft. I used to own a pocket-sized edition of this book and gained a lot of valuable information from it. Sadly, it got misplaced. For Christmas, my wife bought me this lovely 30th anniversary edition which contains an interview with the author and other additional information. It typically takes me a long time to finish a work of nonfiction, but I managed to complete this one in just two short days.


Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within is not your typical “how-to” book. She doesn’t explore topics like creating characters, plotting, or how to get your novel published. Instead, she has created a work that teaches the importance of getting to know ourselves better through the art of writing. Goldberg has spent several years practicing as a Zen Buddhist, and throughout her book often equates writing as a spiritual practice. This is a book about expressing ourselves better so that we understand our lives better.

I will be the first to admit that my biggest obstacle when it comes to writing is trying to stifle my inner critic. All writers have one. It is the voice that makes you feel guilty for writing when there are “more important” things to do. Often, the inner critic will tell you to stop writing because what you are putting down on paper is complete garbage. My personal critic’s best trick is telling me that I have nothing valuable to write, so why waste the time. Throughout her book, Goldberg stresses the importance of writing for writing’s sake. Forget those worries that what you are putting down on paper is complete shit. Stop worrying about issues like grammatical errors, using the wrong word, or wanting to rewrite that sentence. Sit down and write! Get your hand moving across the page and get those words out! There will be plenty of time to go back later and handle revisions. Goldberg continually promotes the importance of sitting down and engaging with the act of writing.

“It is important to separate the creator and the editor or internal censor when you practice writing, so that the creator has free space to breathe, explore, and express.”

I love how Goldberg compares writing to physical exercise. When you first get started, finding the motivation can be difficult. Once you get going, you begin to make writing a part of your daily life. Goldberg promotes longhand writing, stating that “handwriting is more connected to the movement of the heart.” In her own practice, Goldberg uses several cheap notebooks and writes as much as she can until she has filled that notebook and can start another one. As she goes back over what she has written, she finds pieces that are valuable and worth further exploration. Through this spiritual act of writing, we open our hearts and minds and begin to fully connect with our inner beings.

The layout of this book is fantastic, and Goldberg writes with such clarity. Through 66 short pieces, she covers what it means to be a writers, jumping off points, the power of detail, dealing with both inner and outer criticism, as well as neat little ideas for making your writing stand out better. Goldberg repeatedly returns to the idea of timed writing which does not allow for stopping, crossing out, or editing. The main idea is to go as deep within yourself as possible because those first thoughts have so much power and energy. Goldberg encourages us to not hold back and to let those obsessions fly freely across the page. Writing is a physical act that allows us to touch upon some truly powerful inner thoughts.

“Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.”

I think one of the reasons this particular book is so special to me is that it reminds me of how similar therapy and writing are as interrelated disciplines. As a therapist, my work is to help others break down inner walls and uncover deep-seated emotions. With my older clients, I often use writing as a tool to help them find those inner truths. Often, we are afraid to approach those really difficult topics for the power they hold. Goldberg encourages us to not hold back from those hurts. Through writing from our pain, it eventually “engenders compassion for our small and groping lives.”

As you can see, I really love everything that Natalie Goldberg has to say about the practice of writing. This book is such a great resource for anyone. Whether you are a professional writer or not, this book will inspire you to find the artist deep within yourself. Writing Down the Bones is not just about writing. It is about finding your soul.

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Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts!

9. ‘Stories of Your Life and Others’ by Ted Chiang

Whenever I read a collection of short stories, I typically have one or two favorites. Ted Chiang’s Stories of Your Life and Others was so brilliant, that I loved nearly every single story in this collection. All of them were intelligently written, and I’m still wrapping my head around the deep philosophical questions they asked.


Many of you may be familiar with “Story of Your Life,” the short that is the basis for the sci-fi film Arrival. I’m definitely putting it on my list of movies to watch. Beautifully written and highly thought-provoking, it explores the argument of free will vs. determinism.  It is narrated by Louise, a linguistics expert, who is asked by the military to help as translator between humans and aliens who have landed on Earth. These beings, referred to as heptapods because of their seven limbs, have a different language for both written and spoken words. The story alternates between Louise and her future husband working on understanding the aliens’ languages with Louise speaking to her future daughter. The reader is compelled to continue along to figure out how Louise appears to have knowledge of her personal future. The two separate stories intersect brilliantly, and we are left with the question, “If you had knowledge of what’s to come, would you attempt to change it?”

Many of these stories contain these kinds of “what if” questions, which I personally love. What if angels were real? What if we could no longer see beauty? Ted Chiang’s fiction is quite heavy on the science, but equally so on topics of religion and philosophy. I was hooked from the very beginning with the first story “Tower of Babylon” a version of the classic Babel tale where human beings have built a tower to take them to the vault of heaven. What do they discover when they arrive? Well, I won’t spoil it, but the ending is quite fantastic and has you remembering the importance of appreciating the ground at your feet.

If you really want to read a story that will get you fired up, try “Hell is the Absence of God.” In this story, angels will often manifest on Earth, bringing natural disasters with them. Some of the people who witness these visitations are granted extraordinary gifts, while others get horribly injured or even killed. The main character is a man named Neil who has a physical disability. Neil doesn’t love God and fully expects to go to Hell when he dies. He is fine with this until the day he loses his wife Sarah during a visitation. Neil is irrevocably devastated by the loss and knows the only way to be reunited with her is to find a way to love God.

This story made me so angry when I was reading it, especially when it got to the end. Again, no spoilers here. Despite being set in a surreal universe, Chiang paints it well through very believable human characters. Is simple belief enough? Read it as it will impact you. I also liked how this story explored different reactions to having a disability. As someone who has dealt with this topic, it was highly emotional on that end as well.

I would be performing an injustice to Mr. Chiang if I did not praise two other stories. “Liking What You See: A Documentary” explores a future where science has made it possible to induce calliagnosia, a condition which makes it possible remove a person’s concept of beauty in others. The story centers on a college campus that wants to require the process for students during their entire tenure. Is it better to live in a world where we are unable to recognize physical beauty? Both sides of the debate have some excellent points. Another favorite of mine was “Division by Zero” about a mathematician who makes a discovery that results in a suicide attempt. The story is truly about her relationship with her husband and the impact her attempt has on them as a couple. Once again, another perfect blending of he intellectual with the poignant.

I love when authors include notes on where their ideas developed. Chiang briefly discusses each story, and I loved getting this additional insight into his thought processes. If you are a science fiction lover like myself, then you need to read Stories of Your Life and Others. When it comes to grand ideas with deep moral complexity, Ted Chiang is one of the best out there.

“The familiar was far away, while the bizarre was close at hand.” – ”Story of Your Life”

Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts!


Books at the Movies

This past weekend I went with my best friend to see Annihilation. Directed by Alex Garland and starring Natalie Portman, this sci-film film is based on the novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer. I’ve been curious about the book for some time, but decided this would be one of those cases where I saw the movie first. The story is about a place cut off by a mysterious biological hazard and the group of female scientists sent out to investigate it. Overall, I really enjoyed it as it has some very disturbing scenes along with a few twists.

My bestie informed me later that the movie’s ending is very different from the book, which is actually a trilogy. Sometimes people avoid seeing the movie before reading the book for fear that the screen adaptation cannot possibly live up to the original work. In the case of Annihilation, it made me want to read the books even more. So I thought it might be fun to explore some of my best (and worst) experiences with films adapted from popular books.




The Dark Tower

This one was not quite as spectacular of a King adaptation, but I still found a lot to like in this little movie. The trick to enjoying this one is to just not think about the books and treat the movie as its own entity. I particularly loved Idris Elba as Roland, and I was pleasantly surprised that I didn’t totally hate the performance by Matthew McConaughey. It was a nice little piece of sci-fi that could never capture the grandeur of the books. Read my full review here.

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Murder on the Orient Express

I must confess that I went and saw this one without having read the book. In this case, I think that’s a good thing. Wow, what an amazing corker of an ending to finish off a great film with an unbelievable cast! I’ve only read one novel by Agatha Christie, and I wonder if I had read this one if the ending would have held as much impact. My plan is to read the book later this year to see if I can spot clues along the way. I highly recommend this film!

The Hunger Games

I’ve read the trilogy, but at this point have only seen the first movie. Yes, I’ve heard the rest are quite high in awesomeness. For Hunger Games, I feel I enjoyed the book and film equally. Don’t worry Jennifer Lawrence. I will watch the other ones soon.