Review: The Stranger in the Woods

The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True HermitThe Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In 1986, a young man named Christopher Knight decided to drop everything in his life, park his car as far into the woods as he could get, and walk away from it all. He would live in the woods for twenty-seven years, interacting with another human only once during his stay, robbing from nearby summer homes for food and supplies. The Stranger in the Woods is Michael Finkel’s account of how Knight lived, his thoughts on returning to society in 2013, and musings on solitude and human interaction. It’s a brief but thoughtful analysis of Knight’s decision and how his repeated burglaries of the cabins near his campsite shaped a community for twenty-seven years.

Written with the clear and concise style you could expect from a journalist, The Strange in the Woods presents facts before conjecture, although Finkel does spend some time throughout musing on why Knight might’ve chosen to leave society. Knight’s decision to be entirely alone for nearly three decades is both baffling and intriguing, a sentiment Finkel captures well in this biography. The way people responded to Knight’s actions is just as fascinating, with responses ranging from horror at his burglaries, to disbelief he really even did it, to yearning for a similar life free of social commitment. I think how you read his experiences and decisions will vary based on your own believes, which is part of what makes this story worth reading – it forces you to think about yourself and your relationship to being alone.

As an introvert, walking into the woods and living alone seems almost idyllic – but to do that for twenty-seven years, never once having a meaningful conversation with another human, is taking that idealism to the extreme in a way I can’t even comprehend. It’s easy to say there was something “wrong” with Knight, and while there were likely larger mental health reasons for his decision, I believe much of that sentiment stems from a general fear of loneliness. Finkel touches on this topic, too; he muses on the fact that people are afraid to be alone, that we are always filling our attention and time with distractions to stave off that loneliness. Between Finkel’s interpretations and Knight’s explicit thoughts, this is as much a biography as a book to make you reflect on your own life choices and coping mechanisms for loneliness. Is choosing to be alone really so strange?

At just under 200 pages, The Stranger in the Woods is brief and concise but thoughtful all the same. I’m going through a lot right now in a lot of different ways, and reading this was almost a little therapeutic.

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Review: The Way of Kings

The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive, #1)The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Epic fantasy at its finest, The Way of Kings has one of the most engaging and well-thought-out fantasy worlds I think I’ve ever read. From page one it’s setting up the universe and its rules, from how magic works to the specialized weapons and armor that the rich or the lucky wield to devastating effect. I am absolutely in love with the level of detail Sanderson pours into this world right from the start.

The characters, likewise, are relatable and complex, each having their own flaws and motivations that make them all engaging. I don’t believe there was a single one I was tired of reading about when the point of view shifted, a problem that plagued other fantasy series I’ve read shift viewpoints so frequently. Part of this has to be attributed to the work of Michael Kramer and Kate Reading as narrators – they are both incredible at what they do. Their character voices are distinct yet clear, their descriptions and emotional investment are such that the reader gets a very good feel of how Kaladin or Shallan feel in that moment. The limited number of viewpoint characters also helps cement those feelings of attachment. I’ve always struggled with epic fantasy novels that jump between some dozen characters, so sticking to the core group helped with this.

On the note of shifting viewpoints, I did love the interlude chapters perhaps just as much as the main plot. These little glimpses into other parts of the world were all fascinating and I hope we get to see these paths cross as the series continues.

At 50%, however, I started to fall off a bit. Each character had been stuck in their situation for what felt like forever, slowly picking away at the conflict they faced. The pay off in each character’s story was worth it, but I did sit this one down for a few months, disinterested in getting through that hurdle in the middle. Things pick back up at about the 75% mark and continue steadily onward to the end from there, with plenty of surprises to keep you on your toes. The Way of Kings isn’t entirely unpredictable, but there’s just enough twists to generate tons of interest in the second book of the series, Words of Radiance. I’ve already got it lined up on Audible and will be getting a physical copy to follow along with as well, though I think I’ll be taking a break from the Stormlight Archives for a bit. I try to avoid reading all the books of a series in a row since I know I’ll burn out on it (looking at you, Game of Thrones).

Overall, The Way of Kings is a really great fantasy series. Sanderson’s world building holds up to its reputation, giving us just enough to intrigue us while still creating a deeply complex world. With clever writing and well-rounded characters, Sanderson does a great job setting up a world and hooking you right into it. Power through the slow middle – or take a break like I did – and it’ll all be worth it in the end.

On to book two!

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WWW Wednesday

WWW Wednesday

Happy 4th to any fellow Americans out there, enjoy any time off work you have and eat something delicious. ❤

WWW Wednesday is a weekly post hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words. To participate, just post the answers to the following three questions:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

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June Read Round-Up

ReadingRoundUp

Happy summer! June completely disappeared on me, as evidenced by my complete lack of posts last month. Oops. To be fair, a lot has been happening for me in the past month – I’ve been writing and editing for Women Write About Comics (WWAC), started writing for Sidequest, and bigger than that, the whole house buying thing I mentioned last month. The first house we put an offer on was a bust, but the one we’re working on now is an amazing brick ranch that I just cannot WAIT to move in to. We’re almost there, with a closing date rapidly approaching, but as it turns out, the act of looking for and purchasing a house is draining, to say the least. Every spare moment not working was being consumed by house hunting, so I haven’t gotten much reading in. It’s a bummer, but that’s life, I guess!

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