The Joy of a New Book

SpearThere are lots of ways to pick a book to read. Subject matter. Genre and sub-genre. A great cover. Reviews. Blurbs. Reading the first page and getting hooked.

But one of the best ways to choose a book is because you’ve read other work by the author that knocked your socks off. This works with both fiction and non-fiction.

It also doesn’t matter if the story is about something you didn’t think you were particularly interested in, because in the hands of a master writer, you will find yourself entranced.

Case in point: Spear, by Nicola Griffith.

It happens that Nicola is one of those writers whose books I always read. I have read all of her novels and a lot of her short fiction. She brings something unique in everything she writes, regardless of the genre.

For example, I don’t read a lot historical fiction, but Hild is one of the best books I’ve ever read. I recently re-read it in anticipation of the sequel, Menewood, which will be out a year from now.

So all I needed to know to pre-order Spear was that Nicola wrote it. Other than that, all I knew was that it was fantasy set in early medieval Britain and that the main character was a woman.

Now it happens that Spear is an Arthurian story. And, in truth, if you’d asked me if I was interested in another tale about King Arthur and all the characters of Camelot, I’d probably have said no. I’ve read my share of such stories, but I have no great passion for them in general.

But in the hands of the right storyteller, any story can be mesmerizing. I wrote a few weeks back about reading Karen Joy Fowler’s latest book Booth even though I don’t have any particular interest in John Wilkes Booth or his family. In Karen’s hands, that story was riveting. I sat up late to finish it even though I knew how it ended, how it had to end.

Spear is a much shorter book, so I didn’t have to stay up late to finish it, but I was equally compelled by the story. It reads like the myths and histories in which it is rooted; the language, like the story, is magical.

It starts with a girl who doesn’t know her name. She lives hidden deep in the forest with her mother and is fascinated by the world and absolutely fearless.

That’s really all you need to know. I wouldn’t want to spoil the pleasure of reading the story to discover who this girl is and who she becomes. Or, for that matter, of Nicola’s take on characters you might have met in other reading.

I had the good fortune of being in Seattle when the book came out, so I ordered it from a bookshop there and picked it up while Nicola was in the shop signing copies.

In these complicated times, it was such a joy to help someone celebrate a book release and to see other friends who’d come out for the same reason.

I was going to save it for my train ride home next week, but instead I read it all the day after I got it.

I mean, it was a book by Nicola Griffith.

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