The Great American Read: Author Patrick Rothfuss weighs in

June 26, 2018 Susannah Brooks Leave a Comment

Patrick Rothfuss has a long beard and a bemused smile.

Photo: Kyle Cassidy

As we read, debate and vote on the books of The Great American Read, bestselling author – and Wisconsin native – Patrick Rothfuss shares some of his top picks with Airwaves readers.

It wasn’t easy to choose.

“I’m dappled by the impact of a thousand books,” he says. “So many of them struck me so deeply, singling out one feels like I’d be missing the point, which is the cumulative effect they’ve all had on me.”

Keep reading to learn more about Rothfuss and how his love of reading goes well beyond the books he writes.

According to his biography, “Patrick Rothfuss was born in Madison, Wisconsin to awesome parents who encouraged him to read and create through reading to him, gentle boosts of self-esteem, and deprivation of cable television.”

Cover of The Name of the Wind, featuring swirling leaves and petals, a stone wall, a carved gargoyle and several broken stringed instrumentsDuring 14 years of work on what became his first published novel, The Name of the Wind, Rothfuss was both a student and instructor at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

After The Name of the Wind became a New York Times #1 bestseller in 2007, Rothfuss began the “geek-centered nonprofit” Worldbuilders,  which works with authors, game designers and artists to raise money for worldwide humanitarian efforts such as Heifer International. Since 2008, Worldbuilders has raised over $8.5 million.

Check out this video on Worldbuilders from WPT’s Wisconsin Life.

The first two books in Rothfuss’ fantasy saga The Kingkiller Chronicle, including The Wise Man’s Fear, have sold over 10 million copies. Rothfuss is currently working with Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda to bring the books to life as a feature film and TV series.

Rothfuss, who still lives in Stevens Point with his family, recently added another dimension to his love of books. On June 30, he becomes a silent partner for the new owners of legendary Madison independent bookstore A Room of One’s Own.

What’s your favorite of the books on The Great American Read’s list?

Classic cover for The Lion, The Witch and the WardrobeOof. That’s a hard choice. But if I have to pick, it’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It’s a slightly problematic book, but it was also the very first chapter book I read on my own.

I didn’t want to give up reading picture books; it drove my mom to distraction, because I’d read 50-60 in a day and want to go back to the library.

So my mom bought me the Chronicles of Narnia; she made a big production out of it. “You’re grown up now. I think you’re ready for this.” And it worked. I read the whole series. Again and again.

These days, kids might dream of going to Hogwarts [like Harry Potter], but I wanted to go to Narnia. I wanted that more than anything…

What’s a novel that ISN’T on this list that you think everyone should read, and why?

Book cover for The Last Unicorn: a white unicorn at night

The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: He isn’t kidding. The cover of the current edition proudly displays this Rothfuss quote: “The Last Unicorn is the best book I have ever read. You need to read it. If you’ve already read it, you need to read it again.”]

The language is amazing. The story is beautiful: perfect, sweet and heartbreaking. It’s my favorite book, and I read it once a year. I’ve bought dozens of copies of it to give away. It’s one of the cornerstones of modern fantasy, and Peter S. Beagle wrote it when he was 20 years old. It’s staggering.

I just started reading it aloud to my little boys tonight. They’re 8 and 4 years old. I was a little nervous, because the sentences are a little complex, and the language is gorgeous. But they were both enthralled. Begged me to read more when I stopped. It warmed my heart.

Which novel (on or off this list) has had the biggest impact on your life?

It’d be easy for me to point at one title and say something pithy about it… but I don’t feel like it would be honest. I’ve read… what? Ten thousand books by now? Fifteen? It’s like saying “Which raindrop got you wettest?” Or asking the moon, “Which meteorite made you what you are today?”

That’s not how it works – at least with me. I’m dappled by the impact of a thousand books. So many of them struck me so deeply, singling out one feels like I’d be missing the point, which is the cumulative effect they’ve all had on me.

Etching of Cyrano, with a large nose and feathered hatFine. If I had to: Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac – Brian Hooker translation. It changed the way I thought about stories.

Read a Washington Post commentary on this translation here.


New episodes of The Great American Read return this fall – giving us plenty of time to explore and engage! Here are a few great ways to discover new and old favorites:

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