A Latter-day Bluestocking

For the love of reading

Category: Fantasy

The Hobbit, or There And Back Again

“Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisoned by the enemy, don’t we consider it his duty to escape?. . .If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!” J.R.R. Tolkien, 1892-1973

I discovered Tolkien when I was 9 years old.  I had seen the Ralph Bakshi directed Lord of the Rings and it made such an impression on me that it was absolutely imperative I read the book.  And read it, I did.  I still have that worn-out copy of The Fellowship of the Ring; I treasure it as a sacred relic, one that opened up a whole new wonderful world to me.  A special place for a 9-year-old, one populated with magic, kings, elves, dwarves, hobbits, good and evil.  I read The Hobbit soon after and received the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy for Christmas.  Tolkien’s profound realm not only served as escapism for me but had wide-ranging influence that Prof. Tolkien never foresaw.  Dungeons and Dragons, Harry Potter, World of Warcraft, Skyrim were all inspired by Tolkien’s Middle-Earth.

My 11-year-old son is enchanted, much to my chagrin, by World of Warcraft, a pale facsimile to the world created by Tolkien.  He does love the LotR films but it always makes me cringe when he says that something was ripped-off from WoW.  My churlish response (complete with eye-roll):  “Listen, kid, if it were not for J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, and “The Lord of the Rings” there would be no World of Warcraft.  This reality baffles him.  I think his introduction to the books is long past due.  The new film, The Hobbit,will be released in December which gives me the perfect excuse and opportunity to re-visit Middle Earth and introduce it to my son.

“There are no safe paths in this part of the world.  Remember you are over the Edge of the Wild now, and in for all sorts of fun wherever you go.”   J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Beach Reading Reviews 2012 Part 2

Here’s the second half of my beach reading reviews.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

A simply monstrous story, a young man trades his soul for eternal youth and leads a sordid dual life, indulging every impulse and desire maintaining all the while a gentleman’s facade.  As Dorian Gray’s portrait exhibits the sins of his sinful life he moves on to ever more unspeakably and horrifying transgressions.  A page-turner and frightening.

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

A beautiful story of a man’s struggle against nature written in Hemingway’s characteristic style free of superfluous words.  He simply and elegantly the old man’s determination in the face of defeat.  Powerful!

The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After by Elizabeth Kantor

Absolutely awful.  Nonsensical clap-trap about how to achieve happiness in love by following the example of Austen’s heroines.  Preachy, thus annoying.  Not recommended.

A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin

Despite being over 1000 pages long, an engaging tale.  This is the fourth book in the Song of Ice and Fire series relating the quest for domination of the Seven Kingdoms.  If you are a fan of the fantasy genre definitely a must-read.

Quote of the Day: George R.R. Martin

A Game of Thrones

“…a mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge.”  (Tyrion Lannister, A Game of Thrones)  George R.R. Martin, born 1948

 

Books to read again, again, and again, ad infinitum.

Rainy Day in Brooklyn

It is raining, and not just raining but pouring!  Bucket after bucket of water pouring off the rooftops so loudly it sounds like a gentle roar on my apartment’s ceiling.  The spray as cars drive by, the individual drops off my fire escape sounds like a shower left to run.  Most people see a day like today as dreary and depressing, there are times when I do too, but on a lazy Sunday I am looking forward to reading.  I will roam from bedroom to living room and curl up on the bed or sofa and indulge myself in a good book.

Cover of "The Wind's Twelve Quarters: Stories"

Today I happen to be reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Wind’s Twelve Quartersa book of 17 short stories each introduced by the author.  It is a great read for a day such as today because an intense commitment is not necessary as with a novel.  A story can be finished, the book put down (albeit temporarily) after all one does have to eat.  And for some reason, rainy days have always been good days to read stories of fantasy, magic, and science fiction.  I don’t know exactly why that is but I like to imagine that as the rain cleanses the earth, stories that have a magical element cleanse the mind and open it up to possibilities beyond the mundane.  Too romantic, I know.

It is days such as this when I reflect on all the books too good to just molder on shelves, or in my case piled on floors in front of over-filled bookshelves, books that should be read again and again.  A few favorites come to mind, Jane Austen for example.  All her books (Juvenilia and letters) can be read over and over and never become stale.  There is not a year that passes that I do not reread one of her books (or more); one year focusing on plot, another on character, and yet another on the period in which the stories take place (things that Austen would have taken for granted that her reader’s would know).  Others include, Tolkien, Bronte, Doyle, Hardy, Shelley, and Lewis.  A rereading of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is essential if only for its lessons on the wrongs of racial inequality and the integrity of its hero, Atticus Finch.  This is a book on how we should behave but seldom do.

My list has changed over the years, evolved.  When I was 16 I reread A Room with a View so many times that the cover is in tatters and now I barely give it a second glance; not because it isn’t a wonderful book, it is, but now with more decades under my belt than I care to admit it doesn’t speak to me in the same way as A Tree Grows in Brooklyn does.  That is the beauty of books, they evolve with the reader.  For example, D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover.  First read when I was 12 or 13 1) because it was on a banned book list and 2) I was curious about sex.  When I first read it I was titillated by the frank descriptions of copulation and didn’t remember much beyond that.  I reread it again in my early 20s, now living with a boyfriend, and found myself bored by the book, my lack of innocence relegating the book to a place of stuffy indifference.  I recently reread it yet again, a middle-aged woman separated from her husband in the midst of divorce, and finally “got it”; understood what Lawrence was trying to convey in this story:  a wholeness of life is necessary in the pursuit of happiness.  Well, at least, that’s what I “got” from it.

Here are ten books that I believe should be read again, again, and again, ad infinitum.

  1. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  (because they are great stories)
  2. Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice.  (probably one of the most perfect books in the English language)
  3. Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre.  (its themes of atonement and forgiveness)
  4. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes stories and The White Company (great story-telling)
  5. Isak Dinesen, Out of Africa and Shadows on the Grass (brilliant memoirs)
  6. Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory  and The Witches (because they are so fun to read aloud and make your kid laugh, especially when done with voices)
  7. Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway (for its themes of feminism, mental illness, and existentialism)
  8. Ursula K. Le Guin, The Earthsea Cycle (because they are so wonderfully written and have a lot of themes to explore)
  9. Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (a moralistic story about the over-fulfillment of modern man: a good narrative and appropriate for our time)
  10. F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (a vivid and unromantic view of the fragmentation of the American Dream)

Wow!  That was harder than I thought it was going to be.  I am happy to say that my list has 6 women authors; is somewhat well-rounded, consisting of classics, fantasy, and science-fiction (Frankenstein); and has American and English (and one Danish) authors.  These are books I consider worth rereading and probably says more about me personally at this particular moment in time than anything else.  Your list may be different.  Reader, I would love to hear about the books you think are worth rereading and why.  Leave a comment, I would really like to know.

Okay, now I have to get back to reading!

Sex, Drugs, and MAGIC!

Ever since finishing Lev Grossman‘s The Magicians I wondered if another foray into the land of Fillory was possible.  And with the recent release of The Magician King my question and hopes have been answered.  I look forward to getting my hands on this book…I feel it will be a perfect read for crisp autumn evenings, curled up on the sofa, wrapped in a blanket with a nice dram of whisky.  That’s right, save the tea for Harry Potter!  If the first book was any indication, The Magician King, promises to be quite a wild ride.

The Magicians started off slowly with the angst-ridden Quentin Coldwater mysteriously stumbling upon a hidden school for magic and discovering he has an untapped knack for hoodoo. Comparisons to the Harry Potter series are inevitable but veer off jarringly with drinking binges, sex, and drugs combined with an extreme curriculum in spell casting. It devolves into the drug and alcohol induced seeking of wisdom; a quest much like that perpetuated by Jim Morrison, alarmingly so.  All this with the subtext that the childhood books so beloved by Quentin, a wonderful land of talking animals and mystical magic is actually a real place; a hard-core Narnia, if you will.

The first book dealt with forms of escapism, the destructive power of getting what one wants and not necessarily what one needs, and discovering that one’s fantasies can be dark and lurid.  And yet, when the “trip” is over, all of life’s obstacles (both real and fantasy) are still painfully present and personal responsibility must be acknowledged and reckoned with.

I have stayed away from reading any overviews or editorial reviews of The Magician King, preferring to come to the story fresh and unadulterated, but I presume it will be more of the same but different and better.  I look forward to settling down (with my whisky) and crossing into this not-so childhood fantasy.

The List of Books I Want to Finish Reading Before the End of Summer (but won’t)

I am always very ambitious about my summer reading list and I always start out very strong.  The problem is that by the middle of the summer I’ve added books not on the original list.  For example, today I stopped into Barnes and Noble to pick up Lord of the Flies by William Golding.  I’m not really sure why I must read that book NOW but I am guessing it has something to do with my son’s sleepaway summer camp experience and the photograph of him with war paint on his face and painted handprints on his stomach.  Go figure.  Simple, right?  It’s only one more book, right?  Wrong, because I also picked up two more books, A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin (I’ve seen two random episodes of the HBO mini-series and I am intrigued, besides I’ve heard good things) and Why Jane Austen? by Rachel M. Brownstein.  The latter is because I am Jane Austen obsessed and I just cannot pass up any new book about her.

So in addition to my three latest acquisitions, here’s the rest my summer book list (this does not include the books I’ve actually read) which I will not be able to finish before the end of summer.

  1. American Creation by Joseph J. Ellis
  2. Jane Austen:  The Critical Heritage edited by B.C. Southam
  3. Jane Austen and the Province of Womanhood by Alison G. Sulloway
  4. Sex at Dawn:  How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá
  5. Jane Austen:  A Life by David Nokes
  6. Room by Amanda Donoghue
  7. The Wind’s Twelve Quarters:  Stories by Ursula K. Le Guin
  8. The Woman Who Could Not Forget:  Iris Chang Before and Beyond “The Rape of Nanking” by Ying-Ying Chang
  9. March by Geraldine Brooks
  10. Six Frigates:  The Epic History of the Founding of The U.S. Navy by Ian W. Toll

I think I need a 12 step program for book addiction.

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