Extra Books – February 20 to 26

  • The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
    • Published: May 1989
    • Genre: Literary fiction (historical/biographical)
    • Why I picked it up: Loved Never Let Me Go; heard this is his other ‘big’ novel
    • Rating: 4.5 stars
    • Challenges: TBR Double Dare
    • My Thoughts:
      • I had no idea what this book was going to be about when I first picked it up. I only knew I liked the author and this book was one of his ‘must reads’, so I better read it. I was pleased when I read the back cover – ‘Stevens, an ageing butler, has embarked on a rare holiday. But his travels are disturbed by the memories of a lifetime of service to the late Lord Darlington, and most of all by the increasingly painful recollection of his friendship with the housekeeper, Miss Kenton.’ If I had read this description on any other author’s work, I probably would have said ‘Bleh’ and put it back down. But, I am familiar with Ishiguro’s writing style and story telling abilities and I was pleased because I thought he could do such a story justice. I wasn’t wrong! This was a fantastic take on something that could have been a very dry and cliched subject.
      • What I love best about Ishiguro is his excellent ability to inhabit a character. I can’t think of any comparable story by a different author in which a first person  narrator (or any narrator, really) feels so real. I experienced this with Never Let Me Go and that was written from the point of view of a very different character. So, obviously, this isn’t a fluke – it’s why Ishiguro is such a great author.
      • I can’t say I’ve read a lot of books that were told by an unreliable narrator. I’ve heard the idea discussed a lot, but it’s not something I’ve experienced, at least in a way when it’s done very well, until I read this book. I would be totally taken in by whatever Stevens was saying, and then a character would say something like “Have you been crying?”, or when he catches up with Miss Kenton but addresses her as Mrs Benn, and I would realize that he wasn’t telling the whole story. His restrained excitement at the possibility of Miss Kenton’s return was very sweet. This narrative style made Stevens’ own admittance of emotion towards the end of the novel extremely moving and bittersweet, I almost teared up (the only books I’ve ever properly cried at are by John Green) (SPOILERS!!!!):
      • “I do not think I responded immediately, for it took me a moment or two to fully digest these words of Miss Kenton. Moreover, as you might appreciate, their implications were such as to provoke a certain degree of sorrow within me. Indeed – why should I not admit it? – at that moment, my heart was breaking. Before long, however, I turned to her and said with a smile…”
      • I found the ending of the story as well to be very melancholic and thoughtful and sad…Stevens meets the man who tells him not too keep looking back all the time, and yet here we are at the end of the book and Stevens is still telling us the past story of his interaction with this man. I got the impression that Stevens wants to move forward and does truly agree with the stranger, but it is something very hard for him to do. And that’s understandable, and that’s a very real feeling, and that’s why it’s a hopeful ending tinged with sadness.

      Extra Books – February 13 to 19

      • Child of the Jungle by Sabine Kuegler
        • Published: 1954
        • Genre: Autobiography
        • Why I picked it up: Can’t remember, read about it somewhere and it sounded interesting
        • Rating: 3 stars
        • Challenges: TBR Double Dare
        • My Thoughts:
          • An easy breezy read, short chapters relaying little stories – I haven’t read a book like this in awhile so it was refreshing. 
          • The author notes that she had never considered writing a book about her experiences until encouraged to do so, and so this book emerged as a reflection of her past. These circumstances are pretty noticeable with regards to how the story is told. It does feel like a friend is recounting memories from her past that she hasn’t thought about in a long while. While that is totally fine, it’s not really the type of story I prefer to read. Somebody else would probably enjoy this book more than I did.
          • I found it very sad how her family grew apart, how she clearly longs for what she experienced as a child but can’t go back to that…
          • I do think she had a fascinating childhood (dur, who wouldn’t?) and so the subject matter of the book was very interesting but the execution wasn’t really for me.
          • Overall, a nice little read but nothing too great. This for me would be ‘beach reading’ ;P

          Extra Books – February 6 to 12

          • The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
            • Published: 1954
            • Genre: Fantasy
            • Why I picked it up: Interest in Tolkien’s work, never made it through the whole book/trilogy
            • Rating: 4 stars
            • Challenges: TBR Double Dare
            • My Thoughts:
              • Leaving Bag End and Hobbiton was a very sad process for me. See this post for why ‘that feeling’ always gets me.
              • One of the things that threw me off was the very drawn out time frame of the beginning of the story. It’s, what, 18 years between Bilbo’s party and when Frodo leaves? I had a lot of trouble envisioning Frodo as older. In fact, I don’t, I keep with the image of Elijah Wood and his buddies. It’s not just that I’ve been indoctrinated by the movie, I’ve always been that way with certain types of characters – I imagine them how they fit in with my mind and then story. In my mind, this is a major quest undertaken by a newly adult young man. I just can’t picture him as a fully mature grown-up. Anyhow, it’s not just Frodo’s age that bothered me with the timeline. It’s other things, just how drawn out the story seems, like spending two months in Rivendell?! And all that time spent just determining who would go with Frodo. Other things like that. That just doesn’t seem very realistic to me. And for this point, yeah, it probably has to do with the movie…I always think of this quest as something extremely important, it must be done as soon as possible! But in reality, it’s so much bigger, set in a world so different from ours. They can’t just be running about everywhere. Things take time. So, while it’s hard for me to accept in my mind, I do like that that’s something a little different about this story, even if it seems unnatural to me now. n
              • When I was in grade four some guy did a book report on The Fellowship of the Ring. I remember thinking ‘Darn, I haven’t read that yet! I should get on it’ but I never did. I’m very glad I didn’t. The kid who read it in grade four was the kind of kid who would say he read it just to make himself look impressive…I’ve tried reading this book a few times and now, at nearly 20 years old, all of it finally makes sense. It probably would’ve made sense when I was in high school too (though definitely not when I was in elementary school), but now I have a lot more knowledge and ‘experience’ with all things Middle-Earth and I was able to make connections and understand references better. This is the kind of thing that through me off years earlier, I’d think ‘I don’t know what they’re talking about!!’ when it didn’t really matter, but now I do know what they’re talking about (at least vaguely…) and it felt a lot better while reading. 
              • I enjoyed discovering that many of the iconic, memorable lines from the film were directly lifted from the book, even if they were attributed to a different character or situation. For example, Pippin at the council saying someone of intelligence will be needed on the quest, Elrond noting Sam is inseparable from Frodo, Gandalf’s challenge to the Balrog, etc. While the films do muck about with certain character’s personalities (poor Gimli), I feel like this lends some greater credibility to the movie, kind of strengthening the link between the book and film. 
              • I found the strongest writing began around the time when they were preparing to enter Moria. This was where the story really clicked for me – I enjoyed reading the prose and started marking passages I particularly liked. From here on to the end, I loved this book a great deal more than I loved the first, ‘dragged out’ part. Essentially, I like Book Two over Book One. 
              • In grade five we watched The Fellowship of the Ring at school (yes, our teachers got in trouble for letting us watch it…it’s PG-13 oh no :O). This was my first interaction with Tolkien, I didn’t read The Hobbit until the next year. Anyhow, I hadn’t watched any movies like this before and I was a little apprehensive of what violence might be coming. We had made it to the mines and I was doing alright and then it was time for a recess break. I asked my friends, who had seen it, if there was anything scary coming up and they told me that Gandalf dies but then he comes back in the second movie and I said okay thanks for letting me know. The point of me telling this story is that I always knew Gandalf died but came back. Finally reading the whole book for the first time, I wonder know what it would be like to read through the trilogy not knowing that. I think it would be such an incredible shock to see Gandalf go like that – if I didn’t know he came back, I would be extremely stressed out. Gandalf is such a significant character, he can’t just fall off a bridge like that! So, this is something I regret a bit – I would have loved to be able to engage with the story not knowing anything that happens (granted, that was the only major spoiler I was aware of, I watched the other two movies relatively spoiler-free which is better than nothing, but it is a pretty big plot twist). 
              • Finally, I only specifically wrote down three passages that I liked. I know there were more, but I was mostly focused on just reading the book and enjoying the story. Next time I give it a go, I’ll take out my paperback movie edition and highlight my favourite parts, make notes, etc. For now, here are three random passages I recorded – coincidentally all from the Lorien chapters…
                1. Legolas and Gimli arguing over who should be blindfolded through Lothlorien
                2. The last lines of  the ‘Lothlorien’ chapter:
                  • ‘Here is the heart of Elvendom on earth,’ [Aragorn] said, ‘and here my heart dwells ever, unless there be a light beyond the dark roads that we still must tread, you and I. Come with me!’ And taking Frodo’s hand, he left the hill of Cerin Amroth and came there never again as a living man.
                3. Description of Galadriel (oh, how I love Galadriel in this book! Tolkien writes wonderfully about her):
                  • The Swan passed on slowly to the hythe, and they turned their boats and followed it. There in the last end of Egladil upon the green grass the parting feast was held; but Frodo ate and adrank little, heeding only the beauty of the Lady and her voice. She seemed no longer perilous of terrible, nor filled with hidden power. Already she seemed to him, as by men of later days Elves still at times are seen: present and yet remote, a living vision of that which has already been left far behind by the flowing streams of Time.
              • Now that I’ve read the whole book, I can make proper judgments on the changes made between the book and the movie. I like the restructuring of Boromir and Aragorn in the films, and the greater presence of Arwen (though I can see why some people would not like that. Her name is mentioned, what, twice?). I didn’t really think much about comparison while I was reading the book, but overall I still appreciate both versions of the story. Tolkien’s book is the true vision and of course is very very good, but I do like the move interpretation of the tale as well. It’s like I have two versions of the same story to appreciate. (Or something. XP)
              • Just a note on the editions I read: I had a small paperback, HaperCollins 1999 edition, that I took to school and read while eating. I also have The Lord of the Rings 50th anniversary edition (one of the loveliest books I own) that I read when I was more comfortable at home. 

              Douglas A. Andersen – The Annotated Hobbit

              *The following information refers only to the first edition.*
                Author: Douglas A. Andersen
              Title: The Annotated Hobbit
              Published: 1988

              Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
              Genre: Fantasy
              Why I picked it up: The Hobbit is one of my favourite books; working my way through different editions
              Rating: The Hobbit – 5 stars, annotations – 3.5 stars
              Challenges: TBR Double Dare
              Buy: IndieBound Chapters | Check your local bookstore! [Links to the second edition]

              I had the updated, totally redesigned second edition on hold at the library but I so badly wanted to read this book that I took it out from my university’s library and did not realize until after I finished reading it that it was an older edition and that the second one is a much better resource. I didn’t really stop to think before I devoured the original edition – it was published in 1988 and much more information on The Hobbit has surfaced since then, leading to fuller, more informed annotations (as well as the inclusion of Gandalf’s account of how he came to organize the quest, colour illustrations/sketches by Tolkien and others, etc.). I did pick up the second edition just a day after I finished the first edition. I’ve given it a quick browse and I think the second edition is greatly improved over the first: I would highly recommend the second edition, 4.5 stars. I plan on purchasing a copy for myself and reading it the next time I have a craving for The Hobbit. However, as I have only properly read through the first edition, that is the edition my review will focus on. This post can be roughly broken down in to two parts: 1) my thoughts on the annotations, and 2) my thoughts on The Hobbit story, reading experiences, how it might translate to movie, etc.

              The annotations in the first edition were somewhat illuminating, though not as much as I had hoped them to be. The notes I liked best were not the ones to do with outside history of the story, ideas that may have inspirec Tolkien, etc., but rather the ones that had to do directly with the book – such as an annotation for the third party explaining that all the poems/songs in the book seem to have been written as the manuscript developed. I did enjoy reading about the origins (at least for Tolkien) of the riddles. I liked the annotation that had a quote from Tolkien explaining that he put spiders in Mirkwood chiefly because his son did not like them. This served as a great reminder that first and foremost The Hobbit was a tale told from father to sons. It makes me wonder what other children’s tales such as The Hobbit might Tolkien have thought up had Middle-earth not consumed his time (I am forever grateful that it did [take most of his time] but you have to wonder about these things…). Probably my favourite annotation, however, is one that isn’t wholly related to The Hobbit – a few of the annotations referenced recordings that were made of Tolkien reading The Hobbit and parts of The Lord of the Rings, which I had not heard of before. I am fascinated by the idea of authors reading their own works and I was very pleased to find my library has a CD of the recordings. I have it on request at the moment.

              I don’t think I could write a proper review of The Hobbit story itself. It is the book I have read the most. I first read it when I was 12, and I remember that as soon as I finished it, I started reading it again. I’ve never been able to do that with any other book. Each reread of The Hobbit feels like I’m reading it for the first time. I suppose that’s why so many consider it a timeless children’s classic – it truly never gets old!

              The story never really felt like a children’s book…the boy who said it would be a good story for five to nine year olds? That seemed unrealistic to me, even when I was 12. I was an advanced reader and even then some aspects of the story went over my head. I wasn’t used to that type of story, and I also recognized that The Hobbit was a small part of something much greater. The casual, one time only references to names and places and events really through me. So, seeing the illustrations from various version of The Hobbit included in this edition forced me to remember that it is a children’s story, meant for children. It’s meant to be a good enjoyable tale, nothing too intense. The illustrations were just so blatantly…childish, I could hardly believe that they were considered appropriate representations of the story. But that’s because I hold such a larger vision of Middle-Earth in my mind, one influenced by the visual imagery of Peter Jackson’s films. Even so, The Hobbit still feels to me a very different story from The Lord of the Rings (as it is, duh). Now that The Hobbit film is finally becoming a reality, I thought more about how scenes would translate from the novel to the film. There are a lot of very intense battle scenes and creepy scenes and other such scenes that I think would feel far more ‘grown-up’, ‘mature’, ‘adult’ (can’t think of the right word…) on screen than they did in the book. I am unbelievably excited to see the movie, mind. I adore Martin Freeman, he will make a fantastic Bilbo, and I am extremely comfortable with Jackson’s view of Middle-earth and to see the tale come to life, gah, I can’t wait. I’ve never been this excited for a movie before, it’s like Harry Potter was to some people I suppose ;P.

              Even though I connect The Hobbit to a vast and ranging epic mythology in my mind, I think it’s one of my favourite books because I can still recognize it as an independent story on its own. It is a great tale with lots of adventure and interesting characters. Most importantly, the reason I can read it over so many times is that it doesn’t have any of the bittersweet sorrow that comes with virtually every other Tolkien tale. I don’t like watching The Fellowship of the Ring because it makes me sad to see how happy and peaceful the hobbits were and I don’t like watching The Return of the King because it makes me sad to see the elves leaving and Frodo leaving and the world being forever changed – this sounds silly and makes me sound like someone who just wants a happy little story (I don’t, I love a good tragic tale more than anything), but the feeling that always gets to me the most (the feeling that makes me cry so much at Doctor Who!) is the sense of things being left behind, being lost. That is the worst emotion for me to experience and when I feel it even just a little bit, it is so, so intense. The Lord of the Rings invokes that feeling often for me; The Hobbit has none of it. It is a relatively safe story for me. It is comforting, it is enjoyable to read, it is a relatively safe and small story set in the world I love without any of that painstaking lost feeling attached to it. Essentially, The Hobbit opens my imagination without breaking my heart.

              While I loved rereading The Hobbit (as I always do!), I regret that I wasn’t patient enough to wait for the second edition, which will probably be far more illuminating…I will probably update this post when I do read it.

              Helen Oyeyemi – Mr. Fox

                Author: Helen Oyeyemi
              Title: Mr. Fox
              Published: September 2011

              Publisher: Penguin
              Length: 324 pages
              Genre: Magical realism?
              Why I picked it up: Fan of the author
              Rating: 4 stars
              Challenges: TBR Double Dare
              Buy: IndieBound | Chapters | Check your local bookstore!

              Let’s pause here and take a moment to appreciate this book’s cover. (I didn’t mean to make the image so huge, but the smaller size is too small for proper appreciation.) I love the simple illustrations and the clean font and the sea green colour that does not show up very well on a computer screen. This is a lovely little book and I liked holding and reading it.
              One of my all-time favourite, five star books by Oyeyemi is White is for Witching. Mr. Fox is a very different story from Witching, but it invokes the same feelings in me. This feeling is sort of similar to the feeling I get when reading stories by Murakami – it’s the same basic idea but a different variety. This is getting very meta, so perhaps I should attempt to explain this feeling; however, as I said in my last book post, it is difficult to describe. It’s a feeling of getting so involved with a book nothing else exists. You are in the story, you are part of the story. It’s a calming sensation, a very peaceful one. The difference between how Murakami makes me feel and how Oyeyemi makes me feel is that Murakami’s characters draw me in, while Oyeyemi’s writing draws me in. Murakami’s prose has a lulling effect on me; I read it and absorb it and it holds my attention but it doesn’t dazzle me – his writing is there to convey the story and it does its job. Oyeyemi’s prose is the opposite. Perhaps her story or characters don’t engage me like Murakami’s do (I would like to stress that this is a personal feeling and not a comment on the technical ‘goodness’ of either author’s writing ability) but the words she uses and the way she says things catches me and keeps me glued to the book. This is why I am so pleased that the book, the physical object, is so visually appealing – it is appropriate for the words contained within. (I think that says a lot about why I prefer certain physical books over e-books. That emotional connection that you get from being able to touch the words, see the physical story, isn’t the same with digital text. Again, it’s a difficult feeling to describe [I am bad with feelings, evidently] but anyone who feels the same as I do will understand.) This is all very difficult for me to explain, to describe these feelings and their causes in the right way, but I think this is the best I can do.

              I marked a few of the stories and bits of writing that I liked the most. Luckily I own this book so I haven’t had to return it to the library… I’m not familiar with the tales surrounding Reynard (only found out he’s a character with a past when I read some interviews with Oyeyemi), but the story with Reynardine is one of my favourites. Just, the writing, really, that did it for me on that one. This quote appears in that story, and I marked it because it’s about writing.

              Brown worked for days. She didn’t know how many days – afterwards she would only ever be able to recall that time as a pause between two breaths she took. In between she ran through the twelve fountain pens. More appeared. She ran through blocks of paper, and more was provided. Occasionally she would feel a hand, a hand that was not her own, passing over her hair, as if blessing her. the words didn’t come easily. She put large spaces betweeen some of them for fear they would attack one another.

              Other stories I liked best: the one about Charlie Wulf and Charles Wolfe, the bit when Daphne talks to Mary for the first time – here’s a quote from that segment:

              I had to get out of his study, go get the Lysol, do something, before I started kicking his things round again. That was no way to win him over. I could see him adding to Mary’s side of the list in his cheery handwriting, all apples and vowels: She doesn’t trash my study. I stood up. And then I sat down again, staring at the floor. I stood up and sat down, stood up and sat down. There was something on the floor. A shadow that stood while I sat. Long and slanted and blacker than I knew black could be. It crept, too. Towards me. “Oh, my god.” I held my hands out. “No!”

              Another quote I particularly liked:

              We had nightmares that night, all three of us – my mother, my daughter, and I. My mother hadn’t even heard the story, so I don’t know why she joined in. But somehow it was nice that she did.

              I liked seeing Mary develop, seeing S.J. and Daphne realize she’s not quite that nice. I liked how the stories were about S.J. and Mary and Daphne and were so different, but they built on everything. Gah. I’m not being very articulate lately. I liked the fox theme, it kept things fresh and interesting. But really, most of all, I liked the writing. It is possible that I would have enjoyed this story more with better knowledge of Bluebeard stories and other fairy tales, but that knowledge is not wholly necessary to read this lovely book.