T.A. Shippey – J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century

  Author: T.A. Shippey
Title: J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century
Date read: 10 November to 25 November
Published: 2000
Publisher: HarperCollins
Length: 347 pages
Genre: Non-fiction
Why I picked it up: Interested in Tolkien
Rating: 4 stars
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I set this post up to be a ‘full’ blog post, but I really don’t have too much to say on this book! I did enjoy it;  I found much of the book to have a fresh perspective, particularly as I haven’t read too much analysis of Tolkien’s work (primarily just The History of the Hobbit). For example, the passage about Baggins as bourgeois and the comparison between that word and burglar, and the description of the ‘modern business’ aspects of Bilbo and the dwarves’ deal, provided a perspective on those aspects of the stories I never really considered before. I also enjoyed the afterwards of the book, in which Shippey considers Tolkien’s imitators but also considers what they don’t imitate, such as language-building and the interlacing storylines. it’s easy to pick out what gets most often imitated (such as races) but I had never thought about imitators in terms of what they don’t imitate, and I think that’s a great thing to think about because it goes to show just how unique and skilled Tolkien was.

I did find the segment ‘The Ironies of Interlace’ about LotR very interesting. Because I had seen the movies before the books, I was familiar with the general plot and wasn’t too surprised my any of the major events while reading the books. However, Shippey examines how the different threads of the story are carefully interlaced and presented to the reader, so that, for example, the reader does not know if Frodo and Sam are alright when reading about Aragorn and co. approaching Mordor. There are even more subtle examples of this careful intertwining, where the characters do not know something but the reader does or one timeline is five days behind another timeline. I’m not doing a very good job at describing this, but Shippey does a great job at explaining this and how there is likely no author today who could pull off such grand scheming. I thought it interesting to consider – what would it have been like to read the books and not know how the plot went? It’s unfortunate that I missed that opportunity, but they still make for a great read! 😛

All in all, a good little read, especially for someone like me, who has enjoyed Tolkien’s works and wants to learn more.

George Orwell – Down and Out In Paris and London

  Author: George Orwell
Title: Down and Out In Paris and London
Date read: 30 October to 6 November
Published: January 1933
Publisher: Martin Secker & Warburg Limited
Length: 213 pages
Genre: Fiction/semi-autobiography/social commentary
Why I picked it up: Interested in Orwell’s writings
Rating: 4 stars
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Brace yourself for an ineloquent post…a lot of ‘I liked this book.’ XP

I really enjoyed reading this book. Even from my own ‘objective’ viewpoint, it’s probably not a 4 star book (maybe 3 or 3.5 ;P) but my reading experience was good enough for 4 stars. The book was rather humourous. There were no traces of self-pity or suggestions that people should be charitable, etc. – quite the opposite, in fact. I’m not too sure how to describe it…he writes like it’s just a matter-of-fact that he’s ended up in this position and so he has to go about things in a certain way. There isn’t really any blame placed anywhere, not on himself or on the government, for example. I liked the inclusion of sort-of ‘mini essays’, where Orwell describes his own ideas on what should be done to deal with the problem of poverty as seen and experienced by him. For example, around page 116, his descriptions and opinnion on the life of a plongeur, and one why remains in that life. I just really like his style, I don’t know…it’s so easy to read and flows nicely but it isn’t too simple or dull or overflowery or anything. I feel like it’s just-right porridge 😛

I marked a couple of passages that I liked…his early description of poverty told in the second person”

You go to the baker’s to buy a pound of bread, and you wait while the girl cuts a pound for another customer. She is clumsy, and cuts more than apound. “Pardon, monsieur,” she says, ‘I suppose you don’t mind paying two sous extra?” Bread is a franc a pound, and you have exactly a franc. When you think that you too might be asked to pay two sous extra, and would have to confess that you could not, you bolt in panic. It is hours before you dare venture into a baker’s shop again.

His description of relief, an interesting notion for someone who has never experienced such a thing:

And there is another feeling tha tis a great consolation in poverty. I believe everyone who has been hard up has experienced it. It is a feeling of relief, almost of pleasure, at knowing yourself at last genuinely down and out. You have talked so often of going to the dogs – and well, here are the dogs, and you have reached them, and you can stand it. It takes off a lot of anxiety.

I read a fairly old edition of this book, published in 1966 (it’s from the library; it has stamps in it from January 1969!). There’s a passage where Orwell writes on swear words commonly used at the time, and what’s appropriate and not and how they’ve changed over the years. A lot of the words, however, are blanked out! So there is a whole paragraph where he’s discussing how one word is still appropriate but may become inappropriate in the future, but the word is blanked out so I have no idea what it is. Interestingly, bastard was not blanked out. I keep saying ‘blanked out’ because I’m really not too certain as to why this would be the case – I’m thinking censorship perhaps? But I really don’t know too much about this. 

Kat Rosenthal – Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone

  Author: Kat Rosenthal
Title: Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone
Date read: 22 October to 27 October
Published: July 2012
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Length: 279 pages
Genre: Mystery?Horror?Creepy…/young adult
Why I picked it up: Can’t really remember – something to do with Julie Strauss-Gabel’s connection to this book
Rating: 4 stars
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This book. Oh boy. I don’t really have too much to say on this one because I was totally absorbed while reading it. I wasn’t thinking about it critically at all. I’ve never read a book that grabbed me because it was so creepy and horrifying that I just couldn’t stop reading it. I never read books like that – this is the first one. The creepy and horrifying I usually like to read is more Gothic, more subtle, less real life. This book made me feel like how I do after a particularly gruesome episode of Criminal Minds – gross and uncomfortable and really disturbed. This probably has to do with the fact that I could really identify with Becca and it wasn’t just the deaths and activities surrounding them that got to me, it was that I could see and feel her losing some part of her sanity.

Before I got totally involved with the story, I did note that some of the writing seemed awkward and stiff – primarily the scenes that were supposed to convey how much a boyfriend and girlfriend like each other. They just seemed unnatural and over-the-top and a little sugary, making me want to gag. Amelia felt really unnatural for some reason, for the first parts of her story…maybe because I was subconsciously comparing her to Alaska. However, this is not the kind of book where those mushy scenes crop up a lot…it was mostly near the beginning and eventually as the story settled into itself I didn’t notice any more awkwardness (not to say that there wasn’t any – it’s probably because I was so drawn in by the story).

I loved the interspersed scenes sharing other perspectives, I thought they were really well-written. Especially the passages that elaborate on the connections of a small town, such as when the town’s only other murder is described. Very eerie.

So that’s my two cents…this book was very different from anything I’ve read before, which is something I rarely get to say! Check it out..

Lemony Snicket – Who Could That Be at This Hour?

  Author: Lemony Snicket

Title: Who Could That Be At This Hour?
Series: All the Wrong Questions
Date read: 23 October to 24 October
Published: October 2012
Publisher: Little, Brown
Length: 261 pages
Genre: Noir/children’s literature
Why I picked it up: Fan of the author
Rating: 3 stars
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I spent my summer preparing for the release of this book by rereading A Series of Unfortunate Events. I know Handler said the two wouldn’t correlate but that there would be some overlap for readers who like that sort of thing. As I reread ASOUE, I just knew there would have to be more overlap than I initially thought – Snicket’s involvement with the Baudelaires and V.F.D. was just too great to be ignored in this biography of his childhood. Somewhat unfortunately, rereading ASOUE was a more enjoyable experience than reading this book.

I think I overhyped the connection between the two series to myself. When I read the novel all I was looking for was overlap, not really paying attention to how the story stood on its own. Even so, the overlap was all I took away from this book. The story was pretty blah blah and the characters were many but none really intriguing for me (though they obviously were meant to be). I did like reading from young Snicket’s perspectives – so different from the man he grew up to be! I loved, of course, ‘a word which here means’ and I was tickled at the end of the book to realize that Hector was that Hector. Compared to ASOUE, though, this book really fell short. It just didn’t have any of the charm or emotion of the other Snicket books.

An aside: The book itself is really beautiful and solid and a lovely object to hold – as you would expect from Seth! (Fortunately I just studied one of Seth’s books in my Canadian comic books courses so I knew who he was when I picked this up ;P). I like the placement of components and the gold foil and the spine and the colours and the noir style. 

Catherynne M. Valente – The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There

  Author: Catherynne M. Valente

Title: The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There
Date read: 9 October to 13 October
Published: October 2012
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Length: 272 pages
Genre: Fantasy, fairy tale
Why I picked it up: Fan of the series
Rating: 3 stars
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When I was about 75 pages into this book, I gave it a four star rating on Goodreads. I rarely rate books before I read them in their entirety – I have to be 90% certain that an early rating will be the final rating. I gave this book four stars because I was 90% certain that very soon A-Through-L and Saturday and maybe even the Green Wind would show up and really bring the story to life. When I reached the end of the book and they had shown up only for a celebration in the final pages, felt like the story was no longer deserving of four stars. I was so looking forward to spending time with these delightful characters and that did not happen. A lot of new characters were introduced, but I would only place Aubergine in the same group as Ell and Saturday, and even then she just doesn’t have the same presence. I can understand that the author might have wanted to shake things up a bit, have some fresh new characters, but the Wyvern and the Marid were a major part of why I loved the first book, so I felt greatly letdown when they were not featured again.

That being said, a lot of things I loved about this first book were still present in this one – little creative tidbits, colourful prose, ties into the real world, the narrator, an interlude. I liked how it connected with the first book (Oh, the dear Marquess!)  and how it continued to set up the next book for the missing fairies. However, the narrator’s distinct presence and the interlude with the crows were not nearly as strong as in the first book, so I found that a little disappointing as well.

Overall, this book is a good fun read and I would recommend it. I’m giving it three stars in comparison with the first book – I think it would be difficult to follow up the first book with another one just as good, so I’m not too disappointed. Read this book, just don’t expect as delightful and charming read as the first book.