China Mieville – The Scar

 Author: China Mieville
Title: The Scar
Date read: 4 January to 12 January
Published: 2002
Publisher: Del Rey
Length: 638 pages
Genre: Steampunk/pirate
Why I picked it up: Liked the ‘first’ book
Rating: 4 stars
Buy:  IndieBound Chapters | Check your local bookstore!

This is the second novel written by Mievill set in the world of Bas-Leg, though it is not a sequel (though are minor references to the events of Perdido Street Station, which I read previously.) Despite the disconnect between the two novels, I have lots of thoughts in connection to Perdido. Just little things I can’t help but compare naturally… I wonder if the Ribs that I adored so much in that novel might be ribs from an avanc? I like to imagine so (although i suspect those ribs are smaller!). Again I noticed the word pusillanimous‘ Really, how many people just throw that word out in every day conversation? This time I also noticed weird and in-bred (re: animals of Armada) used quite a few times. Probably the main difference between the reading experience of Perdido Street Station and The Scar was that I didn’t have any emotional reaction to The Scar. I wasn’t expecting to, so…okay. That being said!…

There were some really fantastic scenes where I felt that drop in my stomach, I gripped the book a little tighter, and I chewed my lip in anxious anticipation. I was absolutely taken with the idea of an avanc. Mieville gives you just enough a taste of the creature to be totally fascinated. The two scenes that really got to me were when they raised the avanc and when they went down to it + what happened after.

Just noticed I’ve been writing this post backwards from how I normally would…here are some general thoughts on the book. The beginning was primarily slow build, the story doesn’t really get going until about 200 pages in. This early segment contains a lot of setting up characters and setting for the story that’s about to come, you really get this sense of ‘Okay, that’s who this person is…how they are going to mess with things later on?’. There are a good number of characters, probably slightly more than I’m used to (says the Tolkien fan…..). I wasn’t paying as much attention as I should have when they were all being introduced so I had a little trouble later on keeping track but Mieville individualizes them well. that being said, I feel that the strongest character (as was the case with Perdido) is the city. I don’t want to say too much about Armada, because that’s the best part of reading the book (in my humble opinion). Suffice to say Mieville knows how to craft a setting.

Humphrey Carpenter – The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien

  Editor: Humphrey Carpenter
Title: The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Date read: 30 December to 3 January
Published: 2000
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Length: 502 pages
Genre: Non-fiction
Why I picked it up: Fan of Tolkien’s
Rating: 5 stars
Buy:  IndieBound Chapters | Check your local bookstore!

I thought I would breeze through this book and finish it in two days maximum. Not because it would be an ‘easy’ read, but because I had lots of time to read and I am highly interested in the subject matter. Not so! While the book only contains around 430 reading pages (additional pages of notes and index), the letters are so dense and filled with so much that it took me much longer to read. This is not at all a complaint; I was absolutely delighted to have so much to sink my teeth into.

I don’t read books about Tolkien to think ‘Oh, so that’s why he wrote it like this!’ I agree with him (in this instance, at least) that an author’s life should not be examined with intention of gaining insight with regards to authorial intent (have I phrased this sentence correctly?). I simply find him a fascinating person, for having created such a detailed and vast mythology. It really does delight me to read about someone so seemingly normal and yet so extraordinary. To be able to read hundreds of his letters, to read his thoughts, is a treat in itself. I would have read them even if they had been more dull! But this collection is not at all boring, it is a treasure trove. The letters cover so many topics, from troubles with translators, family matters, C.S. Lewis, religious debate, and of course, much on The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and Middle-Earth lore in general.

I didn’t make any notes while reading this, I was wholly absorbed in letting Tolkien’s words wash over me. Note taking will come on the reread! But there are a few letters that still stuck in my memory, such as an unsent response (Tolkien sent two versions to his publisher to forward; they did not use the one that appears in the book) to a publisher looking to do a German translation of The Hobbit inquiring if Tolkien is Aryan. He writes a clever and pointed response, not confessing any Aryan lineage and refusing publication. Of course, the lengthy letter he wrote to another publisher who expressed interest in publishing LotR and The Silmarillion, was fascinating. I also especially enjoyed the letters he wrote to enquiring fans – I doubt there any authors today who would put so much thought into their responses (let alone have that much information to impart about their imaginary worlds). These letters are chockful of highly valuable information to any fan of Middle-Earth  I do have to add a caveat – I’ve not yet read any of Tolkien’s writings besides The LotR and The Hobbit, so I can’t say how much of this information is exclusive but to read Tolkien’s own words feels very special indeed.

So this post consists mostly of me gushing…I might be a bit of a fangirl. But really, needless to say, this tome is a highly valuable read for anyone interested in Tolkien or his works.

Wrapping Up 2012, Looking Forward 2013

Here it is, the last post for today, I promise! 😉 I have greatly neglected blogging the past few months and let the posts pile up, leading to this deluge of five on the final day of the year. I’m pleased to have made it to 50 posts, though. I hate to see how my blogging habits always wane at the beginning of summer and never quite get back into shape. But before I talk about goals for next year, let me review 2012.

Once again I attempted to tackle the 100 book challenge. I fared much better this year than last, reaching a total of 90.5 books – 14.5 more than in 2011! (I’m desperately trying to finish The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien tonight but that’s not going to happen.) I likely could have reached 100 but I tend to slack off early in the summer…bad Reno. Regardless, I achieved my goal of reading more books in 2012 than in 2011. I didn’t take on challenges in the way I did in 2011, but here is a recap of the two official and one personal challenges that I worked at:

  • 2012 TBR Pile Challenge – The first challenge I have participated in twice, I did marginally better this year than last, finishing 9 of 12 books. I started Collapse in February, got 100 pages in, and somehow never found the time to finish…I had difficulty finding  Walden at the library, though I did have The Once and Future King signed out for five months – just never got in the right mood for it, I suppose! I enjoyed most of the books I read for this challenge, but I don’t think I would consider any among my favourites.
  • The TBR Double Dare – This challenge was to read books only from your TBR list in the first three months of the year. That I succeeded at – lots of my books on my list! Many of the books read also turned out to be great reads or even favourites, such as In the Night Garden and Perdido Street Station. I read 16 books (of a goal of 20) and dropped three.
  • Tolkien Challenge – Lastly, a personal challenge to read a number of books by or about Tolkien! My goal was to read the first eight books on the list and I succeeded. Every book for that one was a enjoyable read. The History of the Hobbit is incredible! For the first time, I read The Lord of the Rings in its entirety, an amazing experience that I found quite impossible to describe. I plan to make reading LotR an annual event – I am looking forward to beginning again tomorrow. 🙂

In the upcoming year, I will once again be reducing the number of challenges I will undertake, this time to zero (setting aside my Tolkien ‘challenge’). Something I’ve been struggling with is focusing too much on quantifying my reading…reading is an experience that cannot and should be quantified. For most people I suspect this is not so much an issue, but when I start quanitfying I get very carried away and cannot stop, getting into a minset of ‘Ahhh I must read this book for this so I have to read all these pages today!’ and focusing only getting through pages instead of enjoying a book. I always enjoy reading, but sometimes I feel I make it more about the page count than about the experience. So this year, I will still have a few goals, but ones that are more about creating content and enjoying experiences. These goals are:

    • 75 posts
    • 75 books
    • Write daily (see my earlier writing post from today)
    • Sidenote: meditation and no library fines (did well for the first half of the year…)

    I know I am terrible at falling apart after about three or four months with these sort of goals…we’ll see how they go! I’m going to exercise my willpower more this year, I think. Happy New Year, all! 🙂

    Eowyn Ivey – The Snow Child

      Author: Eowyn Ivey
    Title: The Snow Child
    Date read: 26 December to 29 December
    Published: February 2012
    Publisher: Back Bay Books
    Length: 212 pages
    Genre: Historical fiction/fantasy?
    Why I picked it up: Sounded intriguing, pretty cover
    Rating: 4 stars
    Buy:  IndieBound Chapters | Check your local bookstore!

    My notes for this book are primarily chronological, documenting my thoughts on aspects of the story as they emerge. SPOILERS AHEAD!

    Well. Not many books can pull off opening with a suicide attempt! I have read very little that deals with suicide, and usually it is in a much modern sense – related to problems of bullying, society, etc. I found the sequence extremely well-written, realistic and believable. An impressive start to a solid story.

    I found the balancing act between is Faina a real girl or not, and what Mabel and Jack believe about her, incredible. At first I fully believed she was something they created but evidence against and for continually emerges throughout the tale. Usually I find I’m able to deduce what’s true, or I end up frustrated at the author’s ambivalence, but I found Ivey kept the balance well and didn’t force one side or the other. You truly cannot tell. Even Mabel and Jack seem to alternate in what they believe about the girl. The balancing act is subtle and believable and not at all frustrating.

    I had to laugh at how easily I was misled by Garett. I had one question before the story even started – Who will cause Faina’s downfall?’ and it became pretty obvious it would be Garrett. But not for the reason I thought! I thought after he killed her fox, that would be the start of trouble. But I quickly realized (I even said a loud ‘OH I’m an idiot!’ as I realized that the two were going to fall in love.

    The characters and story develop slowly but deliberately and at one point I suddenly found myself caring deeply for the characters (oh poor dear Mabel), who had suddenly become so strong and defined in my mind, and I had this wavering shaky feeling because you just know the story isn’t going to have a perfect happy ending.

    I’m thinking now that the best way to describe this tale is understated, perhaps. Everything is just so well-written, so carefully constructed, nothing is too blatant or over the top or demanding, or even /too/ subtle – everything seems to be written just so, for a beautifully developed story.

    As someone who went through Canadian elementary school, I appreciated and laughed at the reference to ‘The Cremation of Sam McGee’ (page 139) 😛 What a creepy little poem that we studied in grade five!

    Unfortunately, I did find the ending disappointing. I was expecting more emotional upset – why didn’t we see a reaction from Garrett? Because the story isn’t about him, I suppose. But I had become invested in these characters and I was braced for tragedy at the end, and then tragedy came but there wasn’t much to it and I didn’t feel bad for the characters. Perhaps this is a character fault of my own rather than the author’s? Something to contemplate…overall I though the story was great, a lovely winter read, but the ending relatively weak.

    ‘Year Long’ Books

    There are two books I have spent a good portion of the year reading, at a daily pace. The Intellectual Devotional I have read a page a day since January 1st, whereas I started The History of the Hobbit in May, took a lengthy break and then took up a daily schedule in September in order to finish it by the end of the year without reading too much at once and becoming over-whelmed in knowledge.

    • The History of the Hobbit by John D. Rateliff
      • Date read: 6 May to 30 December
      • Published: 2011
      • Genre: Non-fiction
      • Why I picked it up: Great fan of The Hobbit
      • Rating: 5 stars
      • My Thoughts:
        • Oh my god. What an incredible book. The amount of work that must have gone into this enormous volume is staggering. There is just so much information packed into this book, on every single topic you could want to know more about and many more you might never have considered (such as what kind of thrush Bilbo would have encountered at Erebor). 
        • At a few times I felt the book was a bit heavy on aspects such as related story inspirations or historical information, but really, if you’re not interested in such things they are easily skimmed. Even more rarely, the book strayed more into Tolkien’s mythology than seems related to The Hobbit (for example, a lengthy passage on Thingol) but these segments of course will be enjoyed by strong Tolkien fans and again, easily skimmed over by those only interested in The Hobbit
    • The Intellectual Devotional by David S. Kidder and Noah Oppenheimer
      • Date read: 1 January to 30 December
      • Published: 2006
      • Genre: Non-fiction
      • Why I picked it up: Sounded like fun
      • Rating: 3 stars
      • My Thoughts:
        • I bought this books years ago, tried once or twice to read it as a devotional but always lost interest after a few months. This year I finally made it through on the daily schedule! I kept the book in the bathroom (out of the way of water’s harm!) and I found it to be good morning bathroom reading. ;P
        • Does what it says. Little snippets providing the basics on a range of topics. I Don’t expect fantastic knowledge from this book (I did feel at times that significant points were missing or that the authors focused on things not that important) but really, for an ‘intellectual devotional’ it’s a fun little read.