Sunday, February 10, 2013

On finishing LOTR and picking up Jeeves

Last week, I finally finished Lord of the Rings--the entire six books. My life intervened while reading, so the last few books took me longer than I had hoped, especially since I was quite involved in the story by then and wanted to be able to bury my nose in the book until I was finished. Even with all the hecticness going on, I was able to complete it. Now that I've finished, I can safely say that I am a fan of The Lord of the Rings.

One of the many aspects of the book that I appreciate is the ending. Some books wrap up the ending far too quickly for me--just when the climax of the book hits, the ending smacks you in the face, and I'm left with this awful of being ripped off. Like something else should or could have happened, but I'll never know if it did or not. Books like that leave me feeling unsettled. And while a little unsettledness might be good if the author can pull it off well, many authors don't. So I rather appreciated that when the moment comes that the ring is destroyed (the ultimate climax), there were still something like 100 pages left of the story, which gave Tolkien plenty of time to take me from the climax to a more settled ending. I appreciate that he recognized that far too much was going on in the story to simply wrap it up in a few pages.

Another of the many aspects I enjoyed is the play with languages. I love invented languages, and the book had plenty of them mentioned and demonstrated to keep my heart happy. The entire storyline, in fact, was borne out of Tolkien's invented languages--he invented the languages and worked on the back story to go with them. If any of you have invented a language, you will know just how involved you need to be with the speakers of the language to figure out how words are formed and what words are needed; if you haven't done that particular task, then you might be surprised how much culture and context and history and politics play into inventing a language. One of the entire reasons I decided I needed to read LOTR in the first place was Tolkien's languages. And so I am happy to report that I was not let down. Now I just need to reconsider The Hobbit and decide if I should go back and give that book another go.

After I finished LOTR, I went back to my shelves and still wanted to read another of the long books awaiting my perusal. If you recall from a past post, I had chosen LOTR out of a trio of long books, including Pillars of the Earth and Just Enough Jeeves. Since LOTR was epic (and I can safely use that word here without meaning the overused EPIC applied to everything these days), I needed something a little more light-hearted. So I chose Just Enough Jeeves, a collection of three Jeeves novels by P.G. Wodehouse.

I've just finished the first novel in the collection, Joy in the Morning, and I'm in love. Wodehouse was a brilliant man who played with the English language to perfection. There are such subtle turns of phrases that I have to go back and re-read passages just to get all the fun out of them and marvel at Wodehouse's genius (while at other times the turns of phrases are not subtle at all and leave me giggling to myself). I also will admit that I had no idea until about a year ago that the AskJeeves website was actually based off a literary character--the very same Jeeves in Wodehouse's books. Jeeves is a butler who is a great source of knowledge and helps the other characters get out of scrapes. As such, the oft-repeated phrase "ask Jeeves" plays a prominent role in the books.

My first interaction with Wodehouse was reading his short story "The Romance of an Ugly Policeman" (which you can find for free online!); that was nearly six years ago, and since then, I've kept saying that I need to read more of his works because I enjoyed the short story so much. It really makes me happy, then, to know that his novels are of the same quality, and I look forward to finishing the other two novels in the collection.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

When books are more than just books

As I continue reading Lord of the Rings, I am getting further and further drawn into Middle Earth. My love for Sam Gamgee is growing very quickly, and I got chills while reading the stories told in the Counsel at Rivendell. Seriously--chills. I could think that I shouldn't have put off reading the book for so long, but on the other hand, I wonder if I needed to be where I am now to enjoy it as much as I am. It's been long enough since I've seen the movies that nothing from them is fresh in my mind (besides remembering Orlando Bloom as Legolas...), so I feel untainted as I read. I just came off reading another fantasy book that set me up for reading about lands unfamiliar to anyone but fans of the books, which prepped my brain for reading a lot of names of places that only exist on a hand-drawn map in an appendix. It also helped, I think, that I was ready to read a book that went into more detail about the fantastic journeys of the main character--if you remember from my last post, I mentioned that as one of the few things I didn't enjoy about A Wizard of Earthsea. I wanted more details from it, and Lord of the Rings gives me more detail about its story and characters. A lot more detail. So my brain and my book soul are happy.

It amazes me that we all have those books that we have to read at just the right time to really get the full impact of them. I have several books that sat on my shelves after buying them for a long time (or that sat on my books-to-read list for a long time), only to get picked up at just the right moment for me to enjoy them most. Books included in that category are Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier), The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake (Aimee Bender), Garden Spells (Sarah Addison Allen), Lake of Dead Languages (Carol Goodman), The House at Riverton (Kate Morton), The Secret History (Donna Tartt), Water for Elephants (Sara Gruen), The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows), Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen), and The Inner Game of Stress (W. Timothy Gallwey)--among other great books. These--and others like them--are then the ones that I often talk about most and share most freely with friends. And yet they're often the ones that take me the longest to pick up.

I think that avid readers--or maybe it's just me--have a sort of book ESP. We know when we pick up a book or choose one from the store that it's going to change the game for us. Maybe the book is going to make us look at life differently or at other books differently. Maybe the book is that comforting friend we may need in a time of craziness. Maybe that book will serve as our private moment of escape when we need it most. Because of that special little bit of knowledge that largely remains unconscious, we avoid picking up the book until the right moment--whether it's a week or three years down the road. Then, when we do read it, it becomes a part of us. I can't look at some of the books on my shelves without being taken immediately to the feelings I had when first reading the book. I can't part with most of my books (even though books are heavy to move, and we seem to move a lot) because, to me, they are more than just books.

I also acknowledge here that I don't get that feeling about all books that end up becoming very special to me and were, in fact, impulse purchases that I read immediately after buying. The Help (Katheryn Stockett) and The Thirteenth Tale (Diane Setterfield) are examples of books like that. However, maybe that impulse is the same as the impulse I get to read a book I already own--maybe it's all connected.

I think people who read for the love of reading have a very special connection that non-readers just can't understand. That's why my husband can't figure out why I get miffed when I'm interrupted mid-chapter in a book that I've been buried in all day. That's why people don't always understand how hard it is for me to put down a book in the morning to start working on things that actually have to get done. Books feed my soul. And the really good books--the ones that touch me most--become a part of me. The characters cease to be words on pages and become role models, friends, stories of my own past.

That's some deep thought for a Wednesday morning... It's also completely different than what I had intended to write when I sat down to type a post. Funny how those things work.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Tackling a Doozy: LOTR

Yesterday I finished reading Ursula K. Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea. In truth, I've had the book for some time but didn't get the inspiration to actually sit down and read it until I watched the movie The Jane Austen Book Club. In the movie, one of the characters mentions several times that one of his favorite authors is Le Guin, which made me think, "I should really read that book and find out what all this fuss is about." You see, that wasn't the first time someone had told me (yes, I realize the movie wasn't directly speaking to me) to read her books--which is why I had A Wizard of Earthsea on my shelf in the first place. I needed a break from heavy reading and thought a 200-page fantasy novel just might hit the spot.

And, for the most part, it did. I was frustrated at times because I wanted more from the story, but I realize that I may need to read the rest of the series to get that something more that I wanted. There were details mentioned but never connected, and--here you can really tell I'm a linguist--none of the names (of people or places) sounded truly authentic. The book mentions that the main character speaks Hardic while others speak other languages; yet, on the maps, the islands have names like "The Hands." I know, I know--it's meant for younger readers, and I'm most likely one of the few to get bothered by so much English throughout the book. However, I did like the depth of intent for the story. For how much is packed into such a small book, the story itself has a lot of character. So, in the end, I enjoyed the book. I'm not sure I enjoyed it enough to go out and buy the next one, but I may check my local library for them...

Once I finished reading A Wizard of Earthsea, I sat in front of my bookshelf for a while, trying to decide what to read next. Some people may remember that I went on a kick a while back to read all my unread books. I had one of those moments when I realized just how many books I owned that I had yet to crack the cover. I'm nearing the end of my reading quest, and I'm down to only 20 books that I haven't read, but some of them are doozies (in the sense that they are pretty darn long and will take some time to finish). So as I sat there, I decided that I should start tackling the doozies to make the rest of my reading quest look easy. The three biggest books swam before my eyes: Pillars of the Earth, Just Enough Jeeves (a collection of Jeeves novels by Wodehouse), and Lord of the Rings. Since I had just finished a fantasy book, I decided I'd tackle Lord of the Rings first (the entire collection--all 1100 pages of it).

I picked it up with trepidation. I tried to read The Hobbit some time ago and stopped about 100 pages in, uninterested in finishing it. I watched all three Lord of the Rings movies but didn't leave feeling like I had witnessed something amazing (just something cool). I figure the movies problem is that I didn't read the books first and missed out on a lot of character development and such (which is why I tell people never to watch the Harry Potter movies unless they've first read the books). My biggest worry was my lack of success with The Hobbit. That in and of itself is pretty funny because I bought the Lord of the Rings long after failing with The Hobbit. You may wonder why I'd do such a thing, and my reason is simple: I teach an invented languages course, and two years ago when I was planning out lectures for my course, I thought I'd need to read Lord of the Rings to speak credibly about the Elvish languages. It may seem silly, but it also seemed very important to me at the time. Once I got the book, though, I had a lot of things going on and put the book by my desk, promptly forgetting to read it. Now, two years later, I'm teaching the invented languages course again: perfect timing to pick the book up again.

I decided I wouldn't pressure myself and would even start reading another book while reading a chapter at at time from Lord of the Rings, if need be. But here's the surprising part: I'm over 100 pages into the book (so roughly 10% finished) and loving it. I haven't bothered picking out a "back-up" book because I'm enjoying LOTR so much. I realize that hundreds of thousands (millions even?) of readers who have read the books before me are probably saying, "Yeah, we know!" For me, though, it's a pretty big deal that I'm liking the book so much. I can't decide if it's that I just needed to give it a chance or if I'm at a place in my life where I can better appreciate the story.

I suppose it just goes to show that books you've purchased are ones that you should at least try to read.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

...and I'm back

I left my space here to go in pursuit of something else... Something that never quite took hold with me. I originally started this blog because I love all things books and had joy in them that I wanted to share with others (hence, the blog name, which is literally 'joy of reading'). But something sidetracked that joy after I actually started blogging. Maybe I saw other people's success as book bloggers and thought that immediately I needed to be the same. Maybe I read one too many books about the art of blogging and building a following that I thought I needed to blog on a regular schedule with a regular type of post for followers to amass and come to me like little book disciples. Maybe I put too much emphasis on how blogging could be a job--when I already have a job and really don't need another. And maybe I lost sight of my original intention. I let blogging become a thing of "I have to" and not a thing of "I want to."

And so I humbly return. Over the next weeks (or perhaps even months if time is scarce), I will work on reshaping this blog to become what I had hoped it would be in the beginning: a place where I can share books I love and a place where maybe--just maybe--others might be inspired to share the books they love, too.

Thank you to any followers who are still around to see this post. I appreciate the time you take to read my posts, and I especially appreciate the love many of you have sent through comments and/or emails.

I'm back with new hopes, new goals, and a renewed love for all things books.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Changing things up

I took a break from blogging. A long one. I got so into the world of blogging that I started a blog for every interest I had, only to discover that I had far too many interests and not enough of me to dedicate to writing blog posts. That's not even mentioning the inner drive I have to make every blog post mean *something*.

I recently saw someone on Twitter mention Tumblr. Before that, I had heard people make vague references to Tumblr, but I had no idea what it was beyond another social networking tool. I visited the site and found that it might just fill the gap I need: a blog made for posting real posts alongside smaller chunks of information like quotations and photos. I signed up. And I decided to use my new Tumblr account to put all my interests into one space. I kept the joiedelire name (because I've grown fond of it and it matches my Twitter account), but it will expand to include much more than reading and books. It will be more representative of me and my sporadic nature.

And so, for now, I'm bidding adieu to blogging in this context. This blog will remain open and public for anyone who'd like to read my past posts, but any new information will be posted on my new site:

I may return sometime to this blog because it is near and dear to my heart. In the meantime, I'm still around. Just in another place and space and with slightly different intentions.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Childhood Challenge: ON THE BANKS OF PLUM CREEK

I can't believe this is my last installment for my 2010 Childhood Challenge. I rather enjoyed my year of re-reading my childhood favorites and have a couple in mind for future re-readings when I get some free time. For the 12th and final book of my challenge, I chose to read On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder, which is the fourth book in the Little House on the Prairie series.

From my memory
The most salient memory I have of any of the Little House on the Prairie books is reading them out loud with my mom and sister. We took turns reading chapters out loud in the evenings, and we read through the entire series that way. We also watched the TV series, which helped to make the entire Little House on the Prairie franchise hold a special place in my heart. However, I couldn't specifically remember any one book, so when I went to pick out one at the bookstore for my re-reading adventure, I relied on a friend who was with me to recommend her favorite book from the series. When she told me about some of the plot line, I was surprised at how little I remembered of the details from any of the books, so I was quite excited to break into this book this month.

After re-reading
When I started reading the book, I was a bit disappointed--the writing style is simple (and can be redundant) and meant for much younger readers than I had remembered (as in, the book read more like a chapter book for beginning readers). Once I got over the choppiness of the writing style, though, I realized why the books are so beloved: They lovingly recreate a time in history that is foreign to most modern readers. Laura Ingalls Wilder pays great attention to detail, describing exactly what the stove looks like that Pa bought for Ma, how the walls in the house drip when the summer weather gets too hot in the summer, how the incredible shifts in weather affected their daily lives--in essence, she provides a picture of daily life in a time long gone.

When Laura goes to school for the first time in her life (at the age of 8), she and Mary (who was 9) walked by themselves to town--a 2.5-mile walk. They had never been to town before and so followed their Pa's oral directions on how to get to the school house. They didn't wear their shoes because their shoes had to stay in good condition for snowy and icy weather. It amazes me that just over a hundred years ago, two kids were sent off by themselves to walk barefoot on a 2.5-mile journey that they had never been on before. But that was normal for them. It is books like these that remind us how drastically our country has changed.

As I read, I began thinking of discussion questions that I would want to go over with kids if I were reading the book with younger readers. Things like, "How did they cook their food before Pa bought Ma their stove?" or "How do you think you'd make a broom if you couldn't buy one?" or "What games would you play if you couldn't turn on any lights as it gets darker inside?" And there were times that Laura Ingalls Wilder describes things that happen without telling why they did; for example, she describes giant fireballs coming out of their stove during a huge blizzard but doesn't say why that happened. That would be an interesting start to a lesson on science spurred by literature.

I now want to go back and read all the other books in the series--to walk down memory lane and to better appreciate what I have in my daily life to make living easier.

Do you have any fond memories of the Little House on the Prairie books?

I hope you all have an amazing evening as we ring in a new year, and I hope your new year brings you a year of reading great books. Happy reading!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

NaNoReaMo 2010: Recap

At the end of November, I was proud to say that I had made it through my goal of reading 10 books throughout the month. Near the end of the month, I cheated a bit from my original guidelines by reading books that were not on my Kindle and by reading a book that wasn't even on my Unread Book Challenge list. But I'm okay with that--I still had a blast reading book after book, and I'm glad I did the challenge while I could. Now that it's the end of the semester, I know I'll be swamped with reading students' work rather than books for fun.

Talk of the Town by Lisa Wingate was a breezy and enjoyable read. If you have read any of her books before, then you can guess the general premise of the book: a big-city gal who has her priorities in life a bit mixed up but still has a good heart underneath it all gets stuck in a small Texas town and meets a range of fascinating characters (naturally including a hot guy) who help her get her life on a better track. But just like I enjoy watching Lifetime movies no matter how formulaic they are, I enjoyed reading this book. Wingate writes from a Christian fiction angle, yet religion doesn't take over the story. If you enjoy light, romantic stories that leave you filled with a feel-good feeling, then you should check out this book.

I moved from Talk of the Town to Mossy Creek by Deborah Smith and many more authors. It is a collection of short stories about the people living in a fictional southern town (Mossy Creek) pulled together into one book by an overarching narrator. I was enchanted by the stories themselves--the people of the town have such intriguing stories that I found myself being pulled into them and wishing they were real people I could meet. Each short story was like a chapter in the town's story (my favorite is The Naked Bean). While I loved the individual stories, though, I got annoyed by the narrator who wrote a short snipped between each story. The town's newspaper gossip columnist, Katie Bell, was writing letters to a woman in England who wanted to know more about the town and its history. Bell's voice served as a "voiceover" of sorts to transition from one story to the next. Yet the style of writing in those transitions grated on my nerves, and I thought the book would have been much better without those snippets. Even so, I look forward to reading the second book in the Mossy Creek series: Reunion at Mossy Creek.

After that, I read Booth's Sister by Jane Singer, a book I was looking forward to reading because I have a special place in my reader heart for historical fiction, and I am especially fascinated by the exploration of often ignored characters in history. I never considered Booth's family and how they must have felt after Lincoln's assassination. Once I started the book, though, I was quickly disappointed and ended up speed reading through quite a bit of the book. The majority of the book takes place after Asia, Booth's sister, pretends to faint and hits her head on an iron. She then, in her subconscious, goes through highlights of her life with her brother John when they were younger. I thought the book's premise was just fine--I didn't like the narrator's voice. Half the time, I had to re-read sections because I couldn't figure out what the author was intending to say. The language and style left me feeling like my brain was muddled; in fact, at one point, I remember thinking that Asia must have been on an acid trip rather than under a fainting spell. By the end, I felt like I had wasted energy on getting through the book.

I had started reading another book on my Kindle when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I came out to theaters. When my husband and I went to see the movie, I realized how much of the book I had forgotten and quickly abandoned the book I had been reading in favor of re-reading the seventh Harry Potter book. The only problem with reading Harry Potter during my month-long reading fest was that I love Rowling's writing style so much that after finishing the book, I had a hard time getting into any other books. None of them were living up to Rowling, so I started and stopped several before settling on Marked by P.C. and Kristin Cast, the first book in the House of Night series.

Marked is a vampire book for young adults and is a fun read, yet I don't feel compelled to go out and read any more books in the series. For me, the story was marred by the authors' attempt to use way too many obvious metaphors and snarky humor. If it hadn't been for the writing style, I think I would have enjoyed the story enough to keep reading the series. As it is, though, I found myself rolling my eyes far too often to enjoy the book.

The final book, Savvy by Ingrid Law, was so good that it will get its own post. I'll just say here that it was a perfect ending to a fun reading month.