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.