Category Archives: Reading

Reading report: ‘The Hobbit,’ by J. R. R. Tolkien

The Hobbit

I keep bellyaching about having a difficult time with my latest Erling book. And this continues to be the case. I make progress – don’t get me wrong – but it’s kind of like punching my way through sand.

So I said to myself, maybe I haven’t spent enough time with fantasy lately. Maybe it’s time to read The Lord of the Rings again, to get my mind onto a different track.

And behold, I did even according to my word. Reading the Trilogy and its prequel, of course, is a time-consuming project. And it’s a little late in history to review the books. So I figured I’d blog my way through them. I can’t compete with the real Middle Earth geeks who’ve memorized Bilbo’s genealogy and know how many miles it is from Buckleberry Ferry to the Grey Havens. But perhaps my modest expertise in Norse mythology and legend may help illuminate one or two points for you, rendering the exercise not entirely worthless to mankind.

I’ve made it through The Hobbit already. There are definite Norse elements in this book. Some of the ones that struck me on this reading were these: Continue reading Reading report: ‘The Hobbit,’ by J. R. R. Tolkien

How Widely Should One Read?

You get the impression from some corners that if you want to write a publishable book you should read many, many other books in and out of that genre in order to give you the experience you need to contribute to the pool of published books. The truth is, in order to publish a book or story, you need a solid, well-executed concept. Reading widely can help you get there, but it isn’t the only path, and as Jason Guriel explains “most writing isn’t worth consuming.

Here’s hapless omnivore Aleksandar Hemon, a novelist and critic who will eat anything: “I read compulsively—preferably a book of my choice, but anything would do. I’ve read, with great interest, nutritional information on cereal boxes. I regularly read wedding announcements in the New York Times.”

This begins to tread into fasting territory. Silence and reflection will likely help Hemon more than constant reading. What do you think?

The 18th Century Habit of Reading Aloud

In The Social Life of Books, Abigail Williams, a professor of 18th-century studies at Oxford, says . . . the old tradition of reading out loud remained alive and well [during the 18th century contrary to suggestions that reading alone began trending].

She offers many good reasons for reading aloud along with some of the trends and ideas of the day, including this satirical take from  An Essay on the Art of Ingeniously Tormenting:

Should he be a man of genius and should employ his leisure hours in writing; be sure to shew a tasteless indifference to every thing he shews you of his own. The lame indifference, also, may you put on, if he should be a man who loves reading, and is of so communicative a disposition, as to take delight in reading to you any of our best and most entertaining authors. If, for instance, he desires you to hear one of Shakespeare’s plays, you may give him perpetual interruptions, by sometimes going out of the room, sometimes ringing the bell to give orders for what cannot be wanted till the next day; at other times taking notice (if your children are in the room), that Molly’s cap is awry, or that Jackey looks pale ; and then begin questioning the child, whether he has done any thing to make himself sick.

(via Prufrock News)

What Banned Book Did You Read?

Last week was Banned Books Week in America. I hope the loyal readers of this blog enjoyed their local book burning fires and a witty tête-à-tête with a stranger over a cup of pumpkin spiced something. I was somewhat busy last week, so I ignored the festivities entirely, which I hasten to say is in keeping with the holiday spirit.

Matthew Walther wishes all of this would just go away. They urge him to read a banned book. Which book? he asks. Mein Kampf? If that old Hilterian classic appeared in readers’ hands throughout a city during Banned Books Week, would librarians and bookstore owners be slapping each other on the back for a successful campaign? Heil, no, they would not. Walther writes,

In my experience, those with the strongest emotional investment in Banned Books Week tend to be people whose idea of literature is something called “Y.A.,” which they can continue to enjoy well into their 20s, plus whatever they found themselves forced to slog through as liberal arts majors in college in between tweeting and watching prestige cable and old Buffy reruns on Netflix.

(via Prufrock News)

Who’s the most literate? Depends on how you look at it.

Via Dave Lull, from Digital Book World, a large, fascinating graphic on world-wide reading and literacy patterns.

Finland rates as the most literate country in the world judging by newspapers, computers, and libraries, but India wins out if you tally up reading hours per week. Scandinavia does very well generally on the first metric, but the US isn’t far behind.

Enjoy the whole thing here.

Is a Golden Age of Short Stories Around the Corner?

According to Chris Power, a golden age of short stories has always been shrouded in a misty past and was on the verge of reemerging.

H.G. Wells thought the short story thrived in the 1890s. H. E. Bates said it was the 1920-30s. William Boyd said 1981 was a great year for the story form everyone secretly loved and read quietly in corner booths with their third beer.

While bitter experience has shown poetry exactly where it stands in the marketplace, and the novel has shrugged off multiple reports of its death and maintained pre-eminence, the short story is continually characterised as the neglected form that will be great again. The funny thing is, when you explore its history you find the perception of a distant golden age, an undistinguished present and a return to glory has always been around: the short story has a problem with reality.

(via Prufrock News)

The Man Who Ruined English Lit

Stuart Hall, the man who apparently helped bind English departments with useless political ideology, doesn’t appear to have read anything written in previous generations. Christopher Bray reviews Hall’s autobiography.

Patently a decent man who wanted a better life for everyone, Hall genuinely believed that by alerting his students to the ideological subtexts of their favourite TV shows or pop songs (at one point he claims to be able to hear ‘the less chauvinistic bits’ of Elgar), they might liberate themselves from the hegemonic ‘master codes of the dominant culture’. In fact, by teaching kids that it’s enough to read or watch or listen to what already interests them, cultural studies has served only to trap them in the straitened cell of the self.

Mercy. Who will pull the bucket off our heads, if not our elders? And if our elders are the ones who trapped us in buckets in the first place, what hope do we have for any of us? Is there anyone apart from us who can teach us the truth? (via Prufrock News)

Ever Lie About Reading a Book?

I don’t think I’ve ever lied about reading a book. I usually claim to have read about it, but apparently more and more people wish to portray themselves as readers, at least of select books, just like music fans of any band you claim is legit. Oh, yeah, I love their style.

David Barnett writes, “The 13 books we are most likely to claim to have read have one thing in common: they have all been adapted into blockbuster movies.”

Top of the current list are Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, followed by JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and CS Lewis’s Narnia series. Perhaps more curious is the fact that people claim to have read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collinsand Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, when there are more copies of both novels languishing in charity shops than could be sold before Armageddon, so supply issues are not putting people off trying to read them.

I probably do lie by what I don’t say, which means I should just stop talking. (via Prufrock News)

Scene from my youth

Somebody mentioned on the radio today that it’s been fifty years since the 1967 Israeli Six-Day War.

I remember that summer well. The live telecasts of UN meetings, the speeches. Abba Eban addressing the General Assembly.

But mostly I remember my summer job.

I didn’t generally have summer jobs as a kid. I lived on a farm. That was my summer job. Hoeing thistles and pulling mustard weeds, fence repair; there was pretty much always something to do.

But that summer I was an orderly. For my mother.

Mom had broken her leg. She’d stood on the kitchen table to clean an overhead hot air register, and the table collapsed. The break was bad, and she came home with a big cast on her leg.

The folks asked me to take care of her for the summer. They’d pay me for it. So I jockeyed bed pans down to our basement bathroom for three months.

One day I was given some job or other to do up in the hay loft above the barn. I forget what I was doing – probably just re-stacking the hay bales. Sometimes that had to be done. I don’t know where my dad and brothers were that day. Mom didn’t need me for a while; I’d left her with the TV on and a book to read.

I heard a car pulling into the driveway.

I stuck my head out the hatch, looking out over the top of the ladder I’d climbed to get up there. Our guest was our pastor. Continue reading Scene from my youth

Clearing up another ‘fine’ mess

The San Francisco Examiner reports on a recent fine amnesty carried out by the San Francisco Public Library. Nearly 700,000 books were returned, valued at $236,000.

Included in the recent returns were a collection of short stories titled 40 Minutes Late, which was 100 years past due, and Brass, a Novel of a Marriage by Charles Norris with a due date stamp of 1937, making the item 80 years past due. In both cases, the books were originally checked out by the returners’ great grandparents.

Read it all here.

More and more libraries are in fact abolishing fines altogether. They’ve given up the pretense of any control. They just want somebody to come and use their facilities so the cities don’t close them down.

Books, plated

theconversation.com had an article on bookplates yesterday.

Edwardian readers were expected to share books from their own library with others, and so very special attention was paid to the plate design, to indicate the type of person that the owner was. While the wealthy were able to afford privately commissioned plates by famous artists, the average Edwardian depended on stationers or booksellers for mass-produced plates, or something from a pattern book. For the bibliophile, choosing a bookplate was a delicate process and the purchase commanded quite a price, varying from £2 to £50 – roughly £220-£5,500 today.

I’ve got some bookplates around here somewhere – in my old desk, I think. I used to have a store where I could pick them up, and I had a favored design – an etching of a full-face lion who reminded me of Aslan. It was an Antioch design, but I don’t find it at Bookplate Ink, which claims to have the largest online supply of Antioch plates.

Some years ago somebody gave me one of those embossers with Ex Libris and my name on it, so I mostly gave up bookplates. And of late I’ve bought most of my books in electronic form.

Hey — there’s a business opportunity! Bookplates for ebooks!

St. Petersburg Has a Luxury Library

In St. Petersburg, Russia, publisher Alfaret has opened a Gothic-style library that is more a book-themed experience than a place to read or check out books. In fact, I don’t think you can check out anything from Book Cappela‘s over 5,000 edition collection.

What you can do is pay about £100 for a four-hour visit to study the collection or buy an annual card, making you a “Book Apostle,” for £3,209. Life-long members are also available.

For these prices, you can review Alfaret’s collection of Russian and international masterpieces in leather chairs under the kind gaze of the apostles.

“Book Capella is not a library in the traditional sense, and it is not a museum, although elements of the museum are presented. It’s also not the bookstore, although you can buy our books here. [It] is a new way for people to communicate with rare books,” Irina Khoteshova, the project director, told the Guardian.

28 Recommendations of Black Children’s Books

For Black History Month, librarian and poet Scott Woods likes to recommend children’s books that don’t focus on boycotts, buses, or basketball. Here’s his list of “28 children’s picture books, most of them featuring Black children doing what all children do: play, make up stories, learn life lessons, and dream.”

These titles look like great fun for a library afternoon in the short seat section. I wonder how many of these my library has. (via K.A. Ellis)