The Hardest Books To Scale

I was musing on bookish topics to write about today, and decided to go see what other clever people have come up with!  By which I mean that I went to look at the list of past Top Ten Tuesday topics on The Broke and the Bookish.  Bringing me today’s topic…my personal list of most intimidating books!

I have already conquered…

1) Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell – In page count, this is the longest book I’ve ever read (though I would imagine that it runs neck-and-neck with Les Mis, depending on the edition).  I managed to read it when I was about twelve or so.  It was my second attempt on the book, and when I began again I thought I’d just try to read farther than I had before…and then, having already seen and loved the movie, I thought I’d just try to read to this plot point, or that plot point…and I got to the end that way!  Now I’ve been meaning to reread it for quite a while…

2) Les Miserables by Victor Hugo – Technically I skipped the parts that wandered off into historical background–but I read most of it.  It’s just that when Hugo is good, he’s very good–but then other times he wants to spend thirty pages on the history of Parisian sewers.

3) The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien – I attempted Fellowship twice, never got farther than Tom Bombadil, and spent the following ten years convinced these were impossible to wade through.  I finally read them during my Chunkster Challenge last year, and found out they weren’t nearly as slow or dense as I feared.  Although I do think it helped watching Jackson’s trilogy, so at least I knew where we were going all the time.

4) Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy – This was an assigned book the summer before I went into freshman year of high school.  They assigned the same summer books to all the grades, and because I was an incoming freshman I was both too young for the book, and unaware that it didn’t really matter if we read the assigned reading!  Unlike the previous three on the list, this one was not worth the effort…and among my high school friends, we still speak of it with dread!

I may read some day…

5) Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke – This is probably just silly, because after all, it’s a fantasy and I have no reason to expect the writing to be especially difficult.  It’s just so thick though!  And I made the mistake of getting it from the library during a particularly intense semester at college, returned it unread, and that set up bad resonances around the title for me.

6) The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon – A massive, multi-volume history text, this is far outside my normal reading.  But I do like Roman history quite a bit, and L. M. Montgomery read it twice and commented very favorably in her journal and…well, for me, that feels rather like having a very close, very well-read friend recommend something.

7) Vanity Fair by W. M. Thackeray – This is one of the Big Classics I don’t have a burning desire to read, but I would like to have read.  There are lots of Classics I’m comfortable not reading, but this particular one L. M. Montgomery especially liked, and…see above.

8) A History of the English-Speaking Peoples by Winston Churchill – Another multi-volume history text…but I enjoy British history immensely, and there are few historical figures I like better than Winston Churchill.  And while I’ve never read any of his history writing, he wrote the loveliest letters to his wife!  I read a collection of their letters and…yeah, his history books are probably not remotely the same thing. 🙂

So much for my book confessions!  What intimidating books have you successfully overcome?  Do you have any you still may attempt one day?

Favorites Friday: Movies from Books

In certain circles, movie adaptations of beloved books are a highly controversial subject!  My expectations are usually low for movie versions of books, because I’ve been disappointed too many times.  But…sometimes the movies do justice to their books–or, dare I say it, even do better!

I visited this topic once before, but I must have been watching (and reading) some good things in the last few years, because I find myself with a few more to add to my own list of great movie adaptations.  In no particular order, and with links to reviews…

sherlock1BBC’s Sherlock

Well, no particular order except for this one!  Something amazing happens here because it’s a huge departure from Doyle’s original Sherlock Holmes (like being in a different century) and yet it’s so true to the original too.  I think the key is that the window-dressing (gas lamps and horse-drawn carriages) has changed, but the characters still feel the same…just told through modern story-telling.  Besides, I went on a Sherlock Holmes Walking Tour in London, and the guide pointed out that at the time of writing, Holmes was set in the present-day–and it was actually several decades before retellers stopped modernizing, and started placing him in his original decade.

Catching FireThe Hunger Games: Catching Fire

I liked the first movie in this trilogy too, but it was the second that really impressed me.  With some very careful character tweaks, the movie stayed true to the book but made me like Katniss so much better.  What had felt like a girl flailing helplessly became a girl trying her best, and that’s a character I can enjoy much more.

Return of the KingThe Lord of the Rings

I made a conscious decision when I finally read the books to rewatch the movies at the same time (each movie just before the book, in fact).  I enjoyed every book and movie, but I have to give the edge to the movies.  Sorry, Tolkien.  Actually, he might not mind–the movies brought the characters to life for me much more, but since Tolkien’s focus seems to have been on the lore and the history anyway, he might not see that as an issue.

Northanger AbbeyNorthanger Abbey (Masterpiece Theatre)

This is my favorite Austen novel, and the movie is delightfully frothy and fun.  Colin Firth makes us wait six hours for a smile, but Mr. Tilney grins throughout this whole movie.  It also features the wonderful Carey Mulligan as Isabella Thorpe, not to mention one of moviedom’s most adorable first kisses.

Princess BridePrincess Bride

I’m not sure I can think of any other book/movie combination where they feel so completely like they’re exactly the same thing.  It may help that William Goldman wrote the book and the screenplay.  There are some extra details in the book–but the movie has the adorable frame story–and really, everything that’s most important is in both!

Stardust

Neil Gaiman was being complex and innovative and subverting expectations with some aspects of this story.  The movie decided to be funny and romantic and, yes, more traditional in its pay-offs.  I respect Gaiman, but the movie makes me feel all warm and fuzzy and happy!

Your turn!  What movies do justice to their books?

2013 End of the Year Round-up

A new year means it’s time to look back at how the reading has gone for the past year!  Challenge results were posted yesterday, but today let’s look at the best and the worst, and a few more random categories besides.  As usual, links go to my reviews.

1) Best Book  –  It’s a good year when I have a hard time choosing a Best Book!  I read a lot of books by favorite authors and finished a lot of wonderful series, giving me a LOT of choices here.  I’ve had to separate this out into several sub-listings…

1a) Favorite Character  –  This one goes to Samwise Gamgee of The Lord of the Rings, most particularly in The Two Towers.  He’s not exactly a new character, since I’d seen the movies years ago, but the books were new reads.  And as wonderful as Sam is in the movies (and I do think Peter Jackson and Sean Astin have as much to do with my love for this character as J. R. R. Tolkien does) my very favorite Sam moment isn’t in the movies.  It’s right near the end of The Two Towers, when he thinks Frodo is dead and even though he desperately doesn’t want to do it, he decides to take the Ring to Mordor himself.  It’s beautiful.

1b) Best Romance/Romantic Couple – Easily taken by Heir to Sevenwaters by Juliet Marillier.  There’s a dark hero with a good heart and a heroine who has to find her hidden strength.  Two of my favorite archetypes, and their romance is just lovely.

1c) Most Anticipated Reread – My most anticipated read of 2013 was The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two by Catherynne M. Valente.  I liked it a lot, but I felt that I couldn’t take it in fully on one read–so now I’m very much looking forward to reading it again.

1d) Hardest to Put Down – Marillier makes the list twice by also bringing in this one with Well of Shades.  She has a tendency towards un-put-down-able final hundred pages, but this one outdid any of the others.  The heroine gets into dire straits and meanwhile characters are futzing about and doing other things and I was desperate for a rescue scene and…well.  It was one of the more intense reading experiences of the year.

1e) Most IntriguingSpeaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card was hard to put down in a different way, not so much the frantic emotional page-turner but rather a book that made me deeply curious, and also offered perhaps the most interestingly alien aliens I’ve encountered.

1f) Loveliest Writing Style – This is kind of an odd category, but it really is what I loved about these particular books: The House on Durrow Street and The Master of Heathcrest Hall by Galen Beckett.  It’s like the best of Austen and Bronte (Charlotte), plus fascinating magic!

1g) Best Nonfiction – I don’t usually read much nonfiction, but I did read The Gift of Wings by Mary Rubio, a biography of L. M. Montgomery.  It was my third attempt to find a good LMM biography, and was all that I might have hoped for.  Truly wonderful and fascinating.

2) Worst Book  –  I am happily drawing a blank here.  I read some books that were only so-so and plenty that were good-but-not-great, but nothing really dreadful enough to qualify for Worst…a happy situation!

3) Most Disappointing Book  –  This one pains me because I so (SO) love Catherynne M. Valente’s Fairyland series…but I think that may be exactly why I was disappointed by Six-Gun Snow White.  It’s a great title, right?  And it is what it sounds like, a Western version of “Snow White.”  Only it was far darker and a far more experimental writing style than I was expecting.  Someone else with different preferences would probably like it just fine, and even I didn’t dislike it exactly…but it wasn’t what I hoped for.

4) Most Unlikely Read – None of my books this year really seem all that unlikely to me, because I know the story behind them…but you might find it more surprising that I read Walden by Henry David Thoreau, as well as Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth von Armin.  That second one is an autobiographical and mostly plot-less account of a woman’s planning and enjoyment of her garden, originally published in 1880 or thereabouts.  This might be less surprising if I mention that it comes up frequently in L. M. Montgomery’s journals as a favorite book…

5) Most Satisfying Read -There’s an easy and probably obvious tie for this one, as it is highly satisfying to have finally read The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien, as well as Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.  Collectively, they were the four most-intimidating-but-still-want-to-read books on my mental list of someday-reads for many years!

6) Can’t Believe I Waited Until 2013 to Read It  Lord of the Rings would be a possibility here, except that I don’t actually find it all that strange that I waited a long time to tackle those!  So instead I’m putting Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, because I really DON’T know why I waited so long to read something by Pratchett and Gaiman together, especially when I’d heard it recommended many times (and it was brilliant!)

7) Most Hilarious Read  –  I’ve accepted that this category is simply owned by Terry Pratchett, who has been my most hilarious read for the past three years.  So this one could go to Good Omens, only that was already #6, or it could go to The Last Hero…but I think even funnier was Wintersmith, mostly because of Horace the Cheese!

8) Most Looking Forward To in 2014  –  There are four series I’m caught up on and waiting for new books in, plus I expect Tamora Pierce to put out a new Tortall book next year…but it’s not really that hard to choose.  I’m most looking forward to Valente’s Fairyland 4, especially after the cliffhanger at the end of the third one!

What were your best or worst of 2013?  Or feel free to answer any of the other questions!

Saturday Snapshots: Waterfall…or Wizard?

The October page of my calendar has a waterfall picture.  Perfectly nice, perfectly ordinary…

Waterfall

Except that it reflects in my bedroom mirror, and out of the corner of my eye, reversed and slightly fuzzy…

Waterfall - Copy

…it begins to look strangely like…

…Gandalf.

So what do you think?  Do you see the Grey Wizard in my waterfall? 🙂

Visit West Metro Mommy for more Saturday Snapshots–and have a great weekend!

Saturday Snapshot: Minas Tirith in Vancouver

If you’re ever in Vancouver (as I was a couple weeks ago), I highly recommend visiting Granville Island.  It’s a collection of wonderful little shops, and there’s a big market as well.  My favorite was The Crystal Ark, which had all sorts of crystals and jewelry for sale (at insanely good prices!)

P1020558I enjoyed the Canadian geese too…  The Crystal Ark is online, but only has a small selection of their products available–which may be just as well, as I shudder to think of the shipping costs!

Minas TirithI was tempted by lots of things, but I ended up buying a crystal tower, because…Minas Tirith!  And naturally I had to put it in an appropriate place on my bookshelf when I got home.

Visit West Metro Mommy for more Saturday Snapshots.  Have a great weekend!

The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien

Return of the KingI am very happy to report that I have finished reading the Lord of the Rings.  The Return of the King turned out to be much shorter than I always thought–only 340 pages (plus Appendices, which I skimmed…)  I might have read these books years ago if I’d had a clearer picture of their length!  But I’m happy I finally read them–and in time for Once Upon a Time.

The Return of the King finishes out the trilogy.  (Read my reviews of Fellowship and Two Towers, if you like.)  Like Towers, the book is really in two separate sections.  The first half deals with Sauron’s forces attacking Minas Tirith, capital city of Gondor, and the various forces rallying to fight him.  The second half brings us back to Frodo and Sam, and the final stretch of their quest–followed by a hundred pages of the aftermath.

Overall I enjoyed the book quite a lot, although parts of the first half dragged for me.  I enjoyed the setting, and there were wonderful moments in there, especially ones centering on Merry or Pippin.  I loved anything with Faramir or Eowyn (more on them in a bit), and Gimli had some nice moments too.

As I write this, it’s becoming even clearer to me why I liked some parts better than others.  It comes down to characters.  When the focus narrows down and is just on what one individual is doing, feeling, thinking, I was engaged.  When we pull out and it becomes the epic sweeping clash of armies, then it lost me.  I thought this part went on a bit too long in the movie too (until the Riders of Rohan showed up, because they always make battles awesome).

I was happy when we (finally) got back to Frodo and Sam.  I love their sections, because it’s exactly what I wanted in the previous section–we zero in close on Sam, and we get nearly all of the quest from his point of view.  It’s immediate, it’s personal, it pulls me into the story because I’m not watching an army, I’m pushing through Mordor with Sam.  It’s funny, I think of Tolkien as being a very dry, detached writer, but he really was capable of writing beautiful, deep character stories (just not often enough…)

There are two other parts I wanted to look at, and they’re very late in the book, so spoilers ahoy!

I was thrilled to pieces by the Faramir/Eowyn romance.  I knew it existed (and the extended cut of the movie did lovely things with it, even though it only got about a minute and a half of screentime) but I wasn’t expecting much.  By this point, if a woman was identified by name I felt like we were ahead.  So when there were actual conversations, and entire scenes, and really sweet, cute lines back and forth, and an exploration of Eowyn’s feelings…it was still probably only ten pages but it was beautiful.

I was expecting something much more like what the Aragorn/Arwen romance turned out to be–she shows up just in time to look pretty and marry him!  Otherwise, not really in the story.  (The Appendix fleshes it out a bit, but not much.)  So I was so happy to get something actually romantic for Faramir and Eowyn, and I just love the two of them as characters besides.  They’re two of the most relatable characters, because they struggle more than most.  Faramir’s father never thought he was as good as his brother; Eowyn chafes against society’s role for her.  Most of the characters here are great fun to read about, but too perfect in some ways.  I love that Faramir and Eowyn are awesome, but still human.  (I think it relates to a lot of the reasons of why I love Sam too…)

The other part I wanted to talk about–the Scouring of the Shire.  This section (and its exclusion from the movie) seems to be highly controversial among the faithful.  I have to say I didn’t mind the long wrap-up, and I didn’t mind the concept of trouble coming to the idyllic Shire.  It did bother me what the specific trouble was, though.  The whole trilogy exists in this very high fantasy, very Medieval realm.  Then we return to the Shire to find a metaphor (surely not an allegory…) about the Industrial Revolution and Communism.  Or so it felt, anyway.  And that jarred for me.  I’m also not quite sure when Merry and Pippin became generals…they were soldiers, yes, but when did they learn how to organize battle plans and command an army of Hobbits?

On the other hand, while the nature of the trouble felt strange, I actually quite liked it that there was work to do when they returned to the Shire.  The end of the movie feels very empty to me.  The whole time the Hobbits dreamed about returning to the Shire, but when they actually come back from their grand adventures and find nothing at home has changed…I don’t know, I always like to believe people can go home again, but it just seemed to me that they would all find their daily lives so meaningless and dull, after the incredible events that they’d been involved in.

I really liked that in the book, after saving the world, they had to save the Shire too.  The scale is smaller, but the work is just as important, and you could see how everything they had done then enabled them to become leaders in their own community and to set about making things better there too.

I feel like I should have some succint, summing up words here.  I’m happy that I finally filled in this gap in my fantasy knowledge by reading Lord of the Rings, and of course it wasn’t nearly as intimidating as I always thought.  The Two Towers is my favorite, book and movie, although there are wonderful moments in all three.

I don’t have plans to read The Silmarillion…but I am very much looking forward to the next movie installment of The Hobbit!

Author’s Site: http://www.tolkiensociety.org/

Other reviews:
Rawr Reader
Suzie Hunt
Carol Rae’s Random Ramblings
Arrow Through the Sun
Anyone else?

Buy it here: The Return of the King

Saturday Snapshot: Lord of the Rings Nostalgia

I’ve been working my way through the Lord of the Rings novels, and as part of the very elaborate process, I’ve also been rewatching the movies.  I saw them all when they originally came out, but never read the books then.  I did, however, collect bookmarks.  I think they were available at my school’s library–the memory has gone a little vague.  But I collected them some ten years ago, and haven’t much thought about them since.

However.  While I had never read the books, my dad had them, so they were in my house.  And in my typical, over-organized fashion, where else would I store LOTR bookmarks…but in copies of LOTR?  So in the course of reading the books (those same copies that were sitting there all along) I’ve also unearthed the bookmarks.

I somehow don’t have the set from Fellowship, but I do have Two Towers and Return of the King

Lord of the Rings Bookmarks (2)Lord of the Rings Bookmarks (3)The bookmarks are two-sided, and I’ve kept them in the same order so you can see which characters were paired.  Some make sense…others don’t.

Lord of the Rings Bookmarks (1)Lord of the Rings Bookmarks (4)My one regret here…no Faramir bookmark.  He gets more screentime in the Extended Edition and…I just love him (this scene!)  Ah well…aside from that, I’ve quite enjoyed rediscovering a collection I all but forgot I had. 🙂

Visit At Home with Books for more Saturday Snapshots!