The City of Dreaming Books

I’ve been trying to write a review of this book since I finished it almost a month ago, but haven’t been able to find the words.  Instead of a review, you’re going to get a series of thoughts.  I can’t guarantee I’ll make sense, but I hope at the end at least one of you will feel encouraged to pick it up.

The City of Dreaming Books is the fourth book in Walter Moers’ Zamonia series, but first in the Dreaming Books series.  I know, it’s a little confusing, but I figured it was a good place to start (because there’s something cool coming up in a few months, but I’ll talk about that another time [sorry for being so sneaky, hee!]), even though I haven’t read anything by this author before.

This book…I knew within the first 15-20 pages that this book would be going on my favourites shelf.  I’d been reading a bunch of crap that I didn’t particularly care for, starting and setting aside for a later date things that I thought maybe I COULD like, but that I wasn’t in the mood for.  AND it was towards the end of the Tolkien group read, so I was a bit burnt out on reading in general by that point.

I know, I know.  Weird, right?

Anyway, The City of Dreaming Books immediately had that coming home feeling (that I’ve talked about previously, regarding the work of Philip K Dick) for me.  Like it was a book that could have been written just for me.  If I were King of the World and had ALL THE AUTHORS working just for me and I could say “Nonono, I want this! And this!  And this!  No!  I don’t CARE IF THAT MAKES NO SENSE, YOU WILL MAKE IT WORK!” this is the book that would have been written…and then I’d abdicate my throne and spend the rest of my life reading this book and all the others that were written especially for me.

[ahem]

Okay, so this book takes place on the fictional continent of Zamonia.  Zamonia is/was situated between North America and Europe, and is populated by fantastical creatures of every description.

This story follows the adventure of Optimus Yarnspinner (whose name in the original German text was Hildegunst von Mythenmetz), a Lindworm (read: intelligent dinosaur) from Lindworm Castle.  All Lindworms are assigned an Authorial Godfather, and their godfathers teach them to read and write, as well as educate them on Zamonian Literature.  As Optimus’ godfather (Dancelot Wordwright) is on his deathbed, he tells Optimus of a manuscript he once received from a young writer.  A manuscript of such unbelievable beauty and honesty that he gave up his own dreams of writing forever, because he knew there was no way he could ever come close to achieving such literary perfection.

(Did I fail to mention that books are revered in Zamonia?  Nearly everyone is an author or avid reader.  Literature is prized above all else, and the greatest authors are said to have been full of Orm, a mystical force that fills the authors in moments of almost divine inspiration.)

After reading the story his Authorial Godfather has left him, Optimus sets out for Bookholm (The City of Dreaming Books) to find the author of this masterpiece.

This all takes place in the very beginning of the story, I’m really not going to spoil anything for you.  I want you to read it, not just read what I have to say about it!

Besides, I’m afraid I’m not doing a very good job of putting my thoughts down.

If you pick this up and glance through it, you might see the whimsical illustrations the author has added and be tempted to dismiss it as children’s literature.  Please don’t.  While it READS like children’s literature, it’s more a book written for adults that still love reading the books they read as they were growing up.  I could read it to my kids, but they’d have so many questions “Well, what does THAT word mean?  What is THAT?  Wait, read that again?” that it would just go too far over their heads.

As an example, nearly every author’s name in this book is an anagram of one of OUR famous authors.  I’m terrible at anagrams, but had a DELIGHTFUL time attempting to figure them out.

Is it perfect?  Probably not.  There were a few instances where I noticed strange word choices, but that could be due to the translation.  Is it something I’ll read again?  Absolutely.  And again, and again, and again.  I finished and wanted to shout “WHY HAS NO ONE TOLD ME ABOUT THIS BOOK BEFORE NOW?!”  Yeah, it’s been translated into English since 2007 and I only JUST discovered it.  I feel like I’ve been missing out.

So, now I’ve done my duty (heh) and passed it on.  I hope those of you that give it a chance love it as much as I did.

[...] our burning desire to open a book becomes allied with the hankering for a cup of hot chocolate flavoured with cinnamon and a slice of pound cake warm from the oven. Faster! Faster!

Classic Authors: They’re Just Like Us! – JRR Tolkien (part 2)

I know you’ve all been eagerly anticipating the second part of this post, right?  Thank you guys  for making Mandy feel so welcome here with all of the comments and likes on part one.  We both really appreciate it.

~o~

Admittedly, there were many ways in which Tolkien was not like us. He was a man who mastered Latin as a child, he became a professor at Oxford University at a young age, and he preferred stories written in ancient Norse over contemporary writings. Plus, he was undoubtedly “old school” in his beliefs and behavior. He said a prayer in the ancient Gothic language the first time a tape recorder was put in front of him.

Yet, I think Tolkien was more of a regular bookish guy than what we usually consider established authors to be. He earned fame for writing during his lifetime, yet he never changed his homebody ways.

Here are ten ways that J.R.R. Tolkien was remarkably similar to us!

*All information, quotes, and paraphrases derived from Humphrey Carpenter’s authorized biography J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography.

  1. He struggled with balancing his domestic life with his working and writing lives.
  2. He had a great love for words.
  3. He preferred fantasy over contemporary fiction.
  4. His spouse didn’t understand his extreme love of books.
  5. He found comfort and inspiration from his bookish friends and book clubs.
  6. He thought news and public affairs were secondary to a good book.
  7. He preferred escapes through his imagination over globetrotting.
  8. He had a silly sense of humor.
  9. He was a perfectionist when it came to his writing.
  10. He made LotR allusions in everyday conversation.

6.       “Honey! The Daily Stormcrow is here!”

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If you’re at all like me, you watch or read the news with a bit of dread. It brings about as much bad news as Gandalf. I actually have to force myself to keep up with current affairs, because otherwise, my nose would be permanently glued to a book during all of my free time. I’ve even been criticized by my elders for preferring fiction to the so-called hard news available to me on television.

It turns out that Tolkien shared my views on the news:

“Tolkien glance[d] at the newspaper, but only in the most cursory fashion. He, like his friend C.S. Lewis, regard[ed] ‘news’ as on the whole trivial and fit to be ignored, and they both argue[d] (to the annoyance of many of their friends) that the only ‘truth’ is to be found in literature,” (121).

Yeah! So, take that Book Naysayers!

7.         Vacations: Nasty Disturbing Uncomfortable Things

Who needs to travel when you’ve got a good book? Oftentimes, I daydream about visiting far-off places that have been the settings of the books I love, but who am I kidding? The book always seems to be better! Apparently, Tolkien felt the same way:

“Though he studied the ancient literature of many countries, he visited few of them, often through force of circumstance but perhaps partly through lack of inclination. And indeed the page of a medieval text may be more potent than the modern reality of the land that gave it birth,” (65).

Even if I had a ton of money, I’m not sure that I would become a worldly jet-setter. I’m a firm believer in the lyrics of the Reading Rainbow theme: “I can go anywhere! Take a look, it’s in a book, a reading rainbow…”. I think the comfort of my couch, a good book, and my imagination are all I really need to go places and see things. Tolkien seemed to share this view throughout his life:

“Later in life when he had more money and fewer family ties he did make a few journeys abroad. But travel never played a large part in his life–simply because his imagination did not need to be stimulated by unfamiliar landscapes and cultures. [...] Gradually one forms the opinion that he did not altogether care very much where he was,” (129).

 

8.      Fool of a Took!

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While, in a lot of ways, Tolkien could appear to be more of a stodgy old hobbit in his tweed suits and fondness of plain food, he actually had a very silly sense of humor.

“He could laugh at anybody, but most of all himself, and his complete lack of any sense of dignity could and often did make him behave like a riotous schoolboy. [H]e would dress up as an Anglo-Saxon warrior complete with axe and chase an astonished neighbor down the road. Later in life he delighted to offer inattentive shopkeepers his false teeth among a handful of change,” (134).

Oh that Tolkien…what a joker!

9.     Striving for Elrond-like Perfection

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As I write this, a dark cloud is hanging in the back of my head. Oh, all of the revising I’ll have to do!

I know I’m not alone in the desire to only put out work that is as near to perfect as possible. It’s hard work – writing and proofreading and editing and then writing some more. But, at least I’m not writing an epic fantasy novel!

C.S. Lewis commented on Tolkien’s desire for perfect writing: “His standard of self-criticism was high and the mere suggestion of publication usually set him upon a revision, in the course of which so many new ideas occurred to him that where his friends had hoped for the final text of an old work they actually got the first draft of a new one,” (143).

Tolkien was very much emotionally connected to his writing, and he would consider it to be nothing less than disrespectful to the work if he didn’t spend copious amounts of time revising, reconsidering, and polishing his writing until it was as perfect as it could be.

In this manner, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings took decades to write. The Hobbit was written during the years of 1930-1937, and published in 1937. This was a pretty swift process for Tolkien, compared to the epic battle of writing and publication of The Lord of the Rings.

Tolkien wrote the first 31 chapters of The Lord of the Rings (up to “Flotsam and Jetsam”) during 1937-1943, and then was stuck, due to his need for perfection.

“Not content with writing a large and complex book, he felt he must ensure that every single detail fitted satisfactorily into the total pattern. Geography, chronology, and nomenclature had to be entirely consistent,” (198).

So, he worked on a map for the book, and didn’t get back to writing until the late spring of 1944, when he finished Book 4. Then he was stuck again. It wasn’t until the summer of 1946 that he started writing again, setting out to complete Books 5 and 6.

“Yet even now he did not finish. He revised, niggled, and corrected earlier chapters, [...] But the final full stop was something he could not achieve,” (206).

Finally, in the autumn of 1949, it was finished. It only took 12 years to write. But, then came the publishing issues.

Tolkien struggled with finding a publisher who would publish his book exactly as he wanted it. Five years after he finished writing, The Fellowship of the Ring was published in the summer of 1954, followed by The Two Towers in November. Yet, then, Tolkien had to grapple with the appendices that would appear at the end of the third installment. This delayed publication for another 11 months, and in October 1955, The Lord of the Rings was complete with the publication of The Return of the King (a title that Tolkien greatly disliked as it was a spoiler. He wanted the third installment to be “The War of the Ring”).

Overall, it took 18 years for The Lord of the Rings to reach the hands of readers (which isn’t really that long considering the length of time we have to wait on G.R.R.M. to give us the complete A Song of Ice and Fire). But, it was certainly perfection!

10.      “Don’t Make Me Get All Gandalf on Your Ass!”

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Ok, so I don’t think Tolkien ever said that. But, I could imagine him saying that (I certainly could imagine me saying that) as he made many other LotR references in conversation. Here are a few examples (which are far more eloquent and grave than getting “all Gandalf on your ass”):

On democracy:

“I am not a ‘democrat,’ if only because ‘humility’ and equality are spiritual principles corrupted by the attempt to mechanize and formalize them, with the result that we get not universal smallness and humility, but universal greatness and pride, till some Orc gets hold of a ring of power – and then we get and are getting slavery,” (132-133).

On the end of the war in Europe during WWII:

“We are attempting to conquer Sauron with the Ring [....] The War is not over (and the one that is, or part of it, has largely been lost). But it is of course wrong to fall into such a mood, for Wars are always lost, and The War always goes on; and it is no good growing faint,” (203).

On his new house that sits next to a never-ending flow of noisy traffic:

“This charming house [...] has become uninhabitable: unsleepable-in, unworkable-in, rocked, racked with noise, and drenched with fumes. Such is modern life. Mordor in our midst,” (220).

Tolkien repeatedly argued that The Lord of the Rings was not allegory, but it certainly works for comparison!

Classic Authors: They’re Just Like Us! – JRR Tolkien

I am REALLY excited about today’s guest post/guest poster.  I hope you’re all familiar with the lovely Mandy over at Adventures in Borkdom.  Mandy is a fantastic blogger and friend, and I am incredibly honoured that she offered to do one of her Classic Authors pieces for us.  If you’re not familiar with the concept, check out her posts about Hemingway here and here.   Because of the nature of this piece it ended up being a little longer than a usual post so we’re splitting it in two.  This is awesome news for me because it means I get to feature her twice.

~o~

Admittedly, there were many ways in which Tolkien was not like us. He was a man who mastered Latin as a child, he became a professor at Oxford University at a young age, and he preferred stories written in ancient Norse over contemporary writings. Plus, he was undoubtedly “old school” in his beliefs and behavior. He said a prayer in the ancient Gothic language the first time a tape recorder was put in front of him.

Yet, I think Tolkien was more of a regular bookish guy than what we usually consider established authors to be. He earned fame for writing during his lifetime, yet he never changed his homebody ways.

Here are ten ways that J.R.R. Tolkien was remarkably similar to us!

*All information, quotes, and paraphrases derived from Humphrey Carpenter’s authorized biography J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography.

  1. He struggled with balancing his domestic life with his working and writing lives.
  2. He had a great love for words.
  3. He preferred fantasy over contemporary fiction.
  4. His spouse didn’t understand his extreme love of books.
  5. He found comfort and inspiration from his bookish friends and book clubs.
  6. He thought news and public affairs were secondary to a good book.
  7. He preferred escapes through his imagination over globetrotting.
  8. He had a silly sense of humor.
  9. He was a perfectionist when it came to his writing.
  10. He made LotR allusions in everyday conversation.

1.       Queer Lodgings: Tolkien’s Struggles in Balancing a Domestic, Working, and Writing Life


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The man who basically created the modern high fantasy novel was just a regular guy. And just like most regular guys and gals, he found his days full of warring priorities. He worked full time as a professor at Oxford, cared for his wife and four kids, and, when he got a chance, indulged himself in writing for fun in the wee hours of the night.

A typical day for Tolkien in the 1930s might include any and all of the following events:

7:00 a.m.

Unwillingly wakes up (alone, as his wife sleeps in a separate room to avoid his

snoring and late hours), wakes up the kids (tripping over toys in the process),

and dresses in his “usual weekday outfit of flannel trousers and tweed jacket.”

(120). Bikes into town with kids to attend Mass.

8:00 a.m.

Breakfast with the wife and kids; Tolkien works on a crossword puzzle. Lights

the stove in his study (they have no central heating). Shaves.

9:00 a.m.

In his study, tutors a graduate student in Middle English.

11:00 a.m.

Grabs his lecture notes (realizing that he forget to check them over, hopes

that everything he needs is there) and bikes into town. Barely arriving in time,

gives a lecture to undergraduates on a philological text. During the

lecture, Tolkien departs entirely from his notes and goes off on a tangent

about the relationship between Gothic and Old English. His students adore

him and his lectures.

12:00 p.m.

Runs into his colleague and BFF, C.S. Lewis, in the hallway, and converses briefly

with him. Both regret that it’s not a Monday, when they typically enjoy a beer

and conversation after work.

Hops on his bike, and heads to the market, where he purchases sausages and

jokes around with the butcher. Then, he heads home, where he fits in a letter to

colleague.

1:00 p.m.

Lunch with the family. Discusses son Michael’s dislike of swimming lessons.

After lunch, Tolkien does some gardening while his daughter plays on the lawn.

2:00 p.m.

 Bikes back to campus for a faculty meeting. Meeting concerns a revision

of the department syllabus.

4:00 p.m.

Rides back home for tea. After tea, works at his desk on tomorrow’s lecture

notes. Doesn’t get much work done, as Michael wants help with his Latin

homework.

6:00 p.m.

Changes into a dinner jacket and black tie, and then bikes back to campus for a

faculty dinner (which he enjoys thoroughly as the food is plain and not at all

French).

8:00 p.m.

After dinner, makes his excuses for leaving early, and rides across campus to

meet up with his book club, the Coalbiters. The Coalbiters are all professors

who get together and take turns reading aloud Icelandic sagas in their original

Norse. After an hour, they pass around a whisky bottle, and discuss their

reading.

11:00 p.m.

Tolkien rides home to a dark house. The family is asleep, and now Tolkien can

indulge himself. He lights up a fire, fills his pipe, and (instead of working on

the incomplete lecture notes for tomorrow) pulls out “the half-finished

manuscript of a half-finished story that he is writing to amuse himself and his

children,” (126). He suspects that it is probably a waste of time, but it amuses

him and so, he picks up a pen and continues writing the story. He will write

until two in the morning (or later).


- From Carpenter, pages 119-126

(ed. note – this was originally beautifully formatted when I received it from Mandy, but WordPress didn’t want to let it show up that way so you get each hour as a quotation.  Sorry.  - sj)

This was his life, and he loved it. He lived in a comfortable little suburban home where he lived a regular life. Truly, Tolkien’s adult life could be considered nondescript, “apart from the strange fact that during these years when ‘nothing happened’ he wrote two books which have become world best-sellers, books that have captured the imagination and influenced the thinking of several million readers,” (118).

2.       Riddles in the Heart: A Love of Words


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Have you ever listened to the NPR weekend program A Way with Words? You know, the radio show where listeners call in and ask about the derivation of commonplace words and the hosts are English language experts? If you haven’t, you really should. It’s the ultimate for word nerds. Tolkien would have loved it!

Tolkien was reading by the age of four, and, almost immediately, he began a long love affair with words. His mother introduced him to Latin, and Tolkien was delighted both by the meanings of words and even “the sounds and shapes, ” (29). This passion, he discovered later, was the passion for philology, the science of words. Where did this word come from, and why? Why is this word better used than that word? These were the questions that Tolkien continually asked, and he soaked up any and all language that he could find.

He studied Latin, Greek, Old English, Middle English, Finnish, French, German, Welsh, and more. Then, he began writing his own languages. As an adolescent, he began creating his Elvish languages, based upon his studies of the Finnish language.

Tolkien continued to love words throughout his life, making a career out of it, and eventually basing an entire fictional series upon it. He even contributed to the “W” section of the Oxford English Dictionary (apparently his entry for “wasp” was particularly awesome). Tolkien was the greatest of Word Nerds.

3.       Dragons over Drama

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Tolkien was always a lover of high fantasy. As a child, he thought Alice in Wonderland was okay, but he really wasn’t into other popular children’s books, such as Treasure Island or the works of Hans Christian Anderson. No, he wanted dragons, goblins, and fairies.

He was “pleased by the ‘Curdie’ books of George Macdonald, which were set in a remote kingdom where misshapen and malevolent goblins lurked beneath the mountains. The Arthurian legends also excited him. But most of all he found delight in the Fairy Books of Andrew Lang, especially the Red Fairy Book (ed. note – this was my favourite of the Fairy Books too!  - sj),  for tucked away in its closing pages was the tale of Sigurd who slew the dragon Fafnir: a strange and powerful tale set in the nameless North,” (30). Tolkien explains: “I desired dragons with a profound desire [....] of course, I in my timid body did not wish to have them in my neighborhood. But the world that contained even the imagination of Fafnir was richer and more beautiful, at whatever cost of peril,” (30).

As he grew older, he began to despise the writings of Shakespeare and other “modern” writers (modern, meaning post-Chaucer), which he was forced to read in school. “In later years he especially remembered ‘the bitter disappointment and disgust from schooldays with the shabby use made in Shakespeare of the coming of “Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane hill”: I longed to devise a setting by which the trees might really march to war,’” (35). Note: in Macbeth, the Great Birnam Wood moves to high Dunsinane hill by way of soldiers cutting down boughs and branches in an attempt at camouflage as they move in to attack Macbeth. This was prophesied, but Macbeth was expecting something more like Ents. This began Tolkien’s aversion to drama.

His preferred reading was Beowulf (a warrior, two monsters, and a dragon!), Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (a knight in search of “a mysterious giant who is to deal him a terrible axeblow”), the Norse Eddas (heroic and mythological tales from Iceland), and one single contemporary novel: The House of the Wolfings by William Morris.

“Morris’s view of literature coincided with his own. [...] The House of the Wolfings is set in a land which is threatened by an invading force of Romans. Written partly in prose and partly in verse, it centres on a House or family-tribe that dwells by a great river in a clearing of a forest named Mirkwood, a name taken from ancient Germanic geography and legent. [...] Its style is highly idiosyncratic, heavily laden with archaisms and poetic inversions in an attempt to create the aura of ancient legend. Clearly Tolkien took note of this,” (78).

Interesting sidenote: Tolkien was not a fan of his best buddy’s Narnia stories. “It really won’t do! I mean to say: ‘Nymphs and their Ways, The Love-Life of a Faun’!” (204). Not as cool as dragons and elves.

4.       What Really Happens when a Took Marries a Baggins

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Tolkien and his wife Edith weren’t exactly alike. They had a solid relationship, were very fond and loving of one another, but they were pretty different in most ways. Tolkien was very imaginative and bookish, while Edith was very practical and domestic. And so, he often dealt with what most of us ravenous readers have to deal with in our personal relationships: having our reading obsessions misunderstood by our loved ones.

Their differences were hard to overcome at the beginning of their marriage:

“Ronald [Tolkien] would have to tolerate Edith’s absorption in the daily details of life, trivial as they might seem to him. She would have to make an effort to understand his preoccupation with his books and his languages, selfish as it might appear to her. Neither of them entirely succeeded,” (74).

However, Tolkien did attempt to include Edith in his literary loves throughout their marriage:

“she inevitably shared in the family’s interest when he was writing The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and although she was not well acquainted with the details of his books and did not have a deep understanding of them, he did not shut her out from this side of his life,” (160-161).

5.       Many Meetings: Book Clubs and Bookish Friendships

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Like most book lovers, Tolkien found comfort and inspiration in the company of other bookish types. He was a member of different book and writing clubs throughout his life, and made sure to always fit in time for these friends.

As an adolescent, he was a member of T.C.B.S. (Tea Club Barrovian Society), a clique of boys who hung out at their school library. In a similar fashion to the “Dead Poet’s Society,” these boys got together to drink tea and discuss books, art, music, and read poetry. They were the closest of friends, and supported each other in their individual academic pursuits as they grew into adults. As one member stated, “they felt ‘four times the intellectual size’ when they were together,” (81). Sadly, the group was disbanded by tragedy, as two of the four young men died in WWI.

Once Tolkien gained professorship, first at Leeds, and then at Oxford, he created a few reading clubs. There was the Viking Club at Leeds, comprised of Tolkien and a bunch of undergraduates, who joined together to “drink large quantities of beer, read sagas, and sing comic songs,” (112). Then, when Tolkien moved on to Oxford, he created the Coalbiters, a group of professors who read aloud Icelandic sagas. The purpose of the group was to encourage his friends to read Icelandic literature in its original language (which all but Tolkien struggled with).

Eventually, the Coalbiters had read all of the sagas and the Eddas, and so they disbanded. Tolkien’s energies were then put into The Inklings, a group of writing friends (all male and Christian) who met weekly in a pub, drinking tea and smoking pipes, and reading manuscripts. They would listen, provide criticism, and then eventually the talk would spill into other areas of interest. This group would be one of Tolkien’s first audiences for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and they truly encouraged and supported his writing.

~o~

That’s all for today, but make sure to check back on Thursday when Mandy tells us more about how Tolkien was just like us!

The Fourteenth Member of the Company

Hello, friends!  Today I’m honoured to play host to one of my very favourite people, Heather over at Becoming Cliche.  We’ve been friends since before either of us were blogging, and she’s the main reason I’m even still doing this.  I wish I had transcripts of our many, many, MANY Tolkien and Harry Potter related chats/arguments, because I think they’d be fun to read over again (and maybe share snippets from).  Anyway, we’ve never had anyone guest post here at Snobbery before, so I’m pretty excited that she’s our first.   Please check out her blog when you’re done.  She’s got funny kid stories and turtles/tortoises up the wazoo (but not literally). – sj

~o~

When sj asked me a couple of weeks ago if I wanted to write a post on what reading Tolkien means to me, I thought “Of course! That’s easy.” I was wrong. It’s not as easy as I thought it would be.

The Hobbit was the first real book  my mother ever read to me. She read other stuff, of course. Adorable picture books which have followed me into my life as adult with kids of her own to share them with, devotionals, that kind of thing. But at the age of seven, The Hobbit was my first book with chapters, long, meaty chapters containing worlds I had never imagined. And adventures. Lots of adventures.

If I close my eyes, I can still feel her sitting at the bottom of my bed, leaning against the wall. The large, embossed green leather volume open in her lap. I have no recollection of my sister joining us. I know that she was there, since we shared a room, but she didn’t play into my internal story at all.  From the moment those colorful hoods were hung on pegs, I was out of my world and into Middle Earth.

Little did I know that my mother was reading me a tale of my own heritage and genealogy. Thirty years later, I gave birth to a baby boy. The nurse looked at him. My husband and I looked at him. Finally, the midwife said what we were all thinking. “Who does he look like?”  Without hesitation, I replied “Bilbo Baggins!”

My BUTTONS! Seriously! I’m stark naked, and you should SEE what they did to my BELLY button!

See the resemblance?

See? Minus the elf-blade. Newborns shouldn’t play with knives. Thank, tolkienshop.com for the image!

It explains a lot, really. I have some distinctly Bilbo-like tendencies. Over the years, I have watched others do great things from a distance, afraid to leave the comfort of my hobbit-hole and try them myself.I always felt like a hobbit in a room full of dwarves, out of place and somewhat useless.

But it’s adventure time, friends. When I was invited to join the LotR group-read, I didn’t hesitate. The negative voices never had a chance to remind me that it would take me away from my own writing. That sneaky, sinister Gollum in my heart didn’t have time to ensure me that I don’t belong – the other participants are way too cool for me. I may not have a hood of my own hanging from the peg, but I’ll borrow one. I may forget my handkerchief, but I know how to wipe my nose on my sleeve. As soon as I finish up my second breakfast, I’ll be on along. You never know. I may prove dead useful in a pinch. But I’ll be late and always behind. Count on it. For this is not a solitary journey. Yes, I am reading Tolkien. I am reading it aloud, the way it was intended, and for anyone who wants to listen.

So what does the Hobbit mean to me? It’s my mom sitting on the end of my bed explaining who I am and what greatness I can achieve. I like it.

Book Review – Dead Harvest

Guys, look at that cover.  I love pretty much everything about it.  If I were ONLY judging this book by its cover, it would totally get ALL THE STARS.  Listen, though.  I don’t generally judge books by their covers (okay, that’s a lie, but you know what I mean), I like to actually read them before I get all “ZOMG THIS IS THE BEST BOOK EVAR!!!”

Before I go any further, click this and just let it play while you read the rest.  This was part of my reading soundtrack during this book, because I thought Book of Angels was entirely appropriate for a book about, well – angels (and demons and collectors and the FATE OF THE WORLD).

Sam Thornton is a Collector.  Not of rare books or beanie babies, a soul collector.  He made some bad choices during his life and as a result, he gets to spend eternity taking the souls of those that are irredeemable.

Sorry, it’s nothing personal.

Within the first few pages, we see Sam collect the soul of “Britain’s Greatest Living Author” and receive his next assignment from his handler, Lilith (“I told you not to call me Lily”).  I know, it seems like Lilith has become more and more popular in literature and television lately, but her character here is done really well.  From this short interaction, we learn a few more things about the world Holm has created.  Sam can be sent on “contract or freelance” jobs, meaning he collects not only those whose actions have damned them, but also those who’ve struck the proverbial Deal with the Devil.  DUN DUN DUNNNNNNNN.  We also find out that Sam has no physical presence, he gets around by inhabiting the bodies of the living or recently deceased.  He prefers to take over the newly dead because he gets headaches from the living.  An empty vessel won’t fight or be constantly yelling in the background.  Oh, and he smokes a lot.

Sam’s newest job is to collect the soul of a young girl that has just been caught murdering her family.  No big, he’s been doing this for the last 60+ years so it should be a piece of cake.  Unfortunately, Sam runs into a complication he couldn’t anticipate.  His current job’s soul is pure.  Collecting the soul of an innocent would bring on a full scale war between Heaven and Hell, so Sam chooses an unthinkable option – he takes the girl and runs.

“You ask me, I’d guess heaven and hell look pretty much the same,” I replied. “Only in hell, everything is just a little out of reach.”

The story that follows was what can only be referred to as Hardboiled Urban Fantasy.  Holm has obviously taken his inspiration from Hammett and Chandler, but put his own inventive twist to bring it forward into the 21st century.

“What kept this from being a five star book,” you may be asking.  Well, let me tell you.

  • The first two-thirds of the book were incredibly well-written.  I have many writerly friends, so I am almost positive that what happened here was that the beginning of the story was re-written and revised many, many times, polished and whacked with the editing stick to within an inch of its life.  The final third wasn’t terrible by any means, but it lacked the refinement of the earlier chapters.
  • Sam’s internal monologues are peppered with haftas and gonnas – I don’t mind this in dialogue because I feel it sets the tone, but it was a little distracting to read Sam thinking this way.
  • There was a bit of what I’m going to refer to as a deus in vas figuli - I was a little confused as to where this awesome weapon came from and what it actually was.
  • We’re told Sam’s backstory (how he came to be a Collector in the first place) in a series of vignettes, which was fine.  What bothered me was that the sections with backstory were completely italicized.  My eyes have a difficult time focusing on large blocks of italics and/or bold, so I found myself wishing those portions were a little shorter.  YMMV, though.

These are really just minor nitpicks, though.  Even in the latter portions of the book, there was some seriously gorgeous writing – particularly a scene in the subway tunnels with a fallen angel whose name was once Veloch.  Honestly, I’d tell you to read the book just for that scene, but the rest of it is worth reading anyway.

According to Mandy’s rubric, Dead Harvest garnered itself 4.1 stars, which may not be all the stars but is still pretty damn good.