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What I read in June 2020 (Part 1)

The next three books are all from our shelves. I had read them previously, but too long ago to remember much about them. They are all by JRR Tolkien.

The three books

The Silmarillion is a prequel to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. It was compiled from JRR Tolkien’s papers after his death and published in 1977. All I could remember about it was that I was very disappointed with it shortly after its publication. With Middle Earth fresh in my mind I began reading it as soon as I finished The Return of the King. I found it very slow reading, but worth the effort. The early part included a sort of creation story and all the different races, which peopled Middle Earth, were slowly introduced with chronologies and genealogies for each. I could only read a few pages at a time, so interspersed the books in my previous post with this. It reminded me of the Books of Kings in the Bible, with the amount of information about each family and the characters of the individuals.

Later there is an exciting section about journeys and battles, but the best is kept until the very end, when the answer to a mystery is revealed. Having an index of characters, a map and other appendices this is a remarkable work ably edited by Christopher Tolkien, son of JRR Tolkien.

Tree and Leaf is a small volume. My 1974 edition has 50p as the price! Inside there is the text of a lecture about Fairy stories presented in 1938, with additional notes – some as footnotes, others appended. On Fairy Stories is followed by Tree and Leaf, a story, which I’d classify as a fable or allegory rather than a fairy story. However it does illustrate what Tolkien regarded as sub-creation – the creation of imaginary worlds. I had not remembered as much about this story as I thought. I still believe that Tolkien modelled one of the characters on himself, but for a different reason. The story is perhaps Tolkien’s equivalent to CS Lewis’ The Great Divorce, although their beliefs were not exactly the same. One thing, which struck me, is how the world has changed since Tolkien’s time. Would a young adult reader know about railway porters? Tolkien was writing in a time when train travel was the most usual and only a very small minority of people travelled overseas.

The third book I read really is a fairy story. Smith of Wootton Major is a tiny hard-backed volume with illustrations. If it has a lesson to teach, it is that people will believe what they want to believe, but it is best enjoyed as a story!

What I read in September 2019 (Part 1)

Early Riser by Jasper Fforde had been on my list of books to look out for ever since it was published last year. It perhaps wasn’t the best time to request this book from the library, when I was feeling mentally and emotionally exhausted. There is a lot about sleep and dreams in it; ironically in an overheated environment I kept falling asleep over it.

As Jasper Fforde is one of my (many) favourite authors I reread the book carefully before its three weeks’ loan was over. It was much easier to follow the plot the second time round. There were hints at what was going on, but with a large character cast, a complex social system, new uses for existing words and neologisms aplenty, knowing how some of the threads had been tied up helped me make more sense of the beginning. As usual Fforde has created a wealth of literature for the backstory to this novel from which he quotes at the beginning of each chapter. There are also his customary footnotes, which add to the text in an amusing way.

It is fantasy about an alternative reality. The humour is very dark in places. Readers familiar with classical literature, celebrities and books will appreciate this book better than those who are less widely read. Some knowledge of the geography of Wales might also help. I had to research some of the celebrities (i.e. ask hubby!) and probably should check some Greek myths.

Or you could just read it and use a search engine to see whether any of the character names have been recycled! Another good candidate for reading groups to discuss.

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What I read in June 2019 (Part 4)

Four recommended reads this time.

The Ladybird Book of British Wildflowers

As a child I collected most of the series of Ladybird books about nature. I used to reread them on Saturday mornings in summer, when I was awake before the rest of the household. In an idle moment I read through the wildflower book again. It was interesting to see what was included. There are plants (including a few rare ones) which flower in different seasons and various habitats. The illustrations are lovely paintings. As I didn’t take it out into the countryside, I’m not sure I learned a lot from it as a child, although I did understand the use of a key to the pictures. Each painting is accompanied by text and a line drawing with numbers indicating which plant is which. My interest in reading it again was due to #wildflowerhour.

The Quiet Music of Gently Falling Snow by Jackie Morris

I was delighted to receive this beautiful book as a present. I was unaware of Jackie Morris’ books apart from The Lost Words, which I have written about previously. The Quiet Music of Gently Falling Snow developed from a series of Christmas cards, which the artist/author had designed for a charity – Help Musicians UK. I looked through it and read the whole text in an hour or two. It was so beautiful it made me cry.

The text is a series of stories with a fairy-tale feel about them. It is a picture book for adults. Many details in the pictures make it a book, which can be enjoyed over and over again.

Live, Lose, Learn: A Poetry Collection by Mari Howard

This beautifully presented book from Hodge Publishing was on sale at a writers’ weekend I attended recently. I read all the poems in a single sitting, but will return to this slim volume later to read them more slowly. There are four sections in the book and some illustrations. Unfortunately there is no contents list.

The Dangers of Family Secrets by Debby Holt

As I am currently reading two nonfiction books, which I hope to have finished and be ready to review soon, I popped into the library to find some light reading. The book I chose was on the Quick Choice display. The title caught my eye and the blurb made the book sound interesting. I began reading it the same day and spent a lazy Saturday afternoon reading to the end. There are a lot of strands to the story, which are satisfactorily woven together by the end. As an added bonus some of the characters have literary or artistic interests. Coincidentally Tom’s Midnight Garden is  mentioned in this book. I actually laughed out loud at one point, when a build-up of tension in the story was replaced by relief.