Monday, January 27, 2014

Gormenghast - Mervyn Peake

This is the Hundred-and-sixteenth in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

I was undecided about including this book in my bookshelf posts as it is a trilogy of which I have only read the first book [confession]. However recent conversation about The Silmarillion being read or unread, but still residing on people's shelves inspired me to include it anyway.

I read the first book, Titus Groan, many years ago and was blown away by the rich visual imagery and the incarnation of characters. I can't for the life of me recall the plot but I can recall the impact of the vivid language. This is unusual for me as I nearly always read a book for the story and the fate of the characters. I think I was overwhelmed by the richness, like a blue cheese, and have not felt strong enough for another taste. However Mervyn Peake was a genius and I fully intend to go back and read all of this trilogy. Bucket list. Until then it stays on my bookshelf.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Silmarillion - J.R.R. Tolkien

This is the Hundred-and-fifteenth in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

The Silmarillion is a jewel of a book (a pun for those in the know), prepared for publication after Tolkien's death by his son Christopher it is a collection of works, of which the title work is the most important providing as it does the dense kernel from which the more popular and accessible Third Age works derive. And it is dense and difficult going. This is not for fans of Lord of the Rings but for fans of Tolkien's Middle Earth in all of its rich landscape and history and language.

I bought this copy when it was published and I have treasured it and struggled with it over the years. When my kids ask me questions about Gandalf (was he always old? where did he come from? is he human?) or Elrond (is he an elf? where are they going over the sea?) or Dwarfs (what is their history?) I  refer them to The Silmarillion (or the appendices) where answers to such questions can be found. And there are answers to these questions and more, a solid and rich foundation on which Tolkien built his other stories.

I won't pretend that The Silmarillion is a book for everyone, or that it doesn't lie unread on many shelves, but I treasure the insight it gives into Tolkien's world and I can't imagine not having it on my bookshelf.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Return of the King - J.R.R. Tolkien

This is the Hundred-and-fourteenth in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

There is a great tragedy and an unexpected victory, a home coming and a home leaving. And when you have read the story you can wander through the appendices and linger over some of the detail and glean snippets that round out the story. A bit like looking through the fridge on the day after a dinner party.

One of my biggest disappointments with Peter Jackson's film version is that he didn't include the Scouring of the Shire. This has always been one of my great delights in reading the book, a second climax to the greater story, an unexpected, closer to home battle to be fought. In many ways more meaningful, certainly for the folk of Hobbiton, than the matter of the Ring.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Two Towers - J.R.R. Tolkien

This is the Hundred-and-thirteenth in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

This middle volume of the three book set is neatly divided into the story of two journeys (with some further separate journeys in the first that come together at the end). I've always particularly anticipated the first journey that ends up at the foot of Orthanc and dragged my heels at the thought of starting the dreary journey across the marshlands. Yet I always find when I read that second story that the dreary section isn't as long or as dire as memory would have it. Perhaps that says something about the impact of the writing that memory accords more size to something that actually isn't that over whelming in the story. If you asked me how I felt about the book as a whole, at the time I've just read it, I would say - excellent.

If none of that makes sense to you then perhaps you need another (or first) read of Tolkien's work.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Fellowship of the Ring - J.R.R. Tolkien

This is the Hundred-and-twelfth in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

It has taken me over a hundred books to get to one of the jewels in my collection. This is not because I suddenly discovered it or had forgotten it. In my must-have collection this will be one of the very first.

Part of my dilemma and part of my delay was that I suspect many, many people will include this book (and its fellows) in their own essential reading list and it seemed a bit obvious and a little trite to have led with this.

I had read The Hobbit at an earlyish age, too young at the time for access to the adult section of my public library, yet I braved the raised eye brow of the stern library staff and found the 1970's hardcover edition of The Lord of the Rings and was enthralled. The large pull out maps, the yellowish paper and the quality of the publication - better than anything I've since owned - all combined into one of those defining moments in time.

And what I loved, and still do, isn't the extensive back story and the elvish and other languages or the detailed appendixes (though I love them all) but what enthralled me was the story. And it is the story that keeps bringing me back to The Lord of the Rings.

This first book is a journey from the comfortable and comic into the dark and the deep. It provides the linkage from the 'written for children' to the 'written for adults'. It starts a journey that took Tolkien a long time to complete and which sets the stage for one of the great tales of modern times. Enough said.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

How much Tolkien is too much?

On my bookshelf there is one author who is not only well represented but over represented.

I refer of course to Tolkien and in particular to the Lord of the Rings.

I have the three book, boxed, paperback set that I purchased in 1978 (along with the first edition of The Silmarillion and a biography by Humphrey Carpenter) and which I like but which has faded and in which the binding is failing. Read too often I am afraid.

My better half brought to our relationship a single volume paperback (far too cumbersome for my tastes) and a boxed, Alan Lee illustrated, hardcover set (too nice for actual reading).

In recent times I found a boxed, paperback set of all the actual 'books' with Tolkien's titles (such as 'The Ring Goes South') and these are my preferred version for reading. I find the volumes easier to handle and the text is a nice size (meaning it is suitably large).

I don't have a Kindle version but I think that is inevitable.

And I have on the shelf the already mentioned The Hobbit, Farmer Giles of Ham, and Tree and Leaf.

I think it is time I added a little more Tolkien to my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

Footnote: You may notice a boxed set of the special extended edition of the Peter Jackson films and I am happy to have them on the shelf - though the books would get preference any day - and they have been watched with pleasure on more than occasion. The extended version is quite a bit longer than the cinema release and good value. I recently saw the second film in The Hobbit set, twice, and if there is eventually an extended version then it will find me a willing buyer.