Tag Archives: 5 Star Reviews
My Reading Process. I listened to much of Book 6, but then, I couldn’t take the suspense any more, and I raced through the end on my iPad. Overall, I really really enjoyed the flexibility that having both the audiobook and the ebook afforded me during this readalong.
My Thoughts on Book 6. I loved this book! The conclusion. The destruction of the ring at last. The wedding and coronation of Aragorn. The scouring of the Shire. The trip to the Grey Havens. Sigh. It is interesting that Tolkien choose to structure the last four books with overlapping timelines, focusing (almost) solely on Sam and Frodo in books 4 and 6. While I loved the books as-is, it might have had more emotional impact had the last stand of the kings alternated with Sam and Frodo’s struggle to get to Mount Doom. I don’t know. I probably shouldn’t second guess such a master.
Anyway, if you couldn’t tell, I wholehearted enjoyed this book/series. Such amazing characters and scenes. I cried during large parts of Book 5 and Book 6, which was embarrassing at times because I was often driving to work when that happened.
Here are some of my favorite quotes from Book 6:
You want to know what’s sad? There are only a few from the very end, since I listened to most of it. Sorry about that.
But the Queen Arwen said: ‘A gift I will give you. For I am the daughter of Elrond. I shall not go with him now when he departs to the Havens; for mine is the choice of Lúthien, and as she so have I chosen, both the sweet and the bitter. But in my stead you shall go, Ring-bearer, when the time comes, and if you then desire it. If your hurts grieve you still and the memory of your burden is heavy, then you may pass into the West, until all your wounds and weariness are healed. But wear this now in memory of Elfstone and Evenstar with whom your life has been woven!’
Foreshadowing! Also, an interesting reason for why Frodo gets to go.
It was one of the saddest hours in their lives. The great chimney rose up before them; and as they drew near the old village across the Water, through rows of new mean houses along each side of the road, they saw the new mill in all its frowning and dirty ugliness: a great brick building straddling the stream, which it fouled with a steaming and stinking outflow. All along the Bywater Road every tree had been felled.
‘They’ve cut down the Party Tree!’
The trees were the worst loss and damage, for at Sharkey’s bidding they had been cut down recklessly far and wide over the Shire; and Sam grieved over this more than anything else. For one thing, this hurt would take long to heal, and only his great-grandchildren, he thought, would see the Shire as it ought to be. Then suddenly one day, for he had been too busy for weeks to give a thought to his adventures, he remembered the gift of Galadriel. He brought the box out and showed it to the other Travellers (for so they were now called by everyone), and asked their advice.
So Sam planted saplings in all the places where specially beautiful or beloved trees had been destroyed, and he put a grain of the precious dust in the soil at the root of each. He went up and down the Shire in this labour; but if he paid special attention to Hobbiton and Bywater no one blamed him. And at the end he found that he still had a little of the dust left; so he went to the Three-Farthing Stone, which is as near the centre of the Shire as no matter, and cast it in the air with his blessing. The little silver nut he planted in the Party Field where the tree had once been; and he wondered what would come of it. All through the winter he remained as patient as he could, and tried to restrain himself from going round constantly to see if anything was happening.
In the Party Field a beautiful young sapling leaped up: it had silver bark and long leaves and burst into golden flowers in April. It was indeed a mallorn, and it was the wonder of the neighbourhood.
Frodo dropped quietly out of all the doings of the Shire, and Sam was pained to notice how little honour he had in his own country. Few people knew or wanted to know about his deeds and adventures; their admiration and respect were given mostly to Mr. Meriadoc and Mr. Peregrin and (if Sam had known it) to himself.
Elrond wore a mantle of grey and had a star upon his forehead, and a silver harp was in his hand, and upon his finger was a ring of gold with a great blue stone, Vilya, mightiest of the Three.
But Galadriel sat upon a white palfrey and was robed all in glimmering white, like clouds about the Moon; for she herself seemed to shine with a soft light. On her finger was Nenya, the ring wrought of mithril, that bore a single white stone flickering like a frosty star.
As he turned and came towards them Frodo saw that Gandalf now wore openly on his hand the Third Ring, Narya the Great, and the stone upon it was red as fire. Then those who were to go were glad, for they knew that Gandalf also would take ship with them.
But I have been too deeply hurt, Sam. I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.
Then Frodo kissed Merry and Pippin, and last of all Sam, and went aboard; and the sails were drawn up, and the wind blew, and slowly the ship slipped away down the long grey firth; and the light of the glass of Galadriel that Frodo bore glimmered and was lost.
ANSWERS TO DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
1. Has your favorite character changed in The Return of the King? If yes, why?
Nope. Aragorn forever and ever. Amen. BUT, I did gain a greater appreciation for almost all of the other characters. Sam. Frodo. Merry. Pippin. Gandalf. Boramir. Faramir. Eowyn. Tom Bombadil. Elrond. Gollum. Theoden. Even Denethor and Saruman.
2. Which is your favorite book of the series? Why?
Can’t choose. I like them all for different reasons. I like Fellowship because of the set up and Rivendell and whatnot. I like Two Towers because of all the action and character development. I like Return of the King because of all the satisfactory resolutions!
3. Do you like how the series ended? Why?
Yes. Yes I do. I even like the denouement after the destruction of the ring. I thought the scouring of the Shire was kind of an awesome illustration of the lessons the hobbits learned along the way. And the ending at the Grey Havens and the ride home and Sam at Bag End? Perfect.
4. If you could change one thing about the ending what would it be and why?
Could we add in the part from the movie that Jenni and I love so much? “My friends, you bow to no one.”
5. Were there any changes in The Return of the King movie that you liked or disliked?
I’m bummed the movies didn’t include the healing stuff or the Shire stuff, but I understand why they did it. As aforementioned, I like the “my friends, you bow to no one” business.
6. What was your favorite moment in Book 6?
Can I pick three? Destruction of the ring. Reunion of the Fellowship. Coronation of Aragorn.
7. Which death affected you the most?
Apparently none. I can’t even think of a death in Book 6. Well, except Gollum, and I only thought that it was a fitting end.
8. Why do you think Frodo didn’t want to kill Saruman and Wormtongue, even after all the destruction and heartache they caused in the Shire?
Pacifist Frodo kind of annoys me, but it’s also understandable that after being saddled with an object of so much evil and destruction that he now eschews any kind of violence. I also think he learned his lesson with Gollum that every creature is pitiable in some way.
9. If you were in Frodo’s place, would you have done the same thing? (See previous question.)
I don’t know. I might be upset enough about the destruction of the Shire to kill them, but I think Frodo is already removed enough to not have that effect him.
10. If JRR Tolkien were still alive and wrote a sequel to The Lord of the Rings, which character would you want to see the most and why?
Aragorn!! Because Aragorn.
My Reading Process. I read all of Book 4 and didn’t listen to any of it.
My Thoughts on Book 4. I really liked Book 4, and I didn’t have high hopes after I found out that it was just Sam and Frodo the whole time.
Here are some of my favorite quotes from Book 4:
Sam shook his head and did not answer. He was passing the rope through his fingers thoughtfully. ‘Have it your own way, Mr. Frodo,’ he said at last, ‘but I think the rope came off itself – when I called.’ He coiled it up and stowed it lovingly in his pack.
‘Very well,’ he answered aloud, lowering his sword. ‘But still I am afraid. And yet, as you see, I will not touch the creature. For now that I see him, I do pity him.
In fact with every step towards the gates of Mordor Frodo felt the Ring on its chain about his neck grow more burdensome. He was now beginning to feel it as an actual weight dragging him earthwards.
For a while they stood there, like men on the edge of a sleep where nightmare lurks, holding it off, though they know that they can only come to morning through the shadows.
What’s taters, precious, eh, what’s taters?’ ‘Po – ta – toes,’ said Sam.
‘But fear no more! I would not take this thing, if it lay by the highway. Not were Minas Tirith falling in ruin and I alone could save her, so, using the weapon of the Dark Lord for her good and my glory. No, I do not wish for such triumphs, Frodo son of Drogo.
War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.
‘So it seems,’ said Faramir, slowly and very softly, with a strange smile. ‘So that is the answer to all the riddles! The One Ring that was thought to have perished from the world. And Boromir tried to take it by force? And you escaped? And ran all the way – to me! And here in the wild I have you: two halflings, and a host of men at my call, and the Ring of Rings. A pretty stroke of fortune! A chance for Faramir, Captain of Gondor, to show his quality! Ha!’ He stood up, very tall and stern, his grey eyes glinting.
‘Yes sir, and showed your quality: the very highest.
Faramir smiled. ‘A pert servant, Master Samwise. But nay: the praise of the praiseworthy is above all rewards. Yet there was naught in this to praise. I had no lure or desire to do other than I have done.
‘Ah well, sir,’ said Sam, ‘you said my master had an Elvish air; and that was good and true. But I can say this: you have an air too, sir, that reminds me of, of – well, Gandalf, of wizards.’ ‘Maybe,’ said Faramir. ‘Maybe you discern from far away the air of Númenor. Good night!
The hobbits’ packs were brought to them (a little heavier than they had been), and also two stout staves of polished wood, shod with iron, and with carven heads through which ran plaited leathern thongs. ‘I have no fitting gifts to give you at our parting,’ said Faramir; ‘but take these staves. They may be of service to those who walk or climb in the wild. The men of the White Mountains use them; though these have been cut down to your height and newly shod. They are made of the fair tree lebethron, beloved of the woodwrights of Gondor, and a virtue has been set upon them of finding and returning. May that virtue not wholly fail under the Shadow into which you go!
The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of a sport, as you might say. But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually – their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t. And if they had, we shouldn’t know, because they’d have been forgotten. We hear about those as just went on – and not all to a good end, mind you; at least not to what folk inside a story and not outside it call a good end. You know, coming home, and finding things all right, though not quite the same – like old Mr. Bilbo. But those aren’t always the best tales to hear, though they may be the best tales to get landed in! I wonder what sort of a tale we’ve fallen into?’ ‘I wonder,’ said Frodo. ‘But I don’t know. And that’s the way of a real tale. Take any one that you’re fond of. You may know, or guess, what kind of a tale it is, happy-ending or sad-ending, but the people in it don’t know. And you don’t want them to.’
Still, I wonder if we shall ever be put into songs or tales. We’re in one, of course; but I mean: put into words, you know, told by the fireside, or read out of a great big book with red and black letters, years and years afterwards. And people will say: “Let’s hear about Frodo and the Ring!” And they’ll say: “Yes, that’s one of my favourite stories. Frodo was very brave, wasn’t he, dad?” “Yes, my boy, the famousest of the hobbits, and that’s saying a lot.
‘Why, Sam,’ he said, ‘to hear you somehow makes me as merry as if the story was already written. But you’ve left out one of the chief characters: Samwise the stouthearted. “I want to hear more about Sam, dad. Why didn’t they put in more of his talk, dad? That’s what I like, it makes me laugh. And Frodo wouldn’t have got far without Sam, would he, dad?
I have something to do before the end. I must see it through, sir, if you understand. ‘But what can I do? Not leave Mr. Frodo dead, unburied on the top of the mountains, and go home? Or go on? Go on?’ he repeated, and for a moment doubt and fear shook him. ‘Go on? Is that what I’ve got to do? And leave him?
‘What am I to do then?’ he cried again, and now he seemed plainly to know the hard answer: see it through. Another lonely journey, and the worst. ‘What? Me, alone, go to the Crack of Doom and all?’ He quailed still, but the resolve grew. ‘What? Me take the Ring from him? The Council gave it to him.’ But the answer came at once: ‘And the Council gave him companions, so that the errand should not fail. And you are the last of all the Company. The errand must not fail.
ANSWERS TO DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
1. Has your favorite character changed in The Two Towers? If yes, why?
Not really. But kind of. Aragorn is my favorite character in the books, hands down. But The Two Towers has made me appreciate Sam on a whole new level. He’s kind of a rock star.
2. Which do you like more, The Fellowship of the Ring or The Two Towers? Why?
I don’t know. I can’t pick! I felt like Fellowship flowed a bit better, but I ended up really liking Two Towers too.
3. Do you think Frodo and Sam should have killed Gollum?
No. I mean, I know what part he plays in the end, so that comes in to it. But I do think he should be pitied. And I think Frodo identifies with him.
4. What do you think about Book Faramir vs. Movie Faramir?
Sigh. Why oh why did they do that to movie Faramir?!? I feel like the movie still could have had a good suspenseful bit with Faramir, even playing off of the differences between Boromir and Faramir, without completely changing Faramir’s character.
5. Why do you think Frodo trusts Gollum?
I think Frodo wants to trust Gollum and is kind of forced to. There really isn’t anyone else available to guide them to Mordor, right?
6. If you were in Sam’s place, would you have made the same choices if you thought Frodo was dead?
Yes. I think so. In any case, I think it was very brave and noble of Sam. But I agree with Kami that I would not have left Frodo’s body out in the open like that.
7. Frodo is very blessed to have Sam with him on his quest. He is a great support and companion, and Frodo even admits he wouldn’t have made it far without Sam. If you could choose one person to take on a epic quest with you, who would it be and why? (Choose anyone! They can be fictional, family, role model, etc.)
Aragorn! No need to say anything more, right?
8. On the flip side, do you think Frodo should have had a different member of the fellowship with him instead of Sam?
There are certainly people that would have been more helpful guiding and protecting Frodo, like Gandalf and Aragorn, but I think Sam was the right choice. There is no one more loyal, and Sam, Frodo, and Gollum were able to move without attracting too much attention.
9. How has the ring affected Frodo so far in the story?
It definitely weighs on him. I like, though, that he is aware of its power and is therefore able to control it a little. He even used his power as the master of the ring to command Gollum.
10. What was your favorite moment in Book 4?
I think it was Faramir figuring things out about the ring and letting them go. Followed closely by Sam taking the ring.
My Reading Process. I listened to most of this book on audio, though I did go back from time to time and read through portions again on my ebook for the purpose of marking quotations and whatnot. The ebook/audio thing is still really working for me.
My Thoughts on Book 2. I am still having a lovely time reading through this epic tale. I don’t have quite as many quotes marked up this time due to the aforementioned listening, but I do have quiet a few. Here are some of my favorites:
The face of Elrond was ageless, neither old nor young, though in it was written the memory of many things both glad and sorrowful. His hair was dark as the shadows of twilight, and upon it was set a circlet of silver; his eyes were grey as a clear evening, and in them was a light like the light of stars. Venerable he seemed as a king crowned with many winters, and yet hale as a tried warrior in the fulness of his strength. He was the Lord of Rivendell and mighty among both Elves and Men.
There was also a strange Elf clad in green and brown, Legolas, a messenger from his father, Thranduil, the King of the Elves of Northern Mirkwood. And seated a little apart was a tall man with a fair and noble face, dark-haired and grey-eyed, proud and stern of glance. He was cloaked and booted as if for a journey on horseback; and indeed though his garments were rich, and his cloak was lined with fur, they were stained with long travel. He had a collar of silver in which a single white stone was set; his locks were shorn about his shoulders. On a baldric he wore a great horn tipped with silver that now was laid upon his knees.
‘And here in the house of Elrond more shall be made clear to you,’ said Aragorn, standing up. He cast his sword upon the table that stood before Elrond, and the blade was in two pieces. ‘Here is the Sword that was Broken!’ he said.
‘And who are you, and what have you to do with Minas Tirith?’ asked Boromir, looking in wonder at the lean face of the Ranger and his weather-stained cloak.
I am Saruman the Wise, Saruman Ring-maker, Saruman of Many Colours!”
I looked then and saw that his robes, which had seemed white, were not so, but were woven of all colours, and if he moved they shimmered and changed hue so that the eye was bewildered. “I liked white better,” I said.
“White!” he sneered. “It serves as a beginning. White cloth may be dyed. The white page can be overwritten; and the white light can be broken.”
“In which case it is no longer white,” said I. “And he that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom.”
“We can bide our time, we can keep our thoughts in our hearts, deploring maybe evils done by the way, but approving the high and ultimate purpose: Knowledge, Rule, Order; all the things that we have so far striven in vain to accomplish, hindered rather than helped by our weak or idle friends. There need not be, there would not be, any real change in our designs, only in our means.”
“Saruman,” I said, “I have heard speeches of this kind before, but only in the mouths of emissaries sent from Mordor to deceive the ignorant. I cannot think that you brought me so far only to weary my ears.”
‘True indeed!’ said Gandalf. ‘And there is one among them that might have been foaled in the morning of the world. The horses of the Nine cannot vie with him; tireless, swift as the flowing wind. Shadowfax they called him. By day his coat glistens like silver; and by night it is like a shade, and he passes unseen. Light is his footfall! Never before had any man mounted him, but I took him and I tamed him, and so speedily he bore me that I reached the Shire when Frodo was on the Barrow-downs, though I set out from Rohan only when he set out from Hobbiton.
‘I will take the Ring,’ he said, ‘though I do not know the way.’
Elrond raised his eyes and looked at him, and Frodo felt his heart pierced by the sudden keenness of the glance. ‘If I understand aright all that I have heard,’ he said, ‘I think that this task is appointed for you, Frodo; and that if you do not find a way, no one will. This is the hour of the Shire-folk, when they arise from their quiet fields to shake the towers and counsels of the Great. Who of all the Wise could have foreseen it? Or, if they are wise, why should they expect to know it, until the hour has struck? ‘But it is a heavy burden.
Oh Frodo. I love this kind of thing.
‘The Company of the Ring shall be Nine; and the Nine Walkers shall be set against the Nine Riders that are evil. With you and your faithful servant, Gandalf will go; for this shall be his great task, and maybe the end of his labours. ‘For the rest, they shall represent the other Free Peoples of the World: Elves, Dwarves, and Men. Legolas shall be for the Elves; and Gimli son of Glóin for the Dwarves. They are willing to go at least to the passes of the Mountains, and maybe beyond. For men you shall have Aragorn son of Arathorn, for the Ring of Isildur concerns him closely.’
Therefore Boromir will also be in the Company. He is a valiant man.’
‘It is grim reading,’ he said. ‘I fear their end was cruel. Listen! We cannot get out. We cannot get out. They have taken the Bridge and second hall. Frár and Lóni and Náli fell there. Then there are four lines smeared so that I can only read went 5 days ago. The last lines run the pool is up to the wall at Westgate. The Watcher in the Water took Óin. We cannot get out. The end comes, and then drums, drums in the deep. I wonder what that means. The last thing written is in a trailing scrawl of elf-letters: they are coming. There is nothing more.’
‘They are coming!’ cried Legolas. ‘We cannot get out,’ said Gimli.
‘You cannot pass!’ he said.
With a terrible cry the Balrog fell forward, and its shadow plunged down and vanished. But even as it fell it swung its whip, and the thongs lashed and curled about the wizard’s knees, dragging him to the brink. He staggered and fell, grasped vainly at the stone, and slid into the abyss. ‘Fly, you fools!’ he cried, and was gone.
I hate to admit it, but I like the movie line “You shall not pass!” better.
In this box there is earth from my orchard, and such blessing as Galadriel has still to bestow is upon it. It will not keep you on your road, nor defend you against any peril; but if you keep it and see your home again at last, then perhaps it may reward you. Though you should find all barren and laid waste, there will be few gardens in Middle-earth that will bloom like your garden, if you sprinkle this earth there.
I have fear for the Shire.
‘Oh, Mr. Frodo, that’s hard!’ said Sam shivering. ‘That’s hard, trying to go without me and all. If I hadn’t a guessed right, where would you be now?’
‘Safely on my way.’
‘Safely!’ said Sam. ‘All alone and without me to help you? I couldn’t have a borne it, it’d have been the death of me.’
‘It would be the death of you to come with me, Sam,’ said Frodo, ‘and I could not have borne that.’
‘Not as certain as being left behind,’ said Sam.
‘But I am going to Mordor.’
‘I know that well enough, Mr. Frodo. Of course you are. And I’m coming with you.’
ANSWERS TO DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
1. Even if you’ve read the books before (or you’ve seen the movies), were you surprised by who Elrond picked for the fellowship?
Yes and no. I thought he might pick an elf from Rivendell to go. I was, however, surprised that he was reluctant to send Merry and Pippin along and that he wanted to send Pippin back to the Shire to help there.
2. How do you feel about Gandalf’s fate in Moria?
I’ve seen the movies, so I was not surprised this time. But the first time I saw the movie, I was pretty upset. Pretty upset.
3. What do you think you would see in Galadriel’s mirror?
I have no idea. I’d rather hang out with Galadriel than look in the mirror. :)
4. If you could have any of the gifts the elves from Lothlórien gave to the fellowship, which one would you choose and why?
I have to say that I love the gift to Sam and how he uses it. But if I were choosing for me, I would want the light of Elendil, of course. Bottled star seems cool.
5. Do you think Boromir had any logic in his thinking about using the ring to fight Sauron?
Yes, I do. All he wants is to save his lands and to give his men the strength to fight the enemy. And he sees the power to do that in front of him. Though I find Boromir at little boring and annoying, I do at least see his motivations.
6. Do you think Frodo was rash for leaving the fellowship behind?
No, I don’t. I think eight or nine people would attract too much attention. Even Aragorn sees it at the end there.
7. Do you have a hard time following the action? Do the movies, if you’ve seen them, make it easier to envision the events taking place?
Yes, I think the movies do help me “see” the action better. I’m not sure how I would have fared without the movie background, but I think they are written well enough that I would have been fine.
8. Who is your favorite and least favorite character in The Fellowship of the Ring?
My favorite is always Aragorn. Always. And my least favorite is Boromir, with Legolas a close second.
9. What is your favorite and least favorite scene in The Fellowship of the Ring?
I have so many favorite scenes. I can’t pick! I love the declarations of courage and honor the most: Merry and Pipping revealing their well-laid plans; Aragorn declaring he will protect them; Frodo saying he will be the ring-bearer; Gandalf facing down the Balrog; and Sam declaring he will go to Mordor with Frodo. There are some repetitive travel scenes in there that aren’t my favorite, but I think they lend the tale a bit more realism about the perils and length of the road.
10. These books seem to be very male-centric. Does this bother you? Do you wish there were more important female characters? How do you think the book would’ve changed if one of the main characters were female?
Very very very male-centric. Lady Galadriel is really the only exception to the all-male cast. Arwen makes an appearance but it was just an appearance. I don’t know how I feel about that. There are some awesome females coming, like Eowyn, but it would have been nice to have a girl along as a member of the fellowship.
It’s March! It’s March! And that means the Tournament of Books is here! You may or may not know just how much I love this tournament, but suffice it to say that I do. I really do.
Anyway, since the finalists were announced in January, I’ve managed to read seven of the seventeen contenders, to add to the two I read last year. I’ve already reviewed Eleanor and Park, How To Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, and Long Division, but I want to quickly review the other six before the first official tournament round goes live tomorrow.
The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert
I know. It’s written by the author of Eat, Pray, Love (a book I happened to love and yet is almost universally scorned). But it’s not really fair to judge this lovely work of fiction on the author’s past works, whatever your feelings about them. Alma Whittaker is the only biological child of wealthy Henry Whittaker. She grows up with the world as her oyster – there’s money, there’s the large estate, and there’s the rotation of up-and-comers dining with the family each evening. Even with all of these advantages, Alma struggles to define herself and find happiness.
The Signature of All Things kind of took my breath away. It is a large tome, for sure, weighing at 1.6 pounds for the hardback edition and clocking in at 512 pages. And it is weighty in subject matter too. But for all that weight, I managed to fly right through. Gilbert knows how to pace things. She knows how to tell a story.
The Son, by Philipp Meyer
I read and enjoyed Meyer’s first novel, American Rust, but I loved The Son. It tells the tale of a family from the years establishing a homestead on the frontier (complete with an Indian kidnapping) to the twenty-first century (with oil wells and vast wealth). It’s both a good yarn and a poignant look at the victims progress leaves in its wake. I did have some trouble keeping the characters and relationships straight and thus spent some quality time with the family chart at the beginning. But mostly, I was able to lose myself in this story. Lengthy as it was, I found I wanted more.
The Good Lord Bird, by James McBride (Audio)
It’s embarrassing to admit, but, before reading this book, and I little-to-no knowledge of John Brown or the incident at Harper’s Ferry. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The Good Lord Bird follows a fictional slave “freed” by John Brown after the death of his father. Henry “Henrietta” Shackleford, also known as “The Onion,” was in fact a boy but lived as a woman for most of the book. I listened to the audio of this, and I’m glad I did, because it is written in dialect, which some people noted they had a hard time acclimating to. The narrator, Michael Boatman, did a fantastic job, and I had no trouble with the dialect at all.
Perhaps this is due in part to listening to the book rather than reading it, but I felt the pacing was sometimes uneven and there were odd repetitions of phrases. I was occasionally annoyed with Onion’s failure to “be a man,” but I was fascinated with the portrait of John Brown. He was out fighting slavery at a time when that was a very dangerous proposition, but often his methods bordered on insanity and extreme violence. At least as he’s portrayed here, he’s a fascinating paradox. In all, I was very pleased by both the education and story of this book. The Good Lord Bird won the 2013 National Book Award for fiction, and I can certainly see why.
The Lowland, by Jhumpa Lahiri
Another embarrassing admission: this is my first time reading Jhumpa Lahiri. And I was not disappointed. The language, story, and characters of this one all stuck with me. I can see the beaches in Rhode Island and the soldiers in Calcutta even though I’ve never been either place. The Lowland is the story of two brothers, Subhash and Udayan Mitra, who are very close as children, but drift apart in interests and location as they grow older. I loved the slow way the story built itself to a gratifying conclusion. This certainly won’t be the last time I read Lahiri’s work.
A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki
I really liked this book. It’s so unique. Ruth lives in British Columbia on a remote island. One day, on the beach, she finds a diary, along with some mementos and letters. The diary belongs to a teenage girl, Nao, living in Tokyo and contemplating suicide. The story alternates between Nao’s journal and Ruth and her efforts to discover more about the girl. I loved both stories equally, which is unusual for split narratives like this – often times I’m drawn to one over the other. Towards the end of the book, there are a few instances of what can probably best be called magical realism and references to quantum physics. Though I agree with some of the criticism out there, that it felt like the first half was almost a different book from the second half, I appreciated what the author was trying to do with the concepts of time and space. This is one I will definitely reread in the future.
The Dinner, by Herman Koch (Audio)
Here’s a telling fact: I listened to this eight hour audio book in two days. I was fascinated by this story, but I don’t think I’m going to tell you much about it. It is, in fact, about a dinner and is divided by the courses of the meal. But that’s all I knew about it going in, and I loved discovering the twists and turns of the plot. I enjoyed the look into Dutch culture, and the way the characters are slowly revealed. I did have some trouble following the timeline of events, as the narrative jumps back and forth in time a bit, but that might have been because I sometimes miss small things on audio. (P.S. I thought this narrator, Clive Mantel, was fantastic.) And then there is the small fact that pretty much every character is terrible and that the narrator, Paul Lohman, is not quite reliable. I do have minor quibbles with The Dinner, but overall, it was a lovely meal.
POSTED IN: 3 Star Reviews, 4 Star Reviews, 5 Star Reviews, Contemporary Literature, Historical Fiction, Published 2013, The Rooster, Writers of Color