Donnerstag, 17. Januar 2013

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

As this view outside my window suggests, winter has come back suddenly and with force. The whole country is covered in at least 30 centimetres of snow and while everyone else is enjoying the unexpected winter wonderland I have been lying in bed with the flu for the past week, unable to move because everything is hurting. I have had a lot of time to sort out my thoughts though (especially since I'm trying not to think of all I am missing at school) and so I am finally able to write something about The Hobbit apart from "It is the most wonderful book!" and "Go read it immediately if you haven't already!".
“Now it is a strange thing, but things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to; while things that are uncomfortable, palpitating, and even gruesome, may make a good tale, and take a deal of telling anyway.”

I think in a way this quote from The Hobbit sums up perfectly what my trouble with writing this review is: if I dislike a book or find it mediocre it is all too easy to dwell on its flaws and explain why I did not like it or which parts of it I found bad, but what if I completely and whole-heartedly love a book? Then there is not much to say except that it is very wise and beautiful.

Next to Tolkien's epic The Lord of the Rings the little Hobbit is almost always overlooked and underrated, but that is a grave mistake. Even though they are both set in the same world and feature partly the same characters those tales could not be more different from one another. The Hobbit possesses nothing of The Lord of the Rings's epic grandeur; it does not deal with the impending destruction of the world and conquering evil, nor are its characters heroes. It is simply the story of a little fellow's journey through a wide world. There and back again, nothing more.

However, in my opinion it would also be a mistake to dismiss it as a children's book just because it was written for Tolkien's own children. Yes, on the surface it as an adventure story (and a very good one, after all it was exciting enough to keep me reading through the whole night), but there is so much more behind that.
The book is told in a very light-hearted way with a subtle and wonderful sense of humour, but still there is a deep wisdom hidden in the apparently simple story. Tolkien must have been an admirable judge of character, for in his fantastic book are incredible realistic descriptions such as this, when the dragon Smaug notices that a little golden cup from his vast treasure has vanished:
“His rage passes description - the sort of rage that is only seen when rich folk that have more than they can enjoy suddenly lose something that they have long had but have never before used or wanted.”
And the miracle with Tolkien is that he always manages to teach you something, but never in a lecturing or patronizing way. So, whether you have liked The Lord of the Rings or not, whether you have seen the movie adaptation or not and whether you think you will enjoy reading The Hobbit or hate it, I can only recommend one thing to you: leave aside all your expectations and try it. You might find yourselves surprised.

Montag, 7. Januar 2013

Readathon Wrap-up

It is the day after the readathon and also my first day back in school after the Christmas break which is a bad combination because the effects of the sleep deprivation are fully kicking in.
But, while I almost fell asleep in Geography today I have not regretted participating for one second: I had an amazing time and made a lot of progress. I want to thank the lovely organizers who sacrificed much of their free time to make this run smoothly and did a wonderful job!

I am very satisfied with the readathon because firstly, it was incredibly fun to keep in touch with all the other bloggers and I added quite a few titles to my TBR list and secondly, despite being away the whole afternoon and evening I managed to devote more than 13 hours exclusively to reading.
On the Classics Club website there is a wrap-up questionnaire which I am answering below.

  1. What book(s) did you read during the event?
  2. What book(s) did you finish?
  3. What did you like about our event?
  4. Do you have suggestions for future Readathons through The Classics Club?
  5. Would you participate in future Readathons?

  1. Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
  2. Both of them, which is almost unbelievable keeping in mind my reading pace!
  3. Everything. The interaction with other bloggers from all over the world, the opportunity to start the year with intense reading and the fact that there were updates and check-ins on the Classics Club site every few hours.
  4. Not really, since the only thing which troubled me was the time difference and that is something not even our wonderful organizers can fix.
  5. I may or may not have eaten all other chocolates during the readathon
  6. Definitely! The sooner the better! Although it is certainly not beneficial for my nutrition...

Samstag, 5. Januar 2013

The Classics Club Readathon

I couldn't keep myself from taking part, even if I know that cannot read the whole day because unfortunately I have some meetings in the afternoon and evening.
Anyway, I will just read through the night! And, yes, I am mightily excited! Let the classics-reading begin!
On the Classics Club blog there is a starting post with a few questions to kick off the event. I will answer them here and then update this post every few hours with my progress.

  1. Snacks and Beverages of Choice?
  2. Where are you reading from today?
  3. What are your goals for the Readathon?
  4. What book(s) are you planning on reading?
  5. Are you excited?

  1. Any Christmas leftovers I can find. There are still lots of cookies and chocolates left from the holidays and it is high time I eliminated them and started eating healthy again. As for the beverages I will probably be dependent on coffee, but a few cups of tea are always nice.
  2. My family's livingroom, in an armchair right next to the Christmas tree. For those who don't visit my blog regularly: this is in Graz, Austria. Thanks to the American time the readathon starts at 2 p.m. for me and I will hopefully read until 2 p.m. on Sunday.
  3.  Simply to read as much as possible, visit other blogs and have fun. Oh, and to dutifully finish Faust.
  4. The second half of Faust, the beginning of Mrs. Dalloway but mostly J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. I read very slowly, so that's probably more than enough.
  5. I think I've already answered this one...

The readathon starts in five minutes, so happy reading everyone! I'm looking forward to updates on your progress.

3.20 p.m.
The first hour is over and I have finished Faust. The end was much better than the beginning, but my pleasure in having read it is mostly the pleasure of conquest.
Now I have to take a break from reading and go to the city for a meeting, but I'll be back in two hours to start The Hobbit.

10.20 p.m.
The break took longer than expected, but I actually managed to squash in an hour of reading between my afternoon meeting and my invitation to dinner. I read the first 50 pages of The Hobbit and got completely sucked in. How could I ever start this book without finishing it? It is so perfect! The light, amusing but still deeply moving writing and on top of that the setting in my beloved Middle-Earth...I can't even describe how utterly right it feels to read it. So the plan for now is pretty much to spend the whole night with Tolkien in front of the Christmas tree. We'll see if I can bear the sleep deprivation.

1.00 a.m.
Sunday has now officially arrived here and keeping my eyes open is getting a little tough. Usually I would just drink more coffee, but my whole family is already fast asleep and the coffee machine is dreadfully loud, so I'll have to do without...
My reading progress is slow but steady, I'm on page 104 of The Hobbit and still enjoying it immensely. Also, I am almost at the end of the part that has been adapted into the recent movie and know virtually nothing about the storyline later, so things are getting exciting. I'd love to read until the morning. There is not anyone reading this who by chance knows a super-effective secret trick for keeping awake without caffeine?

3.20 a.m.
Still awake, which already is an achievement! I am only halway through the Hobbit since I read at a tortoise's pace, but I would love to finish it. I'll probably read for another hour or two and then catch a few hours' sleep before tackling the rest of it in the morning. After all I have time until 2 p.m. before the readathon is over.

4.40 a.m.
I can't believe I have made it so far! I'm on page 218 of my dear Hobbit, who is a lovely companion for this readathon and about to take a nap before hopefully finishing in the morning. Good luck to everyone still bearing up!

8.30 a.m.
I slept for about 3 hours, which was more refreshing than I thought. Now I'm curled up with The Hobbit again, (although most others seem to have given up?). I hope I can finish before the readathon is over!

1.30 p.m.
The readathon is almost over, which leaves me exhausted but proud and very happy. I have just finished
The Hobbit with perfect timing, if I may say so. It is such a shame that next to The Lord of the Rings this book is so often overlooked! It is heart-warming and told in a light way, but absolutely beautiful and far from childish.
With this I am closing off the readathon and saying thank you to the wonderful organizers for their great work. It was an amazing experience and tomorrow I will write a wrap-up post.

Donnerstag, 3. Januar 2013

January Plans to keep me focused

While I am still optimistic about the year ahead, my enthusiasm has suffered a severe setback yesterday.
I begun reading the apparently best-known and most influential piece of German literature: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Faust. Not only do I feel that it is a gap in education not to have read the most praised literary work in my native language, I also have to finish it until Monday for my German class.
But this book! In it I seem to have found a new arch-nemesis! Usually I am patient with books, I give them time to fascinate me and hardly ever give up reading them, but I'm only twenty pages into Faust (getting there took me about three hours) and find it unbearable.
Everything is so exaggerated, every line drops with pathos and I have the impression that Goethe only wrote it because he was in love with the way his writing looked on paper.
Yes, I will finish it, but sadly I don't dare to hope that I will enjoy it.

Why are you making my life so hard, Dr. Faust?

Since my first reading project in the new year is such a disappointment I thought I might create some January plans to motivate me a little. 
Firstly, on the Classics Club site I have seen that Bex is hosting a readalong of Mrs. Dalloway beginning on Saturday which I'd love to take part in. Somehow I've never happened to read anything by Virginia Woolf, so I'm excited to do so now.

Apart from that I want to finally read The Hobbit in January. I have started reading it several times but never finished, which is strange because I remember loving the beginning every time. Now with the (wonderful) movie in the theatres it is high time I got around to reading the original!
Additionally I want to read a French novel for my books on France challenge, but I haven't decided which one yet. Perhaps it's time to finish Les Misérables eventually? Like The Hobbit I immensely enjoyed what I've read so far, I just somehow never managed to read it until the end.

Oh, and I desperately want to take part in the huge Classics Club Readathon which sounds incredibly fun, but on Saturday I am invited out both for lunch and dinner. For me the readathon would start at 2 p.m., so I could still read for quite a while, but I'm not sure if that wouldn't feel like cheating. Should I sign up nonetheless and just read through the night and the next morning? 

That's it, I'll have to get back to Faust now... I hope you're all still enjoying 2013 and your first book(s) in it!

Mittwoch, 2. Januar 2013

The Taste of Sorrow by Jude Morgan

We are two days into 2013 and so far everything is going splendidly, which of course doesn't mean anything, but I'm taking it as a good omen. This review of Jude Morgan's The Taste of Sorrow is my first post in the new year and at the same time the first proper review I have written since the 6th of July. I was absent from blogging longer than I thought. Anyway, Jude Morgan's novel about the Brontë family was on my wishlist for a long time and when I got Atticus for Christmas and saw that the kindle edition only costs six euro (as opposed to eleven for the paperback) I didn't have to think long about which book should be my first e-book. There is something absolutely fascinating about this family: all children uniquely gifted writers, living secluded in their own little world, but haunted by tragedy. How could they manage to write books that changed the literary landscape forever? Who were the women who came up with Jane Eyre, Cathy and Heathcliff? Why did all of them die so young and how on earth could Charlotte survive the loss of almost her whole family? Perhaps it is exactly the comparative lack of information about their lives that makes their story so intriguing.

Jude Morgan wrote a fictionalized account of the Bröntës' lives, starting with the death of their mother and ending a little after Charlotte's marriage. Although all family members receive sufficient attention the novel's focus is clearly on Charlotte, something which you quickly notice through the style that - sometimes more, sometimes less drastically - seems to imitate Jane Eyre. I don't say that as criticism, in fact it was very appropriate, especially since Charlotte inevitably reminds the reader of her famous heroine. Of course there are differences between them: the "real" Charlotte Brontë is less outspoken and, naturally, less fortunate, but her personality in Morgan's portrayal is very similar to Jane's.
Again, I am not criticising  this, because Jane Eyre obviously is based on her author.

Unfortunately, I am not familiar enough with the details of the Bröntës' lives to judge how much of their feelings and thoughts in the novel are adapted from their real sentiments expressed in letters, diaries or stories, but I have to bow to Jude Morgan anyway for creating such believable characters.
Charlotte, Emily, Anne and Branwell are not just dusty entries in literary encyclopedias, but authentic, tangible people. If they did not exactly do or say the things as Morgan writes them, it is at least very easy to imagine that they could have done or said them. Whether it is Branwell's descent into alcoholism because he cannot bear the weight of expectations on him or Emily's inability to feel comfortable around people she cannot remember always loving; this novel draws very realistic pictures of the Brontë siblings' lives and personalities.
The only character I found a little one-dimensional is Anne, who is completely unselfish and only concerned with making the lives of her family members as easy as possible without regard to her own happiness, but then maybe that was Anne's role in her family. I don't know, but I am now eager to read her books.

With 464 pages this book was not too long, in fact it was a quick read, but it is maybe a little stretched in the middle and then too hurried when it comes to the development of the sisters' novels. About Emily's motivation to write Wuthering Heights the reader learns virtuallly nothing, for instance, and Charlotte's inspiration for Jane Eyre is also only outlined roughly. (Looking at her live I have to wonder where Mr. Rochester comes from.) But again, perhaps there simply is no existing information on these topics and Jude Morgan didn't want to invent anything. To be sure, it doesn't impair his novel much: The Taste of Sorrow is a great book for anyone interested in the Brontës and I am looking forward to reading more from Jude Morgan, his novels on Shakespeare and the romantic poets for example.