A Game of Books

I’ve kind of been focusing on my writing for my last few months of blogs, so it’s time for a twist! Yesterday, Conner and I did one of my absolute favorite things everrrrrrr: we went to the botanical gardens after church and just lay out on Maasai blankets on the grass, reading. Many pictures were taken because it was such a beautiful day and many words were read. All in all, it was a serious win. I forget sometimes that I’m a sunflower child and I need to be outside with a book more often 🙂

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I’m now nearly halfway through Dances with Dragons: Part One and I have to say, I think it’s my second favorite book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series so far (the series that the TV show Game of Thrones is based on, for those who don’t know). I only have one book left (Part Two of Dances with Dragons) before I have to join the giant crowd of groupies clamoring for George R.R. Martin to finish and publish the next book in the series. Sigh.

Buuuut anyway. We also had some visitors while we were chilling!

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So, yes. Basically the best day I’ve had in a long time. My best friend / love + outside + nature + trees +sunshine +books +birds = best thing ever.

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The Words That Make Us

I used to think that there was something wrong with me because I enjoy most genres of books, movies, and music. There is this unwritten, insinuated “rule” that if you like all things, you lack passion or conviction. But luckily other people’s ideas about what passion is, or what constitutes conviction, doesn’t have to define you.

I enjoy almost all books except tedious ones (Dickens, I’m looking at you) or ones that are badly written. And I think that as a writer, particularly, or as any kind of artist, it’s important to read widely. To read out of your comfort zone. I enjoy it when I read an Agatha Christie book, or a children’s book, or a sprawling, complex fantasy like A Song of Ice and Fire. I love the classics and I love Brian Jacque’s Redwall series.

You really only have something to gain, the more widely you read. I have lost myself in countless worlds with countless characters, fighting against countless evils and finally coming to countless happy endings (or not). I have faced fears and either succeeded gloriously or failed miserably, and both are important experiences to endure. I have discovered that I have what it takes after all, and I have discovered that I don’t. I have lived and lost a thousand lives and climbed a thousand mountains and seen a thousand seas.

That said, words become a part of you. There is a reason why I chose the books I did to reread every year. The treasure of reading, and in taking in any art form, is in letting it become a part of you. To let it seep into you and form your thoughts and identity. So in that sense, we should be careful what we allow to become a part of ourselves. I wouldn’t read The Silence of the Lambs every year, for example. Words are so much more real and powerful than we give them credit for, and as a reader and writer, I think it’s good to have a healthy respect for them, and use them wisely.

But read widely. Expand yourself. Don’t be afraid of a wider world.

If you’re on Goodreads, add me! I always love finding new avid readers and freaking out about books with you 🙂

Reading in 2016

One of the things I’m grateful for this year is that I’ll have more time and mental energy to read. While I was working on my postgrad degree in 2015 and doing tons of research, I didn’t feel particularly inclined to read my own books in my own time, which made me sad because I adore reading. I think I only read something like 15 non academic books and that’s an all time low for me.

This year, my goal is to read 50 books. I wouldn’t call it a solid goal, really…it’s more just a vague guideline. I have three lists that I’m using, which I’ll share below, and other than that I’m just going to wing it. There is a giant pile of books that I own and haven’t read. Maybe this will be the year I get through them 🙂 The lists below total 31 books, which leaves 19 more open spots that I haven’t filled.

The 2016 Reading Challenge (found on Facebook, not sure of the original source)

  1. A book published this year: still undecided (hopefully the new A Song of Ice and Fire book will come out and then I’ll read that one, once I’ve finished the rest)
  2. A book you can finish in a day: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
  3. A book you’ve been meaning to read: The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
  4. A book recommended by a library or bookstore: still undecided
  5. A book you should have read in school: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  6. A book chosen for you by someone: Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
  7. A book published before you were born: Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (I’ve read this before, but oh well, I love it)
  8. A book that was banned at some point: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  9. A book you previously abandoned: Lady in Waiting by Jackie Kendall (I didn’t abandon it because I didn’t like it, but because academics got too hectic, so I’d like to finish it)
  10. A book you own but have never read: Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana Jr.
  11. A book that intimidates you: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (I’m not a Dickens fan, but I feel like I should probably get through one of his books in my life, so I’m going to do my best)
  12. A book you’ve already read at least once: Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

Books I reread every year

This list (which is in no particular order here) has grown gradually over time and it will stay at these 12 books, at least for the foreseeable future. The Hobbit was the first one, then came The Great Gatsby and 1984, and the rest were added on gradually. This is the first year that I have 12 books!

  1. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
  2. The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
  3. The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien
  4. The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien
  5. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  6. 1984 by George Orwell
  7. Animal Farm by George Orwell
  8. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
  9. Anthem by Ayn Rand
  10. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
  11. Watership Down by Richard Adams
  12. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham

A Song of Ice and Fire

And finally, I’ll be reading the popular series by George R.R. Martin. I’m late to the Game of Thrones train and I’m not going to watch the series, but the first book was brilliant so I’m officially a fan. I just read the first book this week so it’s on here as part of the 2016 list. If The Winds of Winter comes out this year (unlikely), I’ll read that as my #1 in the 2016 Reading Challenge above.

  1. A Game of Thrones
  2. A Clash of Kings
  3. A Storm of Swords: Steel and Snow
  4. A Storm of Swords: Blood and Gold
  5. A Feast for Crows
  6. A Dance With Dragons: Dreams and Dust
  7. A Dance With Dragons: After the Feast

Goodreads

I’m keeping track of the challenge on Goodreads again, so if you’re on there, drop me a friend request and we can keep each other accountable haha. What are your reading goals for this year?

The Fellowship of the Ring: Chapter 2

The shadow of the past: Ok, so last time we left off with Gandalf leaving Frodo behind after a warning to keep the ring hidden. Now we fast forward a little bit. In the movies, it seems like Frodo leaves not more than a few weeks after Bilbo left, but in the book it is clear that it’s more like twelve or so years. Every year, Frodo still throws a birthday party for his uncle because he knows he’s still alive. The other hobbits begin to think that he’s just as crazy as his uncle – nice, and rich, but crazy. Frodo takes to walking alone at night and it is suspected that he goes to visit the Elves nearby, but it’s possible that he just likes walking alone. Introverts don’t do well in the Shire, I guess.

Sam, Merry, Frodo, and Pippin: from wwwf.imperial.ac.uk
Sam, Merry, Frodo, and Pippin: from wwwf.imperial.ac.uk

He has three close friends – Meriadoc Brandybuck (Merry), who we have met already, Peregrine Took (Pippin), and Samwise Gamgee, who is also his gardener. Other than that he seems to find the company of the older Hobbits boring, and likes hanging out with the younger crowd, probably because they still have imaginations  and a sense of adventure. We also see that Frodo is somewhat restless, always looking at maps, always dreaming of having his own adventure.

And then, about twelve years after the night Bilbo went on his merry way, Gandalf returns. He is older and looks like he has a lot on his mind, and he doesn’t waste a lot of time before telling Frodo his concerns. It all comes out in the open now: his suspicion about the ring, how he thinks Gollum got a hold of it, and why he’s concerned. He explains to Frodo that the nine men who received rings of power have become shadows of men and their sole purpose is to hunt down the One Ring. Some of the Dwarves who got rings have been killed, while others are still alive, but in danger. He also says that while the three Elven rings are safe for now, if the one who made all the rings gets the One Ring back, he can control all the others.

Sauron: from lotr.wikia.com
Sauron: from lotr.wikia.com

Now we learn about Sauron, who is the Lord of the Rings. I decided to include a bit of a backstory here, so if you don’t care and just want to hear about The Lord of the Rings, skip this paragraph. Basically, when Arda (the world of Tolkien, in which Middle-earth is one of the continents) was created by the “head” god, Eru, there were several demi gods (Ainur) who helped. One of these was named Melkor, and he started doing his own thing and thinking that he was better than Eru. He became prideful and evil, and eventually he left ‘heaven’ to establish his own kingdom on Arda. I won’t cover this because that’s why Tolkien wrote The Silmarillion, but essentially Sauron was his successor. He’s caused trouble before, and in the previous age he was defeated, but now his power is returning because he can’t be killed while the One Ring still exists. When he made it, he tied his soul and his power to it, so that’s why he’s still alive. Okay. Lore lesson over 🙂 But I would strongly recommend reading The Silmarillion where all this is covered, or at least reading a synopsis!

Frodo, of course, is terrified. But at the same time it is clear that the ring is beginning to have a hold on him, too: he is fifty now but doesn’t look a day over 33, and he doesn’t want to think of the ring being destroyed, even while he’s asking Gandalf why it hasn’t been destroyed. And now on to Gollum. Gollum has apparently been looking for Bilbo for a while, and had even become the new terror of Mirkwood for a while (if you’ve read The Hobbit this should give you some insight into how terrifying Gollum can be, because Mirkwood is not unicorn land). Gandalf and another person we’ll meet soon, Aragorn, tracked him down eventually and discovered, to their horror, that the Enemy (Sauron) had captured him and found out where the Ring was.

Lesson number 1 in adventuring: never tell anyone your real name or where you’re really from, especially when stealing their magic rings.

Clearly the Ring has to be destroyed. Frodo tries – he thinks he can destroy it in his own fire – but he can’t. Already the Ring has a hold on him, too.

“You see? Already you too, Frodo, cannot easily let it go, nor will to damage it…But as for breaking the Ring, force is useless. Even if you took it and struck it with a heavy sledge-hammer, it would make no dint in it. It cannot be unmade by your hands, or by mine…There is only one way: to find the Cracks of Doom in the depths of Orodruin, the Fire-mountain, and cast the Ring in there, if you really wish to destroy it, to put it beyond the grasp of the Enemy forever.” (Gandalf, 59-60)

Just like Bilbo, Frodo tries to give the ring to Gandalf. But Gandalf refuses. “Do not tempt me!” he says. “For I do not wish to become like the Dark Lord himself.”

Frodo knows he must leave. At this point, he isn’t thinking of destroying the Ring; he only knows that Sauron will find him if he stays in the Shire. And so we end Chapter II with the exciting but sad prospect of Frodo and Sam leaving the Shire and taking the Ring into hiding.

Click here to view all the posts in this series.

The One Ring: from lotr.wikia.com
The One Ring: from lotr.wikia.com

The Fellowship of the Ring: Prologue and Chapter 1

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

– JRR Tolkien –

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Opening The Fellowship of the Ring is like seeing an old friend again after years and years. I know that’s cliche, but it’s true. And I’m not gonna lie (because, you know, attempting authenticity), I’m partly blogging through this epicness because I’m an adult and I feel guilty when I read for fun now…but this is for a blog, which as we all know is of the utmost importance, so that makes it okay! Okay.

Prologue: First of all, I’m normally a bad person and skip the Prologue in books, but in this case it’s definitely a good idea to read the Prologue. You’ll get such important information as “Concerning Hobbits” and “Concerning Pipeweed.” However, if you’re in a hurry to get to the story, at least read the fourth entry, “Of the Finding of the Ring.” It will give you context for the books you’re about to read, whether or not you’ve read The Hobbit (which is the sort of prequel to The Lord of the Rings).

Chapter 1: A Long Expected Party. Enter Bilbo Baggins for his 111th birthday! It’s now 60 years after his journey with the Dwarves. He’s kind of like that jolly old uncle who you know is rich but you’re not sure just how rich he is, and he’s super eccentric, and a lot of people pretend to like him because they want his money, but actually they just think he’s weird, and you really like him because he understands you and your sense of adventure.

And enter Gandalf! The Hobbits only know him as the old guy who has awesome fireworks, which suits him well, since he’s actually one of 5 powerful wizards who help watch over Middle-earth and guard against evil. And of course we have Frodo, who is Bilbo’s nephew and who lives with his uncle since his parents died when he was young.

At Bilbo’s birthday party, there is a huge amount of food, drink, and dancing (in proper Hobbit style) and also Gandalf’s incredible fireworks. Tolkien wrote a whole breathtaking paragraph about the fireworks. Read about the fireworks. Everything is lighthearted. Everything is fun. Bilbo gets up to give a speech and everyone is in a good mood and thinks he’s hilarious. But then the speech takes an odd turn – and suddenly he disappears. Only he and Gandalf know that he used his ring.

This is where Gandalf starts to get suspicious. He knows Bilbo has a magic ring, and he knows that magic rings aren’t common. He knows the little poem I included at the beginning of the post, and he also knows that the One Ring has been missing for over 2,000 years. Of course he can’t confirm anything, but he’s definitely not at ease about how obsessed with the ring Bilbo seems to be. And there is the matter of Bilbo not seeming to age much, which is another red flag (its previous known bearer, Gollum, from whom he got the ring, is over 500 years old).

We learn now that Bilbo wants to have one last grand adventure, and to finish the book he is writing about his adventurous life. He’s packing and nearly on his way out the door when Gandalf stops him and reminds him that he promised to leave the magic ring to Frodo. The conflict that occurs between them is so telling – the ring becomes its own character with its own dark presence. You get the sense that there is something very wrong here; why does Bilbo, a good-natured, easy going Hobbit, feel so strongly about a little gold ring that he even accuses his old friend of wanting to steal it? He also refers to the ring as his “precious”, which Gollum often called it, as well as other figures in history who definitely had the One Ring in their possession.

I personally felt relieved when Bilbo left it behind. Yeah, yeah, I know the story, but man! You feel how free and light he becomes once he gets rid of it. Interestingly, Gandalf refuses to even touch the ring, as if he doesn’t want to have even the possibility of being affected by it.

Poor Frodo finds his uncle gone, and has to deal with all the greedy relatives stealing silver spoons and what not. And enter Meriadock Brandybuck, also known as Merry, who is a clever but happy go lucky young Hobbit and one of Frodo’s close friends. He helps Frodo to ward off the crazies and get his house under control. In the midst of the humorous description of Frodo’s nasty relatives, the ring sits quietly in an envelope, and you kind of forget about it until Gandalf comes to visit after the chaos has settled.

“I have merely begun to wonder about the ring, especially since last night,” Gandalf tells Frodo. “No need to worry. But if you take my advice you will use it very seldom, or not at all. At least I beg you not to use it in any way that will cause talk or rouse suspicion. I say again: keep it safe, and keep it secret!” He then says that he is leaving and that he hopes to know more when he returns, but that he will be gone for a long time. As he leaves, Frodo notes that he looks bent over, as if carrying a great weight.

And that brings us to the end of Chapter 1. According to the poll in my last post, most of you are at least familiar with the movies, so I hope you’re enjoying this! One of you shattered my heart with your indifference, but you know, I probably don’t like your favorite book either, so there :D. If you’re reading along, I plan to only cover Chapter 2: The Shadow of the Past next week, because there is quite a lot of explanation of things that are crucial to understanding the story. That sentence made no sense, but I haven’t had coffee yet. Actually I have, but oh well. Come back next Monday for more LotR!

Click here to view all the posts in this series.

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