Such Talk Is Too Much With Us

But Orcs and Trolls spoke as they would, without love of words or things; and their language was actually more degraded and filthy than I have shown it. I do not suppose that any will wish for a closer rendering, though models are easy to find. Much the same sort of talk can still be heard among the orc-minded; dreary and repetitive with hatred and contempt, too long removed from good to retain even verbal vigor, save in the ears of those to whom only the squalid sounds strong.

from Appendix F of The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Bookcase Project (TBP) 1

There was no suspense about the inaugural book of this collection review project. I chose The Lord of the Rings, a book special to me for multiple reasons and secure in its continued place in the Bookcase. I’ve read it only twice earlier, I think, possibly three times but it had been quite a few years in any case since the last time.

It’s special, in the first place, because it’s a truly wonderful book and a thrilling read each time. Tolkien’s singular achievement was to infuse his scholarship (languages, medieval literature) into a high fantasy story. He created a Heroic Romance for the modern reader, one that engages our emotions as well as our imaginations. Of course I remembered the humor and the great characters, but I had not remembered the sheer propulsive quality of the story or the pleasures of his descriptive language. When the great horse Shadowfax ran fire flew from his feet and the night flowed over him like a roaring wind.

It was good to recover the text, too, as the films were muddling my memories. I like much of the movie adaptation but there are, in my opinion, serious flaws. Everything with Arwen is made up for the movies and is entirely a mistake (true, the ride with Frodo to the ford is terrific but she doesn’t need to be there). That I dislike, but what I loathe are the Gondor scenes. The whole lip-smacking meal while the fair knights go to their doom sequence is the worst kind of overwrought cliche. Why make up something so lame when there’s plenty of good material available in the book?

My copies of the three books are early printings of the American edition from Houghton Mifflin. I bought them as a retirement gift to myself.img_0621

The pleasures of rereading are different from the first time, of course; we never read the same book again. I really enjoyed returning to Tolkien’s world but it couldn’t ever compare to the overwhelming experience of the first encounter in 1973. The book was becoming a cult favorite on college campuses and among the rather small audience, at the time, for science fiction/fantasy work. I’d heard of it but didn’t know anything about the story and wasn’t particularly interested. Then my fiancé expressed surprise that I hadn’t read it and pressed his copy into my hands. “I’m not sure I could marry someone who didn’t love this book” or similar words accompanied it.

I was pretty sure he wasn’t serious about that, but I couldn’t help but feel a touch of anxiety as I opened the first volume. Happily on all accounts I was immediately gripped by the story and delighted with this marvelous new world. My marriage was saved and I had discovered a genre of fiction that has continued to give me pleasure through the many subsequent years.

The Bookcase Project

“If it’s books, it’s not hoarding”

I saw that on a T-shirt so it must be true. But it’s not easy to put limits on the number of books to have in the house, though limits there must be. I have a semi-ridiculous number of books that I think I will somehow have time enough to read in this life, but they stay quietly out of sight in various nooks and corners. But once a book has been read…to keep or not to keep? That is the question.

I’m not a book collector. My husband is. He has specific limited topics of interest and rarely retains any title that doesn’t enrich the extensive collections he has built. I used to say that I just accumulated books, but that’s a little harsh and not completely true. Now I might call myself a book keeper. I keep books, not too many, mostly fiction, ones that have particular meaning for me.

It’s not possible or rational to keep every book that I’ve enjoyed or admired. I do make good use of my public library and feel confident that many titles that I might have an urge to reread are readily available. I love Dickens but have no space for his collected works; I keep Bleak House and a charmingly illustrated The Pickwick Papers and let the rest hover out of reach but available. I give disproportionate space to works by lesser known authors or more obscure titles that would be difficult to recover if the whim should prompt it. It took me years to find a copy of The Greatest Slump Of All Time by David Carkeet and I’m not about to let go of it.

There are some books that are special for other reasons. I could readily find a copy of Moby Dick when I want to read it again but I love the Modern Library edition illustrated by Rockwell Kent. Again, not about to let go of it. I have a few comfort books, ones to read when I need a lift or a laugh, and a few with sentimental associations. The copy of Austen’s Emma is nice enough but unremarkable. But I treasure it as the gift from my future husband when we were on our first date. He took me to a used bookstore – some things are just meant to be!

So, those are reasons to keep a book, but we still have to deal with the question of limits. Years ago I decided to dedicate one bookcase to these special-to-me books, six shelves and no more. There’s some movement on and off, new discoveries sometimes nudge an older one from its place. Sometimes I have double-shelved a little or laid a book across the tops of others, honoring the letter of the law if not the spirit. But it’s worked well for me. It makes me happy to have special favorites where I can see them every day.

Now I feel the urge to revisit these books, for pleasure and for curiosity. Some I’ve only ever read once and I’d like to know if I will respond in the same way. Others I would just like to spend time with again, like The Lord Of The Rings. It was hard to justify rereading a book when my reading time was more limited. Retirement has given me this great opportunity to read more, like I haven’t since those golden childhood summer vacations.

The “Bookcase Project” is my plan to read my way through this assortment of books, with no timetable, in no particular order. It will be fun and interesting to see which ones maintain a place on the shelf.

Walking the Moor

Today the light was so erratic that the heather’s tones were elusive…And so the promise of colour to come was part of what I was seeing; and yet this rough carpet seemed to swallow light. The dark heather, with its dark roots, and beneath the dark roots the dark earth. Even the footpath puddles were black. Strung across a fence were seven scraps of brightly coloured cloth — these were Tibetan prayer flags, sanctifying the peaty air. The colour, against the moor, was pungent.

William Atkins from The Moor: A journey into the English wilderness

Reading List 2020

What I’ve read this year. I sample or skim some that aren’t included. Happily, I have lost the compulsion or sense of duty to finish every book I start.

February

Rocket to the Morgue by Anthony Boucher
c1942 Penzler Publishers 2019
clever locked room mystery, cast of Science Fiction writers (thinly disguised Golden Age luminaries), an insouciant, engagingly breezy style
In the lounge car of the Lark, Pullman train from San Francisco to Los Angeles a tall thin man with a pale face and flaming hair sat contentedly with two highballs and a blonde.

The Path To Rome by Hilaire Belloc c1902 Catholic Answers 2015
a charming, eccentric account of a pilgrimage to Rome, walking a straight line (by the map) and writing about whatever he thinks and meets along the way; illustrated with pen and ink sketches by the author

Continue reading “Reading List 2020”