I know, I can’t believe it either. It’s not a virus post! But as we talked about last post, the days are merging into weeks and I’m managing to read a bit, so let’s talk about that for a change.
I finished The Fellowship of the Ring, which I enjoyed immensely even though I kept seeing the movie actors instead of my own imagined characters. This was fine in some cases (Viggo as Aragorn, Ian McKellen as Gandalf) and not so fine in others (I’ve had enough Sean Astin as Sam to last me several trilogies, and ditto for Elijah Wood as Frodo). But that’s a small complaint. Finally I get to see why TheH always remembers and references Tom Bombadil and I can join him in lamenting Tom’s absence from the films. So far, I find the film’s changes to the books to be not horrible and even understandable, and I’m usually a curmudgeon when it comes to adaptations. Overall I prefer the book characters to the movie characters; they’re less pretty, more complex, and in the case of Merry and Pippin, less ditzy-annoying. But I can understand the changes and they’re not nearly as bad as they could have been.
I’ve also been struck by the extent to which the film tracks with the books scenes and language. There are so many verbatim sections of dialogue and Jackson and his team did an amazing job of recreating some of the physical settings. New Zealand feels (and is) much bigger than Tolkien’s world, but it’s like looking at New England mountains and valleys and then the Rockies; they’re different in scale but somehow still part of the same continent.
But what about the book, you’re probably asking? What about my actual read of the actual novel? It was great. Just what I needed. In fact, it was so much more satisfying than I expected it to be. Maybe that’s why it’s a classic and beloved by millions? Heh. But yeah, I was totally swept up into it. I really appreciated that even in this, the more adult story (compared to The Hobbit), the violence is present but the worst bits are played down or fully off-page. It makes me realize how much of the films were devoted to grisly scenes, which when you read the source material you can see were pretty unnecessary from a storytelling point of view. Tolkien’s approach is a reminder that graphic and explicit aren’t necessary to communicate emotional and intellectual material.
The one instance where I preferred the film character to the book is Boromir, and that’s probably because I’m such a Sean Bean fan. Book-Boromir is not as complex as film-Boromir and I had more trouble seeing his admirable qualities.
The book and film don’t end in the same place, so I get to hang with book-Boromir a little longer. I have The Two Towers cued up but I’ll read a couple of other thing before I dive back into the trilogy.
The next book I finished was nominally a genre mystery, but not exactly. I was looking for more novels set in Norfolk and ran across The Norfolk Mystery by Ian Sansom. Sansom writes reviews and essays for a variety of magazines and newspapers, and I’ve found his reviews in the Guardian to mesh with my tastes (they’re also good reviews apart from that). I read the first few pages of The Norfolk Mystery and decided it was worth reading the whole thing. The narrator is Stephen Sefton, an Oxford-educated veteran of the Spanish Civil War (Republican side, of course) who is rescued from a bad downward spiral by a job as the assistant of Swanton Morley, the “Public’s Professor” and indefatigable writer of an endless series of nonfiction books, encyclopedias, and guides. Morley, who is apparently modeled on Arthur Mee, has decided his next project will be guides to every English county, and they begin in Norfolk. This review’s opening paragraph captures the novel perfectly:
Having read this clever, if infuriating, book twice, I still can’t make up my mind whether Ian Sansom is bidding to create a new cult figure of the super-detective to rival Holmes or whether he is taking a none-too-gentle rise out of what many regard as the golden age of mystery fiction typified by the work of Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers. Perhaps it’s a little of both – and for the reader to decide.
I agree that it’s both, and Swanton is, as the reviewer describes, a Marmite figure. I grew so tired of him that I almost abandoned the story halfway, but I persevered and by the end I was ready to read the next installment (they move on to Devon). The mystery takes a while to get started and the tone of the novel shifts regularly. Sefton’s reflections and flashbacks to Spain are poignant and sometimes painful, while Morley’s endless chatter and Latin tags can get to read like fingernails on a blackboard sound. And Morley’s daughter Miriam just barely, eventually, escapes being an annoying stereotype.
But that’s part of the sendup, of course, and by the end of the book I was really impressed with how well Sansom could thread the needle between sendup and seriousness. There are fleeting asides to contemporary issues and the language, especially when discussing minority or socially marginalized people, was hard to read. But they were there for a purpose, and by the end Morley shows depths that I didn’t think he had. Sansom clearly knew what he was doing and I think he pulled it off. But cozy and Golden-Age mystery fans, be warned that this is not your standard historical cozy. The more I think about it, the more I get the feeling Sansom wanted me to be uncomfortable. Hmmm.
Finally, I’m rereading Alessandro Manzoni’s great Italian novel, The Betrothed (I Promessi Sposi is the Italian title). I’m a little over one-third of the way through and I’m enjoying it immensely. This time I let the book tell me how to read it, and I realized that it is very 19thC novel-ish, with a huge cast of characters who must all be allowed their own space. The first few chapters describe supporting characters’ lives and backstories in great detail, which I think threw me when I tried to read it before. This time I appreciated these apparent digressions more, because Manzoni is using them to show you the world of 16thC northern Italy.
I’ve just finished the chapters on the Milan bread riots and they are just as good as I was told they were (an Italian colleague suggested the book to me because of my research interests). I could easily assign these sections in my Protest class and use them to illustrate theoretical approaches to collective violence and theories of the mob.
I’m reading from two different translations: the ebook version is the Penguin Classics translation by Bruce Penman and the Everyman’s Library hardback is translated by Archibald Colquhoun. I prefer the Colquhoun, but they both seem very good (I haven’t looked at the original Italian yet). And I wind up reading the Penman more because the ereader is easier to carry around and read in low light.
I still haven’t gotten to the plague of 1630; we’re still in 1628! But it should be a fun ride to get there. This is such an operatic novel, but it’s also witty and insightful. I can see why Italian schoolchildren both love and hate it, given they read it throughout their years of education, and I can also see why it’s considered such a great novel.
I finished The Mirror and the Light two days ago and I am still sad.
But I admit, it’s been good for me to get back to romance. I read an old Nora yesterday that was fine, and today I have a new Mills and Boon.
I bought the new Sarah Morgan release (WF) and am going to read it soonish. I’m enjoying my mystery detours.
I read the Sarah Morgan and I quite liked it, though not as much as the Christmas one.
Oh that’s a good sign, because I rarely dislike the ones you like but the opposite isn’t true. 😀
Sorry for intruding but thanks to you both! Didn’t know she had a new book out.
You turned me onto her Sunita, and I love her WF too. I enjoyed the Christmas Wedding soooo much. The parts about being a homemaker and wondering if you’re doing enough with your ‘potential’ really spoke to me!
I liked this one more than the 2018 Christmas sisters one. Anyway, will check out the recent one too!
You’re never intruding! The book is out this Tuesday in the US. I had it on hold at my library but then it was a deal at Kobo UK so I bought it. It came out earlier there. Like you I liked Wedding in December way more than The Christmas Sisters. I understand why WF doesn’t always work for rom readers but I like the way she does her WF heroines and relationships for the most part.
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The one that really didn’t work for me was the Paris one. I would have stopped reading her after that if Sunita hadn’t been so positive about the Christmas wedding one this year. I’m glad I didn’t.
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I’m glad you enjoyed reading ‘Fellowship’. As someone who had read LOTR about a gazillion times, it was such a comfort to me that Jackson lifted so much dialog straight from the books. As a fellow Sean Bean fan, I also preferred film Boromir to book Boromir.
I just finished a mystery by a prolific Golden Age author whose books are being reprinted–ECR Lorac. “Fire in the Thatch”, set near the end of WWII in Devon, was a nice twisty mystery. I enjoyed it enough that I’ve tracked down a few of her others to tide me over until our libraries re-open.
I’ve also been doing a lot of ‘comfort book’ re-reads, as well as re-reading the 4 Murderbot novellas in anticipation of the full-length novel due out next week. (I have pre-ordered the novel–no waiting on the library for this one!). If you haven’t read Martha Wells’ stories featuring the snarky AI Security Unit, you are in for a treat.
You use the adjective ‘operatic’ when you talk about ‘The Betrothal’; it was given the opera treatment twice, the more famous version being by Ponchielli. I’m not familiar with either book or opera, but I suspect the opera focused on the love story!
I can totally see why you and others (TheH is one) have read LOTR so many times. I don’t know if I would have loved it as a young person, but I sure do now.
That Lorac was republished in the British Library series, wasn’t it? I will definitely look for her novels. Thanks for the rec. And I have read the first Murderbot but own but have not read the next 3. TheH is a big fan and I liked #1 a lot but for some reason didn’t continue. I have queued them up on my ereader to catch up.
I read that there was at least one opera of the novel, and I must track it/them down now. And yes, I imagine the romance is front and center. But maybe they have scenes of the bread riots and the plague too. A girl can dream.
I’m impressed that you’re reading such long books! Glad you’ve found books you’re enjoying.
This makes me wonder about giving FOTR another try. I attempted it 3 times before deciding it just wasn’t for me. I’d decided that I’d come to it too late since everyone I know who loves it first read it when they were teens or younger. But knowing that you enjoyed it reading it for the first time as an adult makes me think maybe i should try again one of these days. Especially since my last attempt was at least 20 years ago.
I’ve mostly been reading short romances by familiar authors and fairy/folk tale retellings. My favorite reads have been by a new to me author that Janine got me into – Aster Glenn Grey. I started with Briarley, a mm retelling of Beauty and the Beast set in England during WWII and haven’t read a bad one by yet yet.
I’m finding retellings really comforting right now – something about reading a new version of an old story works really well for my limited attention span.
I’m doing contract web design work these days – I’m very happy (and lucky) to have a good contract on an interesting project that I can do remotely. Especially since they just extended my contact to the end of the summer. But being an hourly contractor, I’m trying to put in my full 40 hours a week, which has been hard some weeks because it’s been hard, harder than usual, for me to focus. So I’m not even attempting longer novels right now. I am looking forward to the new Murderbot novel – I just hope the plot’s not too complicated so I can follow along.
Hmm. Didn’t mean to nest this here.
It takes a bit of a mental shift to go from unnested to nested comments. 🙂
It’s taking me a long time to read long books, because I can’t fully immerse myself in them the way I’d like to. But I read them alongside shorter and easier ones, and that works pretty well. It will take me a solid month to get through The Betrothed, I’m sure. I think that long 19thC/saga books are working for me the way retellings are working for you: they have a world and style I more or less recognize.
I think you might enjoy FOTR now, especially if you liked the films. I found that having the films in my head was helpful to keep the characters and plot straight, and I think it would have been much harder otherwise.
OMG 40 hour weeks in this environment? It’s exhausting. My first few weeks of WFH were very full and I was both fried and unable to sleep well. It was awful. So be sure to cut yourself some slack and take time when you need it. This is a really hard time and there’s no way to really avoid it or find shortcuts.
A big chunk of my reading (actually mostly audiobooks) in April was Dorothy Sayers (short stories), Agatha Christie (ditto), and Sophie Hannah’s Hercule Poirot books (meh—I always liked Miss Marple better anyway). I realized that part of my problem with focusing on reading was that I read digital library books on my tablet and I keep clicking away. I really should turn to all the unread books on my shelf. On the other hand, the library has really ramped up their digital purchases!
I was glad to see that part of the provincial COVID19 response has been some funding for libraries to boost their digital collections, partly to help support students while schools are closed. I also made a donation to them, which somehow I had never clued in that you could do until I started following their account on Twitter.
Just started a Barbara Pym, which is perfect for my current reading mood. Sort of escapist but also people making the best of an imperfect world, I guess?
I expected to be listening to audiobooks a lot more in this stretch, but I haven’t been going out nearly as much as I should. I can see how these would be enormously comforting to revisit, though. I only read ebooks on my Kobo, in part to avoid distractions. It’s been something I’ve done for a while and I think it’s helped me stay focused. Although when I can’t read, it doesn’t matter what format I’m trying, it won’t work.
You are the second person to bring up Barbara Pym today, and it makes me want to read more of her (I have a couple of them in my TBR). I think the midcentury women writers who wrote general and literary fiction are quite apropos for our current situation. As you’re saying, they’re writing in a time and from a place where they have lots of opinions, expertise, and imagination, but they are constrained in so many ways. The world was not a good place for them but they showed a way to thrive in spite of that. And not in a Pollyanna way; a lot of these novels are quite astringent. Muriel Spark and Penelope Fitzgerald fit in here too.
I read a lot of ebooks, but I so miss my branch libraries right now.
Count me amongst those who is so happy you enjoyed LOTR. Loved this book. Probably try to reread soon myself . Oh and yes I prefer movie’s Boromir too :).
Norfolk mystery sounds interesting . Thank you .
I hope you like the Sansom. And yes, I absolutely have become a convert to Tolkien, which I never expected. 😀
I will definitely try it thanks again.
Oh, and I meant to add: Sansom has a second series which is about a Jewish vegetarian from London who operates a mobile library in rural Ireland, or a small town, or something like that. It sounds quite fun and my library has the series, so I’m going to try that as well.
I am going to look for The Bethrothed. I think I might enjoy it!
Ooh, I hope you like it. And there is at least one public domain ebook version in English if you can’t find these particular translations.
Maybe I should give LOTR (the novels) another shot. I tried it when I was in my late teens or early twenties and didn’t have the patience for it. I called it a DNF when I reached Tom Bombadil’s song.
I liked the movies even less. The first two (not sure if I’ve seen the third) felt like one battle after another. Peter Jackson is much more enamored of fight scenes than he is of building camaraderie.
Movie Gollum was so different from the way I’d pictured him from The Hobbit. Movie Gollum didn’t elicit my sympathy as his novel counterpart did. I always felt that Bilbo was sorry for him, that he was vulnerable and deserving of pity and empathy. That wasn’t in the movie, IMO.
Also, at the risk of TMI, any movie that requires me to the run to the bathroom more than once in the middle is one I view with a jaundice eye. At least put in an intermission.
The Sansom Jewish vegetarian book-loving character souds like one I could relate to! 🙂 I’ll look it up.
I skimmed most of the songs in both the books I’ve read up to now, and I found Tom Bombadil’s section slightly irritating but it fit with the story. And somehow I liked it better retrospectively than when I was reading it. I didn’t see the movie Gollum quite as clearly in my mind’s eye when I was reading The Hobbit, but I didn’t find him sympathetic there. Although that may have been because I never found the movie Gollum sympathetic and the character was set in my brain that way. There’s no way of untangling them for me. But I think I interpreted his actions as equivalent to the way other characters changed when they were under the influence of the Ring, i.e., they became much less themselves and more unpleasant-to-evil.
I hope you like the Sansom!