ReaderWriterVille

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Category: reading

Carry on

Waiting to board the flight to LHR. The puffy is not as pink as the photo suggests, more of a subdued raspberry. But hey, it’s not black or grey! The waist pack goes into the Lowe when we’re on the path and the gaiters and rain gear come out.

I decided to leave the e-reader at home. It’s weird! But I have Smiley’s People in paperback.

More when we land on the other side.

SuperWendy’s TBR Challenge for February: The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

I’ve decided to take advantage of the flexibility of the TBR Challenge and read books that aren’t necessarily romances. I’m still sticking to the prompts, though, and this month’s theme is “friends.” As I said in my last Weeknotes post, I’ve somehow never read any Tolkien and this seemed like the perfect time to rectify that gaping hole in my reading, especially since we have the print copy on our bookshelf and every library I belong to has an ebook version. And if there’s one message in the Lord of the Rings trilogy that carries through the film adaptations, it’s that friendship is necessary to human flourishing.

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.

How can you not love a story that begins with these sentences? I don’t know what I was expecting: probably something with lots of almost-too-precious depictions of Greene Olde England and elves everywhere. But what I got was so much more and better than that. This is very much a book that children can read and love, but it’s also a book that adults can appreciate and enjoy (and even love). I’m not a Young Adult reader at all in terms of contemporary literature, but this is classic for-all-ages literature and that is something I do like. The voice is charming and doesn’t talk down to the reader at all.

On to the story. Bilbo Baggins is a young hobbit of fifty or thereabouts, who lives in a very nice home at Bag End. Thanks to the machinations of family friend Gandalf the Wizard, he finds himself hosting a party of 14 dwarves for an impromptu and unconventional tea party. He is persuaded to join them on their journey to defeat the terrifying dragon, Smaug, who destroyed their home and dwarf community and took all their treasures. Smaug lives far away, past the Lonely Mountain, and to get there the dwarves and Bilbo will have to overcome many dangers. Bilbo is reluctant, but the non-Baggins part of him (which comes from the Took side of the family) decides to take the chance and accompany Thorin, Balin, Kili, Fili, and the rest of the rhyming crew.

As you have undoubtedly realized, this is a quest/coming-of-age story. Bilbo learns a great deal about himself and the world beyond Hobbiton and The Shire. They encounter elves, trolls, goblins, more elves, eagles, and other non-human beings on their way to confront Smaug, and Bilbo discovers unknown reserves of courage and resourcefulness that help his friends on their journey. He also finds a ring, courtesy of a goblin battle and the carelessness of Gollum, which renders him invisible and able to get everyone out of some very tight spots.

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Book de-stashing

“De-stashing” is a yarn-hobby term for when you get rid of yarn, either by selling, trading, or giving away. I have a bunch of mass market paperbacks in reasonably decent to good condition that I’m finally letting go. I’ve been doing this for years and it’s time to say goodbye to another batch.

These are all romance novels, mostly historical. A lot of them have been digitized, but not all, and some you may not have heard of. I got rid of a couple dozen Marion Chesney Regency Trads quite a while back, but I held on to one series and to her books written under the Jennie Tremaine label:

The Tremaine books are mostly Edwardian-set, which is unusual in the historical romance/trad genre, and they are often hilarious.

I also reluctantly decided to let go of my Georgette Heyer paperbacks. Some are in dire shape and they’re going in recycling, but these are all OK and certainly readable:

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SuperWendy’s TBR Challenge for January: Big Trouble in Old Shanghai by Jeannie Lin

Argh, I’m a day late. But the “short shorts” prompt for January is my friend. I meant to read all of Jeannie Lin’s newest release for this month but I ran out of time and only had time for the first story. Even this brief return was enough to remind me why I like Jeannie’s work so much.

“Big Trouble in Old Shanghai” is the first in a 3-story collection set in her Gunpowder Alchemy world, and the connection is made in the title of the collection: Tales From the Gunpowder Chronicles. I read the previous two novels and one of the short stories when they came out and really enjoyed them. They’re not straight romance, rather they are wuxia-inspired adventure tales with romantic elements, but they are written with the same careful attention to the historical context of all her stories.

I was halfway through the story before I realized that the title was a riff on Big Trouble in Little China, the 1986 adventure film directed by John Carpenter starring Kurt Russell as Jack Burton. Lin says in her author’s note that the American main character here, Dean Burton, is a tip of the hat more than a recreation of the movie Burton. The narrator and main protagonist is Ming-fen, a young woman who works in the Western concession zone of Shanghai. She has only her elder brother, Ren, after her parents were exiled as traitors by the Manchu Dynasty. Shanghai is roiling with rebels plotting to overthrow the Manchu, and Ren turns out to be smack in the middle of it. Ming-fen has no love for the Manchu rulers, but she doesn’t want to get caught up in rebellions that are bound to leave hundreds if not thousands of innocent people caught in the middle.

But when rebels stark attacking, she’s forced into running for her life. Ren has armed her with a red sash, which signals that she is sympathetic to them, and she is slowly trying to make her way back to her home and hopefully safety when she falls in with Dean Burton, an American businessman she knows from the Dragon’s Den bar where she works. She becomes embroiled in Dean’s furtive activities in ways I won’t detail because the story is best read without spoilers.

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2019 reading review and plans for 2020

In the hellscape that has been 2019, my reading was a bright spot. I didn’t read as much as I did in 2018 and I failed a bunch of challenges, but I enjoyed what I read. I broadened my reading horizons and revisited old favorites. I’m not going to make a Top 10 list, but here are some books and patterns that stood out to me.

2019

I read 70 71* books this year. The first half had me on pace to read 100 again, but by summer I was mired in work stuff, and my vacation and other travels were less reading-friendly than usual. Fall semester was even worse, and there were stretches where I barely read at all. Given those developments, 71 books feels like an accomplishment. And last year I wondered if I’d read too many books, because I want to remember what I read. Anyway, the total number is fine. I didn’t have a total books goal, so what I read is what I read. I’ve been cataloguing them at LibraryThing, so you can see the full range of my 2019 reading there.

Of the 71, the majority were 4 stars or above. That isn’t great for a reviewer’s distribution, but for a reader it’s satisfying. Apart from a couple of lists with a range of types of books (TOB) and challenges (especially the Romance TBR Challenge) I tended to pick books I expected to like. As opposed to when I was reviewing for Dear Author, I didn’t feel as if I had to cover a particular swath of the genre.

I read more books in translation than I have in the past, in part because I followed the Man Booker International award in the spring. I also read a few more translated mysteries by Japanese authors, and I paid more attention to translated Quebecois fiction. And I continued to buy books from Fitzcarraldo, who publish quite a bit of translated fiction.

My standout translated novels were The Sound of Things Falling, Soldiers of Salamis, At Dusk, and Life in the Court of Matane. I still have Songs for the Cold of Heart, Dupont’s Giller shortlisted book, in the TBR and plan to read it soonish. A friend strongly recommended Vasquez’s The Sound of Things Falling, and I have two more Cercas novels in the TBR (and he has a new one coming out this year). And while I DNF’d two highly regarded translations, I think I’ll revisit both of them, because I may have just read them at the wrong time.

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