Monthly Archives: January 2012

Week 3, Book 3: Gather Together In My Name

Gather Together In My Name by Maya Angelou
4 stars out of 5 on Goodreads

Posting a day late, but I had very lazy Saturday followed by a night out!

Unlike the previous two books I have read this year, this one is not a work of fiction. It’s the second book in Maya Angelou’s autobiographical series. The first book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is probably much more well-known. I read Caged Bird in high school, so the memory of that book is a few years distant now. (It still seems so odd to think of high school as something that happened two+ years ago. Hell, I turn twenty this year which is just baffling! But I digress.)

Over the winter holidays I was back in my hometown staying with my parents for a few weeks and just before I left in early January I decided to pay the local used bookstore a visit. My original purpose was to find a used copy of The Silmarillion, but as I mention in last week’s post I was unsuccessful in that. I did manage to acquire, however, Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword and The Hero and The Crown, along with this book, Gather.

Now, I’ll freely admit it: until I had to read Caged Bird in high school, I had never heard of Maya Angelou before in my life. Even now, I really don’t know all that much about her – although I did finally take the initiative to go read her Wikipedia page. Her fame and importance seems to stem from her series of autobiographical books, with Angelou being one of the first African-American women to tell her story in such a way. She also has had what seems to be a certain prominence and importance in the civil rights movement and so forth.

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Week 2, Book 2: The Silmarillion

The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien, is the edition I read. It was my father’s book, which he purchased in 2000 along with the matching editions of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Unfinished Tales. As those editions of The Hobbit and LotR were the ones I had first read, before purchasing my own, I decided I wanted to read that edition of The Silm as well.

Just yesterday I went and bought my own copy of The Silm which is this beautiful edition. It is illustrated by Ted Nasmith, with 4 sets of colour plates through the book. It’s the same printing, I think, as the previous edition, just slightly larger in measurements and with the artwork. Alongside my 50th anniversary trade paperback copy of The Hobbit and a very slightly mismatched set of Lord of the Rings in three volumes (all the same editions/cover art, but RotK was printed larger), it looks comfortably unique. I had hoped to buy a used copy of Silm, but this was too beautiful to pass up.

I had previously attempted to read The Silmarillion some years ago, after reading Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. But I was only about 8 or 9 years old at the time, and so it is no wonder that I never got very far in, despite being a fairly precocious reader. (I did also attempt The Unfinished Tales which I had more success with, but I’m not sure if I did read all that.) I am a great lover of LotR and Tolkien, and consider both the books and the movies done by Peter Jackson & Co. highly influential as stories that shaped me as a person, a reader, and a (hopefully some day published) writer. This is quite relevant, as The Silm is most definitely a book that will only appeal to specific audiences. For avid Tolkien fans who wish to know, understand, and appreciate the great man’s work as much as possible, it is a must-read. I imagine anyone who is a fan of classic mythology a la the Iliad or Beowulf or such things would also appreciate it.

The book, for those not familiar with it, does not just contain the Quenta Silmarillion, the title epic, but also holds the AinulindalĂ«, the Valaquenta, the AkallabĂȘth, and Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age, along with some genealogical tables and appendices. The edition I read (and the one I own) also includes an excerpt from a letter written by Tolkien to Milton Waldman in 1951 which forms a “brilliant exposition of his conception of the earlier Ages” (the letter ends with a summary of the events of LotR and that part is not included). The letter alone is brilliant and provides great insight into Tolkien’s purposes and intentions in creating his world of Middle-earth. I will treat each section separately, as they are all different stories, and due to the format of the book, even the Quenta Silmarillion is rather more like a compilation of tales of varying historicity and from various sources than a single cohesive tale. Which is something I find rather wonderful, but won’t dwell on overmuch – Christopher Tolkien’s forward covers it quite well though.

Some spoilers for the chapter Of Beren and Luthien, but other than that, spoiler free. Also a bit on the long side.

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Week 1, Book 1: Leviathans of Jupiter

Leviathans of Jupiter by Ben Bova

I picked this book up at Coles bookstore in my hometown, the second day of this year, simply because I’d entered a bookstore with money in my pocket and thought I’d get something new to read. I have something of a weakness – though it isn’t often indulged – for science fiction of this sort. ‘This sort’ being, of course, sci-fi that uses the premise that Earth is not the only place of intelligent life on the solar system. I find it particularly enjoyable when it features what we know as gas giant planets. As soon as I spotted the title of this book, I thought of Missing Men of Saturn – an old book which I read some years ago and enjoyed greatly, despite its science being rather out of date nowadays.

So I picked this book up with the expectation of indulging in some fun, adventurous sci-fi of a rather classic twist, and the blurb did nothing to disabuse me of this notion. The fact that Leviathans was written in 2011 by a notable sci-fi writer just made me more eager, as I hoped for a more modern – and thus more aware of the problematic writing that has afflicted science fiction through the years – perspective. It is still, I believe, the only book by Ben Bova I have read, and it wasn’t until just now that I was aware that Leviathans was a sequel to Jupiter, a previously published book featuring some characters that also appear in this one.

SPOILER WARNING: Character spoilers and hints of plot spoilers

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52 Books, 52 Weeks… Go, go, go!

Some time in the middle of last year I acquired a Goodreads account. Noticing the option to set a goal for how many books to read in 2011, I set a nice, round 50 and then tried my best to remember which books I had, in fact, already read. Between a summer of mind numbing dullness (so dull, in fact, that at points I had trouble concentrating on anything, even reading which has long been my one solace) and a busy first semester of second year of university, I didn’t meet my goal.

Though I still think that if I had been able to include all the novel-length fanfics I’d read, I would have exceeded it, easily.

But, such concerns aside, I decided at the start of this year, when presented with the option to set a reading goal for 2012, that I’d give 52-in-52 a shot. 52 books in 52 weeks. Combined with the fact that I have yet to properly use this blog for any of the uses which I intended I have come up with the following set of rules for myself:

  1. Re-reads don’t count. I’m not a big rereader, if I’m honest, but there are some books I will read over and over again. I will make exception if I haven’t read the book in over 5 years, but I want to expand my reading of published material and ensure that I’m reading 52 books that are brand new to me (or as good as – 5 years ago I was 14, and my memory is shit.)
  2. All books shall be tracked on Goodreads. Whether they are part of the 52-in-52 or not.
  3. Books read for school don’t count. As I’m not an English major, this shouldn’t be a huge problem, but since I’ll allow 52 fiction OR non-fiction books… it’s still relevant.
  4. Any type of book allowed, including anthologies. With a 100-page minimum when in paperback printing. Anthologies of short stories, which I do read on occasion, will be treated as one book for purposes of counting.
  5. All books read for 52-in-52 will be reviewed on this blog by midnight Saturday of the week relevant. This is so that I don’t just splurge through and never consider the book again. As I do intend to be a published writer at some point, having an awareness of what I read will be good. It’s the one thing I did appreciate about IB Higher Level English in high school!

So there you have it, dear readers. My 5 rules for my 52-in-52. I have already finished my first book (as those who follow my Twitter will be aware) which was Ben Bova’s Leviathans of Jupiter. So expect a review post of that before midnight this Saturday! (Also, can we take a moment to appreciate the convenience of this year beginning on a Sunday?)

Happy 2012,
C/J