Laughter and books make life a little easier

30 Day Book Challenge

Day 30 – Your favourite book of all time

Header2

This post is part of a month-long series of pre-dated posts running while I am on holiday. Feel free to comment, I’ll get back to you when I return!
Please note that any “reviews” I write here are simply my own opinion and that I am not doing any objective, informative reviews for this challenge. If there are any spoilers in a post, I will indicate it at the top.
I draw the book covers straight from Goodreads and you can click on the images to go to the book’s page on there.

* This post contains some spoilers! And I’m not whiting them out again, or I’ll have to do it to whole paragraphs.
You have been warned! 😉 *

This post is way too long – my apologies! Also, sorry it is so late. I left it without queuing it up so I could post it manually (and savour its writing longer) and then obviously I only got to it now. You’ll have to get used to this again! 😛

Did all you guess yet what I am going to write about today? Yes? No? Wasn’t it that obvious? Did I gush about too many different things? Or did you always know where all of this was leading up to? Here we go… the last day of the challenge.

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

I am certain that this is my favourite book of all time… most of the time. Sometimes, then I start to wonder of this is really the book that I love most of all. However, this is never for long. I always return to Tolkien. It doesn’t take much. A quote… a picture… I’ve shown you before some of the Lord of the Rings graphics that I make. It’s one of my favourite things to do and it always gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. Sometimes I just decorate quotes, but more often I focus on a single subject, character or scene. I’m working on a collection of graphics – one for each one of the Fellowship. I usually take different scenes from the movies and then merge then together for a single graphic, add texture and a quote or two. It’s probably not the best graphics, but I love making them. Then, sometimes the unexpected happens…

Recently I was going through screencaps of The Return of the King movie. I was looking for the scene where Merry and Pippin are separated because I wanted to make a graphic detailing that scene. I couldn’t find it because I wasn’t sure how far into the movie it was. I was jumping around; looking for any scenes close to it that could give me a clue. Finally, I got closer and started going page for page. Eventually, I was a bit annoyed because the characters didn’t want to stop talking and just get on the horse and I didn’t dare skip a page of screenies in case I missed it. Suddenly, it hit me: it was as if the full pain of Merry and Pippin’s separation just hit me full in the face. Watching it happen frame by frame brought the truth home to me. It was not an aspect of the book or movies that I had ever paid much attention to (well, in the book it’s hardly there), but I finally understood how painful this was for both of them, but especially to Pippin, who’ve always had Merry to look out for him and now he was suddenly a child, alone in a strange country. Suddenly I couldn’t even imagine losing my best friend whom I’ve been friends with since we were little kids, much like Merry and Pippin, and especially not like this: not knowing if you’d ever see them again and not even if they are alive or dead. I started to tear up – and this is not a scene where I’ve ever been sad before. At the Grey Havens scene yes (I just can’t stand Sam’s face without tearing up) and sometimes at the scene when the Black Gate opens, I get such an icy thrill. But I’ve never cried with Merry and Pippin before.

And that is what I love about Lord of the Rings. There is always a new discovery, a new truth brought home to me, a new connection spotted. I know I analyse lots of LotR in terms of Christian allegory and no-one else has to see it that way if they don’t want to, but to me, The Lord of the Rings is a story of endurance when all hope seems gone (but it never truly is), which is especially precious to someone like me who sometimes still struggles with the darkness inside me, and the receiving of grace when you don’t deserve it at all. There was redemption even for Gollum in the end and so we learned that the pity of Bilbo indeed ruled the fate of many.

Also… oh Frodo… he never deserved any of the horrible things that happened to him. Seriously, he lost everything: his home, most of his friends, his dreams, his health and the Shire that he loved so much. Eventually, in Mordor he also lost hope, but he still found a way of going on. Mostly, this way was Sam, of course. Frodo certainly wouldn’t have got far without Sam and that is probably why some people say that Sam is the real hero of LotR, not Frodo. I think they are both heroes. Both did incredible deeds bigger than them. It wasn’t one or the other, but together they pushed on to hope’s ending and heart’s breaking.

Then Frodo failed. He failed the Quest, he failed his duty and broke under the influence of the Eye. Yet, he still received grace. He was not too far gone, because you never are. You cannot be. He may have lost everything in Middle-earth, but he gained Valinor and that is truly something to look up to.

I’ve heard many people say that there are so many books these days with plots similar to Lord of the Rings. I totally agree with that. What I do not agree with is when people say that LotR may have been the first, or one of the first fantasies of its type, but there are now so many others resembling it that LotR is not interesting anymore and has no distinguishing features to make it better than the others. There I disagree. It has distinguishing features: how many other fantasies of its type have you read where the author eventually has the hero fail in his epic quest? How many others have you seen where the saviour (unintentional maybe) is Gollum, not Frodo? Not many, if any, would be my guess. Beyond  that, it is the sheer scale of Lord of the Rings that makes it the best, to me. Beyond this one stories, we also have an entire legendarium and more, for the great tales never end. Also, Tolkien was a master of the English language and he has a way of putting things and describing things that is so wonderful and unique…

Because of the epic size of this story, I also have to admit that I have read LotR cover to cover only once. It’s simply too big for regular rereads. It has 1,030 pages plus the appendices in my edition (The one pictured up there. It’s the 50th anniversary edition!). There are some chapters that I have read several times. I regularly pick it up and just read some part. I often catch myself just reading and reading when I was really only scanning for a quote to use in a graphic. On top of LotR, I of course also love The Hobbit and I am super excited for the upcoming movie. I also own The Children of Húrin, but I never quite seem to get to reading it. Anyway, I think I should probably read The Silmarillion first, before attempting that one. I’ve read parts of The Silmarillion before, but not all. It’s not an easy read for me because I always get confused with the names of all the Elves, because they sound so similar to me and then I have to page backwards and forwards to remember who’s who. However, I’ve read the part about the forging of the Silmarils and I’ve read about the Valar and the creation of Middle-earth. I’ve also read about the first murder and the Curse of Galadriel, but there is still much to go. I think this would be my next step into the Tolkien legendarium.

 

And with a complete change of topic I would declare that I love hobbits. Hobbits never fail to make me smile. I think if you just saw my graphics folder you would be able to deduce that already from the amount of graphics featuring hobbits that I make, compared to graphics featuring any of the other characters or races. It used to the be the Elves that I loved that much… and while I still love them and all the descriptions of their homes, lately I have come to realise the attraction of the hobbits’ simple lives… and the great deeds done by small hands to save Middle-earth.

And my OTP (one true pairing) also comes from LotR. I don’t know why it matters, because I don’t even write fanfiction. Not really, anyway. *cough* Definitely not romantic fanfiction, though! 😉

 

And here at last, dear friends, we come to the end of our journey through the 30 Day Book Challenge! *

I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did!

  • 35 posts (counting the introductory one),
  • About 40 books,
  • Some 26,000 words (that’s over half a NaNoWriMo-novel, eep!)

And hereby, by the power vested in me (because I hold the password to the blog), I declare this challenge over! Normal “Cartoons & Creative Writing” posting will resume in a few days!

 

Sig3

*With apologies to Professor Tolkien for mangling his quote.


Day 29 – A book that everyone hated but you loved

Header2

This post is part of a month-long series of pre-dated posts running while I am on holiday. Feel free to comment, I’ll get back to you when I return!
Please note that any “reviews” I write here are simply my own opinion and that I am not doing any objective, informative reviews for this challenge. If there are any spoilers in a post, I will indicate it at the top.
I draw the book covers straight from Goodreads and you can click on the images to go to the book’s page on there.

I will try to shape my thoughts about this, though I don’t have any well-ordered arguments or strong points. However, I will try to explain what I think. Everyone else is probably right and I’m being a fool. Well, here goes…

 

The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann Wyss

I see a lot of hate going for this book these days. (Just click on the image and read some reviews on Goodreads. You’ll see several opinions going that way.) People tell you how they threw it away after reading only part of it. People tell you how this book is the epitome of everything that they hate. People tell you that it is racist, Eurocentric and offensive.

And you know what? I know it is, but I still like it.

Let me explain… or try to, at least. I’m the last person to condone racism or Eurocentricism. In this case they are basically the same thing, so I will simply refer to racism. I hate it, it irritates me and I hate it. Though I was raised in an environment where racism was definitely not absent, I hate tried my utmost best to kill this method of thought in myself. I hope that I have succeeded. Anyway, how come I liked The Swiss Family Robinson?

It is the perfect example of colonial literature. It is absolutely a product of its times and a perfect example of the thought patterns of the colonial period. You can’t pin an accusation of racism on a book written during a period when racism was normal and common practice. Also, I don’t know how you can accuse the author of being a racist if you have not extensively done research about his work and life. You definitely can’t claim this after having read only a few of his pages. In the case of this book, I would find it difficult to venture any opinion about the author even after reading the entire book, because throughout it is written in first person – in diary form. Therefore it would be hard to tell if anything said in the book is simply the bias written into typical, colonial-stereotype characters, or if it is the author’s own opinion.

 

The Swiss Family Robinson is a book about a family surviving on a deserted island after having been shipwrecked. I’ve written before that I loved this kind of stories when I was younger. Perhaps this has clouded my perception of this book. I don’t know. However, I was taught to always read a book inside the context that it was written, and this book was written in a context where Europeans belittling other races was perfectly normal and happened every day. This was the colonial period. That was what happened. The book is innocent because it didn’t know of any better, right?

No? I told you that I’m trying to shape what I think, but I don’t think I’m doing very well so far. I’m not explaining well, am I? If you read classic books, you will find these kind of offensive overtones mentioned previously in many, many books. You will find them in the works of Dickens and the work of Conan Doyle. You will find them in the works of Jules Verne and Agatha Christie. These are all works that represent the thought of their time, and I cannot take offense at that, because I know that this is the way that people thought in the past. I know that this is not the way that people think now. Well, most people, anyway. Many at least.

 

Am I arguing about nothing here? Do you think this book is offensive? Is it simply oversensitive to say that The Swiss Family Robinson is racist? After all, there are many that say Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is racist (an argument which I think is ridiculous) and some that say J.R.R. Tolkien’s works are racist, which I can honestly not see. I think it’s a bit unrealistic to pin racism on works that take place in a completely different world with completely different peoples. Anyway, I’m digressing.

To conclude, even though I can see a way of thought that will be considered offensive these days in The Swiss Family Robinson, I cannot take offense at it or dislike the book for it. It is colonialist literature of a bygone period, from which you cannot expect a different, modern kind of thought, and that is what it represents to me. It doesn’t mean I have to condone it.

 

Tomorrow brings the last post featuring my favourite book of all time!

Sig3


Day 28 – Favourite title

Header2

This post is part of a month-long series of pre-dated posts running while I am on holiday. Feel free to comment, I’ll get back to you when I return!
Please note that any “reviews” I write here are simply my own opinion and that I am not doing any objective, informative reviews for this challenge. If there are any spoilers in a post, I will indicate it at the top.
I draw the book covers straight from Goodreads and you can click on the images to go to the book’s page on there.

 

I was wondering what is meant by “favourite title”. It can’t mean the same as “favourite book” because that post is still coming, so what then? I thought it could mean a title that sounds snappy. So I tried to think of some, but all that came to mind were band names, I’m afraid. I decided there probably weren’t any snappy titles that I could write about. So I thought maybe I could write about a title that I like the look or sound of. All that came to mind was The Horse and His Boy from The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. Just… because. I like the way it sounds. 🙂 And I like the book too.

But it still didn’t help me, because The Horse and His Boy just didn’t seem right for this honour of favourite title. Then I thought some more and finally decided that if a favourite title is not the same thing as favourite book, then a favourite title must be something that evokes good memories… something that I associate with the mention of a title. Finally, I was getting somewhere!

The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton. Yeah I know it’s a children’s book. So what? 😛

I was enchanted by this book as a kid. I read it to pieces. Not really, but it would have been in pieces had it been any less sturdy. I had the illustrated hardcover edition that is pictured up there and every single illustration simply added to the magic of this book. I once spilled water on it and I had hardly been as upset in my short life as that day. The good news is that the book survived through a lot of attention from my mother, though some of its pages remain crinkled to this day.

Actually this is the second book in The Faraway Tree-trilogy. Though I do tend to think of the trilogy as one glorious book, this second one is my favourite. It’s the first one of the three that I read and it’s the one that stuck with me, aided of course by the wonderful illustrations. As I said in Day 21’s post, Enid Blyton’s books are all sunshine and rainbows and that I believe that it is good for children to believe in this world before real life steps in. Her books were my companions in the years before everything started going wrong. They were my protectors during the time that everything had already gone wrong. Other people in the same situation had the world of Harry Potter to escape into to forget the pain, but I had Enid Blyton. Though I am not someone given to nostalgia, the way that I feel about her books, especially the wonderful Faraway Tree, comes close.

 

Would I read this book again, if I went and dug it out of the box where it lives these days? No, I wouldn’t. I don’t want to spoil the memories that I have of it. I want to remember it in the way that I still think of it now. I want to keep the story alive the way that I remember it – I don’t want to defile it with grown-up cynicisms.

This is why The Magic Faraway Tree is my favourite title. The mere mention of the title is enough for me to recall the happiness that I felt when reading these books. The title is enough – it is like a magic word, because at the mention of it, I can recall the story so well. Not everything maybe, but enough to have it relive. The Magic Faraway Tree may not be my favourite book anymore, but that doesn’t mean I’ll ever forget it and everything that it meant to me. At the mention of the title, the magic will relive. 😀

 

We’re in the home stretch now! Tomorrow’s post is about a book that everyone hated, but I loved.

Sig3


Day 27 – The most surprising plot twist or ending

Header2

This post is part of a month-long series of pre-dated posts running while I am on holiday. Feel free to comment, I’ll get back to you when I return!
Please note that any “reviews” I write here are simply my own opinion and that I am not doing any objective, informative reviews for this challenge. If there are any spoilers in a post, I will indicate it at the top.
I draw the book covers straight from Goodreads and you can click on the images to go to the book’s page on there.

 

I was considering writing about one or more of Agatha Christie’s murder mysteries for today’s post, but then I decided that a plot twist at the end of one of those books is not surprising, it is expected. Basically, when you pick one of those up, you are saying “Go on. Surprise me,” because plot twists are, after all, Dame Christie’s speciality.

 

So then I decided to write about The Valley of Fear by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It is one of the four Sherlock Holmes novels written by him, and quite different in the sense that Holmes is only present for a small part of the story (similar to A Study in Scarlet). For the rest of the story, we are transported into the past and a continent away from Holmes and Watson’s quarters in Baker Street. We travel to America, to the fictional Vermissa Valley (a.k.a. the valley of fear) where coal and iron is mined, where we follow the story of young John McMurdo, who seems to be a nice guy. He is a newcomer to the valley and soon hears out that the entire valley is caught in the dictatorship of a group of men reminiscent of the Klu Klux Klan. They are the Scowrers and their word is law. At first McMurdo laughs off these dark rumours, but it is not long before he is swept up, drawn in and becomes as bad as the rest of these men who are red to the elbows with murder.

I’ll leave you to find out the fate of these men for yourself, but I can tell you that the plot twist at the end of their story had me gaping at the masterly subterfuge. Personally, I think it is the best of the four Holmes novels and it is also the one all the stories that stand out the most to me, even with the absence of Holmes and Watson. Although I am also fond of The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot, The Greek Interpreter and The Five Orange Pips none of them have a plot twist like this at the end.

 

On a slightly related note, has anyone else experienced that they get too good at predicting the plot of a normal book? The more I read, the more I find plots that repeated. That is what I like about Agatha Christie’s oeuvre: just when I think I know who the murderer is, taking into account her method of flitting between the most likely and least likely person, then she turns the tables on me again so that I am wrong yet again. Actually, I have only once been “right” about the ending and then just as I was congratulating myself, Monsieur Poirot said “Wait a minute,” and pulled yet another rabbit from the hat. That book has two endings: it makes you think that it is ending and then it simply picks up the mystery again and goes on. It is her first book: The Mysterious Affair at Styles.

 

I could name other mysteries with plot twists, but what would be the point? You already know that I love murder mysteries (I’m gruesome like that) and why else do I read them except for the plot twists? I’ll stop now before I spoil the plot of one of these mysteries. I hate it when people do that to me, so I shouldn’t be a hypocrite. 😉

 

Tomorrow’s post is about my favourite title.

Sig3


Day 26 – A book that changed your opinion about something

Header2

This post is part of a month-long series of pre-dated posts running while I am on holiday. Feel free to comment, I’ll get back to you when I return!
Please note that any “reviews” I write here are simply my own opinion and that I am not doing any objective, informative reviews for this challenge. If there are any spoilers in a post, I will indicate it at the top.
I draw the book covers straight from Goodreads and you can click on the images to go to the book’s page on there.

I do hope today’s post doesn’t shock anyone who knows me in real life too much! 😆

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald was prescribed to me in high school. I didn’t like it. Not only was it confusing and the class discussions pretty useless, it was a matter of principle. Isn’t it that way with most people who had English in high school? You hate the prescribed works simply because they are prescribed and you have to read them, rather than for a specific thing that bothers you. Anyway, looking back now, I think I only took one thing away from this book: a changed opinion. But first, I need to tell you a little anecdote.

Four years ago, almost to the day, I joined a website called wikiHow. As the name suggests, it is a wiki (a website that anyone can edit) of how-to articles. As I learned the policies of this site, I learned that its community employs a policy of “assuming good faith”. Someone made a bad-faith edit? Assume it was a mistake. Correct it and show them the correct way. Do not flame them. Do not get angry. If you want to read the whole policy, you can do so here. It was here that I learned not to judge people.
You do not know what another person is going through. You do not know the situation. You have absolutely no right to judge someone for their actions (especially not through the internet). Anyway, what is it that makes you so much better that you can go around judging everyone else?
That’s my opinion. 😛 What a coincidence that this lesson on wikiHow coincided with the time that I had to read The Great Gatsby.

The narrator of Gatsby is Nick Carraway, a man whom others tend to trust and tell things because he always reserves judgement. It makes them feel more secure, because they know that he will not express any judgement that will make them feel bad about themselves. Along with Nick, I learned how little we actually know about what motivates others. Along with him I learned how presumptuous it is to assume that you know about people. I learned to assume good faith – it is kind to yourself and others.

This seems to be the only thing that stuck with me from The Great Gatsby. I changed my opinion about people. Like most teenagers, I used to be very judgemental about others and their actions. My lessons from wikiHow and Gatsby taught me to change my ways. Since those days, I’ve tried very hard to reserve judgement and assume good faith everywhere I go.

For example, not long ago, as we drove into a petrol station, my mother and I saw a policeman sitting on a bench, eating an ice cream. Immediately, my mother was dealing out judgement, going off about how he was slacking and should be doing his job, yet here he’s sitting eating an ice cream. All I could say was “How do you know he is on duty at the moment? Maybe his shift’s over?” I didn’t say anything about judgement, because that would only lead to a fight. People don’t take that kindly and anyway, it’s more important for me to still assume good faith.

A last word about The Great Gatsby… however much I hated it in school, I think if I got it as a prescribed book now, after 2 and a half years of English at university, I would like it much more. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was my first foray into Modernism. I didn’t know what the characteristics of a Modernistic novel are, or that it is completely different from a storybook. If you want to read it as a storybook… it doesn’t work. If I knew about literature then what I know now, I think it would have made all the difference, but we weren’t taught that in high school. High school is just very good at equipping you to hate English, not understand it. 😉

Enough of this. Tomorrow’s post is about the book that has the most surprising plot twist or ending. 🙂

Sig3


Day 25 – A character whom you can relate to the most

Header2

This post is part of a month-long series of pre-dated posts running while I am on holiday. Feel free to comment, I’ll get back to you when I return!
Please note that any “reviews” I write here are simply my own opinion and that I am not doing any objective, informative reviews for this challenge. If there are any spoilers in a post, I will indicate it at the top.
I draw the book covers straight from Goodreads and you can click on the images to go to the book’s page on there.

Tiffany Aching, the main character of one of the subseries inside Discworld.

Tiffany Aching is nine years old at the start of the first book about her and she has decided that she wants to be a witch when she grows up. Tiffany has the abilities First Sight and Second Thoughts. First Sight, unlike second sight, is quite rare and allows one to see what is really there, not what your mind tells you ought to be there. Second Thoughts are thoughts about your first thoughts. Later in the novel, Tiffany finds out that she also has Third Thoughts (thoughts that watches the way that she thinks about thinking) and possibly even more Thoughts.

 

Tiffany is the kind of person who reads a fairy-tale and then starts to question the motives of the characters. She wonders whether the handsome prince was really that handsome, or if the people simply described him that way because he was a prince. She wonders about the princess who was the described to be “as beautiful as the day”, because winter days aren’t very pretty and rather drab, compared to, say, a spring day when all the plants are renewed and blossoming.

“The stories never said why she was wicked. It was enough to be an old woman, enough to be all alone, enough to look strange because you have no teeth. It was enough to be called a witch. If it came to that, the book never gave you the evidence of anything. It talked about “a handsome prince”… was he really, or was it just because he was a prince that people called handsome? As for “a girl who was as beautiful as the day was long”… well, which day? In midwinter it hardly ever got light! The stories don’t want you to think, they just wanted you to believe what you were told…”

– The Wee Free Men, Terry Pratchett

Tiffany is the kind of person who goes and looks up words that she does not know in the dictionary.

Tiffany is described as (I’m paraphrasing here) “the person at the party who sits in the corner with a very small drink, unable to join in the party spirit, because she has a little piece inside of her that will not melt and flow with the rest”.

That last paragraph… that is basically how I spend my life. I can’t join in. There is a part of me that thinks too much and questions everything and that part will not let me abandon myself and join in whatever is going on.

 

It is the same part of me that struggles to really care about people and feel for people. In the last few years, I seem to have ended up at quite a few funerals. I don’t know why there are so many funerals in the family. Anyway, at all of the funerals, I have ended up simply standing there. I couldn’t join in. Everyone was crying and hugging each other and getting on with the normal business of a funeral, but something was stopping me from doing the same. I go completely numb inside and all that I can do is stand there, watching myself think. The same happens at parties, which is why I avoid the things. It’s anyway just a nuisance to me, so why should I go?

 

In The Wee Free Men, one of the things that Tiffany is accused of is that she didn’t cry when her grandmother died. It bothers her and she wonders why she couldn’t cry. I didn’t cry when my grandmother died either. I couldn’t: something was stopping me. My mother had dropped me off at extra lessons and when I came out of the school and walked to the car, the call had just come through. All I could do was awkwardly stand there… I didn’t know what to say or do. There was nothing that seemed natural to me to do in such a situation: not cry or say something sympathetic, which is not something that I am good at anyhow. I may have been a lot older than Tiffany when it happened to her (she was seven and I was only just seventeen), but I still identified with the way that she felt.

 

Like Tiffany, I tend to question everything. I’ve always wondered about the useless princesses in the fairy-tales. I’ve always wondered about the sweeping statements that they tend to make. I don’t like them and I don’t like stories that want to prevent people thinking for themselves, which is also something that Tiffany objects to. It may be unusual, but it is just the way that my mind works.

“Yes! I’m me! I am careful and logical and I look up things I don’t understand! When I hear people use the wrong words, I get edgy! I am good with cheese. I read books fast! I think! And I always have a piece of string! That’s the kind of person I am!”

– Tiffany, The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett.

Tiffany is actually the character that I mentioned when I was writing about my favourite female character (the one that I said I would write about later). I love how self-assertive she is. I love how much she thinks. I love how she is armed only with a frying pan and Diseases of the Sheep (a book that belonged to her grandmother). It came quite slowly, how I realised how much I identify with her, but once I realised it, the connection was clear and she promptly became my favourite female Discworld character.

 

“Another world is colliding with this one,” said the toad. “All the monsters are coming back.”

“Why?” said Tiffany.

“There’s no one to stop them.”

There was silence for a moment.

Then Tiffany said, “There’s me.”

 

Tomorrow’s post is about a book that changed my opinion about something.

Sig3