Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Lord of the Rings August Check-In

Wow! Hard to believe I've read another 145ish pages in this challenge. This month took me through all but two chapters in The Two Towers and one chapter in Return of the King. There was a short stint in the Unfinished Tales as well, but nothing that added much to the story.

In the Two Towers we learned of the aftermath of Helm's Deep. Merry and Pippin reunite with Legolas, Gimli, and Aragorn as well as Gandalf at Isengard. Sadly, Pippin's curiosity gets the better of him. He looks into the seeing stone thrown down from the Tower by Wormtongue. Gandalf takes him and rushes to Minis Tirith.

Here the point of view switches to Sam and Frodo. We learn they are not very good at navigating mountains, and so are forced to capture and use Gollum as their guide. The journey is long and Frodo seems to be suffering much. Luckily, the fall in with Faramir, brother to Boromir, in Ithelien. After some rest, and some food and drink, they're off to the route that Gollum wishes to take them. Faramir is unhappy about it, but Frodo says he has no choice. While there's more to the story, according to the chronology I'm following, I then switched to Return of the King.

Upon switching, we bring up Pippin and Gandalf. I'm going to be straight here. I was super disappointed that the beacons of Gondor were mentioned in about two lines. Out of all the scenes in The Lord of the Rings movies, the lighting of the beacons is my absolute favorite.

I'm starting to see the end to this giant undertaking, and it's quite exciting. I find myself enjoying the character interactions far more than the battle scenes. I know last month, I mentioned Helm's Deep just about made me quit. I'm concerned there will be a ton of battle scenes in Return of the King as well which might slow the whole process down. But all the character bits are quite fun. 

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

Title: And Then There Were None
Author: Agatha Christie
Pages: 247
Finished: August 11, 2019

First Sentence: In the corner of a first-class smoking carriage, Mr. Justice Wargrave, lately retired from the bench, puffed at a cigar and ran an interested eye through the political news in The Times

Summary: Ten strangers accept an invitation to stay at a house on Soldier Island. Upon reacing the island, they are informed, by recording, that they have all committed grievous murders and will suffer retribution. As each guest reacts to said information, people start dying. It quickly becomes apparent the murderer is one of the guests.

Thoughts: My first experience with this story was in it's theatrical form. My high school put on "10 Little Indians" in the early Aughts. I'm happy to see the title has been changed to "And Then There Were None." I picked up the novel now because my husband and I will be seeing the play again this upcoming Friday.

In general, I found there was really only one character I remembered. I don't know if characters were changed in the play or if that one just really stuck out to me. The character "stung by a bee," was the one I remembered.

I'm not much of a mystery reader, but I'll admit I couldn't put this down. I read it in the car as we road tripped up to a wedding. Suffered beastly motion sickness as a result, but it was worth it. The red herring completely caught me and tripped me up.

I liked the addition of the rhyme. I kept trying to figure out how that would play in (the bear in particular being a tricky one) to the deaths. And most of those I actually did have correct from what I remembered from the play.

Out of the two Agatha Christie books I've read, I prefer this one to Orient Express. I'm also really looking forward to the play on Friday! 

Revised Reading Goals

First and foremost, I have two book reviews that need to be written up. Likely they'll happen by the end of this week, possibly even today.

This year, I've been super uninspired by most of my books this year. I don't know if it's due to the order I decided to read them in or something else, but I've made little progress on most of my reading goals. Instead of saying, "Welp. Guess I'm going to fail and that's that." or buckling down and doing nothing but reading, I've decided to look at said goals and revise them for something that will make the back half of the year more fun for me reading wise.

  1. Read 45 Books - I've decreased this number by seven. Likely I'll hit 52, but I don't want to be so beholden to the number.
  2. Finish my Lord of the Rings in Chronological Order project - Keeping this as is. I'm enjoying my LOTR reading every month. It's what I tend to start the month with. Also, once I finish this challenge, I can declutter some books that I don't need (we currently have two copies of the Hobbit and the Trilogy. For this specific project, I've kept them because there are things written in the margin but I don't need them later.)
  3. Back to the Classics - I'm going to change my goal to reading 9 books off this list rather than all 12. I've managed 6 and have three more from my original list that I'm excited about. The other three are books that I want to read, but I keep putting them off for one reason or another.
  4. To Be Read Challenge - I'm changing my goal to reading only 3 books from this list. Like Back to the Classics, I want to read the books I've chosen, but they're getting pushed down for other books I want to read more. And I don't want to end my year with books I didn't want to read!
  5. Newford Part 1 - Keeping this the same. I've been enjoying these books. 
  6. Austen Challenge - Keeping the same. 
  7. Year of Wonder - Deleting entirely. I love listening to the music, but there's been some other mental health tracks I've been listening to instead during the time I'd be doing this. I still listen to the music when I have the time, but I'm more focused on the other tracks. 
I've already gone through my various lists and decided what books I'm going to focus on. That comes out to 17 books between now and the end of December. On top of that, I have plenty of other books from said lists so that if I now end up whipping through these, I have more to read as I want. 

Monday, July 29, 2019

LOTR July Update

I got through chapter 9 and am now back on track with this challenge!

I mentioned in my Fellowship Review that I didn't make it through reading these last time I tried. Two Towers is where I failed last time. More specifically, Chapter 7: Helm's Deep is where I quit last time. How do I know? I almost quit this time too. So much battle and I just don't care. 

Chapters 1 - 6 were really entertaining though. I particularly enjoyed the bits with the Ents. Don't be hasty. I whipped through those so quickly... and then Helm's Deep... 

And then I finished chapters 8 and 9 fairly quickly.

I did appreciate the banter between Gimli and Legolas. I thought the kill counts were made up for the movies and was pleasantly surprised to find them in the text!

On another note, I've started playing Dungeons and Dragons again. (Last I played I was in high school. Now I'm the DM.) I can really see how much these books influenced Gary Gyrax when he developed the system. I'm still at the point where I read the Players Handbook over and over and over to try and keep the ideas in my head. The other day I had just read an Aragorn heavy passage in the Two Towers. That night, I was reading up on Rangers in the Players Handbook and realized that all the feats and skills etc are exactly the things Aragorn was doing in the book. The Woodelves are clearly Legolas. The best example was in our game, one of my players, a dwarf, was busy talking about rocks. Waxing poetical about rocks in such a way that he failed a perception check. A couple nights later, I read about Gimli waxing poetical about rocks. 

I only spent a little time in Unfinished Tales of Middle Earth this time. They were mainly more information on the battles at the Fords of Isen that happen between Theodred and the Orcs of Saruman. Might be nice for the one who really wants to know everything, but not necessary for me.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

I'll Be Watching You by Charles De Lint


Title: I'll Be Watching You
Author: Charles De Lint
Pages: 31/351
Finished: Stopped on July 18, 2019

First Sentence: A thunderstorm was raging in Rachel Sorensen's sleep.

Summary: (from back of book) Rachel Sorensen feared she would never escape her ex-husband's abuse. Then a passing stranger came to her rescue - a stranger who had watched her from afar.

He was a photographer, and Rachel was his perfect subject. He lived only to make her happy - and eliminate those who didn't.

Now he wants more than her beauty. She owes him her life - and he means to collect.

Thoughts: I did not finish this one, not because it was bad, but because it was just too dark for me. De Lint wrote a number of books under the pseudonym Samuel Keyes. The purpose for this, as he explains in the introduction, is that the books are super dark and quite different from his normal affair. By using the pseudonym, his fans would be able to self select books for themselves before reading them. Those who didn't want to read the darker ones would be able to tell without getting mired into plot.

And this one is dark. Super dark. Not bad. Just dark.

In 31 pages, we meet four main characters:

Rachel - the main character who escaped from her abusive husband. Fully realized within a couple paragraphs. Also, her flashbacks are super disturbing. She also mentions something about how it doesn't matter what you wear as a woman. You're still going to get catcalled. Book was written in 1994 and it's still a thing today.

Lily - Rachel's best friend. When we meet her, she's in the middle of lecturing her boyfriend about how women can't "just get out" of an abusive relationship. It's a discussion that you could still have today and doesn't feel out of place.

Frank - Rachel's abusive ex-husband. His chapters are awful. How he views women... just makes your skin crawl.

Unnamed savior - hasn't saved Rachel yet, but he's absolutely disgusting. Clearly sees women as property. Just awful awful person. Made me sick to my stomach.

So my impression, the characterizations are fantastic. Gross and ugly, but fantastic. If the quality is of De Lint's normal books, this is probably a great book. It's just not one I'm interested in reading. So I'm going to count this one as read and strike it off the list of Newford books to read. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Deep Work by Cal Newport

Title: Deep Work
Author: Cal Newport
Pages: 296
Finished: July 9, 2019

First Sentence: (Coming shortly once I have the book in front of me)

Summary: Cal Newport argues that, in this age of internet, email, and smartphone distractions, it's the people who can disconnect from all of that and work with an intense focus that will get ahead.

Thoughts: Yes. I agree with I'd say 90% of this book. In fact, I'd been experimenting with many of the things the author discussed before I started reading, and have been working harder at implementing them.

The thing is, most of my life isn't the type of knowledge work the author talks about. At first I was like, "Well, if I'm not figuring out astrophysics or anything, is this necessary?" But then I remembered quiet time. After lunch, my preschooler spends an hour in her room reading or playing quietly. I take the time to either read, do some of my self-care, or work on a sewing project. I can get a lot done in that hour.

While reading this book, I also had an experience at work. I work in a library. Most of my time is spent "on desk" meaning I'm out in the department available to help patrons at any given moment. Because most of my time is spent on desk, I also have to be able to get my work done while in this state of distraction. Off desk isn't much better because we're in a fairly open office plan, and many of my coworkers are collaborative brainstorming people. There's a lot of chatter. One day, I had an hour off desk when no one else was back in the office. I got an entire month of story times, planned, pulled, and fully prepped. It was incredible. And since we have a new boss who as been asking us what she can do to make our jobs easier, I immediately emailed her to ask if it was at all possible to get me one hour of off desk time during those times when there's no one else around.

The strategies in this book are good. I think there are plenty I'll start toying with more. As a primarily stay at home mom, my deep work sessions are ones that have to be planned a little more carefully, but I've even started viewing my time with my kid as "deep work." Leave the phone in the other room and be present.

In general, the main issue I had with the book was the issue I have with many non-fiction books in the self-help and parenting sections. They always start with an argument for their thesis and then the do this to be better bit. While the argument is probably great for people who either don't know what the discussion is, or who aren't fully bought into it, it gets rather tedious if you do buy into the argument before reading. For example, I know that working without distraction is better. I love reading productivity books. Everyone talks about it. So I found myself skimming for main ideas in the first part of the book.

Read for my To Be Read Challenge.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Year of Wonder June Check-in

Beginning of June was a bit sparse in favorites, but the last week had such amazing music. I really enjoy listening to it all!

June 4 - Overture from Ruslan and Lyudmila by Mikhail Glinka - This is not the first time I've heard this piece, but I wouldn't be able to tell you where I did first hear it. Also, I think I need to read some Pushkin, as this was inspired by Pushkin's fairytale Ruslan and Lyudmila. This is the first piece this month that really grabbed my attention.

June 5 - Ribers no. 9 arranged by the Danish String Quartet - Nordic folk music! Really fun piece. Apparently, the Danish String Quartet made an entire album of folk music that I now must seek out.

June 14 - The Lark Ascending by Ralph Vaughan Williams - Oh. My. God. I've heard this a few times. It's one of those pieces that gets tossed around in music education classes. But I forgot just how stunning it is. It's one of those pieces that takes you out of time and space into a surreal world where everything's a little fuzzy and you get shivers up and down your spine. Seriously, go listen to it.

June 23 - The Seasons, op. 37b - June: Barcarolle by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky - I've played this piece before on flute. I played two other movements from this work for my Senior Recital in college. What lovely music. I once decided I was going to learn the entire work, but as of yet I've not started. Perhaps I'll try again soon.

June 24 - The Silver Swan by Orlando Gibbons - I didn't really like this one, but it did surprise me. Written in 1612, it's an interesting madrigal with juicy tensions and resolutions.

June 26 - Sinfonietta: 1: Allegretto-Allegro-Maestoso by Leoš Janáček - I've never heard this before, but it totally sounds like something I'd have played in college band. Really lovely brass work.

June 27 - Bring us, O lord God by William Henry Harris - This is one of the more beautiful pieces of music I've ever listened to. It's one of those "world falls away as you listen to it" songs.

June 29 - Eclogue for piano and strings, op. 10 by Gerald Finzi - The end of June has some incredible music to finish up the month. Burton-Hill mentions that this piece has a way of suspending time, and she's absolutely correct. I was absolutely floored by how much lighter I felt after listening to this.

June 30 - Song of June by Jonathan Harvey - Really interesting piece of music. Neat harmonies and definitely makes me want to seek out more of Jonathan Harvey's works.