Busy, busy week last week! As I expected for the last week before Christmas. Work was hectic but should be slowing down after the New Year, so I’m looking forward to that. But after all the busyness, I spent Christmas weekend at my parents’ house with them, my grandmother, and my sister’s family. We had a great time, and they absolutely spoiled me with books. I’ll post a book haul for them a little later in the week.
My nearly-three-hour drive was uneventful. Traffic was fairly light and there was very little wind, so despite the fact that I left after sunset on Friday (and so it was pitch black the entire way there), it was one of the easiest drives back to my little hometown that I’ve ever had. I’ll be going home later this afternoon, and the weather, at least, will be pretty much the same.
Obligatory Mina Photo:
My cats see themselves as being above holidays, and so did absolutely nothing for either Winter Solstice or Christmas. I bought them the fancy treats that Mina is so in love with and gave them plenty of extra scritchies, but overall Mina had no idea what all the “Christmas Cheer” in the air was all about.
She did enjoy the boxes that came into the apartment, though. She is a cat, after all, and even if she misses out on the spirit of the season, she has no objections to the appearance of extra boxes and wrapping paper.
What I Finished Reading Last Week:
- The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water by Zen Cho, audiobook narrated by Nancy Wu
- The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell
- The Secret Life of Books: Why They Mean More Than Words by Tom Mole
- Letters from Father Christmas, Centenary Edition by J.R.R. Tolkien, illustrated by the author, edited by Baillie Tolkien
The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water was, in the end, just fine. I neither loved nor hated the characters, story, or setting. It was a completely middle-of-the-road reading experience, but I’m glad I at least gave it a chance. I’m still looking forward to Cho’s Black Water Sister, as I’ve heard a lot of good things about it.
The Diary of a Bookseller was such a fun book. It charts Bythell’s experiences as a used and rare bookseller across the course of one year, detailing things like how many sales they make in a day, how many online orders they get, and the antics of memorable customers, both good and bad. Mostly on the bad end, like the ones who try to get Bythell to give them major discounts on already inexpensive used books (sometimes before walking out in a huff and getting into their expensive cars), or the ones who walk into the shop and declare their love of books and then fail to buy anything (which seems to happen more often than you might think). This was a hilarious look at the kind of business that is beloved by many readers but is harder to stay afloat in than you might think. I’ve already placed a hold on the next book from my library.
The Secret Life of Books is a book about books, but it is not about the stories we consume in the pages. It’s about the actual Thing-ness of books as objects. Mole discusses how dedicated readers imbue their books with great value and often treat them as friends, how reading the physical copy of a book can help us remember the story better than if we read a digital copy, and how physical books are persisting in the face of expanding digital publishing. This was a friendly look at the paper objects that contain the stories we love, how they’ve changed through the ages, and how they’ll continue into the future.
In addition to reading The Lord of the Rings every December, I also reread Tolkien’s Letters from Father Christmas, which is a collection of the letters and drawings from ‘Father Christmas’ that Tolkien made for his children every holiday season. Beginning in 1920, when his eldest son was little, and continuing for over twenty years (when his youngest child, Priscilla, grew out of them) Tolkien would write at least one letter from Father Christmas, detailing his adventures with Great North Polar bear, Ilbereth the elf, and other Arctic friends. The stories are charming and often hilarious, and the illustrations are wonderful. This book is the kind that will appeal to children and grown-ups alike, even if they’re somehow not actually fans of The Lord of the Rings. I recently purchased a copy of the centenary edition to replace my battered old, used, library copy that I got several years ago (and had to do some repairs upon, as it was starting to fall apart), and I absolutely love it. There are a few more letters than the previous version, and the book’s overall quality is much higher. This is one that will last a long, long time.
What I’m Currently Reading:
- The Lord of the Rings (Illustrated Edition) by J.R.R. Tolkien, illustrated by the author
- Underland: A Deep Time Journey by Robert Macfarlane, audiobook narrated by Matthew Waterson
I finished reading The Fellowship of the Ring last night. As usual, when I sit down with this story, I always try to take my time, but then I get sucked into it and events just fly right by and suddenly the Fellowship is at Amon Hen, and Moria and Lothlórien are just a memory as are Galadriel and her mirror, even though they linger on in my imagination. I’ll try to take my time a little more with The Two Towers and The Return of the King, but it probably won’t happen. I say that every time.
Underland is nature writer Robert Macfarlane’s story of his journeys underground– into catacombs, caves, mines, physics laboratories miles underground. He investigates underground rivers and fungal networks, looks at how history– especially war– shapes both underground spaces and modern events, and shows just how complex the ground beneath our feet really is. Sometimes, his description of narrow cave openings makes me cringe, but this book has always been fascinating. There aren’t many caves where I live, so I have little experience with underground spaces (aside from the basements of buildings where I’ve hidden from tornadoes). Macfarlane’s writing is beautiful, and his asides and meditations on deep time scales are haunting. I will be looking into reading more of his work.
What I Plan to Start Reading This Week:
Sharp-eyed readers will notice that I did not begin reading The Lost Kingdom by Signe Pike as I had planned to do. I still plan to read it before 2022. I will start it tomorrow.