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One Corpse Too Many, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, God Is Not One, The Hobbit

Ellis Peters, One Corpse Too Many
This is one of those books that I’m sure is a very different experience reading for the first time unspoiled, because it’s the first appearance of Hugh! Hugh Beringar, sheriff’s deputy, is Cadfael’s best friend for most of the series (and is played delightfully by Sean Pertwee in the first few TV adaptations), and watching Cadfael trying to decide whether or not to trust him is great fun when you know he’s entirely trustworthy. Hugh and Cadfael have a glorious battle of wits – mostly involving sneaking around the countryside – and at the end they become fast friends. I loved every minute of it. Oh yeah, and there was a murder or something too, I dunno.

Diana Wynne Jones, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland
So the story goes that Jones was in the hospital, and working on the Encyclopedia of Fantasy at the same time, and she said, “I swear, all these books are so similar I could write the travel guide for the world they’re set in.” So she did. I was actually surprised to find that at least half of the clichés in the book were not straight out of Lord of the Rings. But still, after twenty-six years of a fondness for epic fantasy novels, there was not a damn one I was not familiar with. (Why in god’s name would you cook STEW on the road, anyway?)

Stephen Prothero, God is Not One
The sequel to his Religious Literacy which I read and reviewed here not too long ago, in God is Not One Prothero offers a brief introduction to eight of the world’s most influential religions. He calls them “the world’s rival religions,” which I’m not too fond of — I don’t think Daoism, for instance, is particularly the rival of anything — but I liked the book very much overall. He treats, in a self-defined order of importance, Islam, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Yoruba religions, Judaism, and Daoism, with a short section on atheism in the back. The insight that I found particularly helpful, and one I thought supported Prothero’s position that the major religions are really very different from one another, was the way he described what each religion sees as the central human problem and the solution to that problem. Looking at it this way, you can really see a difference between, say, Christianity (which sees the problem as sin and salvation the solution) and Islam (where the problem is pride and the solution submission to God’s will) in a way that you can’t when looking only at history and practice. Also, he talks about Yoruba religions, including the facets of it still based in Africa and the Catholic syncretism in the Americas, and that’s just awesome.

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
So in October I started reading The Lord of the Rings out loud to my roommate, who’d never read it before. We’d finished Fellowship and started on Two Towers — got just about to where the second movie starts, actually — when a couple of our friends came up to visit and we told them about it, and it came out that the roomie had never read The Hobbit. Friends were suitably appalled, and I protested that I didn’t know, what kind of a crazy person has never read The Hobbit, and the upshot is, we started trading round the paperback, alternating reading chapters aloud all afternoon. We got through about half of the book that day, and just the other day I finally finished it. You know, I always forget how much I like Balin. He’s a decent fellow, for a dwarf. And although I was leery of it when I first heard the casting news, I cannot wait to see Richard Armitage playing Thorin Oakenshield.

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On Writing, Unhinged, The Fellowship of the Ring, Crazy Like Us

I haven’t been reading as much this month due to NaNoWriMo, but I have finally finished another stack. Woo!

Stephen King, On Writing
I reread this in the leadup to NaNoWriMo, hoping to be inspired, since I couldn’t get ahold of the NaNo book in time. Alas, I seemed to like this book much more the last time I read it. Possibly because I’ve discovered the problems with seat-of-the-pants writing, namely that it leads to long, convoluted drafts with lots of confusion. (Like, say, recent Stephen King novels.) Oh, well.

Daniel J. Carlat, Unhinged
Carlat is a psychiatrist, writing about the problems with psychiatry as a field — namely that it’s extremely vulnerable to manipulation by pharmaceutical companies, largely because it’s the field of medicine with the least tangible research to back it up with, so anybody who suggests that they have a Real Medical Solution to a problem, as opposed to just talking about feelings and stuff.

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
In fact I read this out loud to my roommate, who had never read Lord of the Rings before, in order to expand her cultural education. And then, two chapters into The Two Towers, it turns out she’s never read The Hobbit either. So now we’re back in Thranduil’s palace, and soon we shall get caught up again.

Ethan Watters, Crazy Like Us
I wanted this book to be so much longer, but alas it was only three substantial case studies. Excellent case studies, though. Watters is examining the principles of cross-cultural psychology: the fact that, no matter what Western psychiatry may think, all human psychologies are not the same. He discusses the spread of Western-style anorexia in Hong Kong, the dangers of PTSD counseling in Indonesia, and the marketing of depression in Japan in the 1990s. Note 11/24/10 – the author dropped by to remind me that I’m forgetting the fourth case study, on schizophrenia in Zanzibar. end edit If this book had any flaws, it was in a certain amount of essentializing the cultures he discussed. He tends to talk about Western culture as though there’s a consensus about what mental illness is and how it should be treated, which isn’t true (as anyone living with a mental illness in Western culture can tell you), so I’d probably take any other broad statements about cultural attitudes with a grain of salt, too. But the discussion of how mental illnesses come into and out of existence was fascinating, and extremely thought-provoking.

30 Days of Books: Day Nine

Day 09 – Best scene ever

The Rohirrim indeed had no need of news or alarm. All too well they could see for themselves the black sails. For Éomer was now scarcely a mile from the Harlond, and a great press of his first foes was between him and the haven there, while new foes came swirling behind, cutting him off from the Prince. Now he looked to the River, and hope died in his heart, and the wind that he had blessed he now called accursed. But the hosts of Mordor were enheartened, and filled with a new lust and fury they came yelling to the onset.

Stern now was Éomer’s mood, and his mind clear again. He let blow the horns to rally all men to his banner that could come thither; for he thought to make a great shield-wall at the last, and stand, and fight there on foot till all fell, and do deeds of song on the fields of Pelennor, though no man should be left in the West to remember the last King of the Mark. So he rode to a green hillock and there set his banner, and the White Horse ran rippling in the wind.

Out of doubt, out of dark to the day’s rising
I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
To hope’s end I rode and to heart’s breaking:
Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!

These staves he spoke, yet he laughed as he said them. For once more the lust of battle was on him; and he was still unscathed, and he was young, and he was king: the lord of a fell people. And lo! even as he laughed at despair he looked out again on the black ships, and he lifted up his sword to defy them.

And then wonder took him, and a great joy; and he cast his sword up in the sunlight and sang as he caught it. And all eyes followed his gaze, and behold! upon the foremost ship a great standard broke, and the wind displayed it as she turned towards the Harlond. There flowered a White Tree, and that was for Gondor; but Seven Stars were about it, and a high crown above it, the signs of Elendil that no lord had borne for years beyond count.

Oh, that just gives me chills. Yes, I’m a giant Tolkien nerd. I have read (and understood!) most of the Silmarillion. I think I must have read Lord of the Rings at just the right time, when I was a junior in high school, old enough to mostly understand what Tolkien was doing and young enough to just be swept away in the grandeur of it all, and for it to imprint so hard I’ll never get it out of my brain. This was also the same year that the Peter Jackson movies came out, and while I am very fond of the movies…well, they miss out my favorite scene.

I’ve been rereading LotR lately — actually, I’ve been reading it aloud, since my roommate expressed a desire to read the series but explained how she’d gotten bogged down (as so many people do) in the long wandering bits in the first book, and I’ve wanted to read it aloud for some time. There is no straight-up audiobook version of LotR, which is a damn shame, because it reads wonderfully. If Tolkien knew anything, he knew how to pace the prose. We’ve gotten up to Strider at the Prancing Pony, now, and are plunging headlong into the plot. Wish us luck!

(A close runner-up for favorite scene was the bit in the Houses of Healing where Aragorn bitches about the master there and his lack of knowledge of kingsfoil. I do so love Strider when he’s bitchy.)

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