Thursday, September 25, 2008


Thanks to a hip injury that just won't go away, I have more time to read.  I used to jog quite regularly, but I have been advised by several knowledgable people that I really ought to give it a rest.  For a while.  Nothing has been said about biking, though, and so far I haven't noticed any connection between my hip and biking (either in real life or on my exercise bike).  My hip aches regardless of what I do and the biking doesn't exacerbate it.  Still, I try to take it easily, and having a book in hand helps (while on my exercise bike - somehow I don't think that multitasking while biking on the road is such a good idea).  Thanks to my stationary excursion this weekend, the hobbits are safely in Rivendell and Frodo is reunited with Bilbo.  I anticipate that they will make even more progress this weekend.

Here is a delightful saying from the early part of the book:

"Go not to Elves for counsel, for they will say both no and yes."*

And that is exactly the kind of answer you can expect from an anthropologist, if you are ever compelled to ask one a question.

Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien (p.94, Ballantine Books 1994)

Friday, September 19, 2008

Planning as a form of procrastination

If I don't plan ahead, I won't end up finishing the books I've been meaning to read for ages. Some of these books have been on my reading list for years. It happens every year - I read a nice big stack of books (usually detective stories and mysteries), but only manage a couple of the books actually on my to-read list. The latter books may be more time consuming and less suited to midnight sessions when my brain is already 2/3rds asleep, but they're so much more satisfying.

Now, I've read about seven books for the Decades Challenge but have only written mewsings on two of them. And while seven might seem like only one less than the minimum of eight, I actually have to read three more books (from the 1920s, 1900s, 1890s, and 1860s, respectively). Wait, that's four. I managed this little feat of mathematics (8-7=4) by spreading my decades out too far and reading two books from the 1930s. I wanted to read The Jungle and Winnie-the-Pooh, but alas can't find my copies, so they'll have to wait until I have time to excavate my dusty corner of the Miao Library.

The first four books on the list are for the decades challenge. 13 books in about 15 weeks isn't necessarily promising, given my record of late. But several of these books are light and should melt on my tongue as soon as I begin. Others might be more plodding, but all in all it should balance out.
  1. Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
  2. Silas Marner by George Eliot
  3. Young Men in Spats by P.G. Wodehouse
  4. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
  5. King Arthur by Norma Lorre Goodrich (I began it this summer and have read about 100 pages)
  6. The House of Thirty Cats by Mary Calhoun (a lovely book - also begun this summer)
  7. The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo (I love mice!)
  8. The Question of Hu by Jonathan D. Spence (I've read parts of it and I've been meaing to read it through for ages)
  9. The Winter's Tale by William Shakespeare
  10. The Underneath by Kathi Appelt
  11. The Two Towers (if I don't get through the entire triology this year, I think I'll manage...)
  12. Chinese: A collection of short stories by Bing Xin
  13. Chinese: Cao yang nian hua by Sun Rui (a contemporary novel of university life)
Now what I need is more reading and less planning.

Who are you, alone, yourself and nameless?

Tom Bombadil's answer to Frodo's question: Who are you?: "Don't you know my name yet? That's the only answer. Tell me, who are you, alone, yourself and nameless?"*

Perhaps only a name can capture the transcendent kernel of identity that makes someone who they are. All their qualities, experiences, emotions, potentialities, captured in a single phrase that bears no necessary relationship to what it represents. Yet, Tom continues, "But you are young and I am old. Eldest, that's what I am. Mark my words, my friends: Tom was here before the river and the trees; Tom remembers the first raindrop and the first acorn..." So then Tom's identity is relative, relative to everything because he preceded everything. His cheerful, inexplicable magic cannot be expressed by any name. But "Tom Bombadil" comes closest - simple, elemental, and (at least in part) nonsensical.

Tom Bombadil is one of the most intriguing characters in the Lord of the Rings, and that's saying a lot. He was left out of the movies, perhaps because his significance could only be understood in the context of a detailed history of Middle Earth and the other rings of power.

Another quotation I enjoy: "The night was railing against the morning of which it was bereaved, and the cold was cursing the warmth for which it hungered."**

Slowly, ever so slowly, the hobbits are preceding on their quest. They've only just arrived at Bree, their journey through the Old Forest and the Barrow-downs having taken about five times as long in my reading as it did in real life.

* Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien (p.148, Ballantine Books 1994)
** p.160

Sunday, September 14, 2008

A new cat book

The UnderneathWhile making an order of books for school, I decided to toss in a book that I have had my eye on for a while: The Underneath by Kathi Appelt. It is about an abandoned calico cat whose is about to have kittens and her unlikely friendship with a hound deep in the bayous. Reviews said that the style was lyrical and the descriptions poignant. Originally, I wasn't going to purchase any more books until I had gotten through my new books from the spring, but... one can only go for so long without acquiring a new book.

I haven't been reading much since school began. I need to get back in the habit of reading more (for my own mental health), but that would involve going to bed significantly earlier and I just can't seem to manage such a feat at this point. I'm re-reading The Fellowship of the Ring (I began back in August and the hobbits are still in the Old Forest). For variety, I'll probably stagger the rest of the LOTR with non-LOTR books.

mani's book-pillow