On the second day of twenty twenty-one, in the early pre-dawn darkness, I read A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis. Having recently experienced the death of my spouse, I felt it apropos to absorb Jack’s observations to understand my own. The following are highlighted quotes that leapt off the page and resonated within me.
Only a real risk tests the reality of a belief.
. . . time itself is one more name for death,
Up till this I always had too little time. Now there is nothing but time. Almost pure time, empty successiveness.
What’s wrong with the world to make it so flat, shabby, worn-out looking? Then I remember.
And you will never discover how serious it was until the stakes are raised horribly high, until you find that you are playing not for counters or for sixpences but for every penny you have in the world.
Having got once through death, to come back and then, at some later date, have all her dying to do over again? They call Stephen the first martyr. Hadn’t Lazarus the rawer deal?
But now there’s an impassable frontierpost across it. So many roads once; now so many culs de sac.
They say, ‘The coward dies many times’; so does the beloved. Didn’t the eagle find a fresh liver to tear in Prometheus every time it dined?
The end of the year and this decade arrived unexpectedly. Well, not completely unexpectedly for the former, but the whole ‘where did the twenty teens go?’ thing caught me by surprise. I’ve been reading and listening to ‘decade in review’ articles and podcasts for the last couple of weeks. Which inspired me to analyze my reading of 965 books over the last ten years.
The following compilation of ‘Top Five’ books for each year starting in 2010, do not include my occasional re-reads of favorites, like the works of Tolkien, Lewis, Jordan, Donaldson and Modesitt.
2010 (read 102)
Blackout/All Clear by Willis (Hugo/Nebula/Locus Best Novel Awards)
Partial Synopsis: Contributors analyze Gollum’s character transformation, the psychological journey of Bilbo, the regime set up by Saruman at the end of Lord of the Rings and its parallels to fascism, the books’ narrative technique, and Tolkien’s rich use of myth and symbol.
I found most of the essays collected in A Tolkien Compass to be intriguing and thought provoking. At least three of them added twenty new books, journals and articles to my to-be-read queue. The notes alone on a couple of the essays were three or four pages in length and sent me down fantastic research rabbit holes. I can’t decide which essay is my absolute favorite, so I’ll list my top five here (in author alpha order):
Huttar, Charles A. “Hell and the City: Tolkien and the Traditions of Western Literature”
Miller, David M. “Narrative Pattern in The Fellowship of the Ring“
Rogers, Deborah C. “Everyclod an Everyhero: The Image of Man in Tolkien”
Scheps, Walter “The Fairy-tale Morality of The Lord of the Rings“
West, Richard C. “The Interlace Structure of The Lord of the Rings“
Honorable Mentions include Agnes Perkins’ “The Corruption of Power” and U. Milo Kaufmann’s “Aspects of the Paradisiacal in Tolkien’s Work”
A Tolkien Companion, originally published in 1975, amazed me with the depth of insight and scholarship gleaned from the then available works published by Tolkien and about Tolkien’s writing. I saw at least one reference to the manuscripts archived at Marquette University in Wisconsin. Yet, these essays still pre-date the publication of The Silmarillion and the volumes of The History of Middle-earth. Unlike Master of Middle-earth, however, I did not gain any new revelations about Tolkien’s Legendarium, but I did experience profound and thought provoking moments. If I had to choose my favorite essay from the collection, it would probably be Richard West’s “The Interlace Structure of The Lord of the Rings” because I had to restrain myself from recording the entire essay as an audio excerpt.
I recommend this to people interested in delving deeper into Tolkien’s writing.
As is the case with all great works of art, J. R. R. Tolkien‘s masterpieces generously repay close attention and study. In this thoroughly entertaining and perceptive volume, winner of the prestigious Mythopoeic Society Scholarship Award, Professor Kocher examines the sources that Tolkien drew upon in fashioning Middle-earth and its inhabitants-and provides valuable insights into the author’s aims and methods. Ranging from The Hobbit to The Lord of the Rings to The Silmarillion and beyond, Master of Middle-earth opens the door to a deeper and richer appreciation of Tolkien’s magnificent achievement.
I became aware of this out-of-print book recently while listening to Season Three of the Prancing Pony Podcast. For my birthday, I decided to ‘splurge’ and purchase actual print books (which I haven’t done regularly in years because I prefer ebooks and audiobooks; the former because I can control the size of the font as my eyes age and the latter because I spend ninety minutes in a car five days a week). I found a reasonably priced used paperback edition if The Master of Middle-Earth along with a used paperback edition of A Tolkien Compass, edited by Jared Lobdell.
In 1914, just as war was declared, 20 year-old Vera Brittain was preparing to study at Oxford. Four years later, her life—and that of her whole generation—had been irrevocably changed in a way that no one could have imagined in the tranquil pre-war era. Testament of Youth is Brittain’s account of how she lost the man she loved, nursed the wounded, survived those agonizing years, and emerged into an altered world. A passionate record of a lost generation, it made Brittain one of the best-loved writers of her time. It still retains the power to shock, move, and enthrall readers today.
British bestselling author Damien Lewis is an award-winning journalist who has spent twenty years reporting from war, disaster, and conflict zones. Now Lewis brings his first-rate narrative skills to bear on the inspiriting tale of Judy–an English pointer who perhaps was the only canine prisoner of war.
After being bombed and shipwrecked repeatedly while serving for several wild and war-torn years as a mascot of the World War II Royal Navy Yangtze river gunboats the Gnat and the Grasshopper, Judy ended up in Japanese prisoner of war camps in North Sumatra. Along with locals as slave labor, the American, Australian, and British POWs were forced to build a 1,200-mile single-track railroad through the most horrifying jungles and treacherous mountain passes. Like the one immortalized in the film The Bridge on the River Kwai, this was the other death-railroad building project where POWs slaved under subhuman conditions.
In the midst of this living hell was a beautiful and regal-looking liver and white English pointer named Judy. Whether she was scavenging food to help feed the starving inmates of a hellish Japanese POW camp, or by her presence alone bringing inspiration and hope to men, she was cherished and adored by the Allied servicemen who fought to survive alongside her.
Judy’s uncanny ability to sense danger, matched with her quick thinking and impossible daring saved countless lives. More than a close companion she shared in both the men’s tragedies and joys. It was in recognition of the extraordinary friendship and protection she offered amidst the unforgiving and savage environment of a Japanese prison camp in Indonesia that she gained her formal status as a POW. From the author of The Dog Who Could Fly and the co-author of Sergeant Rex and It’s All About Treo comes one of the most heartwarming and inspiring tales you will ever read.
Thanks to Barbara, I now know more about the first month of World War I than all my previous half-century of accumulated, absorbed knowledge. Not only do I know more, but I understand the how. How Europe ended up in a terrible stalemate and war of attrition that lasted four more years. The why will have to wait until I can read her other history The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914.