Saturday, April 30, 2022

The Tipping Point

So, this week I've been putting in a lot of time in the ongoing project of sorting things down in the box room. Then Thursday  I made a realization. I'm pretty sure that I'm now more than half way through. There's still a lot to do, but I've gotten more done than remains to do.

Things I've got sorted and out the door include most of the miniatures, and boardgames, and card games, and anime, and manga, and non-TSR rpgs (lots of these), and D&D boxed sets and modules and rulebooks, and lots and lots and lots of books. 

This latest round has involved moving boxes that had been blocking shelves. Now I've got access for sorting my row of Judges Guild modules, plus the shelf of Mayfair Role Aids. Plus what I think are full runs of Chaosium's fiction lines (Cthulhian and Arthurian), not to mention over a hundred old TSR novels, of which I'm keeping eight. And a lot of books, some of them scholarly works on fantasy, going back all the way to my first (abandoned) dissertation topic.  

Many boxes remain, but once I've got the current stacks of books double-checked and boxed up and off that'll open up some space to work. So, progress.

--John R.

current reading: AMONGST OUR WEAPONS (the latest Rivers of London book with its Monty Python title; just finished) and  THE SECRET COMMONWEALTH (Philip Pullman's sequel to HIS DARK MATERIALS; just started).

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Four thousand, two hundred, and fifty Books

So, while I had all the pieces of my reading list out and in one place, I decided to look at things from the other end, starting from the first entry and running all the way up to the present day.

 The first list, starting in August 1975, ran to book #536 when it broke off in April 1981 --not because I decided to quit but because I lost the little notebook that had the most recent entries in it, accidently leaving it on the Underground.  I restarted the list that August (1981) and have kept it going ever since. This second list now runs to 3688 books.

Finally, after I'd lost the entries that shd have made up the most recent entries of the first list, I jotted down all the books I cd remember that I read during that gap. I came up with twenty-six titles -- not all, but better than nothing.

So, while my math skills aren't what they were, I make out the total from all three lists as this:

First List: 536 books

Lacuna: 26 books

Second List: 3689 books and counting.

536 + 26 + 3689 = 4250.*

And counting.


*or, I shd say, 4251, since I finished another book while drafting this post ---STILETTO, the latest by Daniel O'Malley, a disappointing sequel to his excellent, Classics of Fantasy worthy THE ROOK.

Friday, April 22, 2022

1000, 100, & 10

 So, here's a thought experiment.

Suppose you found out you could read another thousand books in your time remaining. What would you read? Would you do anything different in choosing which books to read, once you started to treat books as a non-renewable resource, at least so far as your individual reading goes? Would you do more re-reading of favorites? Or shift more towards works you've never read before?

If a thousand is too large a number, what about a hundred?  This is much more do-able: checking my reading list I find I've read fifty books in the last year. So it's entirely feasible that even someone who reads at about half the rate I do may hit the hundred book mark in four or five years.

Let's get really dire: what if it were ten? We're talking literary hospice here (or desert island disk if you prefer). Would you carefully choose a few favorites, a few you've always intended to get to, and one or two just at random?

For the record, The most recent book I've read is AT SWIM-TWO-BIRDS by Flann O'Brien (1939) --my second reading of a book I liked much more the first time around, back in my Marquette days.  It's #II.3688 on the list. So I thought I'd look back and see where I was 1000 books ago.  II.2688 turns out to have been THE REMORSEFUL DAY by Colin Dexter, the thirteenth and last of the Inspector Morse books. I was in Oxford at the time (November 2007), on the fourth of my four solo research trips there, and it seemed appropriate while there to read a book set there.

Pressing on, a hundred books back brings us to July 2020 and #II.3588: THE PRIVATE LIFE OF THE RABBIT by R. M. Lockley.

So, it's taken me fifteen years to read a thousand books.

--John R. 

P.S. Of course some folks don't read all that much, so it's not much of a deal for them. I remember Mick Fleetwood once saying that he'd only ever read two books and liked them both, so he quit while he ahead.But for some of us reading is among the most enjoyable of our hobbies as well as at the core of our work.

Friday, April 15, 2022

A Piece of the True Cross Lost?

So, the most interesting piece of news I saw regarding the sinking of the MOSKVA was that there may have been a piece of the True Cross on board and, if so, presumably now lost in the Black Sea:

So unlikely was the loss of the ship in Moscow’s eyes that in 2020 Orthodox Christian officials said it had been designated to carry a piece of the “true cross,” a relic from the wooden cross on which Jesus Christ is said to have been crucified.

Here's the link for those wanting more context:

--John R.

--who has seen one such fragment*

* but who, when it comes to relics, wd rather have had the chance to see an angel's feather.

A Follow-up to Oldfangled

So, I'm a little late coming to it, but I did want to address Paul W's query a few weeks back in which he queried the absence of four specific authors from my Classics of Fantasy / Suggested Reading List:

I've praised them before, but I wonder that Mary Stewart

Susan Cooper, Lloyd Alexander, or Mary Renault didn't make your list. 

Admittedly, Renault's works might be considered historical fiction 

but they all have magic in them to one degree or another. 

Of these, I haven't read much Renault* but rate her highly based on what I have read. But, as you suggest, I think of her more as a writer of historical novels than as a fantasist. 

The same holds true for Mary Stewart. I have a high regard for her earlier Arthurian novels (THE CRYSTAL CAVE, THE HOLLOW HILLS), not so much for the later ones. In her case the fantasy element is there, but it's not what the books are about. I can see the argument for considering her a fantasy writer but somehow I can't quite make myself believe it.

With Lloyd Alexander and Susan Cooper's quintologies there's no doubt they're fantasy, and good fantasy at that. It wd have been no great injustice to have included them. It's just that I don't, in the end, think they hold up. Alexander I realized at the time I first read him wd have meant more to me if I'd read him before Tolkien rather than after. I still liked them well enough right up until I read THE MABINOGION (in Patrick Ford's transation). I've found that when it came to Welsh myth and legend the real thing spoiled just about all the adaptation for me --with the exception of Morris's THE BOOK OF THREE DRAGONS, which did make the original column.

Susan Cooper comes even closer, and mainly got left out because the series is uneven and because I find some aspects of how her 'good guys' behave appalling. 

In the end I think fantasy's defining characteristic is the present of magic. It is the literature of the impossible. And without the impossible, for me it's just not fantasy.

Hence after much debate I omitted Daniel Pinkwater's THE SNARKOUT BOYS AND THE AVOCADO OF DEATH (1982) when I started putting together my recommended reading list because in the end it seems to me that while this book comes as close as possible to the line where a book gets so weird it crosses the line to become fantasy, in the end I'd say Pinkwater stays on the not-yet-quite side of the line. 

--John R.

current reading: AT SWIM-TWO-BIRDS (1939)

*with those I have mostly being from Taum Santoski's shelves, he being a big fan.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Fantasy without Tolkien

 So, here's an interesting thought experiment: what would fantasy literature look like if there had been no J . R. R. Tolkien?

To which my immediate reply wd be to paraphrase Mark Twain's response when asked what men would be like without women, to which he replied that they'd be 'mighty scarce'.

A more measured response wd note that we'd certainly still have fantasy if Tolkien had died in the Somme in 1916 (as he v. nearly did).  Morris and Dunsany and Eddison, et al. wd still have written THE WELL AT THE WORLD'S END, THE BOOK OF WONDER, THE WORM OUROBOROS, &c. But we'd have very little sense that these books belonged together in a genre called 'fantasy'. Aside from writing THE LORD OF THE RINGS, Tolkien's greatest contribution to fantasy was to create a sense that there was such a thing. In THE LORD OF THE RINGS he provided the paradigm that transformed all the rest into precursors and followers. That is not to say THE HOBBIT and THE SILMARILLION were not important. They were. But they lacked the transformative power of his masterpiece.

A second take on this wd be to assume Tolkien survives the Somme and writes all the works he did write in the real world up until circa 1930. That year he for the first and, as it wd turn out, only time in his life, had a complete draft of all the constitute parts that he intended made up the 1930 Silmarillion: the Quenta, the Annals of Valinor, and the Annals of Beleriand. What if Tolkien had devoted the years 1930-1932 to polishing, submitting, and getting published his mythology?

The result, I think, wd have been that THE SILMARILLION wd now be remembered as one of those rare, quirky works like LUD-IN-THE-MIST or THE BOOK OF THREE DRAGONS, magnificent in their isolation. We'd have no HOBBIT, no LORD OF THE RINGS, no 'Tolk-clones but also no shelves in the bookstores labelled 'fantasy/sci fi' 

Anyway, here's the link to the original publication; Thanks to Paul W. for the link.

--John R.

current reading: Evageline Walton's THE CHILDREN OF LLYR (1971)

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Verlyn Flieger at Politics and Prose

 So,  saw that Verlyn Flieger is offering an online class, an overview on THE SILMARILLION.

The course is scheduled to run for four classes on May 15th, May 22nd, June 5th, & June 12th. It's hosted by Politics & Prose bookstore in DC, which I don't think I've ever been to but which has a certain familiarity from back from the days when we used to get Book TV.

I suspect from the title and subject that these talks will in large part derive from INTERRUPTED MUSIC, which I consider her best book.

In any case, the chance to hear what Verlyn has to say about The Silmarillion not being something I'd want to pass up, I just registered.

--John R. 

current reading: HUNTINGTOWER by John Buchan

current music: THE TIPPING POINT: a new album by an old group (Tears for Fears).