Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Elves, Men and Aunt Gerda (February Reads)

Another month, another set of three books towards a goal:
050. Read 3 books per month for 1 year
As usual I've marked these out of 5 according to my overall enjoyment, although this month I did wonder if I should have been marking out of 10 all along!

The Silmarillion - J.R.R. Tolkien (2/5)
I began the month with this book to follow on from my Tolkien themed January (I've been watching Lord of the Rings and of course, I read The Hobbit!)
The Silmarillion is basically a collection of stories about how Middle Earth came to be, and of the First Age, when the elves first came to Middle Earth.

For the most part, I didn't enjoy it, which was a disappointment. The constant changes in names (e.g. one person having different names amongst elvenfolk and menfolk) made the story cumbersome, and overall I found some of it rather waffly. I think the issue could be that the book was pieced together after Tolkien's death, possibly using material he never intended to be published--or tales he'd planned to expand upon and turn into full novels in their own right. But who can tell.

I'm actually disappointed that I'm disappointed in this book, because I enjoyed The Hobbit and the three books that make up The Lord of the Rings.

A Tolkien fan told me that The Silmarillion is a book better for dipping into, rather than reading cover to cover, so for anyone planning on reading it, maybe take that advice to heart.

PopCo - Scarlett Thomas (3/5)
This is another book that I was looking forward to reading! I'd read Scarlett Thomas' The End of Mr. Y before and enjoyed it, so began this one with high expectations.
PopCo is the tale of Alice, who works for the toy company PopCo. She begins receiving coded messages, and has to use the code-breaking skills she learnt from her grandparents in order to solve them. Along the way, she also needs to find out who the sender is, and this awakens an even bigger, more complex mystery from her past.

Now, PopCo is a difficult book to write about, and difficult to rate, too. Overall I enjoyed it, but giving it more consideration, I have a lot of nitpicks.
I didn't like the main character, for a start. I wanted to, but she had too many quirks and unique features to be completely believable. This seems like a book that doesn't know which way it wants the storyline to go and it took ages before anything really happened--and then the 'big reveal' of one of the book's mysteries was something of a let down. The idea is fantastic but I was surprised it wasn't carried on further, as it would make a great story in its own right. It felt like the beginning of the main story, rather than the last few chapters (70-odd pages). I want to read more about this stuff!
...writing about this really is difficult, because I don't want to give any plot points away. Which is hard when some of my nitpicks are related to the plot.

If you read this book, you will have your mind blown with maths and code-related information. It's actually pretty educational from that point of view, and at the end there is a cryptic crossword, a list of the first 1000 prime numbers, and a couple of other pieces of information relevant to the story.

The acknowledgements include a list of books readers might enjoy, and here is where I found a shiny coincidence, as one of them (No Logo by Naomi Klein) was a book I'd been looking at whilst volunteering only days before I read PopCo (needless to say, I went out and bought the book).

Despite only giving it 3/5, I would recommend this book to people, it has a good plot and carries some great messages.
But I do feel sorry for Georges.

The Listener - Tove Jansson (3/5)
I received this book as a Christmas present last year. It's a collection of short stories for adults, by the creator of the Moomins.
It includes the tale of Aunt Gerda, who has always listened, and creates a map of all the people and things she knows when she starts to become forgetful. It has a tale about a squirrel, a tourist in search of a dangerous animal, and many more.

I found this book a little 'half and half'. I really enjoyed some of the stories, but felt as though I was missing the point of some of the others. Some weren't so much stories as little snapshots of life, some ended in a strange way...

According to the information on the back flap, this book was published in Swedish in 1971, but hasn't been published in English until now. Whilst I'm certain the translator did an excellent job, I can't help but wonder that some aspects of plot and storytelling got 'lost in translation'. Cultural differences and nuances of language, I imagine, make it impossible to perfectly translate any text and retain all the meaning. 
Still, it's a good book. Maybe I was just having a bad day when I read some of it?

For the record, my favourite stories were The Listener, Black-White, A Love Story, The Other, The Wolf, and Lucio's Friends.

Well, it seems as though I was incredibly picky this month. To be honest I wasn't much in the mood for reading, but I'm so close to finishing this goal that I didn't want to break my 7-month (now 8-month) run!
Next month, I was planning to read Tolkien's The Children of Hurin, but I think I'll give his books a little break. So my next set of books are as much a mystery to me as they are to you.
Or maybe I'll follow on from PopCo and read Naomi Klein's No Logo....

For more of my ramblings on the books I've read for this goal, please check my books tag!

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