Thursday, March 22, 2018

"Uncommon Type" by Tom Hanks

Uncommon Type is a collection of exactly the kind of short stories I would expect Tom Hanks to write.  Charming, wry, compassionate, aggravated, humorous, offbeat, and sometimes just a bit weary.  Three of the stories are interconnected, about a group of thirty-something-ish friends.  There are also numerous "Our Town Today with Hank Fiset" editorial-column pieces that feel the most like they could be narrated by Hanks.  The rest are unconnected short stories on various subjects.

Well, mostly unconnected.  Every single one of these stories involves a typewriter somehow.  Whether it's being used by a character or just mentioned casually, there's a typewriter somewhere in each one.  Which lends an old-fashioned whimsy to even the modern-day-set stories.

These were my favorite stories:

+ "A Month on Greene Street" follows a single mother who moves into a new neighborhood and discovers new things about herself and her preconceived notions about people.

+ "At Loose in the Big Apple" is one of the 'Hank Fiset' editorials, and it discusses whether or not New York City is superior to a small town.

+ "These are the Meditations of My Heart" shows how learning to use an old-fashioned thing like a typewriter can help a modern young woman understand herself better.

+ "Back from Back in Time" is another of the 'Hank Fiset' editorials, and it ruminates on all the different times typewriters have been important in one aging writer's life.

+ "Stay with Us" is written as a screenplay, and it is a cute meditation on seeing new possibilities in old things, places, and people.  I want it to be made into a short film starring Tom Hanks, Famke Janssen, and Chris Hemsworth.  And directed by Ron Howard.  Please?  Thank you.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  mostly PG and PG-13, but stories "Three Exhausting Weeks" and "Go See Costas" would get an R for content and language.

I happen to love old typewriters myself, so I really liked the loving way they got used in so many of these stories.  This is a picture of the library copy I read on top of my mom's old portable typewriter! It was her high school graduation present from her parents in 1970.  When I was about six, I started typing my first stories on it, and I used it for many years before graduating to my mom's old electric Smith-Corona as a teen.  This is a manual typewriter -- you provide all the power yourself.  Love it!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Another LOTR Read-Along: The Choices of Master Samwise (TTT 4, 10)

How far we have come. More specifically, how far Samwise Gamgee has come. He began as a humble gardener, a simple hobbit, but now, thanks to his "indomitable spirit" (p. 713) and his rage over what has happened to his dear Master Frodo, he not only faces down a terrifying monster, he prevails against her with "a fury... greater than any she had known in countless years" (p. 711).

And yet, once Shelob disappears, so does Sam's sudden transformation. "Sam was left alone," (p. 713) and as he kneels beside Frodo, he says what I think are the saddest words in this whole trilogy: "Don't go where I can't follow!" (p. 713). That gets to me every time. I'm tearing up all over again as I flip through the pages to write this post. Sam feels abandoned, bereft. Alone.

One thing I didn't notice the first few times I read this: Sam briefly considers trying to follow Frodo. "He looked on the bright point of the sword. He thought of the place behind where there was a black brink and an empty fall into nothingness" (p. 715). For a moment, Sam wonders if he's more an antique Roman than a hobbit, if he should just end his misery then and there. Happily, he instantly sees that "[t]here was no escape that way" (p. 715) and starts figuring out what he should do next.

Anyway, when Sam puts on the ring, Tolkien says, "[c]ertainly the Ring had grown greatly in power as it approached the places of its forging; but one thing it did not confer, and that was courage" (p. 717). How interesting that having power -- even awesome, earth-shattering power -- doesn't give you courage. Power is not courage. Such a cool observation.

And... we did it! We finished The Two Towers!!! I always feel like this is the hardest one to get through, and it's all getting more fun from here on out.

Random fun thing: When the paperback version of the trilogy came out in the '60s, the hippies fell in love with these books, and they started doing this crazy, silly thing. They ran around spray-painting "Frodo lives!" everywhere, wearing it on t-shirts and buttons, putting it on bumper stickers, etc. I find this extremely funny -- could you imagine walking down a grungy city street and seeing graffiti that just says, "Frodo lives!" Like this is a super cool fact we all need the world to know! Dunno, it just amuses me.

So anyway, Frodo lives, but he's been captured by the enemy, and isn't that just a terrible place for a book to end? Good thing we can dive right into the next one!

Favorite Lines:

Sam did not wait to wonder what was to be done, or whether he was brave, or loyal, or filled with rage (p. 711).

"Will he?" said Sam. "you're forgetting the great big elvish warrior that's loose!" (p. 724).

Discussion Questions:

When Sam learns that Frodo is still alive, he reprimands himself with this: "The trouble with you is that you never really had any hope" (p. 723). What on earth? Sam's the most hopeful character here! Does he not see that himself? What do you think this part's supposed to mean?

Leaving Frodo, his employer and friend, "was altogether against the grain of his nature" (p. 716), and Sam later berates himself for the decision: "Never leave your master, never, never: that was my right rule. And I knew it in my heart. May I be forgiven!" (p. 724). But... if Sam had stayed by Frodo, he probably would have been captured too, wouldn't he? Are there times when following logic instead of instinct can be a good thing?

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: It Might as Well be Spring

This week's TTT prompt from That Artsy Reader Girl is "Top ten books on your spring TBR list."  Here we go!

The Birthday of the World and Other Stories by Ursula K. LeGuin

Death Comes to the Archbishop by Willa Cather

Enchanted by Alethea Kontis

A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War by Joseph Loconte

Loving Isaac by Heather Kaufman

MatchUp edited by Lee Child

A Pioneer Woman's Memoir: Based on the Journal of Arabella Clemens Fulton

Prelude for a Lord by Camille Elliot

The Problim Children by Natalie Lloyd

The Story Girl by Lucy Maud Montgomery

What's on your spring TBR list this year?  Have you read any of these?

(All photos are my own.  They're all from my Instagram account.)

Monday, March 19, 2018

Another LOTR Read-Along: Shelob's Lair (TTT 4, 9)

You'd think this would be one of my least-favorite chapters, what with this having a giant spider in it and me loathing spiders so much. But actually, I find it quite exciting. Maybe it's just the change after all that endless walking and climbing? It helps that even though the text talks about her enormous legs and that she's spider-like, my imagination kind of turns her more into a crab and saves me from getting too creeped out.

Anyway, I think I'm never fonder of Frodo than I am here, when he holds up Galadriel's Phial and his sword and advances toward Shelob. Wow! That's so courageous. I'm getting goosebumps just remembering it. "Then holding the star aloft and the bright sword advanced, Frodo, hobbit of the Shire, walked steadily down to meet the eyes" (p. 705). Wooooooooow.

I find the bit of backstory on Shelob really fascinating. She "was there before Sauron" (p. 707) -- craziness!

Random other thing: it says here that Sam is smaller than Gollum! Not how I picture them (thanks to the movies). Huh.

And we return again to the idea of doing what must be done if there is no choice. Frodo says, "Orcs or no, if it's the only way, we must take it" (p. 701), which sounds so much like what Gandalf said before entering Moria: "However in may prove, one must tread the path that need chooses!" (p. 289).

Favorite Lines:

They walked as it were in a black vapour wrought of veritable darkness itself that, as it was breathed, brought blindness not only to the eyes but to the mind, so that even the memory of colours and of forms and of any light faded out of thought. Night always had been, and always would be, and night was all (p. 702).

Discussion Questions:

Tolkien says Sam hides the Phial out of "his long habit of secrecy" (p. 709). I don't recall Sam being secretive -- I tend to think of him as rather open. Does this strike you as incongruous? Or am I missing the secretiveness up until now? Or by 'secrecy' is he maybe referring to Sam's habit of hanging onto stuff and not bothering to mention he has it, like the rope?

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Guest Post: I am No Man, but I'm Still Important

(Note from Hamlette:  This is an essay my niece wrote for the high school literature class I'm teaching her.  It's so good, I'm sharing it with you as part of my Another LOTR Read-Along.  Enjoy!)

I Am No Man, But I’m Still Important
by V. Kovaciny

When reading The Lord of the Rings, many readers have wondered: Where are the female characters? Where is the femininity and romantic love? There are no women in the Fellowship, and feminity is spread thinly throughout the many pages of The Lord of the Rings. Some readers say the women that do appear are stereotypical and distant, and that they let the men do the work and fight the battles. This has caused some readers to criticize Tolkien’s work and even argue that he is sexist. But are these criticisms valid? Is Tolkien really a bigot, or are his readers, fans, and critics being too nitpicky?

The short answer is yes, we are being unjust. Why? Well, fortunately for you, I’m here to discuss several reasons why.

The most obvious evidence is the case of Eowyn. Like Disney’s Mulan, she is told to stay behind and let the men fight the war. She refuses to lie idle while the world is at stake. She is told to lead the kingdom while her male relatives are away. But she longs for the glory of battle and the admiration of Aragorn, so she dresses up as a man to go with them to war. Her disobeyment actually makes her a more well-molded character. By having her be imperfect, reckless and brave, she is more complex and more...human. Her boldness pays off; she and Merry succeed in killing Witch-King, which was a major blow to the Enemy. Lastly, if the men of Gondor and Rohan (as well as Tolkien) were sexist, wouldn’t Eowyn have been scolded for doing a “man’s job”? She was not, and she was praised for her bravery instead of being accused of insubordination.

Another strong woman in The Lord of the Rings is Galadriel. She is certainly not subservient to her husband, Lord Celeborn. They both share a mutual respect and love for the other. Tolkien does not paint her as less important than him. In fact, story-wise, she plays a bigger role than he does. She is portrayed as wise and powerful, and is also the owner of a ring of power, not her husband. Not only that, but she has strong willpower. Unlike several male characters, such as Boromir, Gollum, and even Frodo, she is able to resist the power of the Ring. She is respected by her people and her husband and succeeds in resisting the ring, which many men failed to do. Not exactly weak and frail, is she?

Arwen too, has a strong willpower. She is faced with a difficult choice: immortality or love. In the end, she chooses a mortal life to be with Aragorn. Her dilemma makes her all the more interesting. Her choice just goes to show that she is perfectly capable of thinking for herself.

A short point that should be made is the importance of the Entwives. While not present in The Lord of the Rings, they are important even in their absence. The Ents miss them deeply. Because the Ents and the Entwives had different interests, the Ents neglected and ignored their wives, and their love dwindled. Tolkien is touching on the value of marriage and union, and how without maintaining love, it will fail. Without the Entwives, the Ents are doomed to extinction.

Take a moment to think about the scenarios and the kinds of relationships Tolkien is writing about. Tolkien was in World War 1, and his characters are also in a war. And historically, more men enlist in the military. As for the relationships, The Lord of the Rings is about friendship, not romance. Tolkien is painting a wonderful story of how friendship can stand through trials just as well as romance can. Romance is second to friendship in The Lord of the Rings. In the end, friendship saves the world.

The women in The Lord of the Rings are not depicted as useless and weak. From Eowyn’s courage, Galadriel’s wisdom, and the Entwives’ love, they each play a part in the world of Middle Earth. Don’t let your views of what makes a strong female character ruin this wonderful story for you.

Friday, March 16, 2018

"If I Live" by Terri Blackstock

Well, that didn't take me long, did it?  I'm all done with this book after like 3 days, which means I'm also done with the If I Run series!  

Overall, I liked the series a lot.  Blackstock has an engaging writing style with great energy and flow.  Her characters were human, relatable, and likeable.  Her dialog stayed crisp through the series.  Her pacing got a little lax in a few places -- there were a couple spots where I felt like monkey wrenches got thrown into the plot just to make the books longer.  However, in the author's note at the end of If I Live, Blackstock said that this series was initially inspired by the classic TV series The Fugitive and the way that Dr. Kimball (David Janssen) would find a modicum of peace and comfortability somewhere doing a job or helping someone, maybe even start to make friends, and then the police or the one-armed man would show up and he'd have to flee again.  Once I read that, I was like, "OH!  That's what she was going for.  Okay."  In retrospect, it really did have that feel to it, so if you're a fan of that series (::cough:: Eva ::cough::), you would probably dig the way this is set up.

This book had a lot of nice, believable, non-mushy romance in it to go along with the thrill ride, which was extra fun :-)  I also liked how it didn't end with the end of the manhunt for Casey, but went on to show the aftermath of the whole plot, how it affected not only Casey and Dylan, but people in Casey's family, the bad guys' families, and the families of victims too.  It didn't wind up too quickly, which some suspence novels do, and I liked that.

I didn't like the amount of decision-based theology that this one had, though.  The first two books stayed pretty neutral, theologically, but this one definitely weighed in on the "you have to make a choice/decision to believe in Christ" side in a heavy way.  

(From my Instagram)

As an individual book, I liked If I Live better than If I'm Found, and maybe better than If I Run too, just because it has a very satisfying ending.  As a series, these books gave me a good ride.  I'm going to see if the library has more of Blackstocks books, as I'd really like to try more of her stories.

Particularly Good Bits

"I'm more myself when I'm with you than I've ever been with anybody else" (p. 226).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for violence and suspenseful situations.

Another LOTR Read-Along: The Stairs of Cirith Ungol (TTT 4, 8)

I have nightmares like this chapter. Impossibly steep steps, winding trails going through mountains -- but usually someone's chasing me in those dreams, and at least no one's directly chasing Frodo and Sam here. Still, it's very tense and nail-biting-inducing.

I love the part where Sam and Frodo are talking about their journey like it's part of a story. Partly because they literally are in a story, so it's a neat moment just cuz it's true, but also because a lot of time, I feel like I'm living in a story. And in a way, I am. The ongoing story of people on earth. And the parts I don't enjoy may one day be the parts most worth remembering -- the hard or dangerous or unhappy parts might end up being the most important.

But I'm very sad over the moment where Gollum comes up to the sleeping Frodo and is almost a hobbit-like creature again, quiet and old and pitiable. And then Sam wakes up and speaks less-than-kindly too him and, without knowing it, pretty much sets Gollum's feet irretrievably on a dark path. Phooey.

Favorite Lines:

Frodo and Sam were plodding along with heavy hearts, no longer able to care greatly about their peril (p. 688).

Discussion Questions:

Sam says that all he's hoping for is "plain ordinary rest, and sleep, and waking up to a morning's work in the garden" (p. 697). Does going through something hard, or even going away on vacation for a while, make you value normal life more? Or does normal life make you value adventure more?