Want to read with me? Follow this link to view the list and pick a book (or a few!) to read along with me. I'd love for this project to be collaborative, and will post anyone's thoughts beside my own.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Is anybody in the John, Milton?

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
This book takes place during World War II on an island in Italy called Pianosa. The main character is a man named Yossarian, who is a bombardier (aka a pilot who drops bombs). When he first joined the army, Yossarian wanted to be a good bombardier, and tried very hard to do his job well. As time goes on, however, and the number of missions men are required to fly before being allowed to return home is increased again and again, Yossarian stops caring about the bombings and wants nothing more than to stop flying missions and be allowed to return home alive. The book is witty and serious at the same time, dealing with extremely dark subject matter in a way that is simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking. Yossarian has many friends in the squadron, most of whom die before the book ends. There are various silly bureaucratic higher-ups (Colonels, Generals, Lieutenants) who make it impossible for Yossarian and the other men to stop flying missions. The title of the book is drawn from a bureaucratic edict called "Catch-22", which states that "if a man is crazy, he can stop flying missions; however, if a man makes the necessary steps to prove he is crazy, he is clearly a rational man and therefore not crazy, and must continue to fly missions." I hope I got that right. Yossarian, through copious amounts of scheming and many attempts at rebellion, finally gets offered a return trip home, in exchange for saying that he likes the two lead Colonels and speaks well of the Army at home. At first he accepts, but he later realizes this isn't how he wanted to stop flying missions. His friend and former tentmate, Orr, who went missing on a mission and was presumed dead, reappears in Sweden, and Yossarian, overjoyed at the news that his good friend is still alive, decides to escape, running from the Army's wrath, and attempt to join Orr in Sweden.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

- One of my favorite things about this book was Heller's attention to detail. The book is separated into 42 chapters, and each chapter is devoted to a different character. This got rather confusing, as there are many many characters and even more military titles thrown around (thought anything would be easy after the Russian names - I was wrong!) but it created incredibly powerful images of each character in my mind. Orr, for instance, used to stuff his mouth with horse chestnuts and crabapples because he wanted lovely chubby cheeks. Havermeyer is always eating peanut brittle. Clevinger tears up when he speaks passionately about something. And my personal favorite, Dunbar, tries to perform actions that are incredibly boring or particularly mind-numbing because he believes that time moves more slowly during these moments and he wants to increase his life span.

- Nately, another friend of Yossarian, has a girlfriend in Rome who is a prostitute. She ends up falling in love with him after he visits her and pines for her several times during rest leaves in Rome. Nately dies on a mission near the end of the book, and when Yossarian travels to Rome to tell her the news, she tries to kill him. Yossarian escapes, but the woman reappears 6 or 7 times throughout the book, always disguised as someone else (a mechanic, a Nazi, a pilot) and leaps out to attack Yossarian. When Yossarian sets out on his journey at the end of the book, it is only after deftly escaping another one of her knife attacks.

- I can't believe this book is assigned reading in high school. I found it a challenge to read, and to really understand, but most of all, there's a serious amount of violence and some very dirty sexual references in it. I'm pretty liberal, and I'm 23, and I was shocked in a few places.

- Yossarian frequently gets himself admitted to the hospital so that he won't be able to fly missions. He makes up liver ailments and other various diseases. His friends do likewise, often at the same time just so that they can spend time together. In what is probably my favorite part of the book, Yossarian is assigned the duty of censoring letters to be sent abroad. Deciding the process is completely ridiculous and arbitrary, he deletes random phrases, entire letters, signatures, and anything else he feels like. He signs Washington Irving to many of the letters. He gets tired after a while, and writes John Milton instead. Then he comes up with creative ways to write John Milton as a signature, including "John, Milton is a sadist" "Have you seen Milton, John?" and the one that serves as the title for this post.

- There's a character named Milo Minderbinder who makes terribly confusing business deals left and right with various countries to make money from the war. He claims that everything he earns goes back into something called "the syndicate" and that every man in the country has a share. One of my favorite moments in this story line is when one of the planes crashes into the ocean. The men inflate their raft, but as they try to inflate the life jackets, the carbon dioxide cylinders are missing. Milo used them to make strawberry and crushed-pineapple ice cream sodas in the mess hall. They find only a note, reading "What's good for M and M Enterprises is good for the country."

- There are 2 references to Raskolnikov in this book! What are the odds that I would just have read that book? It's a sign. Good karma for this project.

- I really liked the ending to this book (especially compared to the ending of Crime and Punishment). It felt hopeful, but with just right amount of humor and latent seriousness. Most of Yossarian's friends are dead, but Orr survived and made his way to Sweden, and Yossarian might just be able to get there, too.

All in all, I can see why this book is a classic. I thought it was brilliant.

On to Lolita!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Perhaps it really would be better in Siberia

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevksy

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
The main character is Rodion Romanovitch Raskolnikov. (Delightfully alliterative, eh?) When the book begins, he is getting ready to do something. We're not entirely sure what it is he's getting ready to do, but we begin to understand that it's very bad. He has to talk himself into it. It turns out that he is planning to kill his pawnbroker and steal her money, not particularly because he's poor, but because she's a bad woman and he kind of thinks he's doing society a favor. He murders her with an axe, and then her sister walks in, so he kills her as well. He very nearly gets caught in the act by some random men who come to speak with the pawnbroker, but he gets away, stashes the stolen items under a rock, and manages to get home to his bed before falling seriously ill. He is sick for a few days, and his friend Razumihin and his landlady's servant Nastasya take care of him. Upon waking up, everyone kind of thinks Rodya (Rodion) has gone mad, and he comes very close to implicating himself in the murder. Everyone is gossiping about the murder, as it has now become known all over town. Rodya's mother and sister come to town (St. Petersburg) because she is getting ready to marry Luzhin, a man who has promised to support her. Rodya's family is very poor. When Rodya meets Luzhin, however, he instantly hates him, and makes sure that his sister Dounia doesn't marry him. Rodya meets a man named Marmeladov while he's out at a bar, and hears this man's sad tale of how he's a hopeless drunk and his family is incapable of feeding themselves. Marmeladov later gets run over by a carriage, and Rodya offers his last 15 rubles (which his mother borrowed from her pension to send to him) to Marmeladov's widow, Katerina Ivavnova. Katerina's stepdaughter, Sofya (Sonia) Semyanova was whoring herself out to support the family, and Rodya befriends her and tries to help her out. Dounia (sorry, I forgot) had her reputation ruined while she was a governess for a family back home in the country because the man of the house said she was coming on to him. It turns out he was coming on to her, and her reputation was mostly repaired, but this man, Svidrigailov, comes to St. Petersburg when his wife dies, and tries to proposition Dounia. Dounia, meanwhile, has fallen in love with Rodya's best friend, Razumihin. Rodya spends most of the book in a sort of delirium, going over the murder in his head, wondering if people know, deciding to kill himself, deciding to turn himself in, and lying around in bed having nightmares. Eventually, he tells Sonia (the whore stepdaughter) and Svidgrigailov overhears. Porfiry Petrovich, Razumihin's cousin and a cop, figures it out as well. Svidrigailov makes a last attempt to get Dounia to run away with him, but when he realizes she doesn't love him, he shoots himself. Dounia finds out (via Svidrigailov) that Rodya killed the two women. Sonia and Dounia are strangely supportive of Rodya, and he eventually turns himself in to the police. He almost decides not to, but as he's walking away from the police station, he sees Sonia, and her look sends him back inside and he confesses. For various reasons his sentence is only 8 years, and he goes off to a work prison in Siberia. Sonia follows him, visiting and sending various messages of support. At the end, he decides that he really does love Sonia, and that he's been able to repent, and he will start his new life with her in "only 7 years." Yeah. Only seven years. Congratulations if you got through this plot summary. I promise the blog will be less complicated.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

- The title comes from a comment Rodya makes when he's contemplating turning himself in. I think it's pretty comical, in that I can't imagine anything being better in Siberia. But then again, I'm not quite as crazy as Rodya.

- This book was really hard for me to read. Those of you reading this who know me well know that I had a deep existential crisis when I was in France, and since then I don't really like to read books or watch films with dark and twisted psychological plots. I'm not living a shallow existence, I just prefer to stay away from things that I know will set my overactive mind to work. So, as you can imagine, reading a 530-page psychological thriller from the point of view of a man who's just killed two people basically because he thinks it's his right was not really on my traditional game plan. But I decided that a book would not conquer me, and that I would be the better for having read it afterward. And I do feel proud to have finished it.

- The names in this novel were immensely confusing. Aside from the massive syllable count, many characters have multiple names, and they're used interchangeably, often within the same paragraph. I'm sure this has something to do with Russian formalities, but still. It was extremely confusing trying to remember that Pyotr Petrovich and Luzhin were the same man, and that Dounia and Avdotya Romanovna were the same woman.

- The book is told from Rodya's perspective, not in third person, but with full description of what he's feeling and experiencing. We occasionally get thoughts and feelings from others, but Rodya is the main focus. It was odd, therefore, when the book inexplicably switched to Svidrigailov's perspective just for the chapter in which he kills himself. I'm not sure if it was to show us his full range of emotions prior to the event, or what, but it's the only part of the book where we don't deal with Rodya really at all.

- Everyone seems to believe that Rodya couldn't possibly have committed the crime, even after they've downright suspected him previously. Several of the policemen who suspect him early in the book go on to apologize later on for having accused him! There's such a strange sense of everyone wanting to believe that anything is wrong with him before they believe he is a murderer. I suppose it's human nature to want to think the best of people who we love and care for, but even complete strangers try to give him the benefit of the doubt! I found this odd.

- Ultimately, Rodya commits the murder because of a theory. He believes that certain men have the right to commit crimes because they have a greater purpose in life that can only be achieved with the help of those crimes as stepping stones. He sees himself as ridding the world of a "louse" because the pawnbroker was an unpleasant sort of woman who held people in debt over small pledges and IOUs. He also talks of how insignificant one murder is in the face of all-out warfare. Which brings up an interesting philosophical debate, but what is warfare but systematic murder? I can't see it as any more excusable, but I suppose the author is asking why war is acceptable when murder is not.

- In the end, Rodya has a moment of redemption where he falls at Sonia's knees and they know they love each other and in 7 (short) years they will be together and start a new life. This moment rang false to me. It just felt completely fake, after this deep, penetrating, convoluted psychological study, to end with a moment of joy. And Rodya is so sullen, so sulky, that he doesn't at all deserve to be redeemed. Sonia is far too good for him. And then Dostoevsky throws in this line that this isn't the end of the story, and maybe there's another whole story to tell. What a lame ending, dude! There's no other story, this is the end! And it's a crappy end, if you ask me!

- Last comment. I was chatting with my boss about this book, and after I'd told her the beginning, she asked, "Crime and Punishment. Is that the one where he wakes up at the end and it was all a dream and he's a schizophrenic?" And I said, "Well if it is, then you just ruined the end for me." And then she said, "Or is that... Fight Club?" Hilarious. I'm not sure those books have ever been compared, but maybe that should have been my thesis. It probably would have been a hell of a lot more fun than the one I did write.

Well, this first of what will be many Russian novels on the list didn't conquer me. Time to conquer another classic - Catch-22, here I come!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther...

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
Nick Carraway is our narrator, and for those who haven't been keeping up, The Great Gatsby is the book. It's a little complicated, but here's the basic connection: Nick is Daisy Buchanan's cousin, and he went to Yale with Daisy's husband Tom Buchanan. Jordan Baker, a famous golf player, is a friend of Daisy's and a somewhat half-hearted love interest for Nick. Jay Gatsby (real name James Gatz) has been in love with Daisy for years, but was too poor to marry her, so she married Tom instead. Tom has been cheating with various women, but most recently with a woman named Myrtle Wilson, when we come upon the group in the story. Nick is Gatsby's neighbor. Gatsby is now very rich and has elaborate parties with great frequency. Nick and Gatsby strike up a friendship, and Gatsby gets Nick to orchestrate a reunion with Daisy. On the way home from a trip to New York City together (the rest of the story takes place in East and West Egg, NY) Daisy accidentally runs over Myrtle Wilson, who has run into the street thinking that Tom is driving with his wife. Myrtle is killed, Gatsby takes the blame, and Wilson (the husband), overcome with grief and anger, shoots Gatsby. Only a handful of people attend Gatsby's funeral (much to Nick's dismay). We find out towards the end of the book (after hearing various rumors) that Gatsby created his "rich self" after performing well in the army and running various deals with a few unsavory characters. Oh, and our time period is the early 20's.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

- The first thing I thought of as I read about Gatsby's parties was the movie Sabrina and the parties at the Larrabee's. Oddly enough, after reading about East and West Egg (which, it turns out, don't exist) I found that Great Neck (the likely referent for the Eggs) is on the North Shore of Long Island. Also where the Larrabees live, supposedly. I guess it's not such a coincidence, since it's a wealthy area, but I liked the connection.

I like this book. I like the way it's written, I like the characters, I like the somewhat depressing ending, and I like the quiet eloquence of it. Fitzgerald has exquisite sentence structure, and delicate imagery, and I really just enjoyed the experience of re-reading it. Just wanted to throw that out there.

-Apparently I cut out the title page of this book at one point. (Sacrilegious, I know!) I think it was for an English project, if that makes it any better. I'm still 90% sure I read The Great Gatsby.

-Nick and Gatsby pass by a funeral early in the book, and Nick is glad that "Gatsby's splendid car was included in their somber holiday". I thought it was a nice sentiment when I read it, but after reading to the end and knowing that only 9 people attend Gatsby's funeral (and half of those 9 servants) this moment seems really sad to me. I can't quite explain why.

-Meyer Wolfsheim (one of the unsavory characters Gatsby is in business with) has cufflinks made of molars. As in, human teeth, yes.

-Gatsby asks Nick if he can ask Daisy over to his house so that Gatsby can "meet" her again for the first time. Gatsby cuts Nick's grass in preparation for the visit. I think it's delightfully amusing that Gatsby tidies up Nick's life so that it can be the scene for his reunion with Daisy. Waiting for Daisy, Gatsby gets fed up, and says "Nobody's coming to tea!" and Nick has to persuade him to stay. But when Daisy arrives, Gatsby disappears, and then comes to the door and rings the bell. I love the way Fitzgerald describes it: "Gatsby, pale as death, with his hands plunged like weights in his coat pockets, was standing in a puddle of water glaring tragically into my eyes." Gatsby seems so vulnerable and childlike here.

-When it stops raining, Fitzgerald uses the weather as a metaphor for Gatsby and Daisy's love being rekindled. "When [Gatsby] realized what [Nick] was talking about, he smiled like a weather man, like an ecstatic patron of recurrent light, and repeated the news to Daisy. "What do you think of that? It's stopped raining."

-When Gatsby takes Nick and Daisy over to his house to show it off, Daisy weeps into Gatsby's shirts. She says, "It makes me sad because I've never seen such - such beautiful shirts before." There's such poetry in this moment.

-Tom's first reaction is excitement when he discovers the car accident, before he realizes his mistress has been killed. I think it's deeply fascinating that we, as a society are often first intrigued and excited by death and injury, then shocked and saddened. It's why rubbernecking causes so many traffic jams, right, Dad? :)

-Nick flip-flops throughout the book between liking, loving, and hating Gatsby. And as Nick is our narrator (and therefore, we feel close to him) we, as readers, go through various emotions regarding Gatsby. Nick tells him he's better than "the rotten crowd", but then follows it by saying he "disapproved of [Gatsby] from beginning to end." Despite his disapproval for Gatsby, Nick champions him in the end, managing his funeral, spewing anger at those who share no condolences and make no attempt to celebrate Gatsby's life. To the world, Gatsby was good for a party. Dead, he is worth nothing.

-Gatsby's father shows up for Gatsby's funeral, and he shows Nick a list that Gatsby made as a boy, to prove to Nick that Gatsby was always about something.


No wasting time at Shafters

No more smokeing or chewing
Bath every other day
Read one improving book or magazine per week
Save $5.00 [crossed out] $3.00 per week
Be better to parents

I'm sure we could all benefit from doing the things on Gatsby's list. Sounds about right to me.

-Last but not least, in reference to the title of this post: The line before it reads ,"Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter - tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther... And one fine morning-- So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

I always liked the middle of this line. It's one of those lines that I keep thinking I understand, then stop and read again, because (at least for me) it's not so much about getting the meaning of it as it is about evaluating the philosophy behind the phrase. I'm fine with feeling a little unresolved in this case.

And now I'm borne back into the past (of necessity, I suppose, as each of these books represents the past, fictional or no) into 19th century Russia.

Do svidaniya!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A little sea-bathing would set me up for ever!

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
So there are 2 sisters that count, and 3 others who are very silly. There's a ridiculous mother, a witty father, and two lovely gentlemen. One is very proud (Mr. Darcy) the other is very sweet (Mr. Bingley) and though it takes the whole book for everyone to get together, Darcy and Elizabeth (one of the sisters that counts) and Bingley and Jane (the other sister that counts) finally end up married. One silly sister (Lydia) manages to run off with a completely inappropriate man (Mr. Wickham) and almost ruin her entire family's lives, but Mr. Darcy (secretly) saves the day because he's totally crazy about Lizzy, and everything ends up okay. Throw in one crazy relative who is simpering to the point of vomiting (Mr. Collins) and who happens to be the future owner of the Bennet family's estate (the sisters are Bennets) and one crazy aunt (Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Mr. Darcy's aunt) and you pretty much know the whole story.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

First, allow me to apologize for not blogging yesterday. I'm sure you were all on tenterhooks waiting for me to blog and I LET YOU DOWN! Right? Right.

On to random comments...

- One of my favorite moments in this book is when Mr. Colllins proposes to Lizzy, and her mom tries to force her to accept, and her father says, "From this moment you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not accept Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do." Go, Mr. Bennet!

- Elizabeth says at one point, "What are men to rocks and mountains?" I agree! Who needs men when you can hike in the great outdoors, and explore the lake country?

- Lydia says "I am sure I shall break mine" in reference to her heart, when she thinks of the officers leaving town. She is so petulant and obnoxious. It really does make for a great character. This is also the origin of the title for this post - Mrs. Bennet says that sea-bathing would set her up for ever in reference to the fact that she wants the whole family to go to Brighton to follow the officers. She is so... special. What an interesting mother.

-Darcy tells Miss Bingley to shut up, basically, when he says that Lizzy is one of the "handsomest women of his acquaintance." Take that, Miss Bingley, you conniving little snot.

-Darcy comes upon Lizzy when she first finds out about Lydia running off with Wickham, and he is so sweet! I have nothing more to say about this. Other than that it is one of my favorite moments in the book.

-Mr. Collins writes to the Bennets and says that Lydia's death would have been preferable to the shame she brings on the family. Thanks for sharing, Mr. Collins.

-I love when Mr. Bennet says that Kitty can't leave the house until she can prove she's spent at least 10 minutes of every day in a rational manner, and Kitty starts crying because she thinks it's such an overwhelming request. Can you prove that you've spent at least 10 minutes of every day in a rational manner?

-Lizzy's aunt realizes Lizzy's in love with Darcy perhaps even before Lizzy does herself, and references wanting to spend more time at Pemberley (Darcy's house) once her niece is settled there. Made me think of my aunts, and how much I love all of them, and how I could see them making similar knowing comments about my future.

-Mrs. Bennet winks at her daughters to get them to leave the room so Bingley can propose to Jane, then denies that she has done anything of the sort. What a hilarious woman. ('Why would I wink at my own Daughter?')

-Lady Catherine de Bourgh yells at Lizzy and tells her she must not marry Darcy (before Darcy has proposed a second time), and screams, "Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?" Little does she know (little did he Know? Little did he know?) that she sets in motion the future reconciliation between Darcy and Elizabeth. Ha! Take that, Lady Catherine!

-I love that when Elizabeth and Darcy finally get together, they tell no one. They spend the evening with family, and keep their engagement secret. Jane is the first to know that evening, and the rest of the family finds out the next day. I like that Darcy and Elizabeth keep their love to themselves at first.

-In the book, Lizzy tells her father that Mr. Darcy went completely out of his way to hunt down Wickham and force him to marry Lydia (because, he claims, he knew that Wickham was not to be trusted. Wickham tried to do the same thing with Darcy's little sister Georgiana a while back. WE know that he does it because he loves Lizzy and hates to see her suffer.) I like that this happens in the book, because it's one of the few things that doesn't make it to the BBC 5-hour movie version, and I think it's crucial. It's what really makes Mr. Bennet realize that Darcy is incredible and wonderful and deserving of Lizzy.

And at the end, we get to spend a chapter with Lizzy and Darcy while they're happy and just existing at Pemberley. I think there's nothing I hate more than a book that has a happy ending, but no follow through on what life really looks like for the main characters at the end. Happily, this book did not fall into that trap.

Last, but not least, I'd like to mention that the copy I read was apparently the same one I read when I was, oh, perhaps 13 years old, and has random comments written here and there. I seem to have been in a phase where I decided it was appropriate to write in books (I still come down both ways on that topic) and wrote quite frequently in the margins. I'll leave you with my two favorite comments:

"Well, you're uglier anyway" in response to Miss Bingley saying something snotty about Lizzy and "Ah! I'm melting! He's so sweet!" in response to something Mr. Darcy said to Lizzy in a letter.

Okay, I know I said I was leaving, but last comment. For real. I must give a shout out to my lovely ladies, my very own Bennet family. This book is near and dear to my heart because I have shared it always with not only my 2 dear sisters, but the lovely Light ladies as well, Anna and Becca and Marah. And my mother, and my second mother, Mrs. Light, neither of whom are even remotely awful in the way that Mrs. Bennet is, but are rather lovely and wonderful and full of baked goods and warmth and smiles. Thank you for being my Austen family - I will always treasure you all.

On to Fitzgerald...

Monday, October 5, 2009

Hobbits: Soft as butter they can be, and yet sometimes as tough as old tree roots.

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
So we've got your basic battle between good and evil. The characters are the Fellowship (4 hobbits, 1 dwarf, 1 elf, 1 wizard, and 2 men) and their quest is to return the ring of Sauron to where it was forged in Mount Doom, thereby destroying Sauron's power and saving Middle Earth from his evil reign of terror. I could say more, but that's the general gist. Oh, and there's a creepy used-to-be-a-man character named Gollum, who used to wear the ring (after he'd murdered his friend and stolen it from him) who plays a pretty central part in the story. And there's also a side-story of Aragorn (one of the men in the Fellowship) who turns out to be a king from the old races of men, and he's the end-all be-all awesome new leader of Middle Earth. Until he dies, at least. And there are elves and the Rohirrim (the horse riders) and Tom Bombadil (Father Nature kind of dude) and Treebeard (who is an Ent, aka a super awesome old-type tree) and lots of other fun things. SO, yeah. There you go.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

The title is a reference to a line that Gandalf says in the beginning about hobbits. I thought it perfectly summed up the hobbits, and this series.

Thoughts on Fellowship

- Frodo asks an elf this, before setting out on his quest: "But where shall I find courage? That is what I chiefly need." And the elf says, simply, "Courage is found in unlikely places. Be of good hope! Sleep now!" I thought it was very poetic that Frodo says he needs courage more than directions, or help, or a plan. And what helps bring courage more than good hope and sleep? I did NOT sleep well last night (I've been having trouble sleeping on Sunday nights. Don't know what that's about. But I know I have more courage in the face of middle school children on days when I have good sleep under my belt. ;)

Well, that's it for Fellowship. It's really a scene-setting book. Onwards and upwards!

Thoughts on The Two Towers

- Smeagol (aka Gollum, so named because of the sound he makes in his throat) has an amazing argument with himself after he's been "tamed" by Sam and Frodo. He's been following Sam and Frodo (the hobbits bearing the ring into Mordor (land of evil) for those who are new to the whole saga) across abysmal lands to try and get the ring back, and he talks to himself when Sam and Frodo are sleeping. LOTR fans know this scene well, but I had to mention it, as it's such an interesting psychological struggle for Gollum's character.

- Sam watches his first battle of men fighting men fairly late in this book, and I'm so glad Tolkien mentions it. I think I like fantasies because there's always a battle (usually many) and it's so fun to imagine yourself fighting with the good side. But fantasies make war palatable because they feature men (or women, thank you very much) fighting monsters, objects that are clearly evil. Even if the monsters are humans who "went bad", the violence is usually desensitized (like in Harry Potter, where people die from wands and spells, not swords and bloody wounds). I think it's refreshing to read about an author's self-awareness of the troubles that come with battles between humans, evil or no, possessed or no. So thanks, Tolkien. I appreciate it.

- Smeagol (Gollum) gets in trouble for fishing in a secret pool, and when Faramir (the lord of the land) tells him that he can't be fishing there, on pain of death, Smeagol spits out the raw fish carcasses onto the floor and says, "Don't want fish." He cracks me up in his simplicity, and his delicate evil nature.

- Sam takes the ring from Frodo when he thinks Frodo has died. Sam, the servant of a hobbit, Sam, the endearing character who wants nothing more than to marry a hobbit named Rosie and tend a nice garden, this very hobbit carries the ring closer to its destination. Truly, the unassuming can set in motion wonders.

One more book!

Thoughts on Return of the King

- There's a classic Gandalf moment (he's the wizard in the fellowship) in this book. Gandalf has led all the forces of good to the gates of Mordor (land of evil) and he's "parleying" (parler! parler! get it? pirates of the caribbean? okay.) with this evil lieutenant and the lieutenant says that they have Frodo as a prisoner and flashes his clothing and his mail (armor) and everyone's really sad because they all think that Frodo is captured, and the lieutenant says he'll give up the prisoner if the forces of good give up the fight, and he says, "These are our terms, will you take them?" and Gandalf says, "THESE WE WILL TAKE! In remembrance of our friends, but your terms we do not accept!" And he takes the clothing and the mail. You are SO COOL, Gandalf! So cool. I mean, seriously. I nerded out like crazy about this moment to all of my roommates.

- When Frodo is too weak to go on, Sam carries him on his shoulders. Now that's friendship. And commitment to a goal. I love you, Samwise.

- When the war is over, and the ring is destroyed (Oh yeah! I forgot to tell you in the plot summary that good wins!) they decide to celebrate the New Year always on March 25th. That is MY birthday, thank you very much. Yes indeed.

Merry and Pippin are totally incredible, and though they didn't get mentioned in my "thoughts" they totally merit mentioning in this post. They come along because they're really tight buddies of Sam and Frodo, and they perform truly incredible deeds, like saving future Lords (Faramir) and helping to kill the Lord of the Nazgûl (evil ringwraiths). Go, hobbits!

I cried like crazy at the end of the book. I always think it seems completely unfair that Frodo can't go back to the Shire and live a happy, fulfilled life afterwards. I mean, I knew things wouldn't be perfect, but it makes me so sad to think of people going through horrible things in their lives and never really recovering. He goes to the Grey Havens, which is basically heaven, but he leaves ALL HIS FRIENDS BEHIND! Except Bilbo, his awesome relative. So yeah. I cried. And cried. And then I couldn't sleep. Clearly I'm too emotionally involved in this whole reading thing. But that's how I've always been about reading, I guess. (Ahem. Comparative Literature major.)

I leave you with this to remember: Not all who wander are lost.