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Reading wrap-up - October 2020

October has been a month of ups-and-downs. One of the books I read came very close to being a new favourite, only to let me down for reasons I'll let you discover below. However I was delighted to receive the new edition of J.R.R. Tolkien's Unfinished Tales which I'd pre-ordered a few months before. I rarely buy a book when it's published, and even less even before it's published, but I couldn't resist this one!

Dracula, by Bram Stoker (1897)

I feel like there is no need to introduce this world-famous novel. It crystallized an image of the vampire that still inspires stories today, and yet in its form it is very much a 19th-century book. Think long descriptions, slow rhythm (I found the 3rd quarter of the book particularly boring) and obvious sexism. Some may say that it was another century, but there were feminists in Bram Stoker's time. 

Throughout the hunt for Count Dracula, it was exhausting to read women constantly referred to as children and fragile things. The only time when one of them stopped pining for a strong man to protect her, she had to be killed. You know, we wouldn't want women to act according to their own instinct (irony).

I have to say that it becomes more and more difficult for me to enjoy so-called "classics" that yes, shaped today's literature and popular culture, but which we need to approach with a critical eye rather than blind admiration. I'm all the more excited to read modern takes on the legend, such as Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, by Washington Irving (1820)

If you fancy reading something 19th-century Gothic but aren't in the mindset to dive into a hefty tome such as Dracula, let me suggest this short story by Washington Irving. It's short and rather fun, and the Disney adaptation is remarkably faithful if my memory serves me well (without the racist paragraph, but just as sexist I'm afraid).

This short story is set in a peaceful little valley in the area of New York, in the autumn. We meet a picturesque schoolmaster (and his nag) navigating local legends while trying to woo the town's belle.

Franklin's Flying Bookshop, by Jen Campbell and Katie Harnett

This delightful book tells about Franklin, a bibliophile of a dragon who'd love to talk about book with people in his neighbourhood. Unfortunately, they see him as a potential threat rather than a potential friend.

It's a great book to read out loud thanks to Jen Campbell's play on sonorities. I also love Katie Harnett's minute, autumn-coloured illustrations. I have to admit I bought this book for my nephews but never got around to gift it to them (bad auntie).

The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger

This book was a rollercoaster. I got teary-eyed after three pages, thought I had found a new favourite, flew through most of it until a scene, towards the end, that I hated with all my heart. I felt betrayed. The last chapters after that felt off, and I didn't really understand some of the narrative choices. But then there were some gorgeous scenes too. Aaaaaah I can't make my mind about it.

The Time Traveler's Wife tells the story of Henry and Clare, who meet when Clare is 6 and Henry 36 and get married when she is 22 and he is 30. As the title more than suggests, Henry has a chrono-displacement disorder, pulling him from his present and sending him for a minute, an hour or a day into another period of his life. The first section of the book is a kaleidoscope of scenes that feel all over the place but mimic Henry's experiences of getting lost in time. The bigger part of the novel is somewhat chronological, that is, we more or less follow Clare's timeline through both of their perspectives.

There are some heart-rendingly beautiful scenes tucked between the pages, but also some that deeply troubled me.

Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth, by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien

Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth was first published in 1980 by Christopher Tolkien as a collection of never-seen-before manuscripts that shed light on several topics dear to Tolkien fans (Gandalf! Númenor! Palantíri!), and is sometimes considered as volume zero of The History of Middle-earth. Fourty years later here it is in a new illustrated edition, featuring artworks by Alan Lee, John Howe and Ted Nasmith. I wrote an introduction to it on my PhD blog here (click).


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What did you read in October?

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