Book Diary – October 2012

‘The American Future: A History’ by Simon Schama

Friday 28th September -Tuesday 23rd October

I picked this up for mere pence in The Works some time ago, having seen the TV series and enjoyed it. The problem I anticipated was that as this was written around the 2008 American presidential elections, it would be dated despite only being four years old. However, I was completely wrong. Only the introduction dates the book, and even then not in an ‘oh-that’s-so-2008’ way, more a contextual anchor for the rest of the text.

Despite taking quite a while to read the book, I found it fascinating. I tended to read in bursts of dozens of pages at a time than gradually working my way through the text.

I learned an enormous amount about American history (despite having seen – and clearly forgotten – the series when it was on television) and it was interesting to read the contrast between intention and realisation. The book painted a very attractive picture of the American ideal and a depressing one of the way in which this was twisted and exploited by immoral and misguided people over the last three or four centuries.

Having read Simon Schama’s ‘Power of Art’ last year, and enjoyed the television series which accompanied both books, I can honestly say I would willingly read anything he has written.

‘The Children of Húrin’ by J.R.R. Tolkien (edited by Christopher Tolkien)

Wednesday 24th October – Thursday 1st November

I bought this several years ago at a bargain price in HMV, but had repeatedly put off reading it, having been rather daunted by The Silmarillion’s dense text and foolishly assumed that The Children of Húrin would be the same.

I couldn’t have been more wrong, and I thoroughly enjoyed this book despite its very dark and tragic plot. The lack of hope, and the despair which permeates the entire story make more grown up than many of his other stories, and puts the tone in stark contrast to the (I feel) rather childish style of The Hobbit. In some ways it is probably right up there with The Lord Of The Rings as my favourite Tolkien story. At 250-odd pages, it’s a much quicker read!

With the film of The Hobbit imminent, I was struck by how easy it would be to turn this into a fantastic Middle Earth tragedy, though it’s debatable what sort of audience such a hope-free film could attract.

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3 thoughts on “Book Diary – October 2012

  1. The Works is not a bad shop for books really. I’ve picked up a decent number of books from there.

    The book on American history sounds interesting, although I don’t usually read Schama. I think I’ve heard good things about him, but all I remember is someone being sniffy about him on Peep Show, which of course means nothing but sticks in the brain.

    I’m reading through The Hobbit now (just finished Riddles in the Dark) in preparation for the film coming out, having read LOTR two Christmases ago. The Hobbit is a lot more approachable than LOTR, but if you don’t mind a dark story, how does Children of Hurin rank for how easy it is to read. I didn’t mind it with LOTR, but it being a classic I felt I should read helped. I genuinely enjoyed that though, I can’t even force myself to finish a book I don’t like.

    I am wondering how they will make The Hobbit into a trilogy though, it seems pretty short, especially compared ot LOTR.

    • The Works is good, but you do have to trawl through a lot of rubbish to find some good stuff – mind you, the same could be said of any charity shop. In their favour, they do also stock a lot of classics very cheaply too.

      Children of Hurin is very easy to read. The language is more of the slightly Norse-saga-esque “Wherefore Hurin was wrathful for Borag had slighted him”-type, but the detail isn’t as dense as some of the other Middle Earth stories.

      As for the film of The Hobbit, one rumour I’ve heard is that the book is being split into two films, and the third will be a bridge between The Hobbit and Lord Of The Rings. However, I have also read somewhere that the film-makers only have the rights to The Hobbit and not the other books so can’t use any material in them to make the bridging film and so will just split the book into three. There are, if memory serves, some points where the story would naturally split, but I don’t know how long each film would be if they split it at those points.

  2. I’m making very slow progress through The Hobbit due to exams which are now over. I reckon the first film will end between the eagles saving them from Goblins and them meeting Beorn. Feels like there is a natural stop there.

    Bit worried that with so many British TV actors, its jolly nature and how apparently the faster frame speed making it look like a soap, that it won’t be particularly great. Then again, to me Martin Freeman can only act one role, hapless Tim from Office, and he doesn’t stray from it.

    May look into that Tolkien book for next Christmas, that’s the theme I seem to have.

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