How To: A very Tolkien-esque Advent Calendar

Still need a advent calendar, but don’t want to spend a lot of money? Then I’ve got a great solution for you! Ok, sorry guys for this info-mercial type of tone, but some of you really won’t have to spend a single cent on this advent calendar. Really!

I’m not that much into that Christmas hype, so my seasonal decor and rites are very minimalistic. So last year, I decided to turn my copy of ‘Letters from Father Christmas’ by J.R.R. Tolkien into a very simple advent calender. All I ended up doing for this was dividing the letters into 24 days, put numbered sticky tabs into the book and viola, my Tolkien-esque advent calender on a budget was done! Why 24 days, you may ask. The answer is simple, im many countries in Europe, the big Christmas celebration, where the gifts are exchanged, is on December 24th.

I’ve enjoyed this Tolkien-esque advent calendar so much that I decided to turn it into a dradition and do it every year from now on.

tolkien advent calendar

Now, if you’re interested in recreating it yourself, here is how I divided that short book into 24 days.

  • Day 1: Letter 1920
  • Day 2: Letter 1923
  • Day 3: Letter 1924
  • Day 4: Letter 1925
  • Day 5: Letter 1926
  • Day 6: Letter 1927
  • Day 7: Letter 1928
  • Day 8: Letter 1929
  • Day 9: Letter 1930
  • Day 10: Letter 1931
  • Day 11: Letter 1932 Nov. 30th
  • Day 12: Letter 1932 Dec. 23rd.
  • Day 13: Letter 1933 Dec. 2nd
  • Day 14: Letter 1933 Dec 21nd
  • Day 15: Letter 1934
  • Day 16: Letter 1935
  • Day 17: Letter 1936
  • Day 18: Letter 1937
  • Day 19: Letter 1938
  • Day 20: Letter 1939
  • Day 21: Letter 1940
  • Day 22: Letter 1941
  • Day 23: Letter 1942
  • Day 24: Letter 1943

 

Do you have any bookish or Tolkien-esque advent calenders? Why not share it with the rest of us?

The ‘All About the Reading’ – Tag

I’ve just stumbled upon this tag watching one of my all time favorite booktubers and since I’m only reading books these days (haven’t watched a new film in months), this tag spoke to my soul. Before I begin with the questions, I tag everyone who is keen to answer some or all of those questions.

You can watch the video that inspired me over here: Why I Read | All About the Reading Tag by Books by Leynes.

All about the Reading – Tag

1.What do you look for most when you pick up a book? A) A beautiful writing style B) A character driven story C) A plot driven story
When I pick up a book, the only thing I initially look for is, as in the case of Leynes, that it tells me something I don’t know. Whether it is telling me an adventure I haven’t read about yet, a way of portraying characters and their developments, or a unique way of writing, I want to be exposed to new ideas. The rest, plot, character construction, or quality of writing style comes later.

2.What are your pet peeves in books?
Plot holes and authors making use of tropes out of sheer laziness. If you’re using tropes to dismantle them or as a form of satire, then that is awesome. However, if you’re using a trope because you can’t think of another way to describe a character or scene, then that is lazy.

3. If you could print one quote on your wall, which one would it be?
As I’m looking around my room, I’m realizing that I already have a quote in my room, however, it is not on my wall. A while ago, I painted the famous line “Not all those who wander are lost” from Tolkien’s poem about Aragorn on a pillow. There are two reasons why I chose this rather overused line. For one, yes I’m a basic white girl that likes to travel so as a basic white girl I have to do what we all basic white girls do, find some ‘inspiring quotes’, plaster them on an lovely, but basic looking image and pretend that this alone will make things ‘good in life’. Ok, all jokes aside, my life was never straight forward with a clear and easy ‘graduating from school to find a job, buy a house and have a family’ -type of path. My life has been and still is a zig-zag journey leading me, sometimes, back to where I’ve already been. So that line is just a nice reminder that its OK to not have a straight forward life path. Anyhow, I digress.

20180525_103656

4. Which genre would you like to explore more?
Ancient literature, non-fiction, and folk tales from all over the world. As I’ve said, I want to be exposed to new ideas and I’ve been neglecting those three genres way too much.

5. Was there ever a movie adaptation you liked better than the book?
Oh, that is a touchy subject. For one, I have to out myself as a member of the minority that doesn’t think that “the book is always better than the adaptation”. Having said that, I’ve been avoiding some of the recently released adaptations so I’m not very up-to-date. Now to answer the question, I have to admit that I enjoyed Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Henning Mankell’s Wallander novels more than I enjoyed the actual novels.

6. If one of your favorite books would be adapted or get a new adaptation, which book would it be and which role would you like to play?
That is an oddly specific hypothetical scenario, but here we go. If The Lord of the Rings ever receives a new adaptation (I’m looking at you, Amazon), I’d love to play a random Hobbit in the background or alternatively an Orc. Honestly, I really don’t care about what I’d play as long as I’d be a part of it. I’m not an actor, nor do I possess any talent in that regard what-so-ever so just give me a random role as an extra Mr. and Mrs. Amazon. I’m willing to play an Orc in exchange for coffee.

7. A hyped book you wouldn’t recommend at all?
A recent disappointment was Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London. Several of my friends love this series while I was utterly bored and annoyed.

8. A book that highly influenced your life and way of thinking?
Similar to the Youtuber Leynes, where I found this Tag to begin with, I have to say Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. The ability to lure the reader into such a story, and even make the narrator seem likeable at times, just by through Nabokov’s stunning use of works is one of a kind and deeply affected me on how to see and interpret novels.

Now, this is not a single book, but rather than an entire genre, but non-fiction books deeply affected me and the way I read. When growing up as a kid, I’d either read fairy tales or non-fiction books. It got to a point where I was so intrigued by what non-fiction books could teach me that my father only got me non-fiction books as birthday presents for several years. This, I guess, explains why I’m putting such an emphasis being exposed to new ideas when reading books, fiction and non-fiction, in general.

9. Are you a fan of re-reading books, do you do it often?
I love re-reading books, especially my favorites. It allows me to either re-live an adventure or re-evaluate what I’ve read in a new way.

10. Which book title could easily be the title of your life?
I really like the title of Witi Ihimaera’s play Woman far Walking.

11. Which book should be required reading for everyone?
None, to be honest. What is ‘required’ to read as a means of learning changes all the time and far too often ‘required readings’ in school consist mostly of books by dead white men.

What about you? How is your reading going so far in 2018? Leave a comment down below.

 

Why I Prefer to Track my Reading Habits on Trello Instead of Goodreads

In the last few months, and for the most part in 2017, I’ve overcome my reading-slump. As an English major post-grad, reading became more than just a casual hobby. Every novel you’ve read, you’ve automatically annotated and scanned for underlying themes. Over time, it was impossible to read a book without ‘taking it apart’. This, in combination with being forced to read novels one dislikes, has driven me into a reading-slump. In other words, I changed from someone who enjoyed reading to someone who had to force herself to sit down and read a few pages.

For the last three years, I tried to motivate myself to read more by following Booktubers and Bookstagrammers, by become more active on Goodreads again, and by participating in Goodreads’ yearly reading challenge. While all these measurements did help me to some extend, there were some down falls to this as well. However, I will post my thoughts on Booktube and Bookstagram in another upcomintg post.

So what is the Goodreads reading challenge?

In case you’re unfamiliar with Goodreads and its yearly reading challenge, it is basically a self imposed reading challenge. At the beginning of each year, you decide how many books you want to read. Let’s say, you read 20 books on average every year and you want to challenge yourself to read more, then you’d probably pledge to read 30 books for the Goodreads reading challenge. Then, throughout the year, you’d add the books you’ve read and thus track the number and type of books you’ve read in a particular year. For many, this reading challenge is a great motivation. You have a goal to work towards, an online community to interact with and to hold you accountable for.

Why I don’t like the Goodreads reading challenge

To me, this doesn’t work. Instead of being motivated to read more, I start to feel bad whenever I don’t read and whenever my reading progress is slower than anticipated. In a way, going public with a promise of how many books I want to read makes me want to stop reading. I guess, in my case, it goes back to my time at university where I’d drag myself from one reading deadline to another. In a Guardian article, writer Richard Lea summarizes the core of the issue I have with the Goodreads reading challenge: “All this talk of pledging, of targets, of tracking your progress, is just another step in the marketisation of the reading experience, another stage in the commodification of literary culture”. Joining the Goodreads reading challenge became not only a chore to me, but started to feel like a way to shame other readers. Browsing through Goodreads, and other book communities on the internet, the more seems to be the better. The more you read, the greater your reader-credibility it seems.

However, I know I’m not the only one who struggles with the Goodreads reading challenge. It was my friend Alice who gave me the idea to set my reading challenge to a symbolic number, 3 books in my case, with her blog post The Pressure of Not Reading Enough. There, she writes: „[…]why not lowering down my reading goal to a symbolic number? I would still get my stats at the end of the year and wouldn’t feel the pressure of reaching that number in time!“

As of now, I’ve surpassed my reading goal of 3 books by having read 19 (For some reason Goodreads shows the number as 20 by counting LOTR twice). Moreover, here are also 3 books I’m currently still reading. Ironically enough, 20-25 was the original number I had in mind for my reading challenge.

Goodreads reading challenge

Why I use Trello to track my reading progress

As indicated by the blog title, I’m now using Trello to track my reading. Sure, I’m still active on Goodreads, but it is more for my friends than for myself. Goodreads is my public way of letting people know what I’m currently reading. Whereas, Trello is my private, actual way of tracking my reading progress. On average, I tend to read roughly 20-25 books every year. It is a lot less than many other read. Heck, there are, apparently, people out there who read 20-25 books in just two months. Yet, I don’t care. I’m not embarrassed or ashamed of this number. I enjoy taking my time and read books at a pace that are enjoyable to me. I have no pressure to read more, nor do I want to read a lot more.

The difference between the Goodreads reading challenge and my method is that I don’t have a certain number or reading goal in mind. Instead, I use Trello to track what I’ve read over the years. Each time I finish a book, I’ll add it on my Trello board and give the book my own color coded rating. Again, this is just a way for me to remember whether I liked or disliked the book.

trello reading journal

On the left is my ‘to be reading’ – list featuring all the physical books I have on my shelf. Next to it is the list of books I’m currently reading. Whenever I’m done with a book, I’ll move it to the 2017 list and color code it. I used to have a list of books I’ve randomly heard of that I want to read some day instead of a list of my actual TBR pile. However, having this list of books I still want to own only increased my TBR pile even though I wanted to decrease it. Now, by knowing exactly what I still need to read every time I go on Trello, helps me to stay focused.

As for my color coding. I have the following labels (purple and dark blue remain unused):
trello reading labelsWith these easy labels, it helps me to remember how much I like a particular book and which genres I tend to prefer. As said before, my Trello method is a way of memory keeping, allowing me to look back at what I’ve read over the years, rather than a reading challenge. For example, I was surprised to remember that I’ve read “White Tiger” by Aravind Agida and that I wasn’t too excited by it. When I was younger, before university, I never tracked or written down which books I’ve read and now I no longer remember and now I wish I did track the books I’ve read.

What about your reading habits? Do you use Goodreads? If not, how do you keep track of what you read?

Favourite First Lines in Books

A while ago, I stumbled somewhere in the depths of Youtube upon people sharing their favourite first lines in books. I was intrigued and started to wonder about my favourite first lines. What makes a first line great? Why do we memorize some first lines forever and forget others? To me, a good first line is a combination of poetic beauty of words and a clever introduction of the world within the book. There are, of course, countless books with great first lines, but today I want to share with you four books with my favourite first lines.

P1080408b

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”

Of course, I had to start with The Hobbit. Apart from my obvious obsession with Tolkien’s Middle-earth, The Hobbit’s first lines are just beautifully written. The first line is simple, yet intriguing. It immediately makes you wonder who or what a hobbit is (assuming you never heard of them before). The second line tells you a great deal about what hobbits are. At this point, the reader may still doesn’t know what a hobbit is, but the reader does know already that hobbits love comfort and that food plays an important role in their lives. The simple sentence structure draws you in and before you know, you’ve already finished reading the first chapter.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

“Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonesense.”

Similar to The Hobbit, the simple sentence structure of Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone makes you jump from sentence to sentence until you reached the end of the first chapter without knowing it. An interesting aspect about Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is that it doesn’t start with its main character. When reading the book title, you’d expect anything, but to start with the most non-magical characters in the novel. Instead of introducing the readers to the wizarding world of Harry Potter, the novel takes the readers by the hand and allows them to experience the wonders of magic through Harry gradually.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.”

If it weren’t for Nabokov’s beautiful poetic style, Lolita would’ve probably not be as controversial as it is. Let me explain. If Lolita were written by a less talented author, it may have received temporary attention but would’ve been put off as ‘disgusting trash’ and eventually forgotten. However, because of Nabokov’s talent, the reader cannot help, but feel drawn into the mindset of Humbert Humbert. The reader is torn between the reality of an, mildly put, “inappropriate relationship” and the poetic beauty of the novel. Only because the reader is able to relate to Humbert to a certain degree (however small that degree may be), has Lolita become so controversial.

In addition to the poetic beauty of those lines, this short passage reveals a lot about the narrator. First of all, the reader learns that this is a first person narrator. This is insofar significant because it already tells you not to believe everything unquestioned as first person narrators are always very unreliable. Secondly, this passage, explaining in great depth how the name Lolita is formed when speaking, indicates that the yet unnamed narrator not only love Lolita, but that he is unhealthily obsessed with her. Lastly, it also reveals that the narrator is aware that his love or obsession with Lolita is inappropriate by explaining that she is his sin.

The Bone People by Keri Hulme

“He walks down the street. The asphalt reels by him.
It is all silence.
The silence is music.
He is the singer.
The people passing smile and shake their heads.
He holds a hand out to them.
They open their hands like flowers, shyly.
He smiles with them.
The light is blinding: he loves the light.
They are the light.”

I started to read The Bone People a while ago, but I still haven’t managed to finish it. Not because I don’t like it. Quite the contrary, this novel is one of those you have to put down once in a while to appreciate the words you just read. As beautiful these first lines are, as unable I’m able to express my feelings for them. Hulme’s usage of metaphors is stunning. The reader has no idea who this character is and what this is all about, but the reader is drawn into the novel nonetheless.

As said earlier, there are countless other books with great first lines such as Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, or Barry’s Peter Pan, but these four are my absolute favourites. Each of these four entries mesmerized me and let me forget my surroundings as early as the first sentence.

What are your fist lines in books? Do you agree with my analysis of these entries? Leave a comment down below!

Silmarillion Read-Along: Week 3

Welcome to week three of our Silmarillion read-along! In the month of March, we will read and discuss J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion. For an in-depth weekly reading schedule, head over to my announcement post.

Disclaimer: All cited passages were taken from The Silmarillion unless stated otherwise.

Week 3: Life and Death

Dwarves and Men in Middle-earth
With the beginning of the chapter “Of the Sindar”, The Silmarillion shifts its focus away from the Undying Lands towards Middle-earth. Moreover, with the coming of the Dwarves and Men, dynamics of power change in Middle-earth. Elves have Middle-earth no longer to themselves, although their power remains unchallenged for a while. With the coming of Dwarves and Men, something else changed as well. Mortality begins to play a more prominent role in Middle-earth:

“In that time the air of Middle-earth became heavy with the breath of growth and mortality, and the changing and ageing of all things was hastened exceedingly” (Of Men)

With the coming of men, in particular, the very make up of Middle-earth begins to change. In a way, Middle-earth itself seems starting to age all of a sudden.

Alarie_-_A_bunch_of_dwarves

“A Bunch of Dwarves” by Alarie via tolkiengateway.net

In addition to being mortal, the readers also learn that Dwarves and Men differ from Elves in other significant ways. The Dwarves, also known as the Naugrim, are described as follows:

“[…] the Naugrim yet came ever and anon over the mountains and went in traffic about the lands; but they went seldom to the Falas, for they hated the sound of the sea and feared to look upon it.”

As we have learned during the fist week, the echo of the Music of the Ainur is most present in the water. Dwarves are described to hate and fear it for they were not included in the Music of the Ainur. Deviced in secrecy by Aulë, Dwarves do not know what they hear when they hear the echo of the Music of the Ainur in the sea.

In the case of Men, it is interesting to note that they love sunlight more than anything else. While Elves first saw startlight and, therefore, love it more than anything else, Men first saw sunlight. This love for the sun is even reflected among the many names Elves have for Men: “The Night-fearers, the Children of the Sun” are only two names among many (Of Men).

War as a catalyst for change and progress
Starting with the chapter “Of the Sindar”, the reader learns more about Thingol, Melian and their realm. The reader enters Beleriand at a time of bliss. Yet, as emphasized by the narrator, there is not much to tell about this time of bliss:

“But of bliss and glad life there is little to be said, before it ends; as works fair and wonderful, while still they endure for eyes to see, are their own record, and only when they are in peril or broken for ever do they pass into song” (Of the Sindar).

It is debated among scholar that war may be necessary for the (economic) progress of a society. When we look at the history of Arda and Middle-earth, it seems that the argument of war, and with it death, as a catalyst of progress seems to be true. Without Melkor’s destruction, Arda would have looked very different. Without the destruction of the Two Trees of Valinor, there would be no Sun and Moon. In fact, without Melkor’s destruction of the lights of Illuin and Ormal, the first light to be created, there would not have been the need to create the the most beautiful light to ever shine on Arda, the Two Trees of Valinor. Without war and death, nothing ever changed in Aman and Middle-earth.

In that regard, the above mentioned quote can be seen as self-referential because without war, destruction, and death, there were not tales written down. Without war and death, there were no Silmarillion for us to read.

782px-John_Howe_-_Beleriand_and_the_North

“Beleriand and the North” by John Howe via tolkiengateway.net

Life in the hour of death
Since death is needed for change to occur, life following death is just as needed. Without life following death, there would be nothing left to change. The creation of the Sun and the Moon is a good example of why there is always hope in the hour of despair:

“Yet even as hope failed and [Yavanna’s] song faltered, Telperion bore at last upon a leafless bough one great flower of silver, and Laurelin a single fruit of Gold” (Of the Sun and the Moon and the Hiding of Valinor).

Tolkien’s concept of the “Eucatastrophe”, a sudden happy turn of events, is one of the most dominant themes in his entire body of work as we will examine in next week’s read-along. So make sure to come back!

What where your thoughts on life and death while reading? Of the three races, which one is your favourite? Elves, Dwarves, or Men? Do you have any unanswered questions? Leave a comment down below!