Help the Witch, by Tom Cox
A very enjoyable collection of short stories, drawing on folklore and ghosts. They’re written in a very original style, and in authentic voices of the various characters who narrate the stories. My favourite stories were Help the Witch, Folk Tales of the Twenty-third Century, and An Oral History of Margaret and the Village by Matthew and Five Others. A couple of stories were a bit weaker than the rest, but that’s inevitable in a collection. I think this is an excellent book and would definitely recommend it to anyone who is a witch or who likes witches, folklore and/or slightly creepy stories. I love the down-to-earth style, and there are some really original ideas in these stories.
Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke
A fun and magical kids’ book about dragons and their search for a peaceful place where humans won’t bother them. I loved the Inkheart trilogy by the same author, and this was even better. It has a great selection of characters, some really imaginative concepts, and some great plot twists. Interestingly this book has been translated from the original German twice. This was the translation by Anthea Bell.
The Muse, by Jessie Burton
Sort of Iris Murdoch meets Andrea Levy. Very well written. I haven’t finished it yet, because another book arrived and I started reading it. It is set in two time periods, the 1960s and the 1930s, and there’s a mysterious painting that links the two periods in which it is set.
Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-earth by John Garth
This was recommended to me by Dave Llewellyn-Dodds, one of the small community of regular commenters on Brenton Dickieson’s blog, A Pilgrim in Narnia. It is an excellent and well written analysis of how Tolkien’s experiences just prior to, and during, the First World War, fed into his creative process. It does not try to claim that there is any direct allegory (as any serious fan of Tolkien knows, he hated allegory) but rather explores how his vision of Middle-Earth was deepened and expanded by his experiences of suffering and loss, and his encounters with new types of people. It definitely offers a new perspective on Tolkien’s legendarium, and will be an excellent complement to the film that is coming out soon, which also explores that period of his life.
This book will also make you realize what a senseless waste of lives the First World War was. Garth notes that A A Milne became a signaller because the chances of survival were higher. I can’t say I blame him. A similar (but less baldly stated) instinct underlay Tolkien’s choice of signalling as his contribution to the war effort. It’s chilling to think that Winnie-the-Pooh and The Lord of the Rings might not have existed if they had been killed. I also wonder what else Saki (H H Munro) and Wilfred Owen might have written, had they survived WW1. And what other geniuses were lost in that slaughter.
Paperbacks versus Kindle & iPhone
I have also realized that I was reading a lot more books when commuting by bus and before smartphones and social media. Time to adjust my priorities, I think.
Physical books are probably more environmentally friendly than smartphones, in that making them uses up energy and trees, but they don’t use any more energy after that (unless you ship them 3000 miles, ahem). Whereas making smartphones uses energy and resources, and using them also uses energy. On the other hand, you can store and access a lot more information on a smartphone or a Kindle than on a book (unless it’s a 12GB iPhone), and storing books also uses energy (the heating needed to keep them from getting damp).