A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

My edition (in poor lighting, alas) of A Wizard of Earthsea

A Wizard of Earthsea – Ursula K. Le Guin
Puffin Books, 1971 (First published 1968)

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I read my first Ursula Le Guin, everyone!

Not having written many posts about books lately, I am a little lost for words, really..

A Wizard of Earthsea is the story of Ged, a boy who we are told will be a great wizard in later years, but of which very little is told about his earlier ones. In A Wizard of Earthsea we follow his training during his first years, as Ged aims to become a wizard. This is training in skills, but also in character. As Ged is tempted by pride, he unleashes an evil that he subsequently has to chase through the archipelago of Earthsea, in order to set his mistake right.

The thing is, I was happy to remember that Ana told me that while this is the beginning of the series, it might not really portray what is so great about it. That later on, more would be done with gender assumptions etcetera that would make it more enjoyable.

I did enjoy reading A Wizard of Earthsea. The prose was wonderful, felt a little lyrical – and yet remained very readable. It drew me in, and the world building that came along with it felt utterly natural.

What remains is the question of immediacy. While I felt for Ged, I missed a certain compunction to really care, that rush that makes you want to turn page after page.. Instead, it were the words and the prose that kept me reading through the first half, while it was only during the second half that I was pulled in by the story (even though, I admit, the sorcery school in the first half was intriguing, as these settings, I think, will always be to me).

The ending was satisfactory, and I liked the exploration of fear and finding the true nature of yourself as empowerment.

I fear there is little more to say, but I am happy I have a few more books left in this series, and a whole lot more of Le Guin. I am very much looking forward to reading more about Ged, and hopefully finding some challenge to the idea that “these are just women” in subsequent novels – which seemed to be voiced by characters a few times during the first half of the book.

Other, much more articulate, opinions can be found here.

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This weekend.. I managed to read!

I finally finished a book this weekend..

Moominvalley in November

Moominvalley in November by Tove Jansson

I thought it was my first book of February, but apparently I had finished reading Indigo’s Star at the beginning of this month. So perhaps my reading slump is not as bad as I imagined it? It has nothing to do with the books I am reading, btw, but everything to do with lots of other things taking over my life at the moment.

However, I am hoping that this will actually foreshadow a return to reading and blogging :-)

More soon..

The TBR Project 2014

Last year, I took a somewhat different approach in my mission to reduce the TBR pile. Even though I did end up reading a book for every letter of the alphabet on my TBR pile, the idea became too restrictive as time strolled on. Plus, let’s face it.. 2013 might be the year I added the most books ever to my shelves, what with visiting England often and going crazy at the charity shops.

This year, I am taking the more old-fashioned approach. I am setting out to read 50 books from my own shelves. This may not seem a lot, but given that I expect not to have that much time for reading this year, plus knowing I have a ton of review copies to catch up with come February, I think 50 books is actually quite a high number. Lucky for me, I can strike 3 books off the list so far. (3 books read and it is already past the halfway mark of January – when did my reading become so incredibly slow?)

You can find my project-in-progress page here.

Are you planning to tackle your TBR pile in any particular way this year?

The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson

The Secret of Platform 13 was my first read of 2014 and the first book for #LARmonth

The Secret of Platform 13 – Eva Ibbotson
Macmillan Children’s Books, 1994

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By the beginning of January, I needed a good comfort read. And if anyone can provide comfort reads, it is Eva Ibbotson. Happily diving into the Ibbotson novel I received as a holiday present those first days of the year, I cannot say I was disappointed.

In The Secret of Platform 13 said platform at King’s Cross Station provides a portal between our world and an island for 9 days every 9 years. When the son of the king and the queen of the island disappears in the world and is unable to return to the island, the queen is devastated. A rescue party is organised nine years later to bring back the prince, among which are a wizard, an ogre, a fey, and the young hag Odge. Can they bring back the prince before the portal closes for another 9 years?

When the rescue party arrives in London, they find that the boy they are told is the prince, Raymond Trottle, is not what they expected. He is a spoilt boy who is given everything he desires by the rich lady who calls herself his mother. Meanwhile, Ben, who helps in the Trottle’s household, does all in his power to help the rescuers, and even if he wishes he could join the rescuers in going to the island he stand by his dying grandmother who he does not want to leave alone.

Admittedly, the story in The Secret of Platform 13 has its predictable qualities. There is a clear set up where the reader finds himself rooting for Ben, while Raymond is portrayed as horrible from the beginning. I find myself agreeing with Ana’s observation that she would have liked it better if the ending had been a little different. Moreover,after reading more of Eva Ibbotson’s book, particularly One Dog and His Boy, I wonder if selfish rich people are a bit of a trope in Ibbotson’s work? She has a definite view of who is “good” and “bad”, and while some privileged people (for example the king and the queen in this story) are portrayed as lovely people, it is clear that Ibbotson did not have much sympathy for rich people who become spoilt and selfish. On the one hand, who can blame her? On the other, it would be nice to see a little more shades of grey built into the narrative at times. Ana’s suggestions for an ending where inheritance is less prominent than upbringing would work wonderfully in that case, I think.

These criticisms aside, I did very much enjoy The Secret of Platform 13. It is always a joy to read Ibbotson’s work. At least part of the reason being that she integrates fantasy with our contemporary world seamlessly. There is no needless explaining; instead the world building simply is, which is something I really appreciate. Another thing I love about Ibbotson is her portrayal of children: with agency, with good intentions, and yet their slight faults.

All in all, The Secret of Platform 13 was a lovely start of the year and of this year’s Long-Awaited Reads Month.

Other Opinions: Things Mean a Lot, Yours?

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Wrapping Up War & Peace 2013

During my absence I failed to participate fully in the event Amy and I organised to celebrate reading War and Peace in 2013. I felt I should at least give you the answers to the questions posted in Amy’s wrap-up post for this Read Along, given how much time I spent with the book last year I would feel bad about not writing up my final thoughts in the end.

warandpeace2012

1) When did you finish?
I finished reading War and Peace on the third of November. So yeah, it has been a while! By that time I had been busy catching up with my reading for October, and once I had finished that I felt I might as well try and read through what was left of the rest of the book. I still feel that although dividing the book up into chunks of 100 pages each month made it seem more doable, at the same time I think I might have been less confused and perhaps a little more interested in parts of the book if I had read more of it at once.

2) What surprised you most about reading War & Peace?
I know this must sound silly, given that War and Peace is about, well.. a lot of war.. but I was not prepared for the long battle scenes. Or at least, I was not aware beforehand of how much my mind would wander when reading about battle scenes. I really struggled with those parts, particularly during the first half of the book.

3) Who was your favorite character and did that change during the course of reading?
I think more than anything, I liked the female characters. This might simply show my own prejudice, or the fact that I failed to connect to the masculinity of the male characters (even if Tolstoy undermined the ideal in lots of places). Strengthening my sympathy for the women, particularly the younger generation of Natasha, Sonya, and Marya, was definitely some of Tolstoy’s characters ideas about women (ugh!). As for the women, I had been told to expect to really love Natasha, but I think I felt for Marya more, in the end.

4) Do you feel like a better historian after Tolstoy’s lectures? ;)
Hahaha, do I really need answer this? His lectures were definitely the parts I struggled with most in the second half of the book. I tried to engage with some of it, and I could even agree with some of the sentiments he expressed, but his general philosophy just did not sit right with me. Then again, this is 21st-century Iris speaking, who was rolling her eyes at some of the dated (read: 19th-century, as in, the time during which Tolstoy wrote the book) ideas. I hardly think that is fair on my part. And yet.. it just felt so repetitive, and hardly necessary most of the time.

5) Is there anything you would have changed about the book?
The lectures. That is not to say that I do not appreciate what Tolstoy was trying to do. Or that I think he did not accomplish it. I just think that at times I would’ve liked the story to speak for itself more, with a little less of the explanatory philosophy chapters in between. I think that might have made his sentiments about war, about glorified masculinity that will lead to unmistakable disappointment, about the unfairness of politics that has old men deciding on the fates of masses of younger men more powerful, somehow? They are definitely there, and I think these might be the things I remember most strongly about War and Peace apart from the storylines of the three younger women, I just think I would have appreciated the book as a whole better if there had been less repetition of his central idea in philosophical language.

6) What did you like best about it?
The ideas articulated through stories (see above). Moreover, I enjoyed the family scenes much better than I would have expected. The lives and fates of the different main characters were intriguing and very well-shaped. I felt sympathy for many of the characters, and often felt deeply for their fates. More so than I would have expected 1/4th into the book.

7) What did you like least about it?
The second epilogue! The historical philosophy. And some of the sentiments on women that were occasionally expressed by some of the characters.

8) What advice would you give someone who is planning to read War & Peace in 2014?
Definitely give yourself the time to read the book. Dividing it up in sizeable chunks might work wonders. At the same time, I would not recommend reading 100 pages in one day, setting the book aside for a month, and then repeating the exercise. The book and its storyline are too intricate for that, and I will guarantee that you will have forgotten some of the names or developments. Personally, I seemed to get into the story only after a chapter or 3-4 each time I began reading again. Give yourself time to enjoy the reading. And if you do not enjoy it, perhaps stop reading altogether and try again at some other time in life, or just accept that this might not be the book for you. (although I feel that had I taken that advice, I might not be writing this post right now. And I am not even sure if I would’ve felt that I had missed out on the book as a whole.. But on some of the characters, some of the scenes? Yes, I would miss those).

9) Did you reward yourself when you finished?
No! I feel I ought to though. Is there any reward you would recommend?