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The Lord of the Rings
J.R.R. Tolkien
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind themIn ancient times the Rings of Power were crafted by the Elven-smiths, and Sauron,...

Appears on TRB list
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Comment from [Reddit user] with 10 upvotes on /r/books/

Finished Brain on Fire, by Susannah Cahalan - it was an entertaining read and provided some insight into what it's like to have a condition so rare and obscure that almost nobody would think to look for it.

Finishing A Man Called Ove, by Frederik Backman - this has been a nice feel-good book, and it also provides a glimpse of the struggles that seniors face like losing independence and trying to find purpose in their post-working lives.

The Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien - Book Five, Chapter Ten, "The Black Gate Opens". In terms of telling a straightforward adventure story, I still prefer the Peter Jackson films. What the books add is a sense of mythology. There are lines that read very much like Biblical history, like (paraphrasing) "[good guy's grave] grew lush and green, but where [bad guy] was burned the ground was forever barren." That's the sort of thing that you include either to explain why things are the way they are, or to teach the listener landmarks so they can find their way home.

Started Unaccountable, by Dr. Marty Makary - Dr. Makary argues for greater transparency into doctors' and hospitals' results (average length of hospital stay, infection rates, patient satisfaction ratings) so that we can judge our healthcare providers by something more useful than their diplomas and friendliness.

Fans of Scrubs may recall season 2 episode 14 ("My Brother, My Keeper") where Dr. Townshend (Dick van Dyke) subjects his patients to outdated procedures that are more invasive than necessary simply because that's how he's used to doing them. Makary doesn't reference Scrubs, but tells a real-life story much like that and says that it's very common. As in the Scrubs episode, it's handled quietly and internally, if it's addressed at all, because medical staff are taught early on to never embarrass a doctor.

Comment from [Reddit user] with 9 upvotes on /r/books/

I finished reading Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley and also finished the audio version of How Democracies Die, by Steven Levitsky & Daniel Ziblatt. Brave New World was really interesting, a nice contrast to 1984's dystopia which for me felt even more chilling. How Democracies Die was also very good and provided some grounded commentary on the Trump administration and how it compares to authoritarian takeovers (failed and successful) in a way that doesn't seem sensationalised, and is all the more worrying for it.

Started reading The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R Tolkien again, I've never made it all the way through and I'm already wondering if I have the staying power to get to the end when there are so many other books I'm eager to get to.

Comment from [Reddit user] with 9 upvotes on /r/books/

Startet: The Lord of the rings, by J.R.R Tolkien

Comment from [Reddit user] with 6 upvotes on /r/books/

None finished this week, two in progress:

1776, by David McCullough - through chapter two (of seven), which covers the siege of Boston in late 1775. As history goes it's quite good, but I think it also illustrates where fiction sometimes has an advantage as a medium for teaching. Fiction isn't tethered to reality, so they're free to streamline the character list or conjure up plausible scenes without having to support them through snippets of soldiers' letters back home.

The Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien - through book 1, chapter 8, leaving the Old Forest. That also means I've gotten to Tom Bombadil. I don't hate him, but he seems kind of unnecessary, like a hook for a spinoff that (as far as I know) never happens.

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1776, by David McCullough - through chapter four, wherein the Battle of Long Island begins.

The Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien - through Book One (of six). Kind of a weird place to cut off a section; I guess we can assume the immediate danger has passed?

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Finished Moon Called, by Patricia Briggs - fun paranormal action, a bit weak toward the end as many of the questions get resolved in a big infodump. It's the first in a series (ten titles so far, plus a spinoff), so I'll probably give the second one a shot and see if it gets better.

Finished The Vegetarian, by Han Kang - weird and a bit disturbing, but well worth it. I hesitate to say too much because it's really something you have to experience for yourself.

Started Brain on Fire, by Susannah Cahalan - like Still Alice, the story opens with the protagonist doing things that probably wouldn't be that unusual except that they're out of character for her. It's all so easy to explain away until eventually you can't.

Started A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman - Only about twenty pages in, but I like it so far. Ove is cranky, but in a charming way. I'm definitely with him in some respects, like can I just get a damn strawberry ice cream cone without currants or basil or other trendy crap?

Working on The Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien - Book Four, Chapter Five, "The Window on the West", in which Faramir questions Frodo about his errand, then realizes he already kind of knows what it is.

Comment from [Reddit user] with 6 upvotes on /r/books/

Finished The Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien - My overall assessment is the same as it's been. LotR is a grand work of imagination and the cornerstone of an even greater body of mythology, more comparable to the Bible or the Iliad than a conventional novel. And that's just as well, because sometimes Tolkien gets so carried away with obscure words, grandiose turns of phrase, geographic detail, and over-explaining* that the storytelling suffers.

The main element this week was the Scouring of the Shire. I can see why it hasn't been included in any adaptation so far. It's important to show how your characters have changed as a result of their journey, but this takes a long time for not much to happen. If this were a movie, I'd say it was the sort of thing that got tacked on because some focus group said, "Wait, so [bad guy] just gets away unpunished?"

Continuing on Unaccountable, by Marty Makary - Chapter 8 discusses impaired doctors, those who are burned out (often before even finishing their residency) or compromised by substance abuse and other illness. The state boards are supposed to deal with those sorts of things, but according to Makary the state boards are pretty toothless.

Chapter 9 talks about medical mistakes, which no doctor is immune from making, but there would probably be far fewer if there were a process in place so doctors could learn from each other's mistakes instead of having to make their own. Admitting to mistakes and committing to learning from them may reduce malpractice claims as well, because sometimes all the patient really wanted was to feel heard.

I've been off and on with Zombies vs. Unicorns, by Holly Black and Justine Larbaleister (editors) - I'm six stories in, and they're all passable, but only one so far would I call good. I may just chip away at this, one story a week or whatever until it's done.

Goal progress after three quarters:

  • Read books: 31/36
  • Read books about the Arctic and Subarctic: 4/6
  • Read books in a foreign language: 0/6
  • Read books I already own: 21/24

Looking Forward:

Today I'll start on my big read for Q4, The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas. I was also thinking now would be a good time to read Legends, a collection of novellae by famous SFF authors that tie into their flagship properties (The Dark Tower, Pern, Earthsea, et cetera). I'm normally not a series kind of guy, but maybe I'll pick my favorite story and give that series a go next year.


* When I say over-explaining, I don't mean describing people, places, and objects in depth. That's a matter of personal preference. I mean things like when Gandalf figures out what "speak friend and enter" means. He can't just say mellon and trust us to recognize what he's done and why it's clever, he has to spell it out for us. The Hobbit had a bunch of that, and it was too cutesy and fairy-tale-esque for my taste.

Comment from [Reddit user] with 5 upvotes on /r/books/

I thought I'd be able to finish one of my books this week, but not yet, so I'm still on the same three as last week:

  • A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Bachman - about ⅔ of the way through, after the holiday in Spain.
  • Brain on Fire, by Susannah Cahalan - again roughly ⅔ through, next chapter is called "Homecoming".
  • The Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien - Book 5, Chapter 4, "The Siege of Gondor".

I also started a collection called Zombies vs. Unicorns, by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier (editors). It drew me in with its cover. The content is more or less what you'd expect: twelve stories, six about zombies and six about unicorns, written by various YA authors: Meg Cabot, Cassandra Clare, Garth Nix, et al.

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Working on Unaccountable, by Marty Makary - as I mentioned last week, Dr. Makary is making his case for public reporting of healthcare metrics, e.g., infection rates, length of hospital stay, or how many patients have open surgery vs. laparoscopy. Now we're firmly into the part of the book where he gives us anecdotes and examples to explain why this is a good thing.

The most recognizable example for most USAers would be Walter Reed Medical Center and the 2007 patient neglect scandal*. Makary states that Reed staff had had concerns for years, but few reported anything and what did get reported internally was ignored. If public reporting of patient outcomes had been required back then, the problem would have been noticed and corrected much earlier, and things would never have gotten as bad as they had. Nothing, he says, gets healthcare executives out of their offices and into the patient care units faster than a threat to the hospital's image.

Returned to Zombies vs. Unicorns, by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier (editors). To recap, this is twelve stories, six about zombies and six about unicorns, written by various YA authors. The first two stories were a bit weak, so I lost interest in this collection for a while. They're getting better though.

Almost done with The Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien - Book Six, Chapter 5, "The Steward and the King". The guy went to the place and did the thing, so the rest of the book appears to be rotating POVs showing the fallout.

Side note, this is the only book I've read this year with a LEGO video game adaptation. I started playing that on my PS Vita yesterday. It's fun in that LEGO way, and they use voice work from the Peter Jackson films in the cutscenes. It goes quickly though; I'm an hour in and I'm already at Rivendell.

* Walter Reed Medical Center is the premier hospital for US servicemen, and in 2007 the public learned that certain parts of the hospital were unsanitary and the staff neglectful. We Muricans have a certain degree of reverence for our servicemen, perhaps more than is healthy, but in this case some good came of it. The public were appalled that injured soldiers were being treated this way, several executives resigned, and the new leaders took appropriate action.

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Finished Don Quijote, by Miguel de Cervantes and translated by Edith Grossman. I would say that it has its charms, in other words it has some serious flaws but I like it anyway. The slapstick and gross-out comedy of the first half of Book One didn't do anything for me, but I really enjoyed the Moorish tales and the metafiction aspect of Book Two.

I was also surprised by how endearing Don Quijote and Sancho Panza become by the end of the book. Crazy though they may be, they're good people at heart and (Quijote in particular) endure the constant jeers and pranks with good humor.

Finished Beyond the Pale, by Elana Dykewomon. To recap, this was a coming-to-America story set around the turn of the last century. I think it does well at capturing the feeling of a time and place, of the immigrant families who escaped oppression in their homeland but found a new kind of hardship in the difficult and unstable lives of factory workers.

Started The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien. I plan to read this at about five chapters a week for the next three months, so right now I'm just through the prologue and the first chapter. I've seen the movies so I know the basic plot, but otherwise I'm not sure what else to expect other than songs, poems, and a divisive figure named Tom Bombadil.

Started 1776, by David McCullough. This and John Adams have been sitting on my shelf for years, and I figured this was as good a time as any to get to it.

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Finished: Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neill Gaimon

  • I don't read much comedic literature, but I really enjoyed this. I found some parts to drag her and there, but overall very creative and comedic.

The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien

  • This is my fifth (or is it sixth) attempt to get through this trilogy. I have read The Hobbit, and forced my way through The Silmarillion, but I just need to accept at this point the books are not for me even though I love the films.


War and Peace, by Tolstoy

  • I want to read this before watching the Criterion released version of the film and the series by the BBC. I am taking it very slowly, and while it is a bit intimidating, I am enjoying it so far. [r/ayearofwarandpeace] ( has enhanced the experience greatly.

The Last Days of Night, by Graham Moore

  • really quick read that I am enjoying so far.
Comment from [Reddit user] with 4 upvotes on /r/books/

Halfway through Moon Called, by Patricia Briggs. This is my first experience with urban paranormal fantasy, and I like it so far. It's not the sort of book that I expect to learn any life lessons from, but it's engaging and fun.

The Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien - Book Three (first half of Two Towers), Chapter Four, "Treebeard".

Aside from those, I'm also auditioning books to read at the office. The Talent Code came highly recommended, but I'm wary of anything that claims to be "based on the latest neuroscience", and so far I feel I'm right to be skeptical. If the myelin angle encourages people to try to learn new things and not just accept that they're old and can't learn anything, I guess that's a win, but to me it feels like he's just name-dropping science, using it to make his book sound more trustworthy.

The prologue also leads me to distrust the author. It's titled "The girl who did a month's worth of practice in six minutes", a phrase he repeats in the body, but then he says that for the most crucial part of that six minutes "she accelerated her learning speed by ten times." A couple of minutes times ten does not equal the 10-30 hours of practice that someone at Clarissa's level would get in a month.

I then tried Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of our Nature. I like it so far, but we've yet to get into any of the hard claims and proofs; he's still recapping how brutal the past was.

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Brain on Fire, by Susannah Cahalan - about halfway through, right after Dr. Najjar says the title line. I've noticed that most of the female-authored books that I read are this type of narrative journalism, and this book is a good example of why I enjoy them. It's a true story, as near as Cahalan can tell it considering the circumstances, but it maintains the limited point of view and personal feeling that a more conventional history like 1776 lacks.

A Man Called Ove, by Frederik Bachman - about 100 pages in ("A Clown Called Beppo"). Back in my teens, there was an episode of Rocko's Modern Life where the boys for some reason go on a seniors cruise. They complain to each other about the crotchety seniors, but then the show takes a serious moment to explain where they're coming from. A passenger tells the boys that if he's a grump, it may be due to his gradually failing health, his increasing isolation from the world, and seeing his friends die off. That seems to be Ove's story as well; if he's abrupt and standoffish, it's because he's learned to be.

Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien - finished with The Two Towers, moving on to Return of the King. I like this second volume better than the first, mainly because narrative feels more focused. It stays with one party for each "book" and there's less idle chatter about the mythology and geography of the world. What world building there is feels organic, as opposed to the contrived expository monologues of Fellowship.

Comment from [Reddit user] with 4 upvotes on /r/books/

This week I FINALLY started The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R Tolkien I purchased the trilogy back in December last year and it has taken this long to actually start reading it because it took me a month and a half to finish The Stand (which was amazing, btw). For now I think I'll read each book separately, not consecutively as I have at least 8 other titles on my shelf that need a bit of love. Ah the joys of being a book hoarder

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On the last chapter of 1776, by David McCullough. It's been a pretty slow read, but definitely worthwhile. With US history written by US authors there's a tendency toward hero worship, but that's not the case here. Washington is certainly shown in a good light, but McCullough also doesn't hesitate to point out Washington's indecision or inexperience.

The Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien - Book Two, Chapter Three, "The Ring Goes South". Here we see Tolkien's affinity for languages, as Gimli mentions several places (half of which I expect to never hear of again) and all of their alternate names. From page 276 of my copy:

[Ahead of us are the mountains] Baraz, Zirak, Shathûr... under them lies Khazad-dûm, the Darrowdelf, that is now called the Black Pit, Moria in the Elvish tongue. Yonder stands Barazinbar, the Redhorn, cruel Caradhras; and beyond him are Silvertine and Cloudyhead: Celebdil the White, and Fanuidhol the Grey, that we call Zirakzigil and Bundushathûr.

For all of Tolkien's attention to geographic and linguistic detail though, he skims over lots of other stuff. Only a few people's outfits are described in detail, and meals are often a one-line affair.

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Most of the way through Moon Called, by Patricia Briggs - urban paranormal mystery, quite entertaining aside from the old "two guys are competing for the protagonista's affections" subplot.

Halfway through The Vegetarian, by Han Kang - I thought it was going to be about a lady going veg and being ostracized for it. It is that, but it gets much weirder.

The Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien - Book Three (of six), Chapter Eight, "The Road to Isengard". It's a very slow-paced book, slower even than Les Miserables with its long digressions. Before any action there's an immense amount of scene-setting and history. No detail is too minute and no conversation too routine to mention.

That's not a bad thing, mind you, just different from what I'm used to. I watched the Mr. Rogers documentary this weekend and one of the first things they said was that if you asked a professional what makes for good television and then did the opposite of everything he told you to, you'd get "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood". That's kind of how this is; we're almost halfway through The Two Towers and we haven't once checked in with the Ring-Bearer. It shouldn't work, but it does.

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I'm finishing Fire and Fury, by Michael Wolff if just a fraction of the tales in that book is true, the Trump government is in bad shape. I'm returning to a beloved classic The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien which I haven't reread in years, so I'm looking forward to how it will feel this time.

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The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien

Technically, I didn’t start this week, but I did start Book Two of Fellowship of the Ring today. I read the Hobbit a few weeks back and decided to jump right into LotR. I tried to read this some 15 years ago and just couldn’t do it. I never even got past the Expected Party. But now I am flying through this book. The one I have on my tablet includes all three parts in a single file, and I have increased the text size to make reading a little easier for me. I did some math to figure out my daily goals and to get through this 1900-page monster, I would have to read 12 pages a day to finish by January 1st. A humble and noble goal, I feel. In reality, I only have to read 1,481 pages, so I’m already going to finish ahead of schedule if I stick to my goal. But since I’ve been reading for the past two weeks, I’ve been keeping an average pace of a chapter a day! (About 20 pages). So I’m trying to keep that pace, no matter how long the chapters get. We’ll see how that lasts.