Announcing Summer School: Tolkien 101 – Index

Tolkien holds a special place in my book-heart, and in my more desiccated heart-heart.  It does not go too far, I think, to say that I wouldn’t be doing any of this but for Tolkien.  And by any of this, I’m not sure that I only mean the blogging.  It was Tolkien who turned a spark of a love for reading into a roaring conflagration.  A poor kid from the southern Appalachian Mountains, it was largely a facility with the written word that got me from there to here.

It almost didn’t happen.  And then I wouldn’t be giving you an entire summer of posts on Tolkien (you will be able to find every post linked here).  I will be posting on Tolkien every Thursday through the end of August.  This is no truncated summer session.  Read on for more about my history with Tolkien and more about what you can expect from Summer School: Tolkien 101.

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Why I Will Be Tagging Authors in my Reviews

A frequent admonition is circulated around Twitter: Don’t tag authors in Tweets linking to negative reviews.  I have boosted the signal for that message myself, and on more than one occasion.  But you know what?  That’s bullshit.  I’m through giving writers a vote whether I tag them in a “negative” review.

Why?  Read on.

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Music Monday: The Last of My Kind by Jason Isbell

This will be my last regular reblog from Hillbilly Highways. I will try to limit it from here on out to only the most relevant posts and to linking to the most popular Hillbilly Highways posts in my month-in-review posts. So if you like what I am doing and have not yet followed Hillbilly Highways, please do so!

Hillbilly Highways

I know I could have gone with the better known song, Elephant.  Believe me, I’ll get to it.  But this is the one that gives me a pain down deep in my gut (like Tim McGraw in Friday Night Lights).  It taps a little bit into the cultural disassociation I felt leaving the country for a succession of big cities (albeit amped up to eleven).

I don’t know if there is a better writer out there right now working in the song space than Jason Isbell.

I tried to go to college but I didn’t belong
Everything I said was either funny or wrong
They laughed at my boots, laughed at my jeans
Laughed when they gave me amphetamines
Left me alone in a bad part of town
Thirty-six hours to come back down
Am I the last of my kind?

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Tolkien 101: The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings by Philip and Carol Zaleski

At some point even a “101” look at Tolkien has to consider the other Inklings.  I had read both the fiction and nonfiction of C.S. Lewis, but The Fellowship was the first book I read to really cover the other Inklings.  Ostensibly, the focus is on Lewis, Tolkien, Owen Barfield, and Charles Williams.  Lewis, “the most celebrated and execrated.”  Barfield, “the least known but, some say, the most profound.”  Williams, “first to be born, the first to publish, the first to die.”  Tolkien, the, well, Tolkien.  But the cover, with equal quadrants for Tolkien, Lewis, Barfield, and Williams, gives the wrong picture.  Tolkien and especially Lewis dominate (I would complain if they didn’t).  Charles Williams, a bit of a latecomer to the Inklings, doesn’t get the Zaleskis’ focus until page 221.  Nor do the four get all the attention.  Other Inklings show up regularly.  Lewis’ brother Warnie is arguably the fifth Inkling here.  It is through his brother’s chapters, but Warnie is as present as Williams or Barfield.  Tolkien is the only one who does not perhaps get his due, but the Zaleskis likely had a reader like me in mind, coming in mostly with knowledge of Tolkien.

If you’re looking for a place to start diving into nonfiction on Tolkien, I probably wouldn’t recommend The Fellowship (I would go with Author of the Century by Tom Shippey instead).  But it is an excellent choice when you are ready to broaden your studies to the Inklings more generally (if you are instead interested in just Tolkien and Lewis, I would go with A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War by Joseph Loconte).  It is also a good place to start if your interest in more generally in the Inklings than in Tolkien (or even if you have some antipathy toward him, given his somewhat muted role here).  The Fellowship is a doorstopper, but one written with considerable literary flair and chock full of information.

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Country Noir: The Girl From Blind River by Gale Massey

Today over at Hillbilly Highways I finally reviewed a new release. The Girl From Blind River is a country noir about a young woman trying to break free from her criminal uncle and the corrupt judge who is his business partner. And poker.

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Finally, a book that weren’t published years ago!  The Girl From Blind River just came out yesterday, but I got my grimy hands on a review copy.

Jamie has got problems.  She is stuck in a dead-end town with nothing much going on beyond a fertilizer plant.  Her uncle has raised her since her mother went to prison (she’s out now), but his “raising” has consisted in significant part of her helping out with his small-scale gambling operation.  And things go very, very wrong when a minor football legend comes into town and Jamie decides to make the jump from online to casino poker.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Best Books I’ve Read in 2018

I can’t say it has been a great reading year thus far.  Sadly, I haven’t read that much.  I have only finished 31 books so far this year.  And, while few of those books have been bad or average, even fewer have been great.  Two of those were rereads.  Rereads that should come as no surprise if you have been following my Tolkien 101 series.  Given that I’ve read just three 5-star and two 4.5-star books this year, I am doing a Top 5 post instead of a Top 10 post.

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by Jana at The Artsy Reader Girl.

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Music Monday: Shreveport by Turnpike Troubadours

I have something nice and peppy for you over at Hillbilly Highways. The Turnpike Troubadour’s Shreveport will have you tasting the hot crawfish and cold beer.

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I’m going to avoid going heavy again this week.  It occurs to me, given I use “Texas country” right in the blog name, that I have been neglected actual Texas country.  What could be more Texas country than a band from Oklahoma?  (Hey, I did my swing through Texas in Houston.  As a Houstonian, I consider everything north of Austin to be Oklahoma anyway.)  The Turnpike Troubadours are absolutely one of my favorite five acts active today.

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Tolkien 101: Author of the Century by Tom Shippey

Tom Shippey believes J.R.R. Tolkien is the author of the century and does not care who knows it.  After laying out the case against—the opinions of literati and the intellectual elite, many of whom obviously never read Tolkien—Shippey moves on to the case for—facts regarding The Lord of the Rings sales figures and its dominance of pretty much any reader survey.

Written by one of Tolkien’s academic successors, Author of the Century is not a biography of J.R.R. Tolkien.  Rather, it takes a critical look at each of his major works of fiction (with a particular emphasis on The Lord of the Rings), with more cursory looks at his minor works of fiction.  Shippey’s academic background allows him to do so in the context of Tolkien’s professional life, his academic work, and the Anglo-Saxon mythical tradition.

The Hobbit, each volume of the Lord of the Rings, and the Silmarillion each get their own chapter, with more cursory looks at his minor works of fiction.  Shippey addresses substantive criticism of Tolkien as relevant along the way.

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