That’s right, friends, September 21–27 is Tolkien Week! (It’s also the best because it’s Banned Books Week, but Jessi will get to that later.) There are plenty of amazing writers in the world. And some day in the future I would love to start Neil Gaiman Week or Robin McKinley Week or something. But one of the only ones (if not the only one) who has his own week of celebration is J.R.R. Tolkien. And it is well deserved.
I’ve talked plenty on this blog about what makes Tolkien such an important author and I don’t want to bore you, so here’s the SparkNotes version:
- Though the fantasy genre has existed pretty much since the dawn of fiction (especially if you consider ancient epics like The Epic of Gilgamesh and Beowulf to be fantasy), Tolkien’s works of the early to mid 20th century gave meteoric rise to the genre’s popularity and inarguably made possible the publication of literally all popular fantasy works since. Seriously, there is not a single writer in fantasy today who doesn’t owe a huge debt to Tolkien.
- Tolkien’s works not only defined a genre, but they also exemplify one of the most difficult and important aspects of fiction: world creation. The completeness of Middle-earth and its inhabitants, down to such details as histories that have no direct bearing on the plots of the major novels, so specific that Tolkien’s languages are equipped with all the trappings of linguistic maturation including etymologies and even dead languages.
- Tolkien’s works and he himself were largely concerned with mythology. Because of this, his work is not not merely telling a story for its own sake, but recognizing and celebrating a story’s significance to the people who told it.
- This list could literally be infinite, so I’m going to leave it at that for now.
This Tolkien Week, we’ll be having our usual Tolkien Quiz contest! Come in and take the quiz! The highest scorer will win a fabulous Tolkien-related prize and everyone who takes the quiz will be entered in a raffle for a $20.00 KU Gift Certificate! So even if you know nothing about Tolkien, you could still win big!
The 20th is the birthday of that devilishly handsome rapscallion of a browncoat, Malcolm Reynolds!
For those of you who are not aware, allow me to go a little fangirl on you. It begins with the show that has a huge cult following, Firefly. Mal is the captain of Serentiy, a trading ship. He’s a rogue outlaw with a heart of gold. The show is basically a Western… IN SPACE! Mal is Han Solo but better. Believe me there has been much, much debate on this subject, and I’m going to have to agree with geekdad.
Mal has the tendency to get into tight spots but is always ready with a well aimed quip or barb, no matter how ridiculous the situation is.
Captain Reynolds is a super badass. A natural leader, witty, a bit of a scoundrel with a soft heart (although you’ll count yourself lucky if you EVER see it), he’s pretty much my dream guy. So Happy Birthday Mal, you adorable hunk, you.
Here’s what Katie has to say about The Girl In the Flammable Skirt:
A fantastic debut collection of short stories by one of my favorite authors, Aimee Bender. Stories like “Loser,” the tale of a boy who has the magical ability to find any lost object — except what he himself has lost — or “The Rememberer,” whose protagonist deals with the loss of a relationship when her boyfriend begins to experience “reverse evolution,” read like modern-day fairy tales, the absurd elements illuminating the complex, relatable emotions under the surface. This quick read made me want to search out and read everything that Aimee Bender has ever written. Weird in the best way possible, well written and completely original, The Girl in the Flammable Skirt stays with you long after it’s put away on the book shelf. Try it out and let us know what you think!
Book club meets at the store on Sunday, September 28th at 6pm!
“So Matilda’s strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea. These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone.” — from Matilda
It’s that time of year again,
time to consume outrageous amounts of pumpkin spice flavored food and drink time to celebrate Roald Dahl! Why? Because it’s his birthday September 13th, and of course, because he was a great writer with an enormous imagination!
Roald Dahl delighted generations of children with his captivating, original, and slightly dark stories like Matilda, The Witches, The BFG, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and James and the Giant Peach. Some parents, for their part, have found his writing to be off-putting (he is a member of the Banned Authors That You Should Definitely Read Club) and bristled at the thought of a world where adults are regularly outsmarted, more often than not the villains, and could be flattened by a giant peach on the loose at any moment. But those details just made the books better, right?! Real talk: adults aren’t always smart or kind or the types of people to be trusted.
What an amazing thing to discover as a child, and how great did it feel to read about awful Mr. Wormwood getting his comeuppance again and again. He deserved a hat glued to his head, Ms. Trunchbull deserved a newt filled water glass telekinetically thrown at her and those awful parents on the Willy Wonka tour deserved blue balloon-like or stretched like taffy children! Children know this, and will continue to read his original, updated fairy tales forever. How could they resist when Dahl so brilliantly filled his books with details like lick-able wallpaper, a boy triumphantly eating an huge chocolate cake in front of a cheering crowd, or the weird description of the witches with their blue spit, wiggly nostrils and square block feet!
For adults who still sympathize with James and Matilda and Charlie, (and are still trying to picture “square candies that look ‘round” in their heads) Roald Dahl also wrote over sixty dark and surprising short stories, published in the New Yorker, Harpers and in book collections as well. I also highly recommend checking out his autobiographies Boy and Going Solo, quick reads with great insight into the life events that influenced his writing.
Re-read a favorite to celebrate his birthday, check out his fun website or make your own chocolate cake or edible pillows with this fantastic book!
Thank you Roald Dahl!
So, like, listen. There’s this little holiday on September 12th that few people have heard of (though I’m trying my darnedest to raise awareness). It’s Video Games Day, you guys! How much do you want to jump up and punch the air when you hear that? Seriously, we here at KU comprise a group of pretty avid gamers, and we’ll be celebrating the holiday by reminiscing on all the super awesome (and super crappy) video games we’ve come across over the years.
When people ask me what I like about video games, I always point to the storytelling. Some games suck at it, but on the whole it’s been getting better each year. I’m sure you’ve heard of The Last of Us (featuring fake — or is it real? — Ellen Page), which debuted last year and was the source of salivation for many a nerd. I’ve played it and I can’t WAIT to play it again. These days, video games are like movies (or books — although regular paper books are pretty awesome too, guys) on steroids. This game felt like an hours-long zombie flick with some nature film footage thrown in for good measure. The pretty moments in The Last of Us are quite endless, like this one scene where you’re hunting a deer with a bow and arrow and tracking it by its blood trail. I mean, that sort of makes me cry, but OH MY GOSH IT’S SO BEAUTIFUL, SO I’LL LET IT SLIDE.
I have two favorite video games, one silly and one serious. The silly (but also quite serious) one is Banjo-Kazooie, which came out on N64, like, nearly two decades ago now? I FEEL LIKE A GRANDPA. What I love about this game — besides the contagious collectathon atmosphere, and the world-hopping, which are components of numerous other games of that generation — is the dialogue. This game makes fun of itself in such an endearing way. Like, one character will use a terrible pun, and the other will insult him. To a younger me, those sorts of gags were amazing. And, also, IT’S A LOT OF FUN! I love jumping between the worlds and hearing all the musical scores for each environment. Banjo-Kazooie’s sequel, Banjo-Tooie (I’m not really sure if these hyphens are necessary, but we’re going for it), is also great, but, I think, ends up introducing too many confusing and complicating elements into the gameplay. Like the numerous different types of eggs you can collect, and the fact that you have to use portals to travel around a single world because they’re that vast. Which I think was something that was supposed to be impressive, but ends up being exhausting. Anyways, enough about that. If you’re familiar with these games, you’ll want to listen to a song featured in Banjoo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, a TERRIBLE GAME — AVOID, AVOID…but the music is fantastic. This little diddy always puts a smile on my face.
My serious pick for favorite game is Final Fantasy X, the first game in the series that I ever played. Friends tell me that earlier iterations are even better, but I can’t get into them. FFX is epic for sure, but it’s also funny, moving, and, at times, really sexy. There’s that one scene where Yuna and Tidus are inexplicably underwater for like five minutes, and (subtext is that) they’re having sex. I felt so guilty — and secretly thrilled — watching that as a youngun. And THE ENDING. Always makes me cry. And, again, that music is spot-on.
Needless to say, I’m very excited too see (and play) the future of video games. But, for now, I’m more than happy to replay the ones that I already know and love. Have fun gaming!
Happy anniversary to one of the most popular and influential sci-fi icons of all time! On September 8th, 1966, the original Star Trek series premiered on NBC. Though its initial low ratings caused it to be canceled after only three seasons (on June 3, 1969), Star Trek’s enduring cult popularity eventually led to syndication and a ton of spin-off material including books, games, five additional TV series and 12 feature films.
Star Trek’s enduring popularity can lately be attributed to the awesome special effects, sterling acting, and excellent writing that have graced the two most recent Star Trek films. Those things were not really a part of the original series, but it garnered and maintained popularity nonetheless. Which brings us to Star Trek’s single greatest attribute: it was science fiction that actually was about science. Sure, the original series may have been laughably overacted. Sure it was incredibly corny. Yes, it literally used the same set every week to portray various alien planets. But none of that matters, because Star Trek’s great saving grace was that it was really all about humanity’s insatiable curiosity. Star Trek taught us that even in three hundred years when humanity is traveling through space with no more inconvenience than what we fly with now, there will still be things to discover. There will still be challenges to overcome. In short, there will still be a search for meaning. Gene Roddenberry was a freakin’ genius.
Ah, Bourbon. The ‘Native Spirit’ of America. Rather Bad Ass, don’t ya think? I really don’t think there is anything better at the end of the day than a glass of good bourbon. Bourbon Heritage Month came into being in 2007 by a Kentucky Senator (Kentucky is known as Bourbon Country, fyi) ‚ and celebrates the “family heritage, tradition and deep-rooted legacy that the bourbon industry contributes to the United States.” Celebrating responsibly and in moderation, of course.
Here’s the thing about me, I love bourbon, don’t care for whiskey. Which is really strange because all bourbons are considered whiskeys, but not all whiskeys are considered bourbons. But I swear, I can taste the difference. So what’s the difference between bourbon and whiskey? Short explanation is how it’s aged. Whiskey can be aged in re-used barrels, but bourbon must be aged in NEW charred AMERICAN white oak barrels. ‘Murica! After the barrels have been used once, many other spirits (like tequila, scotch, etc) are aged in them to help impart the bourbon flavor to those spirits. Hey, why waste a barrel, am I right?
Also, here’s a pretty cool infograph about bourbon. I LOVE INFOGRAPHS! Especially ones about alcohol!
So, this month, get out there and celebrate Bourbon Heritage Month by gettin’ yer bourbon on! I raise my glass to you!
Honey is one of the oldest sweeteners known to man. There is evidence of humans gathering honey to eat as far in the past as 8,000 years ago (as compared to common table sugar, which, at the earliest, may have been discovered and used around 800 B.C.) Sugar only began to rival honey as a sweetening agent after the Crusades, and it remained a luxury item until the 19th century when it finally completed its transformation to basic human necessity. So honey has been a pretty big deal for most of human history.
And baklava is pretty much the best thing you can make with honey. (Although honey is also great in a variety of beverages like tea and lemonade!) If you’ve never had baklava, let me break it down for you. Baklava is a pastry from the former Ottoman Empire (though variations exist in many of the surrounding cultures and most people think baklava originated in Greece!) and it is made by layering filo, chopped nuts, butter, and a syrup made with honey. And it is damned delectable.
But National Honey Month isn’t all about the amazing treats one can make with honey. Any discussion of honey must include bees, which a) are totally cool, and b) are in decline. Which sucks, both because the cause of the bees’ decline remains unknown and because the loss of honeybee populations would have severely adverse effects on agriculture. (And the amount of honey that might be available for use in baklava and other recipes in the future.)
So make sure you get you some honey this month and make delicious treats with it. And appreciate the bees! They may not be around forever!
And! As an added bonus, here’s the baklava recipe that I use! I generally use pecans or walnuts for my baklava, though pistachios are traditional and I read something recently about using hazelnuts, so I’m probably definitely going to try that some time soon. Enjoy!
1 (16 ounce) package phyllo dough
1 pound chopped nuts
1 cup butter
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup water
1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup honey
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F(175 degrees C). Butter the bottoms and sides of a 9x13 inch pan.
2. Chop nuts and toss with cinnamon. Set aside. Unroll phyllo dough. Cut whole stack in half to fit pan. Cover phyllo with a dampened cloth to keep from drying out as you work. Place two sheets of dough in pan, butter thoroughly. Repeat until you have 8 sheets layered. Sprinkle 2 — 3 tablespoons of nut mixture on top. Top with two sheets of dough, butter, nuts, layering as you go. The top layer should be about 6 — 8 sheets deep.
3. Using a sharp knife cut into diamond or square shapes all the way to the bottom of the pan. You may cut into 4 long rows the make diagonal cuts. Bake for about 50 minutes until baklava is golden and crisp.
4. Make sauce while baklava is baking. Boil sugar and water until sugar is melted. Add vanilla and honey. Simmer for about 20 minutes.
5. Remove baklava from oven and immediately spoon sauce over it. Let cool. Serve in cupcake papers. This freezes well. Leave it uncovered as it gets soggy if it is wrapped up.