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Nauseating Hobbits; A Perfect Reading Room

November 26, 2010 | by

I finally started reading The Lord of the Rings. I love the films so much that my friend told me, “Oh, you’ll love the books.” Lies. I’m only one hundred pages in and already I think, Really? Another five-page song about a tree or something? I’m looking at the remaining eight-hundred-odd pages and I want to cry. What do I do?

That’s how I felt about the movie—that first one, where Bobo and Bubo and Cowslip and Ian McKellen all team up and meet the elves. It was New Year's Day. The night before, my friend Elaine had thrown a dinner party involving blini, salmon, and a great deal of vodka. That morning I crawled out of bed, pulled down Dubliners, and read “The Dead.” Then I called Elaine. She had just done the same thing. Call it coincidence, call it friendship. We decided that the best course of action—really, the only course of action—was to take the leftover salmon and blini and a bottle of Belgian ale to a late matinee of The Lord of the Rings. We sat in the balcony. The movie lasted approximately five and a half hours. Experiments have shown that even brown bears in the wild will stop eating smoked salmon after the first half pound, or after three hours of sitting there with a pile of salmon in their laps, whichever comes first. After the fourth hour, the salmon will grow offensive in the nostrils of the bear. That’s what happened to us. I have eaten gravlax since then, generally on New Year's with Russian friends, if there is vodka. The sight of a hobbit still makes me want to hurl. As for the books, you have read eighty-five pages farther than I ever could. Life is short.

I saw someone today reading John Hawkes’s The Beetle Leg on the subway. It left me mystified—the book, too, of course, but the fact that someone was reading it on the subway. Though I see it’s common practice, I can’t seem to bring myself to read books that aspire to the status of art on the subway. Airport paperbacks, elevator music, toilet reading—all these are widely acknowledged as degraded forms, and for good reason: The circumstances in which such works are taken in simply aren’t conducive to the appreciation of genuine works of art. But can the subway be much better?

Elevator music isn’t bad because it happens in elevators. An airplane late at night—if you are sitting next to the window and nobody next to you is watching a movie or playing a video game, and there are no babies—can be the best reading room there is. So can a toilet. “Airplane books” are not the fault of airplanes. The trippy thing about Walkmen, when they first came out, was hearing Hugo Largo or the Emperor Concerto, or whatever, while you were standing waiting for the bus that took you to school. By now don’t we take that disjunction for granted? I can’t read on the subway, either, except the Post: I get distracted by the panhandlers and the doo-wop guys or mariachis and the general acting-out of my fellow passengers. But maybe this guy—let’s call him Mister Spoonbill—was headed out to the edge of Bushwick. I can think of worse places to read John Hawkes.

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  1. NY4Ever | November 26, 2010 at 8:02 pm

    Chris Roberts-

    As a fellow “born-and-bred,” thank you for defining what is on ALL of our minds. Born-and-bred, man. Right on.

    The millions of non-born-and-bred that dare think they are New Yorkers, or that they are essential components of NY? Ha! Same for non-Manhattan folks, but maybe a little less so.


  2. brian cullman | November 27, 2010 at 4:59 pm

    It is a big mistake to read John Hawkes on the subway, just as it’s a big mistake to read Celine or Omensetter’s Luck or the Apocrypha. Claustrophobia has its limits, and you need to be able to look out the window every so often to make sure the world, not just the word, is still there.

  3. Stephen Cahaly | November 27, 2010 at 7:33 pm

    To the first question, here’s Frank O’Hara in “Portrait of James Joyce”.

    frost my nuts if it isn’t the saint!
    bon giorno, aloysius, my feathermusking friend!
    draw up a syllogism to rest your fatass on.
    …but to get back to the subject,
    forbisnits thy furgumbang?

    To the second question/comments section, Frank O’Hara wrote New Yorkers into life as great as anyone ever did and he was Bostonian you unwitting importers.

  4. S. Raza | November 28, 2010 at 1:03 pm

    Dear Mr Stein of the Paris Review
    I’m afraid I don’t agree with your view

    I’m a fan of The Lord of the Rings
    Not from New York, just a poor Earthling,

    A modern reader, with a short attention span
    I skipped many passages, and then became a fan

    After I’d ridden rough-shod through the book
    I savoured it again, with each step that I took

    I dare you to see the woods, not the tree
    Start from just before Frodo reaches Bree

    I dare you to read at least the first book
    And all the heavy details to overlook

    Once you bury you feet in the ground
    You’ll love all characters flat or round

    Please note all passages that vou’ve skipped
    Or buy the thin version, already stripped

    Will you skip more in The Return of the King
    Than the first tome of The Lord of the Rings?

    And when you’ve gobbled up most of book three
    To drop me a line, please do feel free.

  5. Lorin Stein | November 28, 2010 at 1:15 pm

    Thank you, S. Raza! I believe that’s our first-ever comment in couplets. And thanks to all other commenters.

    Mr. Roberts, you’ve got me dead to rights: I’m a Washingtonian–and still look up at the buildings. That said, please maintain a civil tone toward your fellow commenters. No insults on this blog, nativist or otherwise.

  6. Georgia | November 30, 2010 at 5:00 pm

    My advice about LORD OF THE RINGS is to just skip all of the songs. Or just think about this: Tolkien was inspired to write the books after reading a book about Finnish grammar.

  7. Alexandra | December 1, 2010 at 2:25 pm

    I read and fell in love with “The Lord of the Rings” when I was quite young, but I was given a few tricks to make the going easier: Read the Hobbit first, and skip the songs. They’re fun if you’re a philologist, or very interested, but a bore otherwise.

  8. Prakash Acharya | December 3, 2010 at 9:09 am

    The songs in The Lord of the Rings can be a bit of a drag so as other commentators have already said – just feel free to skip them. They aren’t essential to the story.

  9. Panayotis Ioannidis | April 6, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    Re: Tolkien: I -and my schoolmates- will never forget having to go through The Hobbit at school, aged twelve or so. (I think that, to stand a chance to like Tolkien, one must either be under ten -and therefore a linguistic genius- or an adult – with the mind of a ten year old boy (do girls really read Tolkien?)). And of course The Hobbit is several thousand pages shorter than The Trilogy. Apart from thoroughly disliking the experience (with the exception of one pupil, who proceeded to read said Trilogy at the same time), we all agreed that our English language teacher, a Scot who seemingly enjoyed the book for all our sakes, was Bilbo incarnate – though somewhat aged.

4 Pingbacks

  1. […] Paris Review – Nauseating Hobbits; A Perfect Reading Room, Lorin Stein […]

  2. […] “The sight of a hobbit still makes me want to hurl.” […]

  3. […] Paris Review – Nauseating Hobbits; A Perfect Reading Room, Lorin Stein […]

  4. […] —Lorin Stein of The Paris Review, who loved the film, The Lord of the Rings so much and finally started reading the book […]

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