The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Hobbit; or, There and Back Again
J.R.R. Tolkien
(HarperCollinsPublishers, London: 1999)
Originally published in 1937 by George Allen & Unwin

READ: May 2005

This is a wonderful book. I don't think I really need to say any more, do I?

But really, The Hobbit, or There and Back Again is a marvelous tale and everyone should read it at least once, even if they're not a Lord of the Rings fan. The Hobbit was of course written about 17 years earlier, in 1937. The book tells the fantastical tale of Mr. Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit of the Shire in Middle-Earth, and how he was "persuaded" to join a troupe of dwarves out to reclaim long-lost treasures and land from Smaug, a terrible dragon. He was hired to be a thief, but he wasn't much of a thief, I'm afraid; in fact, he knew very little indeed about the profession before he set out. At just under 300 pages, The Hobbit exacts much less of a time commitment than its companion LOTR, and if you have the same edition as me, it includes the first chapter from LOTR which of course is intended to entice you to continue on to the further challenge of Tolkien's larger masterpiece.

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

The Diary of A Young Girl
Anne Frank
(Penguin Books, New York: 1997)
Edited by Otto H. Frank and Mirjam Pressler
Translated by Susan Massotty
Originally published (in abbreviated form) in 1947

READ: April-May 2005

I think everyone has heard of this book, even if they have not read it. Like The Netherlands (Lonely Planet Guide), I read this in anticipation of our trip to Amsterdam in May. I knew that once we were there, we would be visiting the Anne Frank Museum. I knew the broad strokes of Anne Frank's story, but had never read her diary.

This version is called "The Definitive Edition". Basically, other previous editions had been published with much editing - this includes pretty much everything Anne wrote about. It is a charming and sad portrait of a young girl whose life was so drastically changed by the war. And the whole time that you read it, you are sad too, since you know how this ends, and you wish it were a "Make Your Own Adventure" book so that you could change the ending and make Anne's diary continue on beyond August 1, 1944. (On August 4, an SS sergeant and at least three Dutch members of the Security Police made their way in to the Secret Annex, likely tipped off by someone, and arrested all the occupants. Of the 8 persons who lived for about three years in the confines of the Secret Annex, only Otto Frank, Anne's father, survived the concentration camps which followed.)

I don't think I can add much more to this review. Everyone should read it. It's definitely a necessary read if you are going to visit Amsterdam and especially if you are going to see the Museum (which, in turn, is a necessary part of visiting Amsterdam). It really personalizes a dark part of recent world history, and Anne's last entry, poignantly personal, ends on a very faint note of hope, which feels even more chilling when you next read the words "Anne's diary ends here" and know what that, in fact, means. And if you can, go to the Museum, or at least visit the website.