Like most of you, I like to take a book along on a trip. That doesn’t mean that I’m going to read it. As you all know, I am a famously slow reader. It’s just nice to have one along in case the spirit moves.
Such a chance came up on our recent jaunt to Florida. We had done all the sightseeing we were going to do one day and the mister had gone in for a nap. I sat out poolside to enjoy the sunlight glinting off the water and the warm late-March breeze rustling the palm trees — and I opened my book.
My book is “A Curious Invitation; The Forty Greatest Parties in Fiction” by Suzette Field. I highly recommend it for travel reading. It provides the perfect poolside pastime as it is light and amusing. I have traveled with this book for about two years now. It lives in my carry-on and I only read it when I’m on a trip; I’m about half-way through.
In her short chapters, Field writes extravagant detail about parties that take place in works of fiction great and small. She reports on the guest lists, the invitations, the dress code and the menus, as well as the activities that take place at the parties. She adds humorous editorial comments and gives context to the literary arc contributed by each party. The special events she illuminates vary widely: from Belshazzar’s Feast from “The Book of Daniel” in the Bible, to Gatsby’s Saturday Night Parties from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”, to A Pooh Party featuring beloved characters from A.A. Milne’s “Winnie the Pooh”, to more raucous affairs such as The Beverly Hills Party from “Hollywood Wives” by Jackie Collins.
My chapter for that Florida vacation afternoon was, Bilbo Baggin’s Eleventy-First Birthday Party as celebrated in “The Fellowship of the Ring” by J.R.R. Tolkien.
It began, “When Mr. Bilbo Baggins…..”
“I just saw that name “Bilbo Baggins” somewhere the other day. Where the heck was that?”
“…….Mr Bilbo Baggins of Bags End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday….’”
“Wait a sec,” I thought, “Eleventy-first!?! What the heck…?”
I skimmed the page for some kind of explanation.
“Oh, there it is. He was turning 111. Huh. Old.”
“……his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.”
“I never read the Ring trilogy,” my mind told me, as if I didn’t already know that fact, “I wonder why. Just never liked alternate universes much, I guess. Give me good old PEI and Anne Shirley any day. Now there’s a girl who was down-to-earth — not in middle-earth, wherever that is. No dragons or trolls or wizards. Just potatoes and pigtails.”
“Bilbo’s co-host is his nephew and heir Frodo Baggins…..”
“Oh, Frodo! That was a crossword puzzle answer yesterday!”
“….and heir Frodo Baggins, who shares his birthday. Frodo is turning thirty-three, which is when a hobbit traditionally comes of age…..”
“Hobbits. Hmm. I’ve never seen the movies either. I wonder what they looked like in the movies. I know. I could look for images on Google.”
I picked up my phone.
“Oh, I’ve got new email. Ha, ha! Here’s one from my good friend. Ooo. It’s a long one. How nice.”
I read my email. After that I checked for new posts on Facebook. And then I went back to email to look at an ad for shoes from zappos.com that had popped up.
“Right. I need to replace my loafers.”
I keyed “loafers” in the search line. 5 million options came up. I browsed them all.
When I was done, I yawned and stretched and then remembered that I was going to look for Hobbits on Google to see what they look like. I looked back at the page where I left off.
“……when a hobbit comes of age. Hobbits of old lived in holes in the ground….”
“Oooh! What was that bird that flew past? Where is he? Oh, there on the palm tree! Let’s see. A bluebird maybe? No, too big! Oh, this is exciting! A bird alert. I’ll look it up on Google! Oh darn, it’s gone. Where was I? Oh, yeah,”
“……lived in holes in the ground….”
“I wonder where that bird lives. Maybe there are alligators out on the golf course. I need an iced tea. Yawn. Maybe a nap. Those chairs over there look comfy. No, I’m fine here, nice and shady. What time is it anyway? How long until dinner? I could use a snack. I wonder what you eat if you live in middle-earth? Earthworms? Potatoes could work. They grow underground. Hey, Anne of Green Gables and Prince Edward Island potatoes meet Bilbo Baggins and Frodo Hobbiton potatoes. Something in common.”
“My heaven, I really do have the attention span of a gnat, don’t I? Alright, Lesley, concentrate on reading.”
“….lived in holes in the ground, but these days it is a custom maintained only by……”