When we think of fantasy novels for young adults, one name that consistently arises is C.S. Lewis, whose seven-title "The Chronicles of Narnia" series has sold more than 100 million copies. They were written between 1949 and 1954, and remain topical.
In the decades that followed, a "reading crisis" among the YA crowd caused worry for parents, teachers, librarians and, yes, publishers. Kids had to be prodded to pick up a book. They were simply too preoccupied with team sports, hanging with their friends, playing video games, watching TV and movies and, later, with social networking.
That changed in 1997, when J.K. Rowling singlehandedly brought a landslide of renewed interest to reading among the young with the first entry in her monumental "Harry Potter" series. Readership exploded, making parents and teachers very happy.
A trove of fantasy novels for young adults has followed since Harry first left for Hogwarts. Included, of course, are the can't-get-enough-of "Twilight" and "The Hunger Games" series. Interesting to note that many YA titles have increasingly crossed over into adult readership, a phenomenon so common it can no longer be regarded as a "guilty pleasure."
Let's back up and remember that much of this movement has its roots with Oxford University professor J.R.R. Tolkien the "father of high fantasy." He published "The Hobbit: There and Back Again" in 1937 and its sequel, "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, in the mid-1950s. Every generation since has "rediscovered" those compelling stories.
The "Rings" movie franchise was hugely successful, and prepped audiences for one of this year's most anticipated films, "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," directed by Peter Jackson and due Dec. 14.
As a tribute to Tolkien, the Sacramento Public Library has put together a special program, "Full Circle: An Exploration of Tolkien's 'The Lord of the Rings.' " The free series is open to all, at 2 p.m. the first and third Sundays of the month through December at the Sacramento Central Library, 828 I St.; (916) 264-2920, www.saclibrary.org.
Here's the lineup:
Next Sunday: Uncovering Epic, Myth and Archetypes in Tolkien's Middle-earth
Oct. 7: Moral Realities of "The Lord of the Rings"
Oct. 21: Going Medieval: Costuming Characters in "The Lord of the Rings," and a Middle-earth fashion show.
Nov. 4: Who Is Tom Bombadil? and There and Back Again: A Photo Journey to Middle-earth/ New Zealand.
Nov. 18: Living by the Sword: The Art of Swordsmanship
Dec. 2: Smaug and Medieval Dragon Mythology
Dec. 16: The Writing on the Ring: A Tengwar Writing Lesson, and a "Hobbit" discussion group.
The SEALs and bin Laden
Destined to spend a long, long time on best-seller lists is "No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama bin Laden" by Mark Owen, a pseudonym for Matt Bissonnette (Dutton, $26.95, 336 pages).
The Navy SEAL was part of the raid that resulted in bin Laden's death last year.
The talk is that Bissonnette's autobiographical telling of the events doesn't quite match the official version released to the public by the White House. The Associated Press noted that the book "raises questions as to whether the terror mastermind presented a clear threat when SEALs first fired upon him."
Further, CIA and Pentagon analysts "examined the manuscript's possible disclosure of classified information." They must have given it a passing grade, as the book is now available.
New on the shelves
Three nonfiction titles caught our eye:
"Journeys On the Silk Road" by Joyce Morgan and Conrad Walters (Lyons, $24.95, 336 pages) is a fascinating account of the "Diamond Sutra," one of the world's oldest books and a "key Buddhist teaching" (868 A.D.). It was found in a cave full of ancient literary treasures. Conjoined to its discovery and fate was archaeologist Aurel Stein, who "rediscovered" and walked the Silk Road a legendary trade route in his quest for the venerated tome.
"Dreamland" (W.W. Norton, $25.95, 304 pages) by journalist David K. Randall explores new findings and ongoing research about an activity that consumes almost a third of our lives sleeping.
Didn't nearly every Sacramentan shop at least once at Weinstock's, the mini-chain of local department stores that closed in 1995? If you were among them, take a look at its history in "Weinstock's: Sacramento's Finest Department Store" (The History Press, $19.99, 144 pages) by Annette Kassis.
Authors in person
Reading a book is one thing, but meeting the author adds another dimension. Upcoming author appearances include:
Sept. 13: Paul Gallender for "Sonny Liston: The Real Story Behind the Ali-Liston Fights," 7 p.m. at Time Tested Books, 1114 21st St., Sacramento; (916) 447-5696.
Sept. 14: Steve Unger for "Dancing In the Streets," 7:30 p.m. at Avid Reader, 617 Second St., Davis; (530) 758-4040.
Sept. 15: Nina Brown for "Return of Love to Planet Earth: Memoir of a Reluctant Visionary," 1 p.m. at Planet Earth Rising, 625 Sutter St., Folsom; (916) 355-8844.
Sept. 20: Milo Peled for "The General's Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine," 7 p.m. at Time Tested Books, 1114 21st. St., Sacramento; (916) 447-5696.
Sept. 21: University of California, Davis, physics professor Thomas A. Cahill for the sci-fi "Annals of the Omega Project: A Trilogy," 7:30 p.m. at Avid Reader, 617 Second St., Davis; (530) 758-4040.
LET US KNOW
If you have information on author appearances, book sales, writing seminars, writers club meetings or other book- related special events, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org at least two weeks before the event. To read the online calendar, go to www.sacbee.com/books. Questions? Call The Bee's Allen Pierleoni, (916) 321-1128.