Monday, December 28, 2015

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (2000)

Harry Potter is nominally a fantasy, but as I was reading Goblet of Fire, I kept wondering if it's really a satire.  Shmoop says that satire "sets out to improve bad behavior through sarcasm and irony" and "humorously depicts a current state of affairs, and hopes that by doing so, he" - or she -  "might improve it."  One of the most famous satires is Swift's Gulliver's Travels - and that also works as a fantasy as well.

Consider Rowling's skewering of petty government bureaucracy (yet again), this time casting Percy Weasley as some sort of European Union-type minor official / busybody bureaucrat.  His clucking and tut-tutting about cauldron width is a picture of the henchmen (henchpeople) of EU regulatory minutia, and Ron's snorting disdain surely represents Rowling's own dislike.

Or Rita Skeeter writing gossip in The Daily Prophet; sure she's a stand in for gossip columnists; she literally has a poison quill.

The "pure blood" verses muggles, mudbloods, giants, half giants, house elves, etc.  - obviously a stand-in for not only the racist nonsense many people espouse, but also probably some aristocratic class nonsense as well.

Rowling takes the real world - sports, education, finance, international relations, etc. and delicately and/or brutally impales them on her own quill.  She's still trying to tell a grand story here - and succeeds - but she gets her digs in all the same.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Harry Potter #4)Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Although nominally a fantasy, I wondered if Goblet of Fire is really, at its core, a satire. Take for example Percy Weasley's job at the Department of International Magical Cooperation and his obsession with the standardization of cauldron thickness as a satirical look at European Union regulations, or the Quidditch World Cup as a more obvious satire of the World Cup of soccer. Rowling injects satire in other areas as well, delicately and/or brutally impaling journalism and the obsession with celebrity (Rita Skeeter's poisonous quill); education; finance. Yet her satire isn't a tsunami over the whole story ; she still has written a boisterous, dynamic, and actually quite provoking novel. There is the deft way she's injected the idea of prejudice, injustice and imperfection into the magical world for three novels and then hammers this home in the fourth; that is fine storytelling. Ron Weasley's casual indifference to the enslavement of the house elves and particularly his distrust of Madam Maxim as a half-giantess is perhaps the most disturbing example of this that should give the reader pause to think that this magical world of Harry Potter, like the muggle world, has ingrained flaws that aren't just because: Voldemort. Don't think too much about the implausible TriWizard Tournament and the Scooby Doo ending - that will spoil your enjoyment of what is otherwise a grand and excellent novel. If Harry Potter for future generations is the Beowulf of our time, it's in large part because Goblet of Fire is the most excellently written keystone to the series.

View all my reviews

God our Creator, Author of Creation

This is a literary and a personal post, and possibly a personal theological post, but not a book discussion post; skip it if you are here to read my book reviews.

I attend a Methodist church, regularly.  My husband is the choral director of the church and I sing in the choir.  I like to sing, and I love my husband.  But I'm definitely a doubter, walking the agnostic tightrope.  I'm not sure what god is, or the afterlife, or creation. I definitely believe in evolution, think the Old Testament is a mixture of myth and stories, and find it hard to accept that virgins can give birth, people can walk on water or come back from the dead (and not be zombies).  I don't necessarily think that prayers heals or helps.  I do not have a strong faith.  

I do believe that Jesus was a real person.  Although there are some historians who have tried to prove otherwise, the historical evidence seems to prove that a real man named Jesus (or the Aramaic equivalent of that name - was it Yeshua?  That seems to stick in  my mind as a piece of trivia).  I believe some (but not all) of Jesus's message is a good one.  In a nutsell, it's "don't be a dick" but that's a helluva lot easier to preach than to put into practice.

I do believe that church, as a community, can help people, both in a social sense, and a psychological sense.  I take great comfort from the idea that people who I only see at most two times a week care deeply about my welfare and pray for me.  That people can come together and make music, think deeply, channel good thoughts and energy in the form of prayer, and simply worship together.  

Today our minister preached a sermon based on the story in Luke, when Jesus gets left behind in Jerusalem, and is found later questioning the teachers in the temple.  Our minister used this story to talk about how questions make our faith stronger.  I don't know how strong my questions have made my faith (I'd say weaker) but they have made my faith more personally interesting and intellectually challenging.

Our congregational prayer fit this theme too, and I thought it was quite beautiful.  Here is the literary part of this post; a lovely prayer.

God our Creator, Author of Creation, we marvel at your mysteries and celebrate the works of your hands.  You give us minds capable of contemplating infinity, meditating on the divine and imagining life beyond death.  Help us to love you not only with our hearts but also with our minds.  Hear our honest questions and lead us to deeper truth so that our belief may be genuine and our devotion pure, in the name of Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Anarchy: A Novel by James Treadwell (2013)

I hate series and sequels.

I'm not disappointed in this book; I just couldn't fucking remember what happened in Advent (book 1).

Unlike Anarchy (which I purchased for my kindle) I don't own Advent.  I checked it out from the library. I may have even asked the library to purchase a copy so I could read it (I have this power!  It's gobsmackingly amazing that I'm in the position after 17 years or so as a librarian to ask for a book and have the collection development folks BUY IT; but I digress [regress?]... anyway).

So when I started having memory lapses on how Advent ended - or even anything about it at all, I was annoyed to say the least.  I vaguely remembered that I enjoyed Advent and that it reminded me of Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising. I also know I have attempted to read The Dark is Rising series since I last read Advent, and never finished it, because I didn't like it as much as I remembered liking it.  I think this series (Goodreads calls it the "Advent trilogy" but if it actually stays at three books I will pay you a dollar).

Now because I don't actually own Advent, I couldn't immediately go take a look at it to see how it ended (or, everything else).  And, of course, it was checked out.  So I had to place a hold on it and wait.  Meanwhile, I started reading Anarchy even though I didn't know what the hell was going on.

And then I finally got Advent.  But you know what - by that time I didn't care anymore.  It's not that the book is a badly written book - it just drags. When a book drags in a good way, it's lyrical and suspenseful, and I think that this could have been that type of book save for one missing piece.    I think if there had been at least a "morris the explainer" in the first chapter to thread the Advent to Anarchy, I probably would have kept reading.  But you know what?  It started to annoy me that this wasn't the case.  I felt guilty I didn't remember, and that made me want to stop reading the book.

It takes some hubris on an author's part to think that people can remember every stinkin' detail from their previous books.

Or maybe other people can do that, and I'm just a shitty reader.

Also, this book series isn't good enough to warrant that level of detailed remembering in the first place.

In the end, bah, humbug to Anarchy.

(maybe I will pick this up again in the future; I doubt it, but you never know).

Anarchy: A Novel (Advent Trilogy #2)Anarchy: A Novel by James Treadwell

I'm trying not to review books I don't finish, but for this one, I just couldn't help myself. I can go back on Goodreads and in my blog and see that I enjoyed reading Advent, the first book in this series. Anarchy reminds me why I don't like reading series though. Treadwell could have made the two into one long, epic book (there is a third coming, and I'm sure a fourth and fifth and so on...). Instead, he begins Anarchy without any sort of "morris the explainer" to remind us what happened in the last book and I, for one, was completely lost. And of course, I couldn't get hold of Advent in order to refresh my memory. Some series have stand alone entries, or nearly stand alone entries; sometimes series build from book to book. This one did that but so clumsily (and so full of hubris, in my mind) that I just finally gave up.This book series just isn't good enough to warrant detailed remembering that it was going to take (me at least) to read book one and then a year or so later, read book 2. There aren't very many that are (maybe Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. I will say that Anarchy is well written (although it does drag, particularly if you have no idea what the hell is going on). But I don't want to have to go back and re-read the first one in order to understand the second book.

View all my reviews

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Residence: Inside the White House by Kate Anderson Brower (2015)

Mostly unexceptional; it's worth a read, but lacked narrative thread and seemed to bounce about.  Not quite an oral history, but also not quite a traditional history either - in fact, I thought it lacked some historical detail.  It felt almost as if Brower was writing to find a theme, and couldn't quite ever find one.  The book is occasionally interesting, particularly the chapter that detailed Kennedy's assassination and the events of 9-11.   If you are looking for gossip, there are nuggets, but perhaps nothing that will surprise you:  the Clintons were complicated, Nancy Reagan was a dragon lady.  The Carter boys smoked pot in the White House; Susan Ford was an under-aged drinker.  The older Bushes come across as the most liked; if more of that likability from President Bush I had come across in the election, he might have won.

The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White HouseThe Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House by Kate Andersen Brower
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

If you are looking for backstairs at the White House style gossip, it's few and far between, and most of it will come as no surprise (the Clintons were complicated; Nancy Reagan a was a dragon lady; JFK had affairs). A few nuggets of gold (at least for me) were sprinkled throughout - the Carter boys smoked pot; some interesting tidbits about the Ford children; Chelsea Clinton referring to Secret Service agents as "pigs" to their face). This is mostly run-of-the mill; Brower seems to be writing towards a theme but never could quite find one, and the book lacked narrative thread. This never is quite an oral history or a standard history (and in fact, I had some problems with some lack of historical detail). The chapter that include details about September 11, 2001 were perhaps the most interesting in the book; those were stories I'd never heard, and Brower writes about them in such a way to bring alive the terror and confusion of that awful day.

View all my reviews

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The World in a Second by Isabel Minhos Martins; illustrated by Bernardo P. Carvahlho (2015)

The World In A SecondThe World In A Second by Isabel Minhós Martins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The book, a Portuguese import, is both stunning and irresistible. Each illustration, with caption, tells the story of a certain place, as we cross the world in a single second. My favorite illustration is captioned: "... a thief opens a door (perhaps to his own house, it's impossible to say). Love it! Each and every page is a little mediation on life and time.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling (1999)

I'm going to utter a bit of anathema here, but sometimes movies are better than books.   Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban the movie is better than the book.  Whew.  There, I've said it.

The movie is one of my favorites.  It's got a great score, it's cinematographically beautifully shot.  The writing is crisp as hell.  Two things in particular stand out though, in direct comparison to the book.  The magic in the movie is portrayed as something fun and enchanting (pun intended).  And the end makes a helluva lot more sense in the movie than in the book.  So much so that I thought the end of the movie WAS the end of the book, and I missed the dramatic points that were added into the movie (throwing the rock through Hagrid's window, for example) that were absent from the book.

It's still a good book.  But a perfect little movie.

I do distinctly remember being gobsmacked the first time I read the book that Scabbers was the bad guy!

I once again have a British edition.  I found a list online of the differences between the British and American editions, but below are the ones I noticed immediately as I was reading.

On page 189 in the British edition, Fred says that "Dumbledore'd do his nut."  The American edition says "go ballistic."  I had no idea what that meant.  It means something completely different in American slang, something sexual.

Hermione says "I'd better pop my clogs then!" (page 85 in the British edition).  Again, I had no idea what that meant. The American edition makes that clearer to me:  "kick the bucket."

On page 233 in the British edition, the students were "revising for Care of Magical Creatures, Potions and Astronomy."  That means study.

At various times, including page 315, the students refer to their timetables, which in the American editions are called schedules.

Interestingly, Cornelius Fudge is Minister FOR Magic in the British edition and Minister OF Magic in the American editions (and movies) except I noticed Rowling switched back and forth between the two in the edition I have.  (if it is an error, this is the 8th printing, so it was not caught).

I've decided that instead of an asshole, Hagrid is on the spectrum. That would explain his obsessive love with monsters and his inability to interact appropriately with almost all wizards & witches.

Ron is still an asshole though.

Azkaban is where Lupin first refers to Hermione as the "cleverest witch of her age," a line that I love (and use to describe a dear friend of mine as a compliment).  In the movie, I think it's "the brightest witch of her age."

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Harry Potter #3)Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm going to state a bit of anathema... the movie version of this book is better than the book itself. I have both read this book enough times (seven at least) and seen the movie enough times (at least four) to hold this truth to be self evident. I have two main reasons that this is true. 1) The movie, which is superbly written and filmed, portrays magic as something wonderfully fun; there is this particular scene in which all the boys are trying some sort of candy that turns their voices into different animals. The enchantment of enchantment never seems to ring as true in the book 2) The end in the movie is so much better than the end of the book. So much so, that I kept looking for things in the book that I realized belatedly only happen in the movie. The movie takes a good ending and makes it stronger and better. All of this said, it's still a rollicking book.

View all my reviews

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin (2014)

This is one of those books I like - not loved - but don't have a whole lot of interesting things to say about.  It was written in a creative and interesting way, with famous (at least I assume they are famous; I had heard of all the writers at least) short stories used as a sort of lodestar for each chapter.  It's a bit unbelievable, in a fantastical and fun sort of way (it didn't annoy me in the least), and  - warning - turns into a big, soppy tear jerker by the end (weeping aloud, I'm glad I was alone).

The Storied Life of A.J. FikryThe Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Any book that can make me weep aloud soppily and snortily in the comfort of my own little corner is at least four-star read, any which way regardless. Zevin's book is creative and interesting, using short stories as a lodestar for each chapter (which are short stories themselves). It's not a particularly deep or eloquent book, but it is quite poignant and moving; and satisfying. A hearty snack rather than a full meal, but enjoyable.

View all my reviews

Monday, December 14, 2015

Julia, Child by Kyo Maclear; illustrated by Julie Morstad (2014)

I completely don't understand this book.  At all.  

Thinking about the people and things I refer to as "twee," I guess it's not a state of being I particularly care for and this book is so twee.  It's twee X twelve.  It's twee-noyingly twee.  There is a little sticker on the front of my (library) copy that says "Canada Council for the Arts Governor General's Literary Awards Finalist GG."  I think that's an award for overtly and in your face twee.

I generally like reading about Julia Child; I think she was a fascinating figure from cultural history.  

Not this time though.  The pictures I guess are what make it so irritating (twee-ritating?) because the story is really kind of dull, and didn't really make much sense.  

My rating: 1 of 5 stars
Twee isn't my thing, and this is twee to the twee'th degree. Too twee. Way too.

Terry Jones' Barbarians: An Alternative Roman History by Terry Jones and Alan Ereira (2007)

Terry Jones' Barbarians: An Alternative Roman HistoryTerry Jones' Barbarians: An Alternative Roman History by Terry Jones
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was the a companion book to a BBC series of the same name, which I tried to watch on YouTube but the sound was all messed up (translated Japanese Godzilla messed up). The "companion-ness" of the book definitely shows; each chapter is sort of ham-handed and clunky, and there is some repetition between chapters that caused them not to flow (Stilicho is an example; he shows up in various places, but not in a seamless way). It's not a horrible book though, by any means; Jones and Ereira are exploring territory that I hadn't ever really read or thought about. The last chapters in particular were totally new to me (how the "barbarians" invented Roman Catholicism and the Papacy are the sub-sub title). A strange scent of melancholy wafts over the book too; it's that same twinge of sadness one gets when reading about the destruction of the library at Alexandria: it's a sad thing that the Romans for millenia got all the glory when they often didn't deserve it, and sad the so called Barbarians got pulled off the world stage by a hook, sometimes so completely nothing remains but a few artifacts. So much we don't know, but luckily for us, Jones and Ereira are around to fill in at least some of the gaps.

View all my reviews

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling (1998)

Fun fact:  My personal copy of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is the U.K. edition.  Remember those first Harry Potters that weren't released internationally all the same time; Brits got their Potters before the Americans.  I was so anxious and excited to read Chamber that I ordered the U.K. edition.  Sans illustrations, it's also has cheap binding (a page fell out in fact).

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Harry Potter, #2)Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, I've probably read Chamber at least seven times (one of which was probably a listen) but I don't actually recall the last time I read it. For some reason, I've had it in my head for years that Chamber isn't a very good book. I think, though, I was confusing the book with the (mediocre) movie. Chamber the book was really good, surprisingly so, considering my disdain. It is even better than Sorcerer's Stone; to me, Chamber explains why the series became a phenomenon. Stone alone was a spark, but couldn't have created Potter-mania; it's Chamber as a superior book that started the furor.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat byEmily Jenkins & Sophie Blackall (2015)

I'm hesitant to even write about this book.  The only reason I picked it up was because I had read someplace - perhaps The Guardian or maybe New York Times that because there was outrage (internet driven, I'm sure, the new past-time) that Jenkins and Blackall depicted smiling slaves; Jenkins had to publicly apologize and is now donating the proceeds from the book someplace.  I don't remember where.

I'm a middle-aged white guy (albeit a gay one), so I have exactly zero experience in being black.  It wasn't offensive to me; I also can't really understand the why it would be offensive.  I thought Jenkins did a pretty good job explaining herself in the back.  Guess not though.  I feel sorry for her, because I bet she thought she was doing  a good thing.  No good deed goes unpunished.

I wonder if future authors and illustrators, aware of the furor, will just say "fuck it" and write about something else.   

Gay people do this too.  A lot.  Attack each other over language and hurty-feelings.  I'm not sure it helps win people to your cause.

Ugh.  I don't know.  I've read a Goodreads review that put it into new perspective.  Jeesh.

A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious TreatA Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat by Emily Jenkins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A one star for controversy and racial insensitivity. And really, at the end of the day, just three stars for the book overall. For a kind of dull book, it sure generated a lot of furor. I liked it, don't get me wrong. It actually has cute pictures (smiling slaves and all), and a cute story. It's cute. But that's about it. I think it's one of those picture books that has "teacher" written all over it (in invisible ink). Like the works of Patricia Polacco. It would have made a fine addition to a lesson plan on something (slavery even). It's not really all that interesting; it did make me hungry for blackberry fool.

View all my reviews

Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Taming of the Queen by Philippa Gregory

Philippa Gregory has made her career on Henry VIII's monstrousness.  Taming of the Queen tackles Kateryn (an unusual spelling choice on Gregory's part, I think) Parr, sixth and last wife of the bigger than life Tudor king.  If nominally each book in her long series has been about the wives, standing with boot firmly planted on each of them has been the king himself.  Gregory's most unsympathetic Henry morphs slightly in each book - the selfish, brattish bon vivant that married Catalina of Aragon and wooed Anne Boleyn; the spoiled royal bro-bag who scorned Anne of Cleves; the creepy old perv who married and murder Catherine Howard; and finally the cold, calculating abusive, heartless, petulant old man who marries and terrorizes Kateryn Parr.  Gregory clearly abhors Henry VIII, and brutally scrapes away any sympathy we may have had for his marital situations or government policies to reveal a tyrant and monster of Caligula proportions.

The last time anyone set eyes on a living Henry VIII, smelled his rot or heard his roar, was five hundred years ago.  Those five centuries have smudged Henry into a legendary figure, fiction and fact blurring into a bluebeard-ish  exaggeration.  Gregory definitely has a story to tell, a proudly feminist story too, and there's no harm in that!  I imagine the true Henry VIII lies beneath the rivers of time, and occasionally bits of him show through as the waters move over him; Gregory has probably tapped into some of his true nature, as the surviving records show men and tyrants behaving in similar ways.  No matter how you color the king, he still brutally killed two of his wives, and and humiliated two others.  I can believe the mad old man that Gregory created  for Kateryn Parr to marry and be in constant fear at the very least was sometimes how Henry VIII behaved in real life, even if Gregory gives him and her some modern language.

The Taming of the QueenThe Taming of the Queen by Philippa Gregory
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hasn't Philippa Gregory's career rose on her intense dislike of Henry VIII? I imagine it's a love/hate relationship - loving the many times she was able to go to the Tudor well and draw water; hating the king himself (Gregory's Henry is at best an unlikable Malfoyian brat; at worst one of the most horribly loathsome Roman emperors). This final book has his iron toed boot grinding down over the court and England, and particularly grinding down Kateryn Parr, his sixth and last wife. (I assume it's the last book, because I don't think it's a spoiler to say that Henry is dead at the end; but Gregory's pen may find more Tudor water; she seems adept at doing that). Gregory's Parr is well written and interesting but after five hundred years, the king and his wives are all legendary creatures, with fiction and myth clouding truths. Parr believable comes across as a combination of strong and terrified, a woman who knows from the start she's entered into a pact with the devil, and then horrifying realizing the devil is much,much more crazy and worse than she could have imagined (this is historical horror without the occult; A Child Called "It" for the historical fiction set). Gregory's writing to me is always kind of like the Tudors walked through the shadow of the Valley of the Dolls, and passed out again a heavenly mixture of literary and trashy (litertrashary?) . You can feel good about reading a Gregory book, because it's the very best kind of historical fiction, one historical accurate, beautiful, fun step away from Alison Weir (who, let's be honest, has been known to bore a reader to death with details). But that accuracy is heavily made up with glitz and glam, melodrama and sex, until everything glitters like Anne Boleyn's rubies.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Barbapapa's Ark by Annette Tilson & Talus Taylor (1974)

I knew there was a book called Barbapapa's Ark.  My childhood copy was a yellow paperback.  I knew I liked the book immensely as a child; I probably read it to death as it disappeared years ago.  I tried to find the book again a few years back, but no luck - I could not get a copy from any local library or inter-library loan; nor could I find a copy to purchase.  

Notice that Cindy is NOT wearing a top.
On a whim a few weeks ago, I tried to find it again, and lo and behold - there it was!  Apparently, they've republished the Barbapapa series, and I was able to find a hardcover version via the Fargo Public Library.  

Since I didn't actually purchase this book (£9.99 according to the back of the book), I'm not too upset that it's not as extraordinary as I remember it being.    The cartoonish illustrations are very simplistic, and, well, very 1970s cheap.  It's a little bit like the Smurfs; each character has a personality.  Barbapapa's can change shape, which may be one of the things that fascinated me as a kid; it was still interesting now, to be honest.   Interesting, but undeveloped.  There are more books set in the Barbapapa universe, as well as animated shorts (I checked them out on YouTube and they are stupid to say the least); I did not know as a child that Barbapapa existed outside this one book.  I'm not going to explore more of them as an adult.
This wouldn't have been significant when I was 9 years old, but that orange one is called Barbalib - get it - she's a LIBRARIAN. 

Re-reading this, I have vivid memories of liking this particular illustrations.  There is something about that drag queen of a woman in those furs - including that hat - and the long cigarette holder (smoking!  In a children's picture book).  Delicious!

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
A long-lost childhood favorite, rediscovered, and apparently back in print. But, as they say, you can't go home again. Not always. The magic of this book felt by an avid little nine year old in 1979 wasn't felt by his older, wiser self; reading this as a grown up, it seemed simplistic, and sort of cheap. The Barbapapas ability to change shape is interesting; the cartoonish illustrations aren't anything to write home about, but they are sometimes fun. But the story... not so good.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K.Rowling (1998)

I tell people I've read  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone at least seven times (one of those was an audio listen).  Every time a new book came out, I re-read up to that point.  That mean's I've read Book 7 only once - except I vaguely remember finishing it then re-reading it again.  Maybe.

I'm simultaneously listening to this book; I finished reading it a few days ago, but the listening takes longer.

This is our book club book - actually all seven - for January 2016, so I'm getting a head start.

I can drone on about how uneven Sorcerer's Stone is after the 8th read; how the characters aren't yet fully developed; how her world building skills seem piecemeal (she adds things when she needs them; the Whomping Willow is one example; you'd think Harry and Co. would find out about the Whomping Willow that very first year; but she needed it later).  Blog-wise, I will stop complaining (book club-wise, I may complain).  They are obviously special, magical, meaningful books; they a reading touchstone for so many, many adults of all ages at this point.  For better or for worse, this series changed children's literature.  Without Harry Potter, no Twilight, no Hunger Games, no Divergent.  After almost 20 years, still going strong.

What  I especially noticed this time was Rowling's disdain for government, power, laws, and rules.  This becomes even more clear in later books, but even in Sorcerer's Stone there is at the very least some contempt.  Harry and Ron break rule after rule, and as Hermione points out, are rewarded for it.  Hermione soon joins them, going so far as to set Snape on fire at the Quidditch match.  I distinctly remember in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, when Harry attacks Snape, Hermione  says, incredulously and a bit fearfully, that he's attacked a teacher.  Has she forgotten so quickly that she herself did so just two years before?  The libertarian bent becomes more of a theme much later, when Harry and the Ministry of Magic are at odds.  I think in each book, I can probably name at least one or two characters who represent the rotten-ness of government.  There is also the theme of the corruptibility of power.  In Sorcerer's Stone, it's petty bureaucracy and the power it wields, in the form of one character in particular, Filch.  Filch has no real power in the school, but with his henchman (woman, cat) Mrs. Norris, he uses what little power he possesses sometimes as a bully pulpit, and always as a bullying informer, the petty arm of the law.  Percy Weasley becomes this as well, but I think that's in later books; you sense that he's unlikable and a showboater, strutting around like the peacock of prefects, loudly pushing and telling off and just using power in petty ways.  If Rowling is good at anything, it's creating narrow-minded busybodies who oppress for the sake of feeling superior.  There are many more of these types of characters to come in the series.  And isn't Voldemort ultimately their king?

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Harry Potter, #1)Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As I'm typing this, there are over 2 million reviews of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone on Goodreads. I'm not sure I can add anything new to this discussion. It's a beloved classic, and probably always will be; even after almost 20 years, the whole series is still chugging along. Sorcerer's Stone is a bit uneven and takes much longer to gather steam than I remember (we spend far too long with the Dursleys). But that's quibble. What Rowling does particularly well, I think (besides continually express a disdain for government, laws, rules and petty bureaucracy and bureaucrats) is characters who do EXACTLY those things. I mean, we all love Harry and Co. - but we REALLY love to HATE the Filches and Percy Weasley's that she lovingly crafts. They are what makes Harry Potter books so much fun - the many narrow-minded busybodies who oppress for the sake of feeling superior that she writes into her novels, and how Harry and Co. thwart them and make them look foolish every single time. It's Rowling being her most radical, and secretly that may be why we all love these book so very much.

View all my reviews


As I'm listening to this as well, I may think of some other things.

Here is one:  Hagrid is sort of an asshole.  So is Ron.  Perhaps as big an asshole as Malfoy.

Blog Archive