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Book Roulette: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by JK Rowling

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by J.K. Rowling. Scholastic: 2003. 870 pp.

So I think this is the longest Harry Potter novel, yes? Even so, I think this one’s my favorite. I really didn’t like it much the first time, and for the life of me now I can’t understand why. But it’s crazy to think that we’re already over halfway through the novels, and through this series.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is the first book, perhaps, where we understand how Rowling’s novels were intended to be read. Just as Harry grows through the books, she understood that her readers would as well. I don’t think young children should read this book, mostly because I don’t think they would really understand it. There’s a lot going on here, and much of it was intended for an audience that fell in love with the series at a young age and grew a little older by the time this book was released.

Aside from the fact that I hate Umbridge (who doesn’t?), we see Harry in a new light in this book. Among other things, we see him as a typical teenage boy, who gets nervous around a girl he likes and doesn’t understand how said girl would have a problem with him talking about Hermione the entire time. After all, they’re just friends. What’s the worry?

Rowling mentioned in an interview with the British magazine Wonderland that she actually intended Harry and Hermione to be together, not Ron and Hermione. In fact, Ron wasn’t intended to be the character she wrote him to be. She even considered killing him off halfway through the series.

If there was a “first” moment that could have suggested this, it would be the scene with Harry and Cho in Hogsmeade. With that in mind, however, I think she was right to keep Hermione with Ron. Allowing them to be together gives two “lessons” to her readers that aren’t often described in literature. 1) It’s okay for a guy and a girl to be good friends, best friends even, without romance hanging over them like a dark cloud and 2) Sometimes the sidekick does get the girl, and that’s okay.

 

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Book Roulette: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by JK Rowling

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by JK Rowling. Scholastic: 2002. 734 pp.

Is it wrong to say I liked the movie better? At least with this one. I totally thought this was my favorite book going in–it used to be my favorite book. I was so excited to get to this one, and the more I read into it the more I realized I liked the movie better.

It just went a lot slower than I imagined. I really like the structure of this story–probably why it was my favorite earlier–because things that are structured tend to relieve my stress. I’m learning this about myself.

I liked how Rowling took a step back from the typical “Harry’s at Hogwarts + Voldemort shows up in some form and threatens the wizarding world = Harry learns more about himself and his parents” formula. This offered a new perspective into the entire wizard movies, especially with the inclusion of Beauxbatons and Durmstrang. I want to know more about these schools, though. I think it would be cool to have books written about them (or maybe I just need to find some decent fanfiction about it).

Here’s the thing I don’t get, though. How was no one suspicious of Barty Jr.’s plan? In order to remain disguised as Mad-Eye Moody, he would have to take the Polyjuice Potion every hour, on the hour. On the final night of the Tri-wizard Tournament, Dumbledore noted the excitement of the event may have distracted him from taking the potion on time. So, for the entire school year, up until that moment at the end, he didn’t miss once? Not only that, but Dumbledore didn’t suspect anything until “Moody” took Harry up to his office after Harry reappeared with Cedric’s body. Only then, apparently, did “Moody” act out of character.

I’m getting a little intense here.

Despite the size of the doorstops that await me in this series, I’m looking forward to reading (or re-reading) further. I prefer Harry, Ron and Hermione when they’re all grown up.

Book Roulette: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by JK Rowling

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by J.K. Rowling. Scholastic: 2004. 435 pp.

We’re almost halfway through Harry Potter, can you believe it? I’ve enjoyed re-reading these books, though I have to admit I’m not very good at the whole re-reading concept. Maybe it’s just that, between the books and the movies, I know these stories so well already. They defined my generation, and reading them again is like eating your favorite meal every Tuesday for a year. It’s really good, but after a while you know it so well it doesn’t knock you over like it used to.

Fortunately, I do notice snippets of the writing that hit me differently this time around. They’re not usually big: a quote here, a description there, but they’re enough for me to understand why these books are so powerful. They’re not really about magic. They’re about family, friendship, identity, growing up and understanding that you’re a part of something much bigger than yourself. They’re also about loss, adversity, and coping when bad things happen to good people.

There’s a part in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban that I thought really illustrated the theme of loss throughout the novels. Harry spends a lot of time thinking about his parents in this book: between the search for Sirius Black and the whole Patronus thing, he regains the hope that his parents aren’t so far removed from him.

In this portion, Dumbledore offers Harry some advice on his questions regarding his family:

You think the dead we loved ever truly leave us? You think that we don’t recall them more clearly than ever in times of great trouble? Your father is alive in you, Harry, and shows himself most plainly when you have need of him. How else could you produce that particular Patronus? Prongs rode again last night. … Last night Sirius told me all about how they became Animagi. An extraordinary achievement–not least, keeping it quiet from m. And then I remembered the most unusual form your Patronus took, when it charged Mr. Malfoy down at your Quidditch match against Ravenclaw. You know, Harry, in a way, you did see your father last night. … You found him inside yourself.

Those we have loved and lost are never truly gone. Regardless of what you believe about the afterlife, the impact the passed have made continues to show long after their passing. It is in their loved ones that we continue to see them, especially in the times we need them the most.

Book Roulette: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by JK Rowling

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling. Arthur A. Levine Books: 1999. 341 pp.

As I read these seven books, as much “in order” as I can manage with other books to read simultaneously, I think about what I want to say about each of them. With some of the others, the topic comes pretty easily–I read a quote I like and the thoughts flow from there. With this book, the second in the series, I had a tough time finding some unique angle. This is such a discussed series, that to find something new to mention is becoming more difficult.

But then I remembered the scene after the battle with the basilisk went down, when Harry walks into Dumbledore’s office for the first time and notices the Sorting Hat sitting there. He thinks back to his first day at Hogwarts and the hesitation the hat had in assigning him to Gryffindor.

Look back to the conversation Tom Riddle/Voldemort had with Harry while in the Chamber of Secrets:

There are strange likenesses between us, after all. Even you must have noticed. Both half-bloods, orphans, raised by Muggles. Probably the only two Parselmouths to come to Hogwarts since the great Slytherin himself. We even look something alike … but after all, it was merely a lucky chance that saved you from me. That’s all I wanted to know.

Now, we know that it was more than a lucky chance that saved Harry from Voldemort the first time around. In fact, the further into Harry’s story we get, the more we realize that not much of what happens to him is by lucky chance. That being said, I think part of the power of this series is the fine line that separates Harry from Voldemort. Tom is entirely correct–there are several similarities between them. The Sorting Hat saw this, and originally thought he would be a good fit for the house Voldemort called his own.

But this fine line is all the difference. The fact that Harry is given the choice is what makes him great–and what makes these books great. He has just as much power as Voldemort, perhaps more. With proper training and a little experience, he could be a more impactful wizard. And, had he chosen a darker path, he could have become a more forceful villain to the wizarding community.

The very element that saved Harry from Voldemort’s original attempt, the day he got the scar, is the element that gave him the capacity to become the equal counterpart to his foe: his mother’s love. It’s not lucky chance, but it is a destiny that–as we see in the progression of the series–proves to be much greater than Harry could have ever imagined.

Book Roulette: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by JK Rowling

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by JK Rowling. Arthur A. Irvine: 1997. 309 pp.

As luck would have it, the first seven weeks of 2014 will be spent with everyone’s favorite wizard. I have to admit–shamefully–that I’ve only read the first six books, and I’ve never read them in order. This year, that will change.

There’s not much to say about JK Rowling’s blockbuster series that hasn’t already been said. There are some fantastic articles out there that dissect the books on every level imaginable. I don’t want to repeat what others have written, and so I’ll try my best not to.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the first book in the series, is the book I’ve read most often. In the height of my Hogwarts days, I would read all the books before the newest was released. Every time a new movie was released, I’d go through and watch the previous movies first. To be honest, I wasn’t really looking forward to reading this book again because I knew the story already. There was nothing lurking in the corners, nothing that would surprise me.

But, in true literary fashion, I did notice some things I hadn’t before. Or, maybe I’d just forgotten them. The first is this: I had forgotten that Harry was just a boy. We always think of him as this great and powerful, if not underage wizard, right? It’s strange to put yourself in his shoes: your entire life swings completely on its axis, right around your eleventh birthday. The Dursleys are horrible people, and it’s terrible to think that people like them might exist in real life. But it’s not hard to think so, because the Dursleys are completely normal.

There was a quote that struck me, from Chapter 5. Hagrid has just rescued Harry from his aunt and uncle, and taken him to Diagon Alley to shop for school supplies:

“Everyone thinks I’m special,” he said at last. “All those people in the Leaky Cauldron, Professor Quirrell, Mr. Ollivander … but I don’t know anything about magic at all. How can they expect great things? I’m famous and I can’t even remember what I’m famous for. I don’t know what happened when Vol–, sorry–I mean, the night my parents died.”

There’s something extremely human and vulnerable in this quote that I hadn’t really understood from the times I’d read the books or watched the movies before.

The second thing I had forgotten, or not truly realized, was that Hermione was not friends with Ron and Harry for much of the first book. Not until Chapter 10–out of 17 chapters–when she finds herself face-to-face with the troll in the girls’ bathroom and Ron and Harry go in to rescue her.

This book says a lot of great things about friendship, but no more than this: friendship requires action. Both in literature and in life, friendship requires you to do something. Harry and Ron became friends beginning on the train, when Harry shared his treats with Ron and they bonded over chocolate frogs and every-flavor jelly beans. Later, Ron shares his family with Harry, which cements their friendship even further. But Hermione isn’t included in their little posse until the moment with the troll, because neither one of them has reached out in any way to allow her in. She’s just another character, just another witch at Hogwarts.

In literature, the reasoning is obvious. How boring would it be to read a story about a pair of friends who do nothing but sit in a room and talk, or watch movies, or play video games? The characters need to do something, they need to show the reader why they deserve to be liked, and why they deserve to be liked as a pair.

In life, it’s similar. Yes, you can be pretty good friends with someone who you watch movies or play video games with, but that’s as far as your friendship goes. The really great friends, the ones on Ron, Harry, and Hermione’s level, they do things together. They create memories with each other. They follow trolls into bathrooms for girls they barely know, and use that memory as the foundation for an amazing adventure.

 

Book Roulette: The Long Earth, by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter [#498]

photo from terrypratchett.co.uk

photo from terrypratchett.co.uk

The Long Earth, by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. Harper, June 19, 2012. 352 pp, $25.99

I was not looking forward to reading this book. I didn’t like it the first time I started it, and when I drew that number I thought, Of course. Leave it to my own spreadsheet to screw me from the start

I think it helped that I had just read Ender’s Game. I was already in that science fiction frame of mind, so jumping into another future-set novel wasn’t as jarring on my imagination.

The idea behind The Long Earth is this: The Earth we now see is now just one of millions of Earth-like planets. Each one extends from this earth, Datum Earth, going east or west. Datum Earth is “Earth Zero,” the equator of them all. The other earths, labeled East 4, West 1,071, etc, are all similar to Datum Earth in that they are comprised and organized using the same materials in the same way. What make them different are small changes. One Earth is nearly all water (visions of Waterworld came to mind), others are abundant in natural food sources. People move between Earths by “stepping,” jumping from one to the other. Many times they use a “stepper,” a small contraption powered by a potato.

Joshua Valiente is unusual in that he can step without the aid of the stepper. He can move freely from one Earth to the next. With the help of a humanish android, Lobsang, he embarks on a journey as far West as he can, in order to study the environments of the Long Earth, the name of the entire series of Earths. Through his entire exploration, while continuously discovering new organisms and habitats, he relies on the guidance of the nuns who raised him. They help to ground him in a sense of “home,” so he doesn’t become overwhelmed in his journey.

What I found interesting about the story was the biblical ties. I’m not one to search for a hidden religious meaning in everything I read, but this one kind of jumped right out there and danced in front of me until I noticed it. Joshua Valiente is the hero of the story. Joshua, which translates to the Hebrew Yeshua, is said to be another name for Jesus. So we have Jesus the Valiant as the hero.

Joshua’s mother, who we only meet briefly in the first few chapters of the book, is named Maria Valiente. Also a natural stepper, she was living with the nuns until she went into labor. The pains scared her and she stepped to another world, had the baby, then stepped back briefly before returning for her child.

Joshua’s birth is said to be “miraculous,” because for the small moments before his mother returned for him, he was the only person in the entire universe.

Later, Joshua learns he is “chosen,” that he has a special connection with other unique individuals on other Earths, that he can empathize with them in the ways others can’t.

I’m not sure if Pratchett and Baxter intended for the parallels to be quite so glaring, but I noticed them. I don’t know if they influenced my opinion of the book one way or the other, however. It was an interesting comparison, and at the very least it could spark some discussion on the relationship between a higher power–namely the Christian story–and the science of evolution and the possibility that other life exists out in other “worlds” that we may not have discovered yet.

 

Book Roulette: Ender’s Game [#413]

photo from npr.org

Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card

I guess this book technically belongs pre-generator, but oh well.

There. I’ve done it. I have now, officially, read a book of science fiction.

Honestly, I could have picked worse. In talking with a friend the other night about Orson Scott Card, she mentioned he was “hit or miss.” When I told her I was reading Ender’s Game, she got a big smile on her face and said, “That’s a hit.”

It is a hit. I imagine Card goes more in depth into each of the characters as the series progresses, but I got a sense of their depth even from this first book. I liked to read Ender’s progression through the Battle School. Everyone loves a good underdog story.

I first picked this book off my shelf in light of the upcoming movie, and then I started to read more about people’s protests against the movie because of Card’s personal beliefs on gay marriage. I was interested, in part because I wanted to see if his beliefs made their way into the book.

News flash: They don’t. In fact, an argument could be made on the other end. Ender’s relationship with Alai, for example, is very sincere. I want to say tender, but I feel that would take it too far.

Here’s my take on the whole idea of protesting Card. I think it’s stupid. I’m not against gay marriage, far from it, in fact. But I don’t think it does any good to protest a movie because the man who created the original story has a personal view on something. He hasn’t come out kicking and screaming to all of the gay men and women in the movie industry (or any other industry, for that matter). He simply has an opinion. There’s no reason to get your panties in a bunch over it.

I would highly recommend Ender’s Game to anyone (gay, pro-gay, anti-gay or otherwise), because I think it’s a great book. It’s a story about an extraordinary boy and his efforts to save the world. It’s written well (especially the introduction. Note: do not skimp on the introduction to this book) and it offers a message to young adults that anything is possible. They have their whole lives ahead of them, and they can accomplish great things.

The book roulette

I’m such a nerd.

I created a spreadsheet of all of the books that I own, along with what year I’ve read them. For a while now, I’ve been wanting to read at least the books I have. For those who have seen my bookshelf, this is no small feat. According to the spreadsheet, I have 552 books through July, and I know I’m missing a few.

The thing is, with the nature of my job, I get new books in every month. I’m not complaining, far from it, but it does make things difficult to keep on top a goal like this. So I’ve got two pages on my spreadsheet (nerd alert). One is for all of the books I have up until August, and one is for all of the books I receive after August 1. That page currently has 8 books on it already.

Of course I’ll read books from the second page. I’ll have to, especially for work. But on my own, in my “free” time, I’ll be reading books from the first list. Here’s where the roulette comes in.

I downloaded a random number generator on my phone. The problem I’d been having in the past with challenges like this is figuring out what to read. I’m hoping this generator gets rid of that problem. I click “generate” and the little device, with the help of the spreadsheet, simply tells me what I’ll be reading next.

I’m currently working through Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, which I wanted to read especially with the movie coming out this fall. After that, however, I’ll be playing the roulette.

Of course there is the problem that I can’t stand the book I’m assigned. Example: The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. Ironically, this is the very first book the generator picked for me. I guess I’ll give it another shot. I only got 100 pages in last time; here’s hoping it gets better.

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