JK Rowling

chamber-of-secrets

2017 Reading List #4: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling

It’s probably silly of me to try to objectively review this book knowing my feelings about Harry Potter, but I’ll give it a fair shot.

I received the illustrated edition of Chamber of Secrets for Christmas, and, like last year, my mom and I reread it together, just as we did when first reading the books many years ago.

Again, it was perfect, and the added bonus of Jim Kay’s beautiful illustrations only makes the reading experience more enjoyable. I’m particularly fond of his detailed illustrations of  the Mandrakes and the Phoenix.

These illustrated editions of the series are the perfect way to enjoy some quality time revisiting the series that has forever changed me. Though I am starting to think I need an entire bookcase dedicated to Harry Potter books and their related texts. I guess I’ll have to continue my dreams for a home with a library…

Cursed Child

2016 Reading Lis #46: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Perhaps the quickest version of this post is to say that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child left me feeling… conflicted.

But I can’t really just leave it there.

In anticipation of Cursed Child, my feelings waffled between trying to limit my expectations and really, really wanting to like it. And I did like it. But I didn’t love it. At all.

Here’s my biggest problem: in the scope of all things Harry Potter, nothing can match the magic of the original series. Though I preordered my copy of the play months ago from Amazon, I paid a visit to the local Barnes & Noble midnight release party because I so enjoyed them years ago. None of this experience could be the same. The anticipation I felt was more anxiety than excitement this time around. I didn’t want to read something that would mess with a perfect series.

And Cursed Child doesn’t really mess with the original series, at least in my opinion. Because I see the original seven books as sacred, I refuse to allow something new (that wasn’t even really written by J.K. Rowling) to affect that world. Cursed Child is fine—likable, funny, sweet, somber—but it’s a mere shadow of the original works.

There are many reasons for this, I think, apart from Rowling’s limited input. First, jumping from a set of long and detailed novels to a two-part play is a big leap. The play is comprised of lots and lots of minuscule scenes, and by the end it felt like a Shondaland TV show to me—every scene break had a dramatic cliffhanger that kept the pace moving ever-forward. There’s no time to live in the show’s moments, especially when the expanse of the play crosses decades of time.

Though I might feel different seeing the stage production rather than just reading it, I also felt like the magic was heavy-handed. I’m curious to know how so many of these effects are done (the play contains Polyjuicing, dementors, Time Turning, underwater stunts, Transfiguration, etc.), but it reads like someone trying to cram in as many oohs-and-ahhs as possible before the curtain falls. At its core, Cursed Child is meant to be about the difficulties Harry faces with his son, so I’d have preferred a much simpler play to tell an intimate story.

In fact, the way this difficult relationship is pushed forward is through an odd and complicated overarching plot that I found really unnecessary. For one, when we came to know Voldemort as a villain over the course of seven novels, trying to introduce and conquer a new villain in one play seems doomed to fail. And without giving anything away, I personally predicted the villain and their connection to the characters from early on. The “big reveal” isn’t exactly on par with, say, the revelations of “The Prince’s Tale.”

And speaking of the Half-Blood Prince… I may have been most disappointed by the Snape and Dumbledore cameos (done in alternate reality and via portrait, so no one is resurrected or something equally strange). Though these are two characters I love dearly, they both had beautiful final scenes in the original series, and neither of them felt at all authentic to me in the play. Their individual dialogue was clearly an imitation of the real thing, and I wish they’d remained in the past where their stories belong.

Finally, on that same note, it’s very touchy to revisit such beloved characters and try to make them what readers know them to be already. Harry felt most true in the first scenes of the play, which are just lifted from the Deathly Hallows epilogue, but otherwise, he’s a big drag and kind of bad father. Ron is a caricature of himself—sure, Ron’s always been the most light-hearted of the trio, but he’s also got substance—and Hermione is a leader without having the characteristic bossiness that makes her so endearing.

Okay, I want to stop complaining to talk a bit about the good. The Albus/Scorpius dynamic is very sweet, and I’m glad no one tried to turn it into a second-generation version of Harry, Ron, and Hermione. I was very happy to see several young people—people who would’ve been too young to be original Harry Potter readers—quickly walking to the shelves when I went to a bookstore yesterday. I’m glad to know a young generation might be getting excited about the theatre and seeing that very real magic happening live.

In the end, though, I’m much more excited about the prospect of the Fantastic Beasts film adaptations for two reasons. First, J.K. Rowling really wrote the screenplay and I’d trust her with anything, and second, though we’re staying in the Wizarding World, we’ll be meeting an entirely new crop of characters and can’t be disappointed by recreations of people we already know and love.

In 2011, when the final film in the series was released, J.K. Rowling said Hogwarts will always be there to welcome us home. She’s right. But for now, I think I’ll stick to those perfect books she gave us nearly a decade ago.

My-Ideal-Bookshelf

My Ideal Bookshelf

For Christmas, my best friend bought me a lovely book entitled My Ideal Bookshelf, edited by Thessaly La Force, with art by Jane Mount, that I was feeling inspired by the other day. Essentially, this book in a collection of illustrations and notes from famous people of many disciplines (people from skater Tony Hawk to author Daniel Handler to actor/professor/student/unfortunate Oscar host extraordinaire James Franco) who describe the books that would be on their “ideal bookshelf.” The prompt for choosing these books is as follows:

Select a small shelf of books that represent you — the books that have changed your life, that have made you who you are today, your favorite favorites.

If you happen upon this book in a store, I suggest sitting down and perusing it, especially if you’re a fellow book lover; it’s always fun to see what other people enjoy, and the illustrations are lovely. After much thought, I’ve tried to compile my own list, based upon the book’s cover art:

My-Ideal-Bookshelf

So, here are my picks for these categories. I’ve probably spent far too long toiling over my choices, largely because there are too many books I love, and many that could fit into any and all of these categories. I’m sure they’ll change over the course of my life, but that’s just one of the many joys of reading, isn’t it? What are some of your favorites?

My Favorite Book:

The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

When I reread The Great Gatsby early in 2013, I was reminded why I’d used this novel as my go-to when asked what my favorite book was. Essentially, it’s perfect. Fitzgerald couldn’t be more eloquent in his simplistic style. I love writing in my books and underlining passages I really like, and I found that nearly every other line was marked in some way. The Great Gatsby is the quintessential American novel, and one that I suggest everyone read at least once in their lifetime.

The Book That Changed My Life:

For Whom the Bell Tolls

For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway

My interpretation of “book that changed my life” was a bit loose here, but I can explain my choice. In the fall of 2012, I took a Hemingway and Faulkner literature course that has absolutely changed my life. For Whom the Bell Tolls was my first Hemingway read aside from a few short stories, and it was my favorite of his four novels we read. The story is beautiful and detailed, allowing readers introspective insight into events over the course of three days. My experience in reading Hemingway has made me realize that I really prefer 20th century American literature to all else (though I still read all kinds of things) and it’s helped me in realizing my aspirations of becoming an English professor. Thanks, Papa Hemingway.

The Book I Read Again and Again:

The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Starsby John Green

To be fair, I’ve only read this twice, but it’s one I’m certain I’ll return to numerous times in the future. I’m a sucker for young adult literature anyway, and in an age when there are plenty of crappy teen romances on bookshelves, you really can’t do much better than John Green. The Fault in Our Stars was the first book of his I read, and I immediately became a dedicated fan. Green writes with such a real voice in his novels that you kind of can’t help by identify with his characters. The Fault in Our Stars is funny and heartbreaking, and one that I think all teens should read. Side note: I couldn’t be more excited about the film adaptation that comes out this June. Hooray!

The Book I Love The Most:

Deathly Hallows

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling

Okay, I’m kind of cheating myself by using two categories for Harry Potter, but if you know me, you’ll probably understand that I can only express my Potter love by being excessive with it. Even after many, many readings of Deathly Hallows, I can’t help but cry at the perfect ending, and I usually have to give it a nice hug before returning it to its place on the shelf. Deathly Hallows is not only my favorite book in the Potter series, it also features my favorite chapter, “The Forest Again” (try reading it without crying, I dare you). It’s perfect. There really isn’t anything else to say on the matter.

The Book(s) That Made Me Who I Am:

HP

The Harry Potter Series, by J.K. Rowling

So, now to part two of my Potter picks. I’m not sure this really needs much explanation. Obviously the Potter books have made me who I am. I don’t know if there are many other topics I would dedicate the time it takes to write an honors thesis, but I happen to have an extra amount of love and devotion where the Potter books are concerned. The only thing I can really say is that I’ll be forever grateful I received a paperback of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for my eighth birthday. It made me the person I am today.

The Best Book I Ever Read:

The Sound and the Fury

 The Sound and the Fury, by William Faulkner

Again, The Sound and the Fury could be assigned to nearly any category on this list. Like For Whom the Bell Tolls, I read this novel for my Hemingway and Faulkner course, and I really never expected to be as impacted by it as I have been. This is not for light readers — Faulkner almost always write in a confusing style, by The Sound and the Fury takes confusion to a whole new level with its narrative style. Despite the confusion, though, this is honestly the greatest book I’ve ever read. The Compson family and all they represent create a harrowing portrait of the declining South post-slavery, and these characters are bound to stick in your memory. I look forward to the next time I read this masterpiece so I can be reminded of its greatness.

The Book That Makes Me Cry Every Time:

A Prayer for Owen Meany

A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving

I think it’s rare to ever find a book that makes readers cry, and when they do, it’s usually just a tear or two (that’s been my experience, at least). A Prayer for Owen Meany, therefore, in an anomaly; I don’t think I’ll ever forget finishing this book in a hostel in Montreal, tears pouring from my eyes. Trust me, it wasn’t pretty. But that’s the kind of story Irving has created in this contemporary classic. I recently told a friend to read this to restore his faith in contemporary literature, and I think that’s one of this novel’s many benefits. The best quality of the book, though, is this epic, perfect, brilliant story. If you don’t love Owen Meany as a character, you must be heartless. This is my mom’s favorite book, and before I read it, she always used to tell me that when she finished reading it the first time, she held it and sobbed. After my experience, I understand that reaction completely, and I imagine you will too if you’ve read this book.

So, since I was limited to these seven categories, I decided to add a few honorable mentions that I think would also be likely to find their way onto my ideal bookshelf. Here are a few extra titles I really love.

Honorable Mentions:

Little Women, Jane Eyre, The Awakening, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Forever…, Gone Girl, Death of a Salesman