Revisiting Harry Potter: “I am not worried, Harry. I am with you.”

Oh the feelings. Oh I have them. I was reading the end of this book on one end of the couch while Miniature Roommate was reading Good Omens on the other hand, and every time she laughed at something in Good Omens, I would think she was laughing at me for crying. And in my mind I’d be all, THIS BOOK IS SAD OKAY? But I didn’t say it out loud because I recognize that would be irrational. But this book is hella sad.

I forgot how Harry-Dumbledore-heavy the last part of this book is. All my notes on rereading it are about Harry and Dumbledore, although this could reflect my own bias, because I love those two hanging out. They’re my fave. Y’all should be prepared for smoke to come out of my ears when Rita Skeeter tries to make insinuations about Dumbledore’s affection for Harry.

I just with Harry and Dumbledore and they’re friends and they hang out and with the feelings–

Ahem. I’ll try that again.

How pleased and proud are Harry and Dumbledore at each other when Harry finally gets that memory from Slughorn? I love how Dumbledore is all tired when Harry walks in, and then when he finds out about the memory he just lights up at Harry and is so proud, and — this is huge to me — he tells Harry he can come destroy the next Horcrux they find. I’ve said before that I love for people to be respectful of what Harry’s capable of (he’s capable of a damn lot), and Harry getting this respect from Dumbledore of all people just means everything.

When they actually do go get the Horcrux, I love that we get to see Dumbledore in action as the Best and Cleverest Wizard of them all. For most of the series, we only hear about what Dumbledore can do, long after he’s already done it. We know he is definitely the Best and Cleverest Wizard, but I like seeing him prove it. It was awesome watching Dumbledore fight Voldemort in the fifth book. The Horcrux hunt is a different kind of awesome, more methodical, like watching a pro chef recreate a recipe for a dessert he’s only had one bite of. It’s extra great because Dumbledore acts about as chill as if the stakes in all of this were whether the dessert was going to come out delicious. That is how Dumbledore rolls.

Greatest thing Dumbledore ever says in this entire series:

“No, Draco,” said Dumbledore quietly. “It is my mercy, and not yours, that matters now.”

Damn. Just about to die and he knows it, and this is what he has to say. I mean, you would name your kid after this man, wouldn’t you? This is the man you name your kids after.

I am realizing belatedly that I should have had a feature in this readalong called “Oh Neville”. Because, Neville.

“We were in trouble, we were losing,” said Tonks in a low voice. “Gibbon was down, but the rest of the Death Eaters seemed ready to fight to the death. Neville had been hurt, Bill had been savaged by Greyback…It was all dark…curses flying everywhere…The Malfoy boy had vanished, he must have slipped past, up the stairs…then more of them ran after him, but one of them blocked the stair behind them with some kind of curse…Neville ran at it and got thrown up into the air–“

Of course he did. Of course he got hurt but still ran after a huge group of Death Eaters alone. Oh Neville.

I know nobody in this readalong likes the Harry-Ginny pairing, but I actually do. Ginny is widely agreed to be awesome, and unlike some of y’all, I love Harry a lot as well. They are both clever and resourceful and they have shared interests like Quidditch and fighting evil. Seems reasonable to me. I was okay with them breaking up (I see the narrative usefulness of that), but this?:

“It’s been like…like something out of someone else’s life, these last few weeks with you.”

This tears at my heart. “Someone else’s life” = “everything doesn’t all the time suck”. On the other hand:

“We’ll be there, Harry,” said Ron… “At your aunt and uncle’s house, and then we’ll go with you wherever you’re going.”

“No–” said Harry quickly; he had not counted on this, he had meant them to understand that he was undertaking this most dangerous journey alone.

“You said to us once before,” said Hermione quietly, “that there was time to turn back if we wanted to. We’ve had time, haven’t we?”

“We’re with you whatever happens,” said Ron.

YOU THREE.

The Adulting of Harry Potter

But he understood at last what Dumbledore had been trying to tell him. It was, he thought, the difference between being dragged into the arena to face a battle to the death and walking into the arena with your head held high. Some people, perhaps, would say that there was little to choose between the two ways, but Dumbledore knew — and so do I, thought Harry, with a rush of fierce pride, and so did my parents — that there was all the difference in the world.

This. Just, this. You kids these days and your heroism.

Revisiting Harry Potter: Dumbledore has a purple suit and psychic paper

Oh God, it’s so wonderful to have Hogwarts back to normal. I never realize how miserable Umbridge’s reign at Hogwarts was really making me until I get to the sixth book and McGonagall’s bossing everyone around without a mean toad lady going “Hem hem” at her shoulder all the time. Yes, Snape is teaching Defense against the Dark Arts, and yes, I think that blows and also, isn’t it sort of irresponsible of Dumbledore to keep giving that job to people when it’s plainly jinxed? Like, couldn’t he knock the subject of Defense against the Dark Arts on the head and invent a brand new subject called, like, Nefariousness Prevention, and get around the jinx that way?

I want to call Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince “The Book in which Harry is Right”. I love it when Harry’s right, and usually if there’s a conflict between him and Hermione, Hermione’s going to win. But not in this book! In this book Harry gets to be right on a number of different occasions, and Hermione gets to screw up. It’s not that I don’t like for Hermione to be right — I do! But it’s also good to see that she’s not infallible. She sometimes fails at sneakiness, and she sometimes resists available evidence that points to a conclusion she does not wish to reach. Such as that Harry is right about Malfoy, in particulars as well as just the general thing of Malfoy being Up to Something.

In the ongoing Harry-Dumbledore buddy comedy that is Book Six, Harry ribs his buddy-comedy-buddy for his fashion sense sixty years ago — props, Harry, there’s no reason for anyone of any time period to wear a purple velvet suit while not being Oscar Wilde. Or maybe Dumbledore’s just wearing it to alarm the orphanage superintendent who is so fond of gin. I cannot blame her. I am fond of gin myself, and I do not have daily responsibility for a tiny magical psychopath. If I did, I would probably drink quite as much gin as this lady does after Dumbledore does his psychic-paper spell.

I like the flashback of little Voldemort better than the flashbacks that involve the Gaunt family as a whole. Little Voldemort is just the right amount creepy, whereas the Gaunts are over the top if you ask me. If they’d lived a few decades into the future, I bet they’d have had their own reality show. They could have talked about Mudbloods and hissed at snakes, and all the wizards watching the show would shake their heads judgmentally and talk about what is wizarding television coming to these days.

Do you notice, by the way, that all evil wizards in this world seem to have the habit of doing mocking singsong voices as a sign of disrespect? Is that a thing? Voldemort’s grandfather did it and Bellatrix Lestrange is prone to it too, if you’ll recall. Either this is a thing they teach you in Taunting Class at Durmstrang, or JK Rowling’s sister used to do this to her on car trips and JK Rowling really, really hated it. Fair enough if the latter.

Are y’all fans of the incorporation into this book of hilarious romantic subplots involving Cormac McLaggen and Lavender Brown, whose name I inexplicably keep on typing as “Lavendar”? I AM. Ron’s defense of starting to go out with Lavender when he was supposed to be going to Slughorn’s party with Hermione is hilariously belligerent. In fact everything about the Ron-Lavender relationship is hilarious, from its onset to its eventual demise. Quidditch is apparently a great aphrodisiac in these books — Ron and Lavender are, ahem, not the only couple to start making out in the immediate aftermath of a successful Quidditch game.

I love everything about this exchange:

“But you are normal!” said Harry fiercely. “You’ve just got a — a problem–”

Lupin burst out laughing. “Sometimes you remind me a lot of James. He called it my ‘furry little problem’ in company. Many people were under the impression that I owned a badly behaved rabbit.”

Aw. Harry being loyal; us getting a non-douchey memory of James; Lupin laughing. Bless them.

The Adulting of Harry Potter

1. It rocks that Harry tells McGonagall (and Dumbledore, and everyone) what he suspects about Malfoy after Katie Bell gets attacked. McGonagall was obviously not going to believe him, but still, Harry has come a long way from the early books when he never told anything to anyone.

2. Asking Luna to Slughorn’s party is a delightful thing for Harry to have done. It’s extra delightful that he asks because he enjoys her company. As who wouldn’t, you know? He’s really clear with her about what the invitation portends (nothing romantic!), which is also good. And Luna’s response is so sweet and so completely Luna.

“Oh, no, I’d love to go with you as friends! Nobody’s ever asked me to a party before, as a friend! Is that why you dyed your eyebrow, for the party? Should I do mine too?”

Plus, when they’re at the party, Harry doesn’t ditch her and go hunting for other people to hang out with, as he did when he asked Parvati to the Yule Ball. He stays with Luna for the bulk of the party, and when he’s ducking out to eavesdrop on Snape he’s like, Hey Luna, I’ll be right back, okay? which is fine, because she’s engaged in a conversation anyway. Good job, Harry! Your social skills are coming along in leaps and bounds!

3. The conversation Harry has with Scrimgeour at Christmas might very well be my favorite bit of this entire series. I love how adorably obvious it is that Harry’s using Dumbledore as his model for how to behave with bullies. I love that his criticism of Scrimgeour is biting and on point and pretty calm even when Harry’s getting pissed. And, of course:

“Well, it is clear to me that he has done a very good job on you,” said Scrimgeour, his eyes cold and hard behind his wire-rimmed glasses. “Dumbledore’s man through and through, aren’t you, Potter?”

“Yeah, I am,” said Harry. “Glad we straightened that out.”

Never ever EVER gets old. Of course it is wonderful when Harry defends his belief and his people. But it is huge extra piles of awesome that he’s so consistently been a person who Will Not Abide with Your Bullshit, and now he’s the grown-up version of that person. Yay. I love Integrity Harry!

Revisiting Harry Potter: The Harry-Dumbledore Buddy Comedy Commences

Okay, “buddy comedy” may be putting it a trifle too strongly. But you know what I mean? When they go off to make Slughorn come to Hogwarts, and Dumbledore goes off to have a poop while Harry (metaphorically) seduces Slughorn with his fame, courage, and loyalty to Hogwarts? And Dumbledore’s all, “Knitting patterns! Well, we must be off,” and cracks wise about his jam preferences. (Raspberry jam is delicious; good call, Dumbledore.) All the trappings of a classic buddy comedy! (Ish.)

It is also about damn time someone told off the Dursleys for being terrible child-rearers. I don’t know why Dumbledore wasn’t keeping a closer eye on that situation. Couldn’t the wizarding world have taken up a collection to pay Petunia and Vernon for Harry’s upkeep? They’d still have been jerks to him but at least they would have been accountable to someone and Dumbledore could have stopped by now and then to stop them putting Harry in the cupboard under the stairs. But what’s past is past, I guess. I’m glad something was said about how awful the Dursleys are, and I’m glad that Dumbledore tells Harry he’s proud of him for how he’s dealt with losing Sirius.

How do people feel about the chapter with Snape and Bellatrix and Narcissa? Personally I do not care for it. I am pleased to know all the ways Snape has been explaining to Lord V. his behavior over the years, but I’d have preferred that information to come out slowly instead of in one big infodump. Also, are you extremely curious what role Snape played in Emmeline Vance’s death? I AM. Do you think it was the kind of situation where Voldemort had found out information about Emmeline from another source, and Dumbledore knew he had, so he had Snape give Voldemort basically that same information? Or do you think an element of self-sacrifice on Emmeline Vance’s part was involved? Inquiring minds want to know.

You know who sucks? Fleur. I think she’s one of those people who’s all like, “Oh, you know, I don’t really have any friends who are girls,” and she thinks the reason for this is that she’s so beautiful and other girls are jealous, but the real reason is that if there’s a guy around she immediately stops paying attention to her girl friends. I would deeply resent having to be her bridesmaid, if I were Ginny.

This book amps up the everyday scariness of Voldemort, which I appreciate — you don’t want a toothless villain! I always thought we were going to find out why Florean Fortescue got taken, but we never did. I guess we’ll have to wait for the Encyclopedia that JK Rowling better not have decided against because that would make me sad. I posit that it’s because Florean knew some information about History that Voldemort wanted (because remember he knew all about medieval witch-burnings in the third book?), and I guess if you’re Voldemort and you want to know something you abduct and torture an expert on that subject. That is the Voldemort version of going to the library.

(Like, it’s either that, or Voldemort stopped in for ice cream and Florean Fortescue spit in his milkshake.)

Fred and George’s joke shop includes this product:

“One simple incantation and you will enter a top-quality, highly realistic, thirty-minute daydream, easy to fit into the average school lesson and virtually undetectable (side effects include vacant expresion and minor drooling). Not for sale to under-sixteens.”

Not for sale to under-sixteens EH? Real talk for a second here, y’all: They’re sex daydreams, right? This is a sex product?

The Adulting of Harry Potter: I’m making this a feature for Book Six, because Harry has grown up so much since the last book, and I think it deserves its own special feature. Let’s compare some Harry behaviors to their equivalents in earlier books.

1. When Harry suspected Snape was up to no good in the first book, he didn’t tell anyone because he was all “We’ve got no proof!” When he suspects Malfoy is up to no good in this book, he tells everyone. It doesn’t do him any good — because everyone’s like, “You’ve got no proof!”, but still, way to go, Harry. If you see something say something.

2. He deals with his grief over losing Sirius like a MOTHERFUCKING CHAMP. Whereas with Cedric he couldn’t figure out a way to process what had happened (again I say, shouldn’t someone be in charge of slapping this kid into wizard therapy?), he admits to Dumbledore that he feels terribly sad about Sirius and misses having a parent but he knows Sirius wouldn’t have wanted him to just curl up into a ball o’ sadness, and that’s why he’s going to keep on fighting evil because it’s what he wants and what Sirius would have wanted.

(Truth. Also, sniffle.)

3. In the fifth book, a pretty girl finds Harry in the company of Neville and Luna and Harry wishes he could die. In the sixth when the same situation occurs, Harry’s like, “Piss off, these are my friends.” Plus:

“People expect you to have cooler friends than us,” said Luna, once again displaying her knack for embarrassing honesty.

“You are cool,” said Harry shortly. “None of them was at the Ministry. They didn’t fight with me.”

Damn straight, Harry. I am glad you and I have both come around to appreciating Luna’s charms. She was wasted on us both in the previous book.

Revisiting Harry Potter: Crying early and often

You guys. This book. How can everyone be so brave and good, and everything go so terribly wrong for them all the time? All through this readalong I’ve been excited to get to the final segment of Order of the Phoenix because, in my opinion, there is no finer set-piece throughout the entire series (and there are a lot of good set-pieces!) than the sequence in the Ministry. It is so fucking tense. Actually, this entire section of the book is fairly intense. Which is why this post is in a state of near-total incoherence and book quotes. Sorry. But, I don’t know what else could have been expected.

Like this? It is both scary and awesome.

Harry could see the tiny outline of Fang, attempting to defend Hagrid, leaping at the wizards surrounding him until a Stunning Spell caught him and he fell to the ground. Hagrid gave a howl of fury, lifted the culprit bodily from the ground, and threw him: The man flew what looked like ten feet and did not get up again.

RAWR. HAGRID. Really, as much as I hate the overarching Hagrid plotline in this book, it nevertheless shows everything that is good about Hagrid. How he is so loyal to his brother, even though it sucks for him, and how he is tough and scary in defense of the people he loves, and also at the end how good and kind and gentle and supportive he is with Harry over losing Sirius. Y’all, real talk, before the seventh book came out, I made a list of four people who absolutely must not die, and three of the four died, but the fourth was Hagrid, and if I’d had to choose only one of the people on my list to survive I’d have chosen Hagrid.

Exceptionally wonderfully, this section of the book brings up Harry’s “saving-people-thing”. Hermione, our emotional insight machine and frequent authorial voice, makes us all take a beat and address the fact that Harry, whom we love and admire for his heroism, is sometimes being heroic because he is very, very damaged.

“You…This isn’t a criticism, Harry! But you do…sort of…I mean — don’t you think you’ve got a bit of a — a — saving-people-thing?” she said.

What’s fantastic about this is that the books have never made you think about this — Harry’s been the archetypal hero, struggling along trying to do the right thing whenever he can — but once Hermione says it, you immediately recognize it as true. He exactly has a saving-people-thing. He lost his parents, he doesn’t want to lose anyone else — the kid’s got a saving-people thing. Everything Hermione says is right, and in this book, for the first time, it’s not serving Harry well. His saving-people thing is, cruelly, the reason Sirius dies. WHY, J.K. Rowling? WHY?

Anyway, this reread may have the record for how early on I started crying. Ordinarily I start crying when Harry’s facing the Death Eaters and he’s all alone, and Neville comes running down the aisle, all beat up and screaming that he’s still there to fight with Harry. (No lie, just writing that made me start crying.) But this time I started crying way sooner, viz., when:

“We were all in the D.A. together,” said Neville quietly. “It was all supposed to be about fighting You-Know-Who, wasn’t it? And this is the first chance we’ve had to do something real — or was that all just a game or something?”

Dammit Neville.

And look, I know y’all are maybe going to be angry at Harry for taking everyone to the Ministry and putting them in danger, but he had to — I mean, he had to, forget having a saving-people-thing, which he does, he had to go. He couldn’t not go. And once he’s there, and everything’s awful, I think he does a really good job of handling his shit. He figures out the leverage he has, and then he figures out a plan for getting them past all the Death Eaters, and he just does a really really good job with a shit hand of cards. I don’t care what you say, I AM PROUD OF HIM.

Oh how many tears did I cry? Many tears, friends.

But some part of him realized, even as he fought to break free from Lupin, that Sirius had never kept him waiting before…Sirius had risked everything, always, to see Harry, to help him…If Sirius was not reappearing out of that archway when Harry was yelling for him as though his life depended on it, the only possible explanation was that he could not come back.

GODDAMMIT. I don’t care about Ron! I wish Mr. Weasley had died and Sirius had lived and I do not care what you say! Ron has like sixteen thousand family members, and Harry has only exactly one. He needs his one family member, dammit! I wish Mr. Weasley had died! I wish it to infinity! I don’t care! I don’t care! I don’t care!

In case you couldn’t tell, I am writing this post approximately two seconds after finishing the book, and I haven’t yet cycled all the way through the stages of grief over Sirius’s death. I cried all the way through Dumbledore telling Harry how it was his fault what happened (and like, yes, Snape had to pretend not to take Harry seriously, but don’t you feel like any other person, i.e., anyone with a scrap of mercy for Harry’s feelings, would have figured out a way to indicate to Harry that he was going to take care of it? The kid is fifteen years old and you’re talking about the death of his only family member), and I cried when Harry found the mirror and when he talked to Nearly Headless Nick and then I cried extra when he talked to Luna, and I cried when the members of the Order came and threatened the Dursleys for him. Oh Harry.

My favorite moment of the fifth movie: When Sirius has come to save Harry at the Ministry, and Harry’s saying he wants to stay and fight, and Sirius says, “You’ve done beautifully. Now let me take it from here.” Totally destroys me. I don’t love those movies, but each of them has moments that make them worthwhile — and weirdly, it’s usually moments they haven’t pulled from the books.

The moral of the fifth Harry Potter book is: Good intentions will lead you to misery and awfulness. Excuse me while I throw away a handful of snotty Kleenex and proceed onward to the sixth book, wherein good intentions frequently produce good outcomes.

Thanks as ever to Alice for hosting this readalong!

Anyone care to read the Browning letters with me?

I’ve been wanting to reread their letters for a while now anyway, and it would be more fun if other people read them with me! I’ve just downloaded an epub copy of the whole set of them from the New York Public Library (thanks, library!). Gutenberg only has the first volume available for epub, so if you can’t find the full version with both volumes, please say so in the comments and I’ll email you the epub file.

(I’ll do that regardless of whether or not you want to join me in this readalong, of course. I am not holding you hostage to my proposed readalong.)

But do you want to do a readalong? I will feel less dorky posting loads of excerpts if other people are doing the same — which you will, because you can’t help it, these people are good writers and also very sweet and lovable. The syntax can get Victorianly convoluted, which I know is not everybody’s jam. On the other hand, it is tremendously touching and great to watch two brilliant, talented, awesome people fall crazy-crazy in love with each other. You will fall in love with both of them yourself. You will not be able to help it.

If anyone is interested, I was thinking we’d start slow and then decide after two rounds of posting how the schedule is working, and if we’d want to speed it up or slow it down. But I thought we could start with something like:

First Monday – We’d read letters from January 1845 to March 1845, which is basically just them getting to know each other and exchanging fulsome and adorable compliments.

Two weeks from that Monday – Next we’d do letters from April and May 1845, which would get us through The Missing Letter (cue dramatic music) and its fallout.

After that, I was thinking readalong participants could let me know how the schedule was working, and I’ll use that feedback and make a schedule for the rest of the letters. I’ve got us at a nice leisurely pace to start, but I’m willing to pick up the pace if y’all JUST CANNOT WAIT to find out whether they elope or not. Spoiler alert: They do.

My lovely Mumsy, who some of you know from her hanging out at your blogs, has agreed to write a guest post or two for this readalong, which is very exciting because I am always trying to get her to write a guest post and she will only do it pretty rarely. And I would like to call out a few other bloggers whose ongoing thoughts on the Browning letters I’d like to hear, but I don’t want to make it awkward for them, so I won’t. But if you are reading this and thinking I wonder if Jenny means me?, the answer is most probably yes.

So if you are interested, let me know! And tell me when in the year would be most convenient for you.

Revisiting Harry Potter: Defending Sirius, Part 2

I will acknowledge the following up front: Sirius is a little pissy in this book. At one point, he is pissy to Harry, and it hurts Harry’s feelings. My thesis is that you would be too so dial down the judgment.

I’m going to take this to a slightly personal place right now. Bear with me. 2012 was an awful awful year, and the quality of its awfulness to my family was lots and lots and lots of unrelenting Life Stress. The quality of its awfulness to me, since I live far away, was lots and lots and lots of seeing people I cared about feel crappy, knowing that I possess qualities and resources that could help them feel a little less crappy, and not being able to employ those qualities and resources in pursuit of that end. Because I live thousands of miles away. Of course it was worse for them. They were the ones with all the shit going on. But it was not fun for me either. It made me cranky and sad and guilty.

Are you judging me for those feelings? Probably not, right? You are probably thinking of a time that you were not in a position to help your loved ones when they needed help, and how crappy it made you feel.

So now let’s imagine that instead of being a lazy layabout who is perfectly happy to lie on the couch and read for days at a time, I am Miniature Roommate, who after about three hours of a hurricane goes mad with cabin fever and starts flinging herself wrathfully about the apartment issuing jeremiads against the storm. And imagine that instead of being trapped in a pleasant-if-small New York apartment for a few days, it is a house where I was loathed my entire childhood by my screaming hateful parents, a house that still features some of the same people who made my life miserable as a kid, and those people are every day providing a large helping of the exact same verbal abuse I managed to escape from twenty years ago; and also there is no prospect of my being permitted to leave it, ever. And instead of all my favorite people facing regular life stress (albeit a disproportionate amount of it at one time), they are all out fighting evil. And not just fighting evil but also trying to conceal from the government that they are fighting evil because if the government finds out about the evil-fighting it will most likely chuck them into Depression Prison on trumped-up charges.

Do you suppose that under these circumstances I would show to best advantage? Do you think that you would? Or do you think that you’d probably be crazy stressed and likely to snap at people and get into arguments about stupid things and make a stand on even stupider things because you just really, really needed to feel like you were doing something for once?

And I agree. Sirius is not perfect in this book. He is not his best self. He’s sort of grumpy with Harry at times, and he shouldn’t have gone to the rotten train station (although, dog hug!, awwww), and there are moments at which he talks to Harry a little bit too much like an adult. I agree with you about that. However, I do not agree with anyone who would argue that Mrs. Weasley and Dumbledore are right to keep Harry in the dark (nobody in this readalong is arguing that, so hooray), and I strenuously disagree with anyone who is cross about Sirius urging Harry to form the D.A. Forming the D.A. is a genius idea that saves lives and turns Neville into the insane badass we all love so much. Way to go Hermione! Way to employ some judicious rule-breaking in pursuit of an important goal.

Here’s why you’re mad, friends. Sirius asks Harry if he can come to Hogsmeade to visit him next time they have a Hogsmeade weekend, and Harry says no, and Sirius’s feelings are hurt.

“You’re less like your father than I thought,” he said finally, a definite coolness in his voice. “The risk would’ve been what made it turn for James.”

“Look–”

“Well, I’d better get going, I can hear Kreacher coming down the stairs,” said Sirius, but Harry was sure he was lying. “I’ll write to tell you a time I can make it back into the fire, then, shall I? If you can stand to risk it?”

And yes, this is mean. That was a mean thing to say. Not the kind of thing a parent should say to a kid. But let’s maintain a normal amount of perspective. He snaps at Harry ONE. TIME. Do you know how many times I snapped at Mumsy and Social Sister last year? Like infinity! And parents snap at their kids all the time! Even the best parents in the world (mine) said unfairly critical things to us sometimes that totally hurt our feelings, and they were not under quite the same pressures that Sirius is under. And there is also this:

“I want you to take this,” he said quietly, thrusting a badly wrapped package roughly the size of a paperback book into Harry’s hands.

“What is it?” Harry asked.

“A way of letting me know if Snape’s giving you a hard time. No, don’t open it in here!” said Sirius, with a wary look at Mrs. Weasley, who was trying to persuade the twins to wear hand-knitted mittens. “I doubt Molly would approve — but I want you to use it if you need me, okay?”

I can’t even with this. It is totally merciless to write off Sirius completely for flaws he has in this book, and I say that as someone who used to love Lupin the best of all the characters and stopped completely because of that thing in the seventh book OH YOU KNOW WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT. Sirius hurts my heart with how much he wants to do for Harry and how little he actually can do. If they launched an It Gets Better campaign for good children of dark wizards, the videos would be like, “Nothing gets better. It gets so much much worse. You will be in a torturous hell for the bulk of your adult life; your efforts in the fight against evil will regularly go for naught; and (spoilers) your eventual death will be a trauma and a ruin to the kid you love more than anything.”

Appendix A: A conversation I had with Social Sister when I was writing this post.

Jenny: I am writing up my Second Defense of Sirius Black right now
Social Sister: Haha, for Mom?
Jenny: NO.
Jenny: …yes.
Jenny: but for the blog, I mean.
Social Sister: It’s okay. We all know.

Touche, Social Sister.

Appendix B: Sirius and Lupin give Harry a fancy set of books about defensive magic. Real talk: Lupin cannot afford presents. Sirius bought those books himself and put both their names on, right? This is not part of my defense of Sirius. It’s just what I think probably happened. It must suck to be Lupin and always accepting money from Sirius and James because he can’t get a job. Also, is Snape still making Lupin the potion to make him safe when he transforms? I hope so! That would be a nice thing for Snape to do.

Revisiting Harry Potter: I have nothing to say about Grawp

I’m not going to do a big post defending Harry because nobody on this readalong is saying Harry doesn’t deserve to get angry. Everyone who minds this book just says that reading about Harry yelling at everyone all the time is not fun. Which, fair enough. I do not mind it but I can see why a person would.

Isn’t it kind of heartbreaking, by the way, to see who Harry does and doesn’t lose his temper with in this book? He stomps all over Ron and Hermione because he doesn’t consider them an emotional flight risk. But he hardly says a single angry word to any of the adults in his life — not Mrs. Weasley, not Dumbledore until the very end, not Sirius, not Lupin, not Hagrid. That gives me sad feelings for Harry, y’all. Adult love and protection should not feel so fragile to him.

Anyway, sorry to have missed last week but here I am now to feel feelings and say things. This book. This one here. It grieves my heart to see everyone so unhappy, yet I do love the moral complexity that starts getting shaded in as soon as this pervasive evil and fear settles over the wizarding community. Nice people do not-nice things, like Seamus Finnigan not believing Harry, and Mrs. Weasley basically taunting Sirius for being falsely imprisoned for most of his life, and oh my God, Percy writing that letter to Ron. That’s the shittiest letter ever, and like Hermione I felt an upsurge of affection for Ron when he tore it all up. I just like this book a lot because good people do bad things without bad intentions, and later they will have to figure out how to fix their mistakes, and that is a thing I enjoy reading about.

So here’s a fun debate for us to have: Who is worse, Umbridge or Voldemort? Captain Hammer says Umbridge! I say, eh, they’re both pretty bad, but at least Voldemort doesn’t pretend like he’s doing you a favor by torturing you. Umbridge’s blood-quill writing lines punishment is maybe the creepiest thing to me in this entire series. It’s at least in my top five, up there with that thing that happens to the Muggle Studies professor in the seventh book. I think they’re just as bad as each other, and I hope Umbridge got put on trial for war crimes or whatever at some point. I don’t care if it’s in a kangaroo court! She deserves a kangaroo court!

(Grumble grumble grumble. I don’t really want Umbridge tried in a kangaroo court. I want her to have a fair trial. I believe in a proper justice system, dammit, even for people who are genuinely terrible. (I’m looking at you, Charles Taylor.))

If I weren’t going to love the fifth book for any other reason, I would love it for Dumbledore’s Army. That is my favorite Hermione idea in all of history (I mean, that one plus the jinxing thing). This?

“Don’t sit there grinning like you know better than I do, I was there, wasn’t I?” he said heatedly. “I know what went on, all right? And I didn’t get through any of that because I was brilliant at Defense Against the Dark Arts, I got through it all because — because help came at the right time, or because I guessed right — but I just blundered through it all…You think it’s just memorizing a bunch of spells and throwing them at him, like you’re in class or something? The whole time you know there’s nothing between you and dying except your own — your own brain or guts or whatever — like you can think straight when you know you’re about a second from being murdered, or tortured, or watching your friends die — they’ve never taught us that in their classes, what it’s like to deal with things like that — and you two sit there acting like I’m a clever little boy to be standing here, alive, like Diggory was stupid, like he messed up–“

I love Harry for saying all this. He’s spent most of the book so far feeling only put upon, thinking so much about what he’s done and earned and deserved (which is true), and it’s great to have him acknowledge that yes, it’s accurate that he did all those things; but yes, it’s also accurate that a lot of his survival is owed to circumstance and not skill. I just love this scene — and Hermione, she’s the best and responds to this tirade perfectly — for letting those two things sit side by side.

Dumbledore’s Army is a great idea because it’s a great idea, and it’s a great idea because it grows Harry up a lot in a hurry. The founding of the D.A. doesn’t mark the end of Harry being shouty in this book, but it does force him to realize that helping other people and building them up makes him feel better than screaming at them. And also, just, it’s nice seeing Harry be a leader a little bit. That’s not really his thing, but he does an awesome job. HARRY. I like for him to live that thing Dumbledore said about the wizarding world being only as strong as they are united. True facts, Dumbledore.

Next week: I defend Sirius with some personal anecdotes from my own life.

Review: The Penderwicks at Point Mouette, Jeanne Birdsall

Oh, the Penderwicks. Jeanne Birdsall has said that she wrote the sort of book she liked to read when she was a girl, by which I must assume that Jeanne Birdsall and I had vastly similar reading tastes. When I read one of the now three books in the Penderwicks series, it makes me feel like I am about ten years old and back in southern Maine, curled up reading on the attic bed in the little cottage we rented every summer. This, presumably, is exactly what Jeanne Birdsall intended.

The Penderwicks books are about four sisters (I am one of four sisters too!): responsible Rosalind, outspoken Skye, aspiring author Jane (oh how I would have identified with Jane when I was little), and shy little Batty. Their mother died shortly after having Batty, and they have been raised by their kind, clever professor of a father. In the first book, they went on vacation and made friends with a lovely boy called Jeffrey; and in the second they sorted their father’s life out for him; and in this one, poor long-suffering Rosalind gets a break from them all. She goes off to the beach, and the younger girls go vacationing in Maine (in Maine!) with their aunt Claire. I missed Rosalind but it turned out to be just as fun spending time with the younger three girls.

What can I say? Jeanne Birdsall’s Penderwicks books are reliably wonderful, and this the third is no exception. I just can’t say enough good things about this author and this series. They are funny and smart and self-aware. They do that thing where the kids have not quite picked up on what’s going on with the adults, but the way the kids view the story is enough to tell the reader what’s going on (I love that thing). They do that thing where the kids figure out everything because the adults aren’t paying attention. The sisters love each other but they don’t always get along and they frequently drive each other crazy. At the climactic moments, this book shines. I cried at the end of The Penderwicks at Point Mouette. My eyes filled all full of tears and I read this one scene like four times.

It is not that Point Mouette (or the foregoing Penderwicks books) are perfect. Some characters are drawn too broadly. Some plot points are telegraphed far, far in advance. I always wonder if I’d have picked up on this as a kid, or if I really was ever young enough not to know that there aren’t that many plots out there to be used and authors consequently use the same ones over and over. But somehow these things don’t seem like flaws. They seem like the way childhood really feels in my memory: some people were caricatures, and the things that happened were things I expected to have happen. And besides, although you can see the plot points coming, they are still paid out in such an incredibly satisfying, non-simplistic way, that you do not mind that you knew what was coming. At least I don’t.

Don’t start with this. Read The Penderwicks first, and then The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, and then, subsequently, The Penderwicks at Point Mouette. You will feel all warm and happy inside when you read them. Promise. They are that kind of book.

Other reviews:

Jen Robinson’s Book Page
Library Chicken

Any others? No? No more? This is it?

I WANT THIS. I WANT IT.

I went into Bongs & Noodles today, (the one in Union Square — yes, I know, why would you go to B&N if you are at Union Square when the Strand is right there? and the answer is, I had to buy some non-book items for upcoming birthdays), and as I was heading single-mindedly for the non-book items section, I beheld a display table of books from small presses. So I swung sideways and espied a book that was not so much a book and more of a box. A box by Anne Carson, called Nox.

The reasons I thought I was going to be disappointed when I opened the box Nox:

1. Anne Carson and Anne Sexton are the same person.*
*Fun fact: No, they aren’t. Anne Carson translated Sappho, and Anne Sexton hit her children and killed herself.

2. Anne Carson killed herself over thirty years ago**, therefore all her stuff has already been published, therefore this will just be fragments o’ crap they are trying to make interesting by putting them into a book and then putting the book in a fetching little box.
**No, she didn’t. That was Anne Sexton. Stop it, brain.

3. I love things that come in nice boxes. Not only do they have a prearranged storage unit that makes them seem tidy even when strewn around my room like all my other stuff, but also they feel like a present. The publisher knows this and is trying to seduce me.

4. Many things look pretty because someone came up with a good marketing scheme, but then when you dig a bit deeper, they turn out to be not nearly as awesome as the marketing scheme that made you want to dig a bit deeper.

5. I read how Zachary Mason (whoa, y’all, I never reviewed The Lost Books of the Odyssey. Stand by.), whom I will of course be marrying someday, sent The Lost Books of the Odyssey to reviewers inside of a little wooden Trojan horse. No box containing a book will ever win more than that.

But then I opened the box, and the book wasn’t a book, but one long, foldy paper that folded out accordion-style. And the first page after the copyright and acknowledgments contained a smudgy copy of Catullus 101, the poem he wrote after going to see his brother’s grave. I may have shrieked out loud. It was like running into an old friend unexpectedly. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this to you, but I love Catullus. I love him. (I wrote I love him three more times, but deleted them because I know you get the picture with me just saying it twice.) He has such a lovely, human variety of poems — some of them are whimsical, some are pining, some are vindictive, some are really filthy, and some — like 101 — are heartbreaking. I am utterly fond of that poem and realized last year that I remembered a surprisingly high percentage of it from memorizing it in a grade school Latin class. Catullus travels to his brother’s grave, getting there of course long after his brother has died. He says he’s come ut…mutam nequiquam alloquerer cinerem, to speak in vain to his brother’s silent ashes.

Anne Carson the poet and classicist created a journal of scraps and reflections following her brother’s death, and Nox, this book in a box, is the closest approximation to that journal that she could manage. Each fold-out verso contains a single word from the Catullus poem, with a translation of that word and some examples of its use. The rectos have a variety of things on them, memories and photographs and thoughts about history and night-time and memory.

There is nothing not great about this. Except, obviously, that Anne Carson’s brother died. The book is in a box. It’s Catullus. It’s Anne Carson-not-Sexton, whose haunting, evocative scraps of translated Sappho in If Not, Winter won my heart, as if my heart needed winning. (Catullus adored Sappho’s poetry, by the way. Catullus loved Sappho so much that when he had to use a fake name for his married girlfriend so her husband wouldn’t catch on, he nicknamed her “Lesbia” after Sappho’s island home of Lesbos.) The papers fold out.

Okay, this is not a review. I didn’t read the book yet although I really really want to. I didn’t buy it because I am about to get a bunch of new books from another source, and since I am poor, and new books are not a regular feature in my life, I’d rather space out the new book acquisitions. My plan was to wait until some week when I was having a really, really bad day, and then buy the book for myself as a lovely treat. Only it occurred to me that Nox is published by New Directions Publishing Company, and it is a small press, and what if I waited and then when I went to buy Nox I couldn’t find it? That would make a bad day worse, not better. Thoughts?

P.S. Frances of Nonsuch Book loved it, and has pictures. Ditto Emily of Evening All Afternoon.

The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon; trans. Lucia Graves

Y’all. What is wrong with me?

This isn’t a rhetorical question. What really is wrong with me? Lovely Kristen of We Be Reading, one of my favorite people in the blogosphere and fellow Diana Wynne Jones lover, gave me this book as part of her blogiversary giveaway last summer, and I am only just getting to it now. What? Why am I like this? I was fully aware that this was a delightful adventurey booklover’s novel, and yet I let it sit around my Louisiana room for months and months, and then I let it sit around my New York room for three months more. What? Why would I ever do this?

(That one was not a rhetorical question. I know why I would ever do this. It is because of the translation issue. I am shy of books in translation and tend to avoid them because I think I’m going to dislike them. I’ve only read like ten books in translation since I started this blog. That’s terrible. I deeply enjoyed a third of those books, which isn’t an awful record, but it should be borne in mind that I only read translated books when I am moderately to extremely confident that I will love them.)

The Shadow of the Wind was just the reading experience I was after this week. On paper it should have been the best book in the world for me, and in real life, that’s exactly how it worked out. Don’t you love that?

Our protagonist, young Daniel Sempere, discovers and adores a book called The Shadow of the Wind by one Julian Carax. When he goes looking for more books by the author, he discovers that a mysterious figure who goes by the name of the devil character in Shadow of the Wind has been going around finding every copy of Carax’s books and burning them up. There are wicked police officers, abandoned mansions, unreceived letters, unrequited love, coveted Montblanc fountain pens: basically everything you need for a lovely, bookish, gothic mystery story.

The Shadow of the Wind was the fully satisfying version of The Thirteenth Tale. I loved the characters and wanted good things for them. I was entranced by the mystery of Julian Carax, the unraveling of the story behind the book-burner, the relationships of the characters, particularly between Daniel and his friend Fermin (I kept thinking of Phantom of the Opera — anyone else?). There was also one particular mystery strand (I won’t spoil it for you) that I was sure would resolve in a predictable way that would irritate me, but instead of that the resolution was quite unexpected, and I think far more interesting. I was delighted with Carlos Ruiz Zafon when I got to that bit.

Not that it was a perfect book, but its flaws were the kinds of flaws I like, such as straying into the realm of melodrama at times, and having slightly soapy elements. These are flaws that remind me of Victorian sensation novels, and those are novels I love in my heart. If you are not a Victorian sensation novel lover, The Shadow of the Wind might not be for you. But if you are, then this book will fill your heart with joy.

When Mumsy and I went to London in 2009, and I was strolling down the South Bank, Carlos Ruiz Zafon was having a signing in the South Bank Foyles. I didn’t care about Carlos Ruiz Zafon so I didn’t go in, but I remember thinking, Gosh, if I ever start to love Carlos Ruiz Zafon, I’m really going to regret this moment. That has happened now. Same with Shaun Tan signing books in the Charing Cross Foyles. Bother. Bother. If I still lived in Louisiana, I would regret these moments even more. I feel like in New York I’ll have a second chance to see these authors, whereas publishers don’t really send authors to the South because they think we don’t read. (This post on that subject made me want to give Neil Gaiman a hug.)

Many, many other people have read this, so I’ll refer you to the Book Blogs Search Engine. One of you who has read this and loved it, may I inquire if you felt the same way about the other two of Zafon’s books that have been translated into English? Are they equally full of letters and books and gothic streets and joyless gay-hating police officers and book-burners? Should I read them tomorrow, or will a Shadow of the Wind hangover make them less fun for me?