Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J.K. Rowling

You know, if nostalgia was going to cloud my judgment, you’d think I’d like Chamber of Secrets better than I do. It was the first of the Harry Potter books that I bought myself. I remember it really vividly – the Books-a-Million was still open then, and I was young enough that it was a bit of an adventure to buy an expensive hardback all by myself (sheesh, I was a weird fourteen-year-old), and I showed it off to everyone once I got it home, though since none of them had read Harry Potter yet, nobody cared. Except my mother, because she had been pushing for us to read these books for ages and we all said no because we didn’t like the covers, so she felt smug. This was also the only one of the Harry Potter books that I read out loud to my little sister. I used to read out loud to her all the time, and there was a bit of unpleasantness about the first Harry Potter book, which she bought and finished reading herself when I was still in the middle of reading it to her, and I was like OMG YOU HAVE BETRAYED ME….but we enjoyed reading the second one together. It’s her favorite of the books. The little freak.

In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry gets a warning from a wee house-elf (Dobby, I grew to love you, and your heroism caused me to cry many tears later on, but you did not grow endearing until the fifth book or so) that he mustn’t go back to Hogwarts this year because terrible things are going to happen. Darling naïve Harry, little do you realize that any year you spend at Hogwarts is a year in which terrible things are going to happen. Bless your heart. Anyway, being Harry, he disregards this and goes off to school anyway – home is pretty terrible – and as predicted, terrible things do happen, to the tune of nearly-fatal attacks on students who are not of pure blood. There’s some kind of terrifying monster loose in the school! It’s killing Muggle-borns! It’s very terrifying! (Though these are still the innocent days before J.K. Rowling started in with the blood bath, so none of the good guys actually die.) It’s all mysterious and has something to do with a set of similar events that went down at Hogwarts fifty years ago, almost causing the school to close.

I love the expansion of the pure-blood half-blood theme that you see in this book. It’s something that runs throughout the entire series and peaks in the seventh book, and I think Rowling handles it quite well. “Blood traitors” hasn’t been introduced as a phrase yet, but I keep thinking of it, and I find it a pleasing epithet to look forward to. You see an unpleasant side to the Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge, another of those things that will come into play in subsequent books. Quidditch is always fun, and Harry, the poor little sausage, has his first major incident of everybody at school really loathing and fearing him. He’s more victim-kid about it at this point, than furious-adolescent-on-the-angry-rampage like he is in the fifth book, but we all know what’s coming. I love the anagram with Tom Marvolo Riddle (yay for anagrams!), and the climactic confrontation in the Chamber is my favorite of Harry’s first three encounters with Voldemort.

Yet in spite of all these positive points, in spite of my extreme nostalgic fondness for the experience of this book, it remains my least favorite of all seven books, and I’m pretty sure the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher is to blame. Wretched, wretched Gilderoy Lockhart! I’m willing to entertain the notion that this reaction is attributable to my tremendous love for Lockhart’s successor, Remus Lupin, next to whom everybody suffers by comparison. Just – just – Gilderoy Lockhart just ruins everything for me! I am never fond of him, he is always irritating, it is completely his fault that Ron and Harry have an awkward moment that embarrasses poor dear Neville in the fifth book, he’s aggravating and he never gets better and I just hate him! Even when they made this book into a movie, and it was Kenneth Branagh and he was hilarious, I was still way more annoyed than amused. Ugh. I’d almost rather have Umbridge.

(I almost published this post before realizing I couldn’t leave this alone. I wouldn’t really rather have Umbridge. Ever. She’s awful, and she’s mean to Lupin. Of course I do not prefer her to Lockhart. Just wanted to clear that up.)

I remember before the sixth book came out, J.K. Rowling kept doing interviews and saying that the second book was going to be very important to the plot of the sixth book, and I was expecting there to be some devilish twist on the events of the second book that would cause me to regard it in a whole new light. That so didn’t happen. The second book is important to the sixth, but not in a cool way. I also remember being very annoyed, upon finishing the second book, at the notion that Harry and Ginny were being set up to be together. After reading the sixth book, I revised my opinion on this, but now that I’m back to Chamber of Secrets, I can really see Past Jenny’s point. Dobby and Ginny: Acquired Tastes.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling

I decided to read these books all over again. The length of my workdays, and the fact that today I was working at one place or another from six-forty in the morning until nine at night, has put the kibosh on any adventurous reading I might feel like doing. I returned all my library books to the library with the intention of reading my books that I already own (but not yet Suzy, Led Zeppelin, and Me, for which I’m still delaying gratification); and I came up with the bright idea of reading the entire Harry Potter series over from the beginning. My little sister and I have been having a big moan about how much we miss the prospect of new Harry Potter books now that the phenomenon is all, all over.

Also, I decline to call it Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. What is a sorcerer’s stone? The thing is called the philosopher’s stone! It has basis in alchemic legend! Why assume Americans are too stupid for this? Hmph.

In case you’ve been living under a rock: little Harry is a wee lad of eleven, and lives with his awful aunt and uncle and cousin, where nobody likes him and his glasses are broken and he gets in enormous trouble every time something strange happens around him (which isn’t un-often). And then, and then, and then – and then it proves that he’s a wizard, a really famous one because he somehow defeated the darkest dark wizard of all time when he was just a tiny baby, and he goes off to the wizard school Hogwarts, where he has all kinds of exciting adventures and meets loads of new people and flies brilliantly all around on his broomstick. And confronts the aforementioned dark wizard, all over again.

All the problems I remember with JK Rowling’s writing – crazy long sentences which bugs me as someone who likes to read aloud, and also a plethora of unnecessary verbs where “said” should be, and of course the ubiquitous adverbs – are still there. (I realize that last sentence was on the long side, but this is the same blog where I just used the word “unreviewy”, so the standards aren’t quite the same.) I’ve heard people say that JK Rowling is unoriginal, and Harry’s a cliche, and wizard school is a cliche. However, kids who have been mistreated and then find out they’re special are one of those plots that continues to be enjoyable for ages and ages – just like kids who go off to their relative’s strange old house for the summer and discover it is all full of magic. So I am not bothered by this, and since JK Rowling has created an unbelievably thorough and interesting world for her wizards, I can’t support charges of unoriginality.

I have to say, these are charming, charming books. She’s populated her world with good, bright, vivid characters, and she’s made up or borrowed from myth a ton of interesting places and things for Harry (and me!) to be introduced to. I like these books because every one of them introduces new places, new people, new stuff. And as well, I kind of enjoy this one because it’s lighter in tone than the later ones. I want to give Harry a hug and tell him to run away because I KNOW WHAT IS COMING. (JK Rowling was always saying that in interviews – that if she could talk to Harry, she’d tell him she was sorry; if she could spend a day as Harry, she’d run and hide, because she knows what’s in store for him, and I can totally see her point now.) As someone who held out reading them for a while out of a suspicion that they weren’t as good as everyone was saying, let me just say: They’re as good as everyone is saying.

Rereading this, I’m having flashbacks to eighth grade, which is when I first read this book. My friend Rachel lent it to me, and I read it on the bus so I wouldn’t have to talk to the irritating girl who sat with me. Her name was Terri, and she had a high-pitched voice and an annoying little sister who also rode our bus, and she couldn’t understand why it would bother me to have somebody poking their fingers at my face. I finished it, urged my sisters to read it, and ran straight out to the Books-a-Million to buy Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. And then, oh my God, I think I maybe got the third book at the school book fair! I miss the school book fairs!

I’m also finding that I react to every character differently now, because I know the entire arc of their story. (If you haven’t had the joyous experience of reading the Harry Potter books, don’t read this paragraph. I mean it. Even I, queen of reading the end, did not want to know the endings of these books.) So when people show up who are going to die later, I feel urgently that everybody else should enjoy their presence while they can. When people show up who are going to be heroic later, I can only think of their future heroic deeds. I’m having surprisingly (or not so surprisingly, when you think about how tired I am) emotional reactions to everything. When Neville comes into the compartment looking for his toad, I could only think about how he slays Nagini later, oh, how Harry’s going off and he tells Neville, just if he gets the chance, “Kill the snake?” “Kill the snake.” Darling Neville! I wish I could tell him how brave he will be! And when Dumbledore’s giving his speech at the school banquet, I was filled with visceral rage about the nasty things Rita Skeeter was going to say about him later. Oh how I hate her, with her vile insinuations about his very touching paternal relationship with Harry. VILE VILE VILE WOMAN.

Getting the Girl, Markus Zusak (another unreviewy review)

Sheesh, I read this right after Fighting Ruben Wolfe and then completely forgot to review this.  It’s because so many new things are happening.  I’m not just making an excuse.  There are a lot of things going on in my life at the moment.  For instance:

1. New job
2. New commitment to regular writing schedule
3. New phone and laptop
4. New record player
5. Loads and loads of new records – some purchased, some given to me by kind aunt and uncle – and the discovery of a wondrous record store in town
6. New addiction to Jodi Picoult
7. Renewed addiction to cross-stitching
8. Renewed addiction to Gilmore Girls (differing from my previous addictions in that it encompasses the latter four seasons, rather than the first three)

All of these things are time-consuming, particularly the addictions.  I am beginning to suspect that I have an addictive personality.  I get into these manias and I can’t escape until they shake me loose.  The cross-stitching while watching Gilmore Girls thing is just getting started, but it is gaining momentum rapidly.  Plus I am writing for two hours in the morning and then working nine hours after that (I mean eight really, with a break for lunch, but I am out and about all that time), so I have a long and tiring day, and by the end of it I just want to do something soothing and mindless, like read Jodi Picoult or watch Gilmore Girls.  My mum keeps insisting I can’t possibly read Jodi Picoult’s books without thinking about the issues raised in them, but it turns out that I really, really can.  I am willing to entertain the notion that I am just turning off my brain as soon as I leave work, and that’s why I have thought no deep thoughts about Jodi Picoult.

Well, in any case.  (Obviously all this business has given me ADD and I can’t focus on anything.  Oo, and what else is new too also is that it’s fall, and all the fall TV shows have come on, and I enjoy to cross-stitch while watching (on successive days) Gossip Girl and One Tree Hill (Monday is guilty pleasure day), House, Pushing Daisies, and The Office.)  In any case, Getting the Girl was again very good.  Of course.  Markus Zusak is always good.  Of course his other books (other = books not The Book Thief) are less amazing than The Book Thief, but the four I’ve read have all been quite excellent.  At times I thought Getting the Girl was a trifle disingenuous, but overall, I liked it a lot.  So far I have yet to read a book by Markus Zusak without getting choked up and teary-eyed (though of course with The Book Thief I cried many, many tears).

Nineteen Minutes, Jodi Picoult

The addiction continues.  This one’s about a school shooting.  Only one silly thing happens, and it’s not all that silly.  Definitely not as silly as poisoning the Louisiana priest with antifreeze in his cocoa.

…I can’t do this.  I don’t have the heart to continue reviewing this.  I’m too depressed.  I’m about to go directly into a decline.  I’m taking to my bed and I may never rise from it again.  I have several seasons of Gilmore Girls out from the library, my computer is plugged in, I have my cross-stitching, and I can stay lying in this flip chair for the rest of my life.

Florida kicked our ass.  51 to 21.  I shall never recover from this blow.

(I think my life was easier before I cared about football.)

Perfect Match and Vanishing Acts, Jodi Picoult

Sigh.

I know she’s better than this.  Ms. Picoult is an excellent writer.  She does good dialogue, her characters are generally consistent, the little kids are really good little kids.  In each case where I have begun reading a book of hers, I have stayed up way past my bedtime finishing it.  (In the case of Vanishing Acts, I was already up thoroughly late because I was introducing my friend Teacher to Firefly and I didn’t want to let her leave until she totally liked it and had stopped saying snide things about Kaylee.  Victory!)  So I will not suggest that she is a bad writer, at all.

Here’s the thing.  Sister loves her some dramatic irony.  And, um, also just some irony.  Also just some drama.  She is much with the drama and the irony and the dramatic irony.  It detracts from her books.  I mean, I didn’t even think it was possible to use the adjective “silly” to describe a book all about child sex abuse, but I can’t use any other adjective to describe Perfect Match.  I don’t even know where to begin spoiling it.  I mean, there’s the part where Nina shoots the priest in court and then acts crazy; there’s the part where it turns out that not he but a similarly-named priest from Loosiana (of course) who happens to be the dead priest’s half-brother who donated bone marrow to him to cure him of leukemia.  I mean, because why not?  And then there’s the part where the husband, who’s spent the whole book being all judgey-judge, secretly flies down to Loosiana and poisons the real perpetrator with antifreeze.  Oh, and the requisite guy in love with the female protagonist, hovering sadly in the wings.

It’s a shame, you know?  I feel like Jodi Picoult could write much better books than she is actually writing – though I suppose she’s feeling if it’s not broke don’t fix it.  (That expression never fails to make me think of that moment in the Disney Beauty and the Beast where Cogsworth and Lumiere are showing Belle around the castle and he’s talking about the baroque tapestries and he says “And as I always saaaay, if it’s not baroque – don’t fix it!”  Anyone else?  Anyone?)  It’s not the writing, it’s the plots.  She can’t resist high drama, and she can’t resist crazy plot twists, and it detracts from her books.  Making them into guilty pleasure type books, when I really think they could be a lot more.

Which of course isn’t stopping me from being on my massive Jodi Picoult kick, so I’m just off to read Nineteen Minutes now.  I am sure I will feel much the same about that one.

Fighting Ruben Wolfe, Markus Zusak

I read this because I bought Getting the Girl, and then it turned out that Getting the Girl was a sequel to Fighting Ruben Wolfe.  I haven’t liked reading things out of order since I was a young lass reading Patricia C. Wrede’s Dragons books.  I read Talking to Dragons first and found it totally confusing, and after that I resolved to read things properly and in order thereafter.  (The one exception being the Chronicles of Narnia.  I can see a person being just as happy reading those books in the order they were written, which would give them the joyous good fortune of reading The Horse and His Boy rather late in the game.  Also The Magician’s Nephew – it is my fourth favorite, but it clusters high up with the four best ones, rather than down a bit lower with Prince Caspian, The Terrifying Silver Chair, and The Last Battle.  I like Uncle Andrew.

Er, anyway.  Fighting Ruben Wolfe is all about two brothers, Ruben and Cameron, whose father has lost his job, and their whole family is trying really hard to keep its head above water.  And Ruben and Cameron – ostensibly to get some extra money for themselves – get involved doing fights for money.  Ruben always wins, and Cameron often loses.

In fact I wasn’t expecting to like this book much.  People’s first novels are sometimes not very good, and this was Markus Zusak’s first novel.  Furthermore I have only sisters and am greatly averse to pain, so I was thinking that I would be unable to identify with anything here.  But actually it was quite moving.  I didn’t cry at the end – not like when I read The Book Thief and weep helplessly every time – but I got pretty teary-eyed and sniffly.  They fight their circumstances!  They stick together and are brothers!  It’s very uplifting.

Miss Wyoming, Douglas Coupland

The fact that I stopped reading All Families Are Psychotic and started reading this is just further proof that I think an enormous lot of thoughts in my brain, and many of them are rather irrational.  In this case, my thinking was that if I was going to be disappointed in Douglas Coupland I’d rather be disappointed sooner than later.  So instead of reading All Families are Psychotic, which Nymeth said was pretty good, I read Miss Wyoming, which I’d heard wasn’t very good at all.  And then I shall read JPod because it looks strange, and then I shall read All Families are Psychotic, and we’ll see how it goes.

Miss Wyoming is all about two people – John and Susan – who have both, at different points in their lives, disappeared from their lives for a while.  This is why I liked it, I think.  I’m in love with the idea that it can be possible to extract yourself from where you are living and just, pfft, slip out of your life.  But anyway, John and Susan meet once, and they like each other tremendously, and then Susan vanishes agan and John tracks her down.  Interspersed with this is a lot of backstory about both of them, in varying degrees of interestingness.

I liked it. I loved this thing that one of the characters did about tracking someone down based on the typos they make.  The idea being that people’s typing mistakes tend to remain the same – I myself am constantly typing “foundaiton” for “foundation” – and you can use that to find what computer somebody is using.  What an excellent idea!  So I still like Douglas Coupland.  I am feeling better about my reading diversity now that I have recently discovered two authors who are men that I really, really like; as well as reading Markus Zusak’s other books.  I am not a sexist reader.  Yay.

Lux the Poet, Martin Millar

I am afraid that if I keep saying sweet to describe Martin Millar’s book, it will seem to be that I am damning him with faint praise and denying that he has any edge. Because his books contain themes about racism and drugs and sex and whatnot, and these aren’t things generally associated with books that are sweet. On the other hand, if Martin Millar didn’t want his books to be described as sweet, he should not have written such extremely sweet books. So it’s not really my fault.

Lux the Poet is about several things. It’s about a poet called Lux who is incredibly vain, and to whom nobody will listen when he tries to recite his poems. He is in love with a girl called Pearl, who has made a film and is (sort of) dating a girl called Nicky, who is manic-depressive and has irritated the vengeful leaders of a company that was trying to breed genius babies, by stealing their genetic programme so they can’t carry on with their plan to breed genius babies. Also, there is a fallen heavenly person called Kalia who has to do a million good deeds before she can get back into heaven, and she continues to be reincarnated until she has done this. Her plans are being thwarted by wicked Yasmin, who in this incarnation is hunting down Nicky and Pearl to get the genetic programme back. Um, and also Lux is being hunted down by an angry thrash metal band called the Jane Austen Mercenaries, because he stole their demo tape which is now wanted by a record company. Also there is a book reviewer trying to get back a manuscript he left with Nicky. Oh, and also – I forgot this until just now, which you wouldn’t think I would have because it’s the whole point – they are all in Brixton during the reportedly very unpleasant Brixton riot in 1981. It was a great big riot, and it contained racial tension. Apparently. I wasn’t born yet. Anyway there is a big riot and everybody is going round and round Brixton trying not to get burned up or intimidated or arrested.

And it was very sweet. Mostly. Apart from a wee bit in which this woman got raped – but because that’s upsetting to me I’ve decided to believe Nicky was hallucinating it, which, hey, she may have been – and apart from how occasionally some unpleasant people used a word I don’t use and really, really, really don’t like (it’s a racial slur – you know what I mean). It is one of very few words I actively dislike. In fact it is my least favorite word. If I ever get interviewed by James Lipton – which is unlikely – I will tell him this word is my least favorite word. Ugh, I really hate it. I decline to write it because I dislike it so much.

I read Lux the Poet in order to make myself not dislike Suzy, Led Zeppelin, and Me. In case I haven’t said so, I am greatly looking forward to reading Suzy, Led Zeppelin, and Me, but I’m holding off until I have finished reading my new Markus Zusak books (which are short), and the two Douglas Coupland books I have out of the library, and The Vampire Tapestry. It’s all about delaying gratification. However, I have noticed a trend with new authors where I really like the first two books I read by them and then the third one is a letdown (this has held true with Martine Leavitt and Salman Rushdie and Mary Renault and probably others but I can’t remember), and since I already bought Suzy, Led Zeppelin, and Me, I didn’t want it to be a letdown. So I read Lux the Poet as my number three Martin Millar book. It wasn’t a letdown but it was less good than the first two books I read by him, and therefore I am now safe to read Suzy, Led Zeppelin, and Me.

Anyway, Lux the Poet was good. Except too short. I can envision a world in which one would find Martin Millar’s writing to be choppy and disjointed, but I’m glad to report I don’t live in that unfriendly depressing world. I liked this book, and I especially liked Kalia, who was the fallen heavenly creature trying to find her way home. I liked it how Lux was very okay with discovering this about Kalia, and I liked it that major problems throughout the book sometimes got resolved suddenly and easily (it’s so relaxing). Lux reminded me a bit of the poet ghost in The Graveyard Book, one of several characters in The Graveyard Book that there was not enough of, so it was quite convenient to have read this straight away after reading The Graveyard Book. I’m sad I have to return Lux the Poet to the library. Maybe I will steal it.

I’m sort of sad that Lonely Werewolf Girl was only released last year. It appears to take four or five years for Martin Millar to write a new book, which is fine but sad for me because now I have to wait until 2012 for his next one. 2012. That is a long time away, and it seems like a very improbable year to me. 2012. Like 2012 could ever happen.

The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman

The reason for the brevity of those last two reviews is that I am really mostly just excited about The Graveyard Book, which came out today.  At last!  The Graveyard Book!  I have been yearning and yearning and yearning for it, and at last it came out, and I read it all outside on a blanket in my side yard, and it was nice and shady and breezy, and I felt very, very, very happy!

I went to Bongs & Noodles today to get The Graveyard Book, and they had not yet even opened up the box with the display that The Graveyard Book was going to be on.  The salesperson had to get a pair of scissors and open the box up just for me.  (I offered her my keys, which would have been more effective actually, but she insisted on using the scissors.)  It was very exciting.  I love it when Neil Gaiman writes a new book.  He should write a new book every day, and then I would be happy every day, and I wouldn’t have enough time to read all of them, so that when he died way off in the future I would still have dozens of new books by Neil Gaiman to read.

That would be nice.

The Graveyard Book is all about a boy whose family is killed when he is very wee, but he escapes and toddles away into a graveyard, and the graveyard decides to adopt him.  The ghosts all look after him and teach him useful lessons like Fading and Dreamwalking, and he has got a guardian called Silas, who consumes only one food, and it is not bananas.  He grows up gradually, and they call him Bod (with a D), short for Nobody.  The man Jack, who killed his family, remains interested in killing him, so Silas and the rest of the ghosts do their utmost best to keep him safe until he is a grown-up.  He becomes clever and resourceful, and he doesn’t like people who are wicked.

How I loved The Graveyard Book!  It was such a dear book!  There are all these ghosts you don’t get to know nearly well enough, and every chapter is a little story, and Bod gets into all kinds of trouble and learns valuable lessons and sometimes makes a friend.  I only wished there were more of it.  More Silas and more of the poet ghost, who was extravagant and helpful.  I am not usually overcome with sadness when a book ends, but I was extremely sad when I got to the end of The Graveyard Book.  I suppose because it was rather episodic, I expected it to go on and on and on, and then instead of that it ended, and I felt really sad because I was sure there were more bits that could have happened in the middle before it got to the end.  I was insupportable.  I had to lie on my back and stare at the humongous sky for a while before I was able to overcome my grief and start reading it all over.

Read it!  Neil Gaiman is wonderful!  I am glad he is still so young and can continue to write for many years still!

The Mercy of Thin Air, Ronlyn Domingue

Recommended by my mother.  Of course.

This is a book about a girl in 1920s New Orleans who dies prematurely, before anything about her life gets properly decided, particularly before she makes a decision about her boyfriend Andrew, a fact that proves troublesome to her after she dies.  She is called Razi, and she haunts a Baton Rouge couple, Amy and Scott, who are dealing with the fallout from a loss of their own.  The story flips back and forth between their story and Razi’s life as a – for lack of a better word – ghost, over the years, and Razi’s life when she was properly alive.  She is a really excellent character.  When she is alive she says to her Andrew, “One lifetime isn’t enough to make all the trouble of which I am capable.”

I really love the main character’s name – it’s Raziela, the meaning of which I’ve seen alternately given as God’s secret and My secret is God, both of which are wonderful.  I like My secret is God particularly, to be honest.  My secret is God.  That is a good sentence.  I will have to find a use for that sentence.

The Mercy of Thin Air was good.  I like books about people successfully coming to terms with things that have been problematic to them.  This was melancholy in bits and joyful in bits and with good characters and good dialogue and I just liked it a lot.  Plus, you know, sister’s from the home state and her characters are always going to places that I have been, in Baton Rouge and in New Orleans.  Hooray for Louisiana!  We have good food!  We have streetcars!  If anywhere in this country was going to have ghosts, it would be us!  Up with Louisiana!