Thursday, July 17, 2008

Away for Vacay -- Hooray!

I am off tomorrow for a week's-plus vacation in California with James, seeing various friends and family members of his and hopefully catching up on sleep and relaxing. On the other hand, I'm also planning to write two speeches, a set of illustration notes, and notes on a manuscript while we travel -- no rest for the wicked or the terminally overcommitted.

(I will leave it to you to judge which category I fall into.)

Books I'm taking: Brideshead Revisited, because Emily in our office was shocked I have never read it and insists I must before the movie comes out; Away, by Amy Bloom, Arthur's favorite book of last year; and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, to inspire thinking for one of the speeches. I really wanted something light and vacationy . . . a Georgette Heyer, ideally . . . and wait! I think I have one of those at work! So I will pick that up tomorrow before I head out, and go to bed soon happy.

Also to help me with that same speech (for Terminus): Would you please vote in the poll about which of the HP books is your favorite, and, if you have a critical reason on why it's your favorite and not just a personal/sentimental one*, tell me (briefly) why it's your favorite in the comments? I have my guess about which one is going to come out on top, and I'm very interested to see if I'm right.

* Meaning that, say, you love Goblet of Fire because you think the action scenes are the most compelling there, and not just because you met your True Love while waiting in line for it at a midnight release party. That would be very sweet, but not quite so useful for my speech. :-)

Five jokes you can tell about Barack Obama.

Have you checked out Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog yet? It is FABULOUS. Part I is up for one week only, so grab it while you can.

Also, the High School Musical 3 trailer is out! Squee!

I might nod in here sometime in the next week, but in case I do not, have a lovely most of the rest of your July . . .


  1. I voted for POA because I think it's just about perfect overall in structure and heart, and yet...the most amazing scenes in the *series* are of course the forest chapter and the King's Cross chapter of DH, which, even thinking about them, makes me start bawling all over again. But I think they bring to a climax everything I liked about POA, ie, that longing for what you know you need so much and cannot have (Harry's family intact). I loved how everything we thought about who was good and who was bad was turned upside down in POA and yet it didn't feel unsettling. And, I think the POA film adaptation is the best one so far (although OOTP had some rather fine acting) in part because of the heart there was to work with the the first place.

    HBP is my least favorite because it's the only one that's not a complete story in itself--it mostly felt like setup. Also because I felt like after all this buildup, we never got to actually be there for Ginny and Harry getting together. All the chemistry happened off stage.

  2. Definitely Prisoner of Azkaban. I think it's the tightest plot and the tightest writing in the series. The climax is wonderful.

  3. Another vote for Prisoner of Azkaban. It takes the conflict to another level without becoming oppressively serious, introduces the very scary dementors, and doesn't include too many pointless ramblings. (Honestly, I couldn't even finish #7)

  4. Sometimes I think of them as one long book...
    But if pressed, Deathly Hallows is my favorite. It enabled us, swept up in that wondrous story, to see the myriad threads that she held in her hands from the very beginning, and weave them into a satisfying whole.

  5. The Prisoner of Azkaban tops my list. This is the point where the series turns from being about a boy wizard to being about a young man growing up. The difference between Harry, the child, and Harry, the teen, first become evident in this novel; we are not just reading about Harry having adventures, we are watching Harry (and his friends) grow and mature as individuals. The thirteen-year-old Harry is different from the eleven or even twelve-year-old Harry. It's subtle, but it's real.

    Here also the series truly enters the overall arc of the battle between good and evil that forms the thrust of the series. Though Voldemort is not present in this book (a brilliant choice, else the series would have become like a Saturday morning cartoon where the hero defeats the same hapless evil villain yet again), the effect of his actions on Harry, his family, his friends and his world truly comes into full prominence here. We see how the murder of James and Lily has fractured friendships, denying both Sirius and Remus the support and love they desperately need to survive in the world. A family beyond Harry's blood relatives has been ruptured, and the ramifications are long and poignant... and it takes Harry to restore that family.

    But even Harry isn't fully up to the task, at least not in one book. Even as his dreams of being part of a loving relationship with his godfather bloom, the stains of Voldemort's evil continue to spread. Can their be a more beautiful moment than when Harry and Sirius think they will become the family both lack? Or a more poignant one when the fullness of that dream is taken away? Add to this Harry's belief that his own father will appear as his rescuer— that, in some mysterious way, he will reconnect with the father he has never known— only to realize that this precious, magical, impossible hope is indeed just that, that he himself must become his father... wow. Just wow. Even now, the ache for Harry in that moment rises in my own soul. That's the mark of a great book (and a great writer); that it produces a moment that touches the soul, that makes you forget that you are only reading words on a page about people that do not exist. In that moment they come alive, as Harry and Sirius and all those around them come alive, and you are no longer in a book... you are in a story.

    Such is the power of The Prisoner of Azkaban, and thus it wins my vote.

  6. I liked Sorcerer's Stone best because of the Dursleys. They are wonderfully drawn everyday villains to me, much more interesting than Voldemort. I also like the pacing the best, especially for a read out loud. The language just rolls out... beauty.

    (My second favorite villain is Dolores Umbridge. She is petty evil. Made me shiver.)

    Have an awesome sunny vacation! It'll be nice out here!


  7. Another vote for POA, partly because I think it's perfectly paced and plotted. The time turner device allows us to revisit and reinterpret past events, adding to their depth, while still maintaining the suspense of the story.

    Mostly, though, I have to agree with Howard. POA is the book where Harry fully enters the wizarding world and begins to learn his own family history. He begins to hope that he might finally have a real family with Sirius, then has that hope taken away. But Harry not only endures this second personal blow because of Voldemort, he also sees the wider impact the Dark Lord's evil has had on his community. Because of this, I think it is at the end of POA when the series begins to take on a truly epic scope.

    Deathly Hallows comes in a very close second for me, though--as Rose said, it has the most amazing and touching scenes in the series. But as a standalone book, I have to rank Azkaban as number one.

  8. I voted for Prisoner of Azkaban, but it was close with Order of the Phoenix.

    POA wins for me because of the twist. You have a character who's been established for two previous books--the rat--with clues that the rat's past might be more than it seems (missing finger). She laid the groundwork so early in the series, and so cleverly hidden. I don't think ANYONE would have guessed that Scabbers was more than Scabbers before the third book. It was simply brilliant. It was one of the few times EVER that a book totally surprised me. It wasn't that the revelation was random, it was just brilliantly done.

    OotP works for me as well because of the character of Umbridge. I loved that the baddie in the book wasn't evil, didn't have an evil agenda--it was someone who sincerely thought she was bettering the world and was working absolutely towards that end. Have you seen Serenity? It's like the agent in Serenity--absolute belief in what is right, and absolute belief that it's ok to do the wrong thing to meet that right end. Umbridge is one of the best "bad guy" characters I've ever read about. I know JKR made a big deal about Voldemort's past and yada yada yada, but the complex bad guy for me is Umbridge.

  9. I know this isn't a "work" trip, but is there any chance you'll be stopping in at the SCBWI conference in L.A. while you're out there?

  10. I'll pipe in with a non-POA vote: my favorite is Order of the Phoenix.

    The reason I love OP the most is specifically because of the scene in Dumbledore's office after the fight at the Ministry. It has such great emotional weight, and you can almost SEE Harry growing up and changing right then and there. It was the beginning of Rowling removing all of his parental figures, and his reaction to that sets the stage for how intense 6 and 7 would be.

    POA is fantastic, as are all the others, but OP and that scene have a special place in my Harry Potter loving heart.

  11. My vote is for SS. It was the 'sweetest' of the series. It perfectly set the stage for all those to follow. It wasn't all dark & scary as the later ones. Also, it was given to me by my friend, Karen. She's not my soulmate! No, I think maybe she was my sister in some former life or something!

  12. It's very hard for me to choose between Goblet of Fire (for being an awfully big adventure and taking the leap--at the very end of the book--and allowing a child to die), Order of the Phoenix, and Deathly Hallows (which I've only read once because it was so nerve-wracking). I think, though, that Order of the Phoenix gets my vote because of capslock Harry.

    That's not to be silly, either. I read the first four books as though they were akin to something like the Betsy/Tacy books, where the books charted their lives into young adulthood and the narrative matured accordingly. I was always annoyed to read how the series was nothing more than children's books (as if that was a problem!) when it seemed clear to me that there was an incredibly complex story to be told, and there was nothing for it but to tell it honestly. So, opening Order of the Phoenix was vindication: I was right, and here was an angry young man who had every right to be angry, even if that made a lot of readers uncomfortable.

    Then I have a secret favorite in Chamber of Secrets, because a young man rescuing a lovely young girl from an evil monster is a comfort-read romantic trope. Don't tell anyone! CoS is almost a stand-alone, but I always wondered if this had to be book two, because if the characters had been much older, I don't think that part could have been told without delving too far into themes of abuse and torture and obsession than the rest of the story had room for, given that is also an adventure, a hero's journey, a shcool story, a mystery, etc.

  13. Arthur told me to read Amy Bloom's Away, too. I loved it. I'll be curious to see your thoughts when you return.

    As for HP, I vote for The Half Blood Prince. I can't deny that seeing Ginny and Harry finally acknowledge their feelings for one another was very satisfying - a little romance goes a long way. I loved that Snape became even more complicated, and that at last, Harry's task became very clear.

    Overall - Each book seemed to grow in character depth and plot and that seemed to be a reflection of both the ages of the characters and improvements in JK's writing. I found the often sullen nature of Harry that really kicked in Order of the Phoenix to be the start of Harry as a multi-layered, believably true character.

  14. Another vote for PRISONER OF AZKABAN. The structure really catches you off guard -- you get more than halfway through the book, and they you go through a major portion of the book's action again. I have read other books in which you see the same scenes two or more times, from a different character's perspective each time, but I have not read a book in which you can see the same events twice in the eyes of the same character.

    To me the most real and powerful emotions in the entire series are the ones Harry feels when, first, he realizes that the boy with the patronus he thought was his father was actually himself, and later when his relief at having made this life-saving discovery is overshadowed by embarassment and disappointment at himself for hoping it was really his father.

    I think that last point captures why the series resonates so well emotionally. Harry performs great feats, faces tremendous danger, etc. -- in short, he experiences all the trials of the hero in any adventure story, and yet the the driving emotions are not fear or pride or a sense of duty regarding his quest. Instead, the biggest battle he overcomes is the one with his own emotions -- first feeling somewhat ashamed about his yearning for his parents and his need to belong, then becoming comfortable enough with his feelings to admit not only how he feels but also that he is somewhat embarrassed by those feelings, and ultimately accepting those feelings. The patronus on the lake scenes in POA is a complete emotional journey in itself that is like a miniature version of the on Harry undergoes through the entire series.

  15. my favorite Harry Potter book? The whole series. It's a symphony in different movements, each one achieving a different purpose but all contributing to the grand finale.

  16. My favorite book in the HP series is Goblet of Fire. I enjoy it so much because it's the first time we really see the wider wizarding community (particularly, at the Quidditch World Cup) and Harry's horizons have broadened that much more. I enjoy the rivalry and intrigue of the Triwizard Tournament, too, but for me the moment that stands out in the book is at the end, with Dumbledore's speech about what is right vs. what is easy.

  17. Cheryl,

    I sent a SQUID to you back in June of 07 after we spoke at a first pages conference in Pa (I was with Kelly Fineman). I've never heard back. Should it assume it was lost?

    Colleen Rowan Kosinski

  18. Another POA vote, for much the same reasons as Rose. Fantastic structure and pacing for all of those wonderful characters and details to play around in. Great action without a loss of emotional impact; it was the opposite -- the heart got all swole.

    I will have to check out Away.

    Have a wonderful trip!

  19. My favorite used to be OotP because of Harry's ever grumpy, surly mood. So many people seem to be annoyed by his moody disposition, yet I found it a perfect blend of normal teenage agnst mixed with the growing realization of the enormity of the challenges that were to come. While POA is Harry's transition from boy too teenager, OotP is his first step into manhood. Harry for the first time, I think, realizes and is burdened by more of the mental struggle of his journey (as opposed to the physical fights with evil in other novels). Plus, Umbridge in Ootp is a worse kind of evil than Voldermort.

    That said, my favorite of late seems to be DH. From the moment Harry, Ron and Hermione leave Gringotts until the end, the pace and prose of the last chapters are breathtaking. It is simply beautiful writing and storytelling. I love that the entire novel is the ongoing realization that good and evil are not black and white concepts. It's always complicated. Snape's story, is of course the main example, as is Dumbledore's but I found one of the most poignant moments to be when Narcissa asks Harry if Draco is alive and lets him live. Love and loyalty are complicated matters that always foil the best and worst of intentions. And Dobby's death was perhaps the most tragically beautiful moment in the entire series. It was so cruel and so unexpected, yet it was exactly what Harry needed. Plus, I absolutely adored Neville in all his bad-ass glory. I'm not sure there's any other way to explian how cool he was.

    Happy vacation!


  20. I said Prisoner because I love the whole time travel element and I think JK pulled it off amazingly. Plus, that's the first real wink to Ron and Hermione actually having kind of grown-up feelings for each other.

    My 10 year old son, however, voted for Sorcerer's Stone because, and I quote, it's the original and a total classic. So there ya have it.

    Have a wonderful vacation!

    Kimberly J. Smith

  21. While I love POA for the same reason folks have described here, Sorcerer's Stone is my favorite. This book is seminal to so much that happens in all of the later books. Also, it introduces us to the works of magic. I will never forget the first time I read it...the first time I read the word "muggle" or "quidditch" etc. Finally, the way she opens the book is just simply brilliant!

    Love the discussion!

  22. I voted for Sorcerer's Stone because of its descriptions and the way it sets everything up for the rest of the series. I agree on the comment about the Dursley's--great villians. Maybe I just liked getting to know Harry and his friends...and I'm nostalgic.

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  24. I had to choose between POA and Deathly Hallows, but Deathly Hallows just about manages to win.

    I think that POA is technically brilliant. It has a plot, some definite themes and one could sort of see where she was headed with the book, in the sense that one knew that there was a mass murderer called Sirius Black and some creepy Dementors involved. The surprise elements are, of course, Sirius's identity and the brilliant manner in which she has pulled the time turner concept. It worked, because it made sense- technically.

    However, Deathly Hallows still wins. Because as Harry grows up, he learns, and he changes. And the things that matter to him also change. Things like sneaking off to Hogsmeade or winning Quiddicth matches seem to hold very little, or no importance to him now. He becomes more comfortable in relationships (all of them) is completely responsible and focussed. He is a man, in every sense of the word.

    As one progresses with the books, one can see that Jo's writing becomes more and more..subjective. One could choose to interpret King's Cross in any manner whatsoever, and the same thing goes for slotting Draco as the bad/pitiable guy. She constantly tries to explain concepts like love, sacrifice and loyalty in her, but all of them are expressed SO beautifully in DH.

    My point here is that, although DH may not seem as fine as POA structurally, it makes you think, really think. It's true that things MAY seem slightly rushed at the end of the book-like during the war at Hogwarts- and at times, one has no clue where the book really was headed. But that is why the book is so appealing- because it's not just plain good suspense or well-written action. Ideas like Snape's feelings for Lily, the concept of a horcrux, the death of the Creevey brothers and Dumbledore being a power hungry youth induce the feeling that Harry Potter- and Deathly Hallows in particular- is about much more than just magical time travel and flying broomsticks.

  25. POA had twists you didn't see coming. It had rich character development. The characters weren't whiny; they were in between young and immature. POA had the least number of plot holes. Harry, Ron, and Hermione felt dynamic and balanced as a trio. And we had a break from Voldemort (who is described a bit blandly for such an evil guy.)

  26. I voted for Half-blood Prince. I think the book is wonderfully paced and it has some of Rowlings wittiest writing(probably the funniest book in the series). This is also the book where we get a true understanding of who Voldemort is as a character. It was fascinating to explore his past.

  27. Goblet of Fire was filled with fabulous action, intriguing new characters and spectacular new scenery. It was a thrill ride the entire way but when Voldemort rose out of that cauldren, none of that mattered anymore. It was the ultimate 'no going back' point in the series.

  28. Prisoner of Azkaban, because that was when I realised that I was hooked...( it was the RAT??!!!!! )

    God, She totally sucker-punched me and I knew I'd have to read the rest.

  29. I would choose Order of the Phoenix as my favourite among the seven. I really appriciate the way the mood of the book is written. I feel close to the characters emotions and reaction, without them being described to me. (We don't need the line "Harry was frustrated and scared" to understand that Harry was frustrated and scared.) That is a high level of comunicative skill!

    I also like the way the descussion of the differences between good and evil, as well as the nuanses in these chatagories, are treated in this book. Before now, it has pretty much been good vs. evil. Now we discover different kinds of evil, and different kinds of good, in a new way. Harry being an anti-hero in so many situations is a good example, as well as Fugdes spesific kind of evil; aversion.

    This book also does so much for the development of themes like choise, truth and unity.

    The thing that most impresses me about this book (more each time I read it), is the fact that for a long time, nothing happens. There is no action or cliff hangers to keep the tension up, just the frustration silence before the storm. To allow that in a novell is bold, and gives the story so much more credability, than had it been any other way.

  30. POA... the story structure and pacing are the most sound of all the books.

  31. Edit in my previous comment: "..brilliant manner in which she has pulled off the time-tuner concept"

    I'm sorry, but I couldn't stand reading something I had written incorrectly!

  32. I have to say, my favorite is the Sorcerer’s Stone. I think she probably worked on this one the longest and maybe even spent the most time opening herself up for critiques and revisions. Maybe she was more willing to listen to advice from editors, agents (or maybe other writer friends?) Of course I don't know if any of this is true, but I felt as she went on in the series, she became self-indulgent and stopped listening to editorial remarks… namely trimming things down. Don't get me wrong, I am a HUGE HP fan and admirer of JK Rowling. And it is amazing that kids not only read such lengthy books, but WANTED to! But I still have to wonder if, as time went on, she stopped listening to the advice of others.

    I did love the nearly last scene in Order of the Phoenix where Dumbledore tells HP (and us, the dedicated reader) everything, but it took what, like, 700+ pages to get to that point.

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  34. I love Goblet of Fire best because that book introduces the international wizarding scene with the Quidditch World Cup and the Triwizard Tournament, and I really loved the colorful array of characters like Fleur and Krum. I also thought the Triwizard events were very clever, and Harry was just really relatable in this book because of his fight with Ron, his crush on Cho, and his genuine nervousness going into all the events and being entered in the tournament at all.

    I was also genuinely shocked by the plot twist with Moody and Crouch at the end, and I am not sure if I cried in the previous books, but I sort of remember and so I think that this might be the first HP book I cried at (the part when Harry brings Cedric back and won't let go of the body).

    But not many people agree with me! Something about a plot hole but I've never noticed it lol.