“The chains were one word, repeated a thousand times in golden ink…”

Yesterday I was angry and I needed to vent. Thank you all for reading and sharing and commenting. It’s lovely to know that nearly everyone feels the same way about Lynn Shepherd showing her ass.

Today I’d like to take the negativity from yesterday and let it go by talking about something it saddens me that Lynn will never understand:

The gloriousness that is fandom.

We were wizards attempting to dress as muggles for the QWC.  I made that Weird Sisters shirt myself.

We were wizards attempting to dress as muggles for the QWC. I made that Weird Sisters shirt myself.

Order of the Phoenix was released 2 days before my birthday in 2003. At the time, the only person I knew who also read Harry Potter was my little brother. He was 14 and a slow reader, and not much good at speculating.

(Oh, um…spoilers from this point on.)

acid popsSo, Sirius had just fallen through the veil and I was FUCKING WRECKED. I had no one to talk to about it, of course I took to the internet.

There were tons of forums full of kids that couldn’t spell or construct a sentence and I was sad that it looked like I would have to walk away without finding anyone else to talk to.

Then I found diagonally.org. The thing that was different – that was EXCEPTIONAL – about this site was that it was populated entirely by adults. Text speak was not welcome. These were grown ups who happened to be invested in this series for “children,” just like me. These were adults that somehow found this series we were supposed to be ashamed to be reading intellectually stimulating enough to compose theories so involved they could have been confused for a Masters thesis.merope dead snake

It was like I’d found a second home. A family.

The most beautiful thing was that we weren’t all just rabid fangirls and boys, all up on Jo’s jock. We had arguments. We disagreed with each other and the choices she’d made for this world she created.

It was amazing.

hamlet endingWe all knew Harry was a horcrux from the day we finished Half-Blood Prince.  We argued over the placement of chairs in Dumbledore’s office.  We all agreed that Albus was a sick fuck.

I still talk to the people I met there on a DAILY basis, even though the forum no longer exists. We are all friends (true friends) because fandom brought us together.

A few years later (in mid-2009) I was going through a particularly rough time and whiled away many hours playing a game that started life as a facebook app. My oldest played too, and continued playing even after I’d lost interest.

He asked me one day in early 2010 if I would start playing again, because he wanted it to be something fun we could do together.

She dressed up too.

She dressed up too.

How could I say no to that?  He explained the things that had changed since I had last played, one of the things being Clubs.  He told me I should join a Club so that I could make new friends and participate in activities, but that I couldn’t join HIS Club cos that would be too weird.

I found and applied to the Harry Potter Fan Club.

Which is where I met Heather D.

We were fast friends.

Like, the kind of friend that you make and immediately wonder where the hell they’ve been your entire life.  The kind of friend that you feel a connection so instantly and so strongly that it’s like you’ve ALREADY been best friends for forever.

And we still are.

<3  I can still kick her butt in book trivia, but she pwns me with the movies.

<3 I can still kick her butt in book trivia, but she pwns me with the movies.

So, listen, Lynn Shepherd.  You may not feel like Harry Potter is worthy of adults.  You may not GET it.  That’s okay.  But don’t try to tell me that it’s not worth anything.

Because it is.

friends…friends…friends…friends…

Thank you, JK Rowling for bringing me Heather.  Thank you for bringing me La Qui No Habla and Scarah (who made the gifs up there) and RedQueenMeg and Aurora Sinistra and Ealbiest and MT and Gryffin82.  They have made my life richer than I can ever express.

Tell me about your fandom experiences?  I could use some happy now.

How to Guarantee I Will Never Ever Read Your Book in One Simple Step

By now I’m sure you’ve all seen this piece.

My reaction can be summed up in five words.

Are you fucking kidding me?

Do we need a reaction gif?  I think we need a reaction gif.

fucking kidding

Setting aside the fact that it does, indeed, come across as sour grapes, there are several bones I have to pick with this post.

1.  Do not talk excessive shit about something you haven’t read for yourself.

This is a huge pet peeve of mine (I actually touched on it just last week) and something I feel VERY strongly about.  Lynn Shepherd wrote almost 600 words disparaging another author whose work she has never read.  I don’t care if it’s not your thing.  It’s fine to say that it’s not your thing, but until you’ve actually read it?  Shut.  Your.  Face.  Don’t attempt to shame other people into reading your own work by poking at something you deem unworthy.  NOT GOING TO WORK.

2.  No one likes the Reading Police.  Don’t be that guy.

I am serious, Lynn Shepherd.  NO ONE likes this person.  When you say things like

I did think it a shame that adults were reading them (rather than just reading them to their children, which is another thing altogether), mainly because there’s so many other books out there that are surely more stimulating for grown-up minds.

you are essentially alienating every. single. adult that ever read or enjoyed Harry Potter.

Holy shit, that’s a lot of adults.

3.  Haters gonna hate.  Readers gonna read.

I feel like Lynn Shepherd has no idea what readers are actually like.  If she knew, there’s no way she would have said this:

That book sucked the oxygen from the entire publishing and reading atmosphere. And I chose that analogy quite deliberately, because I think that sort of monopoly can make it next to impossible for anything else to survive, let alone thrive.

Here’s a secret – readers READ.

Yes, I just made this.  You can buy it here.

Yes, I just made this. You can buy it here.

Readers do not just buy one book and think “welp, that’s it, I’m done!”  Readers buy LOTS OF BOOKS.  Readers buy more books than they can conceivably get through in their lifetimes.  Readers take recommendations of people they trust seriously, and readers tend to remember people who talked smack about an author they love.

4.  Champion someone’s work besides your own.

All I really got out of this post was someone whining about the fact that a big name author is stealing her potential readers.  And that it was clickbait that I fell for.  BUT THAT IS MY PROBLEM.  You know what would have worked for me?  A post recommending “ordinary authors” (her term, not mine) for those of us that enjoyed Jo’s other work.  This?  All this did was make me squeeze my considerable ass (grown to this size from READING, don’tchaknow?) into my rantypants.

Oh, and add someone ELSE to the list of authors whose work I won’t touch, even if there are no other books left on earth.

seinfeld no

I am ALL OVER the place this week!

Happy Valentine’s Day, my dear Snobbits!

I don’t really have a whole lot to say today (here, anyway), but wanted to let you know that I’ve been the super busiest this week elsewhere.

In case you missed it, I’m over at Insatiable Booksluts musicslutting it up with an anti-Valentine’s Day mix tape.  Click here for Valentine’s Day Can Suck It.

I’m also over at TipsyLit today talking about eReading with my kids.  You can find that post here.

Click!  Read!  Listen!  Comment!

I will love you even more than I already do if you do, promise!

romione

A Devoted Harry Potter Fan Reads The Casual Vacancy

(Remember when I said last week that I had a super awesome guest post coming up?  This is it!  - sj)

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Three provisos before I even begin this review:

  1. Spoiler alert! This review includes references from the Harry Potter series, including Deathly Hollows.
  2. Read this review in tandem with its review in The New York Times by Michiko Kakutani. We have arrived at entirely different appreciations of the book.
  3. Warning: this review includes foul language and mild nudity. No. I wish there was mild nudity. Alas, only foul language.

casual vacancy

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling is NOTHING like Harry Potter. But you knew that already. You have probably already read the first 50 pages, 100 at best, and are debating in your head whether you should keep going. For starters, our hero, or the character that comes closest to one, Barry Fairbrother, an apparent champion of the poor and promoter of second chances, dies in the first chapter. Not a heroic death, mind you. He dies of an aneurysm in the brain. For some reason the simple death of a middle aged man throws the sleepy town of Pagford into a whirlwind. Fairbrother is a member of the parish council of Pagford, and his death produces a “casual vacancy” that needs to be filled with a special election.

Like those “find your own ending” stories we read in elementary school, this is the place where you have to make a choice. You can jump to Michiko Kakutani’s review in The New York Times, which will make you use the book for kindling on the first cold night this fall when you light up the fireplace. Or you can choose to read on as I tell you why I think this is some of the best writing I’ve read in a while.

Made your choice? The Casual Vacancy is a character study embedded in an every-story. Your every-story. Mine too. Avid fans of the pace and the action of the Harry Potter series might find this dull and uninviting. Reading on turns eerily and uncomfortably familiar, as we see our neighbors, siblings, aunts and uncles, and town officials, perhaps even ourselves, portrayed in ugly and stark relief. Ever been to a dinner party where your date desperately paid more attention to another guest than to you? Did existence in high school ever seem so unbearable that the only solace you could find was the dark trickle of blood coming from tiny lacerations on your arm? Did your best friend ever carelessly make out with the one person you thought was your soul mate? Yeah, me too. And for its similarity to real life, reading through The Casual Vacancy sometimes felt like a real pain in the ass. Or a kick in the gut. Often both.

The families of Pagford engage in the dynamics of small town politics grating against a growing population and the concomitant class and culture clash this brings. The sudden “casual vacancy” opened up by Fairbrother’s death highlights the struggle of negotiating the old town character and charm of Pagford with the expanding responsibilities for the poorer constituents in the Fields. Responsibly addressing questions like the re-drawing of district lines, where the poor will live and go to school, and the future of a meth clinic prove to be too much pressure on the adults in this town whose lives are already painfully crippled by the exhausting demand of simply waking up in the morning.

If with the rest of the Harry Potter fandom you’ve wondered why Dumbledore is a sick f$#k, The Casual Vacancy answers this question by parading before us a host of adults of every kind royally f%#king up the lives of the children that fate has precariously placed in their care. Simply put, adults can’t get out of our own way – overwhelmed by feeble concerns, the burden of aging bodies and faces, petty power trips, and the same insecurities that plagued us in high school… writ large – even when children’s lives depend on our ability to overcome them and simply be more human, even if briefly.

If adults in this story evoke the ways in which adults around Harry made a whole bunch of bad decisions, you will be interested to know that the children in The Casual Vacancy fight back. They are a Dumbledore’s Army of their own, yet fractured, and a heck of a lot more vindictive. Through “The Ghost of Barry Fairbrother”, the pen name of anonymous posts on the parish council website, children effect vicious revenge on the adults in their lives, principals, politicians, local business owners, clinic doctors, parents, all of them. Through posts to this website the truths that haunt the adults and hurt the children are traded back and forth. Rowling masterfully spins the characters through the winds of the storm this creates and as a reader you can only watch its unraveling both with a sense of awe for the author on the one hand, and dread for the characters on the other.

For all their feeble and terribly human flaws, and unbeknownst to me, I began caring deeply for these characters. By the time I did care, however, it was tragically too late. The problem with the games people play when they feel cornered by monsters of their own making, or when they don’t give a damn, is that the innocent and the poor always pay a very high price. The sting of tragedy in The Casual Vacancy felt more vacant, more inconsolable than the survey of the dead in the Great Hall during the war at Hogwarts. The deaths of Fred, Lupin and Tonks were imbued with a dignity totally absent from the deaths in The Casual Vacancy. I somehow wanted to blame Rowling for this loss of dignity, but then realized it was the characters’ own doing.

I absolutely disagree with Kakutani, who sees no magic in this story. On the contrary, there is a fantastically magical moment when the least likely character, during a rescue attempt, emerges as if from a cocoon, to save not just herself, but perhaps the whole town, from the wretched and suffocating grasp of their self-importance. The most heroic moment comes when this character is able to conjure a memory of unadulterated joy and resistance, a patronus perhaps, able to break the spell of disappointment and indifference that has taken a hold of Pagford, giving us a glimpse of what humanity might truly look like beyond the mirror of our own discontent.

But, Kakutani is right. This is not Harry Potter. Thank God for that. That I stuck it out for its 503 pages is a testament to Rowling’s craft. Right now I have this uncontrollable urge to re-read the HP series, to start again with The Boy Who Lived, paying even more attention to the adults in the story, and the ways in which the lines between heroism and tragic self-centeredness are drawn, and, if I’m brave enough, to check where I stand.

*

mtMT Dávila is a wife, a mother, an assistant Christian Ethics professor and a HUGE Harry Potter fan.

She and sj have known each other for years, they used to geek out together regularly on the now defunct diagonally.org – the only Harry Potter forum that insisted each member use proper English when posting.  It was a lovely place for grown ups to hang out and discuss all things HP.

You can find her on twitter here.

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

In case you hadn’t already figured it out, I read A LOT. Like, a disgusting number of books in a year, what some might even deem obscene.

One of the first things Meg drew for me.  Still pretty accurate.

One of the first things Meg drew for me. Still pretty accurate.

Sidenote: I eavesdropped on a twitter conversation last year in which two authors I’d read discussed how they didn’t trust the opinions of anyone who managed to read more than 2 books a month and was so filled with righteous indignation that it not only spurred me to read FASTER and MORE, but to also remove those two authors from my reading lists forevermore. I’m nothing if not petty, yo. This is another downside to social media.

</sidenote>

I swear I have a point.

So, you know I read a lot and if you’ve read any number of my posts, you’ve probably already been able to surmise that I do a whole lot of re-reading, as well.

I read this post today, and talking with Steve led me to examine my re-reading habits.

I have a lot of friends that NEVER re-read. I can understand why. I have over 200 unread books on my Nook already, and I know I’ll never realistically get through all of the books I WANT to read. Pretty sure my TBR list can be seen from space…so why do I re-read?

I’ve talked about this before (so many times you’re probably sick of me mentioning it), but I lived in a super small town for a lot of my childhood. We had a teeny tiny library that was only open ~8 hours a week, and I only got to visit the GOOD library once a month. I spent most of my pocket money on books, but even buying used, I was never able to buy ALL THE BOOKS.

During the summers, I’d ride my pink Huffy beach cruiser the two miles into the tiny library, spend a lot of time reading there, then carry as many books home as I could fit in my Jansport without splitting the zipper.

I’d have them all finished 2 days later, and have forever to wait until the library was open again. This was when I started my re-reading habit.

Two days til the library is open again? LET’S READ LORD OF THE RINGS AGAIN!

Finish a book and already sad that it’s over? START THAT SUCKER OVER AGAIN! <—I did this a lot.

I would read so fast that the new worlds I’d fallen into were over before I’d had a chance to fully appreciate them, and re-reading was the easiest way to get back.

Now, of course, I still read fast, but new books are just two clicks away (goddamn the future is amazing – young sj is still in awe that she NEVER HAS TO LEAVE HER HOUSE for new books), so why do I still re-read?

Because there are some books and authors that feel like home.

I re-read PKD and Tolkien (polar opposites thematically, but nearly identical in how they make me FEEL) because I know exactly what I’m getting and I find their prose comforting.

I re-read Harry Potter now, and try to recapture the excitement I felt when reading and discussing and speculating ad nauseum with my fellow DAers (shout out to Em, Megan, Jane, Sarah, Paula and MT [one of whom will be guest posting here next week, so look out for that]) while we waited for Jo to finish writing.

I re-read DT for the same reason (although primarily just the first three books).

I re-read favourites from my childhood to remind myself what it’s like to read with a sense of wonder, without the jaded yawns adult sj is prone to.

I re-read books with prose I want to cherish and words I need to etch on the pages of my mind.

I re-read things that made me laugh when I’m depressed and hating life, to remind myself that I was able to laugh once and will be able to again.

I re-read things that make me sob with frustration that my own words will never be good enough.

I re-read because I’m a reader, and some books are just too fucking precious to only be read once.