13

That Time Three Kids Totally Schooled Me

Last week was a rough one. Yes, there was the promise of a long weekend looming and Canada Reads was on, a passionate, intelligent and wonderful debate about books, but there was also Brussels and the outcome of the Jian Ghomeshi trial and the mourning of a public figure who by all accounts was not actually a decent man but in death he was anointed a man of the people.

I hope you will forgive then, my state of mind climbing on the bus after a busy day at work and seeing a group of young people and rolling my eyes at them. There were three of them, siblings clearly, the youngest no more than 11, the eldest probably 14. Two sisters and a brother in the middle, the younger two still in the throes of orthodontic work, the eldest had green streaks in her hair. They got onto the bus with me and I shuddered a little when I realized how close we’d be sitting. I hoped that their ride would be a short one (I ride the line end to end).

They settled in and I assumed they’d either spend the ride harassing each other, not caring about their decibel levels, or heads down on their phones. Obviously the phones would be the preference here, as much as I was ready to lament the state of youth that can’t see past their phones.

When did I become such a jaded a-hole adult?

These kids rode the bus home the whole way with me. And they managed to shrug off my nasty mood and make me smile.

How?

These three kids spend the entire bus ride, an hour, passionately discussing, debating and questioning Harry Potter. It was amazing. They were so smart, had such thoughtful questions, and debated with each other respectfully, listening before responding. They were so good, I wanted to join them.

They mostly spent their time discussing the various houses and what it meant to be sorted into them. Things really took off when one of them said that if you were sent to Slytherin, it meant you were going to be bad. The eldest took exception to this (obviously considers herself a Slytherin), saying that it didn’t mean that you were evil, it meant that you were ambitious which isn’t a bad thing. It’s what you do with that. That everyone has choices and you can choose to be good just as you can choose to be bad.

They were talking about Harry Potter but they made me hopeful about the world again. It can’t all be bad, despite what’s on the news. And even if we’ve totally made a mess of things, at least there are people like these kids coming up who should obviously already be in charge.

So if you are feeling like I was, like the world is a garbage hole and we’re all screwed, don’t despair. There’s hope and Harry Potter and the good will always win.

And to those kids, thanks. I needed that. I hope you guys get to go to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter soon.

Read on.

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21

Books and Places: The Tag

Chelsea @ Chels and a Book tagged me to participate in the Books and Places tag. The idea is that you pick ten books and then tell the story behind where you read the book. This tag couldn’t have come at a better time actually, since I knew I needed to post something but had no idea what to post since I’m still reading Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White. So thanks Chelsea!

When I was reading Chelsea’s post I was struck by just how well she knew the stories behind when and where she read her books. I wasn’t sure that I could do the same thing for the books sitting on my shelves. But then I went over to pick the books for this post and was surprised by how many books do have a story attached to them for me. Here are the stories of my books.

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Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. If you’ve been around here for any length of time you know this is my absolute favourite. I’ve read it I don’t know how many times at this point. But I do remember one time, when I was in the Netherlands for the summer visiting my father. He lives on a farm in a village and he and my stepmother worked all summer. I didn’t really have anything to do and I’d only brought 3 or 4 books. I’d already read whatever chicken soup for the teenaged soul I was reading at the time and I think I also brought Candace Bushnell’s 4 Blondes and something else. Pride and Prejudice was the only book I could read over. I read that book many times that summer. I would sit outside in the (weak Dutch) sun on the picnic table, finish the book, sit and think about it for a minute and turn it over and start again. All summer. When a book is a companion like that, you never get over it.

Bitter is the New Black by Jen Lancaster. A friend messaged me on Facebook to say she had just read this book and she thought I would love it. That the author’s voice kind of reminded her of me. I was intrigued and basically ran right out and got it. I ended up running a bath and reading it in the tub. I was giggling in the tub within minutes and didn’t stop the whole time I was reading this book. It was the first time I’d ever read any non-fiction that was funny and I didn’t know that that was allowed to be a thing! Lancaster’s footnotes in this book are legendary, running the gamut from “fucking loser” and “Yes. She finally ended it last month. Whore.” to See? I’m not a total shrew.” This whole book is a profanity-laced delight and I loved it. Lancaster and I are very different people but I appreciate her so so much.

Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi (and Curt Gentry). I credit this book with introducing me to my husband. I was reading this book when I met him and talked to him about the failed police investigation. He’s a police officer and he said later that it was refreshing to talk to a girl who didn’t ask him if he’d ever shot his gun. I went home and spent the whole next day in bed reading this book waiting for a text from a certain red-head. We almost had a table called Helter Skelter at our wedding but didn’t know who to seat at it…

Everyone Worth Knowing by Lauren Weisberger. This is my favourite book of hers, even over The Devil Wears Prada. Possibly because of the reading experience that went along with it. I had just started working at a bank, my first grown up job. And on my lunch breaks, I would walk over to the bakery down the street which was owned by my friend’s parents. I would get lunch and a brownie – they made the most amazing brownies that had walnuts in them (before these brownies, I never ate brownies that had nuts in them) and were iced with the greatest frosting. I would sit in the back of the cafe with my brownie and read about Bette making her way in PR in Manhattan. To date one of my favourite ways to read.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. About two months after I met my now-husband, I was leaving to study abroad in Amsterdam. He came to the airport to see me off and brought me books because he already knew how much I loved to read. The Poisonwood Bible was one of the books (Marley & Me was another – he was intent on making me cry). No one had warned me about this book! I brought it to Spain with me and read poolside in the blazing hot sun. And then cried my damn eyes out because the book was so sad and I missed this lovely, thoughtful guy so much already.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling. When the Harry Potter books first came out, I thought Harry Potter was the author. I vividly remember Christmas shopping when the first three were out and they were in all the bookstore windows everywhere. The summer that the 4th book came out, I had just got a job working in a fairy store. Yeah – they sold fairy merchandise but it was mostly a base at which to hold fairy birthday parties for kids. The owner wanted me to get familiar with everything they sold and told me to read the Harry Potter books if I hadn’t already. The store was always dead (not a huge market for fairy stuff) so one day I decided to actually read them. I picked The Chamber of Secrets because the first book was only in paperback and I didn’t want to warp the spine if they still wanted to sell it. I spent maybe a half hour leaning over the counter reading it before I realized that I couldn’t start with the second book. I needed to buy these books for myself and read them. And that’s how I came to fall in love with JK Rowling.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Bachman is a more recent read than most of the others on this list. I read it late last year. I hadn’t intended to read it at all but it kept popping up in my life. I probably read most of it on the bus (it is where I do most of my reading) but I finished it late at night in bed with my little night light on so as not to disturb my sleeping husband. As I was nearing the end I was crying so hard but trying to cry silently so as not to wake my husband. I finished it and just lay there with tears streaming down my face, completely devastated by this little book.

The Birth House by Ami McKay. I had a day off from work and school and picked this book up, meaning to just casually read a little of it before getting on with whatever I had planned for my day off. I ended up just sitting in the corner of the couch for hours, devouring it. I only moved to get food or go to the bathroom and by the time my then-boyfriend came home, I had finished it and done nothing about maybe getting dinner started.

Nora Webster by Colm Toibin. I brought this book with me to Portland last fall. We had a little bit of down time in the hotel room and I cracked it. But I never seemed to get very far with it while we were in Portland. But then we had a 6+ hour drive back home and it was pouring rain. Pouring. I sat happily tucked in the passenger seat and let Toibin tell me the story of Nora Webster trying to find her way after the death of her husband. There’s nothing better than reading on a road trip, especially with such an absorbing book.

Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon. This book is something like 900 pages. Of non-fiction. So there’s no one story of reading it. I toted this beast around with me everywhere while I was reading it and frequently cried on public transportation while I did so. This book can be incredibly difficult to read. It can also be uplifting and hopeful and beautiful. I just remember sitting on the bus, crying all the time when I was reading this. Sometimes they were tears of joy, reading about families who had embraced their children’s differences and other times they were tears of sadness or frustration reading about families that just couldn’t handle them. One of the most powerful books I’ve ever read.

Alright, there you have it. Ten bookish stories. I’m not going to call out anyone specifically, but if you want to do it and you are in need of a post idea, feel free to jump in!

20

The Great Harry Potter Re-Read

I’ve always been a reader. My mom used to read to me every night (thanks Mom!) and once I was able to read for myself, I just started doing that all the time. I loved Anne of Green Gables, the Little House on the Prairie books, got started on the classics young, devoured the Anastasia Krupnik books (the other Lois Lowry books), and was devoted to Kit Pearson.

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As my reading pace increased and I got older, I started dreading the day I would have run out of “children’s” books and have to read boring adult books; at the time there weren’t that many books for readers older than 12 but younger than 30.

Enter Harry Potter. I remember seeing the books everywhere at Christmas after the third book was published – I assumed Harry Potter was the author actually. I didn’t read them until I worked in a fairy store (true story – the shop sold fairy and magic merchandise and held children’s birthday parties; I dressed up as a fairy…we’ll just leave it there ok?) and the owner encouraged me to read them and familiarize myself with them in case people asked questions. The shop was insanely quiet all the time (not a massive market for fairy themed merchandise) so I started reading them at work.

And thus my love for JK Rowling was born.

As the books were published, I would re-read the ones that had come before, to refresh my memory on the story thus far and also, there still weren’t that many non-adult reading options. But once the books stopped coming out, there didn’t seem to be the same impetus to embark on a re-read.

But I missed Harry, Ron, Hermione, the Weasleys and Hogwarts. I’ve been thinking about embarking on The Great Harry Potter Re-Read for a while but there always seems to be a reason not to – these books are not quick reads so they will impact my ability to motor through my ever expanding TBR list. I watched the movies recently though and that solidified it for me: I needed to visit my old friends.

I’m currently making my way through Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire which I refer to as the TSN Turning Point – this is the book where everything changes.

Let me just say – these books really hold up over time. They are still hilarious, delightful, full of suspense and captivating plotlines. Having watched the movies I had forgotten how funny the books are – the Weasley twins do not get nearly enough screen time. Even Ron is so hilarious in the books (intentional or not) and it just never quite translated to the screen. I had forgotten how much Snape really does seem to hate Harry – it seems all consuming and kind of unhealthy for a teacher to hate a student that much.

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I’m excited to get through this one and reach the Order of the Phoenix, which is probably my favourite of the bunch. Professor Umbridge is scary as played by Imelda Staunton but I remember her inspiring terror in the book.

I’ve definitely noticed my reading pace suffer as I attempt to juggle two books at once (Harry Potter before bed and at home, other books on my commute) but I kind of think it’s worth it.

It feels good to be back at Hogwarts.

16

A Bookish Dilemma

Like a lot of book lovers, I have a TBR list. With so many great, hilarious, touching, brilliant, cozy and heartwarming reads out there, it can be hard to remember them all when you’re standing in a bookstore or a library trying to narrow down which you’re bringing home.

The downside to keeping a TBR list (and I have one in my purse, one at home, one on Goodreads and one on The Savvy Reader’s 50 Book Pledge site…oh, and here) is that one can become kind of a slave to it.

You find yourself in the library and instead of enjoying the experience of being surrounded by thousands of books that you can take home (for free! Makes me happy every time), you find yourself consulting your list to see which books you’ve been meaning to read.

All this emphasis on new titles or books that you’ve been meaning to read can take one away from one of life’s great joys: rereading books you already loved.

Right now I’m struggling with this. I have piles and piles of books at home that are begging for my attention. A lot of them have been generously loaned by people and I feel it’s my responsibility to honour this munificence by returning them, read, in a timely manner.

My own books that I haven’t read I’m less concerned about because well – they’re mine. They will get read one day. But I’ve also developed this renewed love of going to the library and I just have one more book to get through before I can go back and get a new pile.

But with the looming start of fall I find myself craving the familiar. I’ve recently reread a number of Jane Austen’s books except for Emma so that’s a reasonable place to start. I got almost all the way through War and Peace before my efforts were derailed due to a publishing oversight (will I ever shut up about that? Not likely) and fall weather seems the perfect time to give that another go. Fall is much more appropriate for serious reading. Sunshine and Russian literature doesn’t seem to work quite as well as Russian literature and cold, heavy rain, and if I wait til the holidays I might just be too depressed to even make an effort.

But let’s be honest here. What I really want is a return visit to Hogwarts. I want to go back and be there when Harry learns he’s a wizard, when he meets Ron and Hermione, when he discovers he’s actually quite good at flying on a broom, that Quidditch is a thing.

I’m not ashamed of being nearly 30 (sh*t I’m nearly 30 – this is the first time I’ve actually admitted that) and nursing a deep and abiding love for Harry Potter ok? I own that loud and proud. Those books are brilliant and I will totally fight you if you say otherwise.

So what’s holding me back from re-experiencing the wizarding world? There are seven books. Re-reading all the books (and really, what’s the point in doing this half-assed?) is a serious time commitment. And with all these other books piling up around me, do I really have the time?

Would you do it?

12

JK Rowling and Robert Galbraith

By now we all know that JK Rowling wrote a secret book under the name Robert Galbraith. My fiancé (can I use that word without sounding like a total tool?) read out the news to me from his twitter and I immediately dragged him to the bookstore to find it. We were greeted by a 2-book sized hole on the shelf where the 2 copies of The Cuckoo’s Calling had sat until that morning when store employees were greeted with a line of people who had read the news earlier than me.

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After looking into things a little bit, I realized that I was in for at least a 10-day wait while the publisher set up another print run. But here’s where I got sneaky. I could have ordered it in store from Chapters, or even online via Chapters. I chose bookdepository.com, the UK-based online book retailer. Not only did I get it sooner than the rest of the Lower Mainland, it was also discounted.

Suckers!

In all seriousness, I could not have acted a bigger dork when I picked that book up from the post office.

I believe that I disclosed this when I posted about The Casual Vacancy, but I love JK Rowling. She’s my literary idol. I’m not totally sure how objective I am able to be when it comes to her writing. I really enjoyed The Casual Vacancy! The ending! So many feelings. Obviously, it was not Harry Potter, but I think that was kind of the point.

Anyway. As Robert Galbraith, Rowling had the chance to be judged purely on her (superior) writing talents. And from what I’ve read, reviews were generally positive. However, without the name, the book didn’t sell. Conundrum. (How smug would you be if you were one of the few that had read it when you thought it was just some unknown author?) Then the lawyers talked and we were treated to a surprise Rowling book. The author herself is, understandably, rather piqued about the whole thing. I’m sure she enjoyed the freedom to write without Harry Potter dogging her. I’m not sure we’d have a chance at a second Cormoran Strike (there she goes with those fabulous names again) novel if Rowling hadn’t been unveiled though.

And that. Would be a shame.

So Cormoran Strike is an Afghan war vet who is missing one leg and has started his own private detective business. It’s not going well. His girlfriend has just run out on him, he has no place to live and he can barely afford to pay the temp, Robin, that has shown up for a week’s work.

Then the brother of a dead supermodel shows up asking Strike to look into the mystery surrounding her apparent suicide and things start to look up. The brother agrees to pay double the normal rates and it turns out Robin the temp is not only an admin superstar but she has always secretly dreamed of being a private detective. Given the chance, they’d probably make a formidable team.

We all know that I love crime fiction and this one is excellent example of its genre. Not as twisted or sick as some of the Scandinavians (they are messed up) but it definitely kept me guessing. Rowling really has a knack for creating brilliant characters and she does the same in The Cuckoo’s Calling – even peripheral characters like Robin’s fiancé and Strike’s sister Lucy have backstories and personalities that jump out at you.

I think we’re all just going to have to face the fact that JK Rowling is just a very talented writer, no matter the genre.

7

Les Miserables

Have you already seen Les Miserables*? If you haven’t, you must. Brave the crowds (because there will be crowds) and get in that theatre to watch the masterpiece. You will get choked up, you will get caught up in the Revolutionary spirit and you will have the songs stuck in your head for days. You may even download the soundtrack.

You already downloaded the soundtrack? Me too. Months ago, in preparation. I was one of those jerks singing along (silently). It was glorious. I did it again on the bus this morning. Which looked a lot more crazy.

Now. Have you read the book?

Me either!

Are you properly ashamed of yourself? I am. I tend to make it a point of honour to read a book before I see its movie version. For a couple of reasons. First, obviously, so I can be one of those people that’s all “Have you read the book? It’s better.” Secondly, because I want to know what’s going to happen and finally so that I can be in the know about the things that the movie leaves out. Like that part in the last Harry Potter movie where the Harry Potter says to the dead Lupin something about his son and my boyfriend was all “wait, what? He has a son?” because that was never touched on in the movie beforehand.

But Les Miserables is a horse of a different colour. I never really got the urge to read it because it’s massive and I assumed (wrongly) that it would be difficult to get through. I was thinking Tolstoy when I maybe should have been thinking more along the lines of Dumas (Tolstoy is all wordy and broody and detailed, Dumas is funny and strangely relatable considering how old his works are).

My bad.

Then there was the timing of the whole thing. Reading Les Miserables is obviously a commitment and it deserves to be given due consideration. I wanted to see the movie basically the day it opened (I managed it on Boxing Day instead) and I also wanted to hit my revised target of 80 books read this year…

A choice was made and it did not involve reading Les Miserables. I’m working on it now. Mostly because I’m obsessed with the whole thing and I want more. So far it’s not a bad read. But I’m not sure that I will be able to dedicate myself to it fully until I’ve gotten my book store shopping spree out of my system…

A reading failure all around.

*Apologies to the French language purists, but I cannot for the life of me get the correct accent on the first ‘e’.

4

The Casual Vacancy

The day I got this book felt like one of the days that a new Harry Potter book came out; my sole purpose on Thursday was to get my hands on The Casual Vacancy and then spend my day reading it.

It doesn’t take long to realize that this isn’t Harry Potter. Before any one had the chance to read the book, all the talk about it was that it was full of drugs and sex and swearing! As if, as the holiest of holies, the author of Harry Potter isn’t ever allowed to swear. Well J.K. Rowling definitely thumbed her nose at that idea didn’t she?

The Casual Vacancy is the story of the tiny town of Pagford after the death of council member, Barry Fairbrother, leaves a vacancy on the council. Before he died, Barry was fighting for the rights of the Fields, the low-income part of Pagford that the town has been thinking about cutting loose. That way they don’t have to pay for the needs of the estate, including running the addiction clinic.

That’s the story in a nutshell. But there’s obviously a lot more to it. Rowling is as adept as ever at creating a world that you immerse yourself in, characters that you relate to and despise. And while there were some familiar elements to The Casual Vacancy (the book opens with the news of Barry Fairbrother’s death kind of like Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone opens with the news of the Boy Who Lived for example), overall I would say that it completely stands on its own.

On the outside, Pagford looks like this idyllic place to live. Kind of like the town in Hot Fuzz, before all the people start dying. But once you scratch the surface of Pagford, you become familiar with all of the feuds and the gossip, the drugs and alcohol, the class warfare that ultimately has the power to destroy everything.

Many parts of it were shocking. Probably because for all these years, Rowling has been associated with magic. How is she so familiar with cutting and heroin use and porn? It doesn’t seem like anyone is happy in the village – not in their marriages, friendships or their jobs. Everyone is just trying to get through their days the best way they know how. It felt like a brutally honest microcosm of modern life in a pretty English village.

I was swept up in the story. Once I got to a certain point (and could keep all the characters straight! There are so many!) I couldn’t stop – I had become invested in the outcome. My boyfriend asked me if I was just determined to like it because I worship Rowling, but that’s not it. It’s one of those stories where everyone is connected to each other, a literary Love Actually. But without a warm and fuzzy and perfect ending.

The ending was probably my favourite part. It was so perfect. So neat but completely devastating. Not to give too much away.

All in all I would say that the anticipation was worth it. I wasn’t disappointed. Its such a clear departure from Hogwarts and Muggles that there’s no reason to compare them, allowing The Casual Vacancy to stand on its own merit.