Saturday, July 21, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (by J.K. Rowling)

In deference to my paranoia about spoilers, Ian went out and got me a copy at midnight. He came back with it at around one, and I began reading. I had the entire next day set aside for the Potter, so I figured I wouldn't try to skim the whole thing, I'd just read until I was exhausted, then sleep, then wake up and finish it in the morning. (I think this is what happened with Half-Blood Prince.) Yet somehow, I never felt even the smallest bit tired once I started reading, and I stayed up all night finishing it, which I haven't done in years and years. I finished it at seven in the morning.

I am so glad I was unspoiled. If you haven't read it, don't read on.

This might be the best book in the series. It's really dark and really unpredictable, up until the end when all the big reveals turn out to be exactly what most fans expected (Harry is a horcrux, Harry lives, Snape is good). However, by the time I got there, I had decided Snape must really be evil, and that Harry was going to die, so that was pretty amazing. I can't believe she got me with those. I also did not predict the "Dumbledore magical terminal illness" thing with the hand, so that was an added twist to the Snape/Dumbledore thing. I also loved how much payoff there was from the previous books. I'm sure I missed a lot of stuff, but there seemed to be a ton of references to the first book in particular, and a ton of clues that had been planted throughout the series.

The deaths. I was so sad when she killed Hedwig. I've been terrified of that since the first book. I also was afraid she'd kill a Weasley twin, and thought I was safe once George lost an ear because isn't that bad enough? But no. Oh god, poor George. I would have liked a sentence about George's reaction to Fred's death, even though I'm sure it would have gutted me. Remus and Tonks I thought got short shrift, dramatically. (Perhaps they were "the two I didn't expect to die" that Rowling was talking about.) They died but there's no real dramatic impact, except seeing Remus with Sirius and James in the Resurrection Stone sequence. And Harry didn't adopt the baby, which I thought was certain to happen. So who raised him, I wonder? I bet we'll find out eventually (in an interview or some such). [ETA: This was obviously Tonks's mom. Poor Andromeda: her husband, her daughter, and her son-in-law all died.] And killing little Colin Creevey—who I guess turned out to be the Gavroche of the series—was just cruel. My heart is going to break every time I read about him in the previous books. Way to twist the knife there.

Neville, McGonagall, and Molly Weasley all kicked ass. I loved Neville's standing up to Voldemort and being the one to kill Nagini. I had wanted him to kill Bellatrix, but this was better, because Molly Weasley got to kick some ass. (Incidentally, didn't you expect Ginny to do something a little more magically spectacular? I sure did, especially after the most recent movie.) And did you notice: Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Neville all destroyed Horcruxes. Pretty cool. And I loved Harry standing up for McGonagall when that guy spit at her. That was awesome.

Most emotional moments for me were when I thought Harry was going to his death; when Harry was standing at his parents graves talking about how they didn't know or care that their son was there, and he wished he were dead; when Dumbledore called Harry a "brave, brave man"; and oddly enough, when Dobby died. He was among my least favorite characters, but his last words, and Luna's speech, and Harry's epitaph really got to me.

Other minor things I liked: Dudley's change of heart, getting to see the Ravenclaw tower (and the Ravenclaw door knocker; Ravenclaw has always been my favorite house). The backstory of the Gray Lady and the Bloody Baron. I go back and forth on the applauding headmaster portraits, which I immediately envision set to a cheeseball musical cue by John Williams—but I think it was an earned moment. Also Harry calling Voldemort "Tom" at the end. I'm sure I'll think of more. (ETA: Harry recovering and burying Mad-Eye Moody's eye.)

Things I didn't like: the SPEW plotline kind of came to nothing (although I loved Kreacher leading the elves at the end). Grawp was totally extraneous. Although I adored Dumbledore's dark past (and Harry's frustration at Dumbledore never actually giving him the vital information he needed) and I loved that Grindenwald played a huge role, the whole Nazi parallel thing was a little weird. I guess the whole idea is Voldemort is really really evil, but the whole Muggle holocaust thing seemed a little heavy-handed to me. Like really, a pile of bodies? Muggle registries? But I have a feeling I'll come around to it; Voldemort is, after all, super evil. However, Umbridge should have painfully died. Boo to an alive Umbridge. Also, Mundungus being the traitor in the Order was really obvious. Like, he's been stealing Harry's shit, and is obviously shady, so why trust him at all?

The weakest bit, I thought, was the epilogue. It seemed like it came straight out of fanfic with the "Albus Severus" (puh-leeze) and the couples so neatly paired off. I didn't mind the pairs themselves—I wasn't super invested in Harry and Ginny, as it turned out, and I would have enjoyed the romantic twist of Harry ending up with Luna, just so I could be more surprised—but the writing seemed weak compared to the rest of the book. I don't know; maybe there were too many kids or something, or not enough from our principals, but I wanted to get more hints at how the wizarding world was doing, not just how many babies Ginny and Hermione had popped out. Knowing Neville was a professor was nice; more clues like that or subtle references to the other characters would have been better. Maybe a longer, meatier epilogue that focused on more than just the kids. But I did think the Ron and Hermione romance throughout the book was handled really well, and Ron's fears coming out of the horcrux were very cool. Ron and Hermione both kicked ass in this book in general, and their kiss in the Room of Requirement was awesome.

So overall, I am extremely satisfied; it is an excellent ending to the series. Ian is racing through the book right now, and he has been just as caught up in it as me. I have a feeling our house is going to give it two thumbs up.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Ghostwritten (by David Mitchell)

I continue to love David Mitchell. If you want to give Cloud Atlas a try, but are a little put off by it, try Ghostwritten instead. It's like a more accessible Cloud Atlas. It's a series of interlocking stories told all over the world, and it's just incredibly well done. There are lots of motifs and lots of tiny connectons that you have to puzzle out. I know I haven't puzzled them all out yet!

Not only are the connections among all the stories, one of the characters is in Black Swan Green, and two are in Cloud Atlas. (The recurring comet is also in Cloud Atlas, also.)

As for the stories, I think my favorites were the lady in the Tea Shack and the ghostwriter (whose name, I think, was Marco). I also loved to hate the art gallery woman. But all the stories are fascinating in their own ways. And Mitchell is incredibly talented. If you want a less intimidating introduction to Mitchell, I completely recommend Ghostwritten.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Know-It-All (by A.J. Jacobs)

I'm no stranger to intellectual challenges involving books, so I have long been interested in reading Jacobs's memoir of reading the entire Encyclopaedia Brittanica. A funny, profound, fascinating book--especially if you're a fan of trivia (simply learning what a miranym is was worth the purchase price) but there's a lot more to it, really. I was trying to figure out how to sum up this book, and then I saw this review on Amazon:

"This isn't random repeated trivia, it's a very good memoir. We learn about Jacobs's career at Esquire, his relationship with his wife, their on-going fertility troubles, his playfully combative relationship with his brother-in-law, and his relationship with his dad and how dad shaped Jacobs as a person. All of this is intertwined with his journey through Brittanica, and I learned a lot on the way. Jacobs also spices up his quest for knowledge by taking a speed reading class, joining Mensa and attending a gathering, meeting Alex Trebek, and trying out for Who Wants to Be A Millionaire, among other things."

The only thing I would add is that also has a lot of thought-provoking musings on the meaning of life--Jacobs is constantly searching for an underlying definition of intelligence and, beyond that, trying to seek out whatever wisdom the encyclopedia might contain. Gives you a surprising amount of stuff--both mundane and profound--to think about.

Friday, July 13, 2007


Last night I achieved a milestone in Finnegans Wake: I reached the halfway point!

The halfway mark (page 314) is right after the Study Hour chapter and a short way into the Tavern chapter. The Study Hour chapter is supposed to be the most difficult one in the book, although the Tavern chapter is the longest.

Study Hour was difficult, even by Wakean standards. It had the main body of the text (which is, obviously, difficult as ever) in addition to notes in the right hand margin (in one voice), notes in the left hand margin (in a different voice), and footnotes (in a third voice, or possibly one of the first two voices). There are also drawings. And throw in the Skeleton Key and its explanations with its own footnotes, and you've got a complicated reading experience. (Here is a sample page.)

Fun, though! The Study Hour chapter is fabulous at the end, when Dolph starts doing the geometry problem for Kev, and it gets all tied into the Kabbalah at the end, and the whole of human history (Prometheus = Santa Claus; the list of associations begins here with "Cato" in the margin equaling "Duty, the daughter of discipline" and continuing on--you can actually read this section, I promise!). It actually flows pretty well; although I definitely needed the Key to explain the Kabbalah stuff (the numbers 1-9 and 10, very interesting), the history stuff was fairly self-explanatory. And once you realize that the geometry problem is about ALP (the mother) and there is some Oedipal stuff happening in there, it clarifies a lot.

I think I am definitely, firmly in the camp of enjoying the book. Believe it or not, it was hard to stop reading and go to bed last night (even though I spent an hour and a half reading probably 15 pages, and it was midnight). I kept wanting to take notes in the margins on everything that I figured out. I am getting way, way better at figuring out what the hell is going on, by the way.

And also, this chapter mentioned the philosopher's stone (on the page I linked; it's the "lapis, Vieus Von DVbLIn") and has the word "hogwarts" in it. Which, having Potter fever as I do, I thought was funny.