Tag Archives: Harry Potter

Re-Reading in the World

Re-reading has understandably become a big deal to me this year. It comes up at cocktail parties and in every day conversations. Actively re-reading a certain subset of books that have been important to me has changed how I think of books I’m reading now for the first time. And also helping me decide which books I really want to read. I think it’s helping me be a bit more selective.

So here are some spots where it has come up in articles I’ve read recently.

In a March article, Hephzibah Anderson writes about re-reading as the ultimate guilty pleasure while reviewing two books about re-reading particular titles: My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead and How to Be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis. Here’s one line that particularly struck me, as I’ve moved into the second half of my Re-Reading Project”

 “…though the words on the page stay the same, our readings of them change.”

Truly. It’s been a really fascinating thing to contemplate, how my readings of these books compare to my memories of them.

And this entire paragraph resonated deeply with me:

For children, it’s a comfort. As we become accustomed to a world in which change is the only real constant, the familiarity of the book at bedtime is something to cling to. Adults aren’t immune to those feelings, either. To quote the septuagenarian writer Larry McMurtry: “If I once read for adventure, I now read for security. How nice to be able to return to what won’t change.”

In the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly, Tina Jordan has a rather sad essay about re-reading one of her favorite books, The Mists of Avalon, in light of the allegations that Marion Zimmer Bradley committed sexual abuse, from the author’s daughter. As Jordan  mentions, the author died in 1999 and can’t defend herself, but there seems to be a lot of evidence that something unsavory happened. Jordan re-read The Mists of Avalon, intentionally trying to discover if she could divorce this new information about the author from the experience of reading the book. It turned out she couldn’t.

“Reading Bradley’s work through this new filter made me queasy — and I won’t be doing it again.”

I’ve been wanting to re-read Bradley’s The Firebrand, which was a book I really loved in my teens. I even considered it for this project, but I read it one year too late for my “under 16” stipulation. Who knows if I will ever re-read it now, or if I will be able to “forget” about the allegations about the author and enjoy the story? Who knows what the adult me would’ve thought of it without the knowledge of these allegations?

As a writer myself, this is a tough question. Who I am as a person, what I think and what I do, are all utterly a part of who I am as an artist. But I think it would be possible to not like me as a person and still appreciate my writing. It’s an interesting thing to contemplate since I’m both a novelist and now, a memorist.

Well, as I was searching for a link to Jones’ essay (it’s not live yet, probably next week), I found a happier re-reading essay from her, about re-reading the Harry Potter series over the summer of 2011, which is something I’ve tried to do every year. Enjoy.

 

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The Re-Reading Project: The Clan of the Cave Bear

The naked child ran out of the hide-covered lean-to toward the rocky beach at the bend in the small river. It didn’t occur to her to look back. Nothing in her experience ever gave her reason to doubt the shelter and those within it would be there when she returned.

She splashed into the river and felt rocks and sand shift under her feet as the shore fell off sharply. She dived into the cold water and came up sputtering, then reached out with sure strokes for the steep opposite bank. She had learned to swim before she learned to walk and, at five, was at ease in the water. Swimming was often the only way a river could be crossed.

The girl played for a while, swimming back and forth, then let the current float her downstream. Where the river widened and bubbled over rocks, she stood up and waded to shore, then walked back to the beach and began sorting pebbles. She had just put a stone on top of a pile of especially pretty ones when the earth began to tremble.

The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel is the first book in the Earth’s Children series and was published in 1980, two years before I was born. I must have read the first four books in the series sometime between 1990 (when the fourth, Plains of Passage was published) and 1995, because only the last two books in the series appear on the record I started keeping at thirteen. And yet, my copy of The Clan of the Cave Bear is battered and heavily creased, so I must’ve read it a few times before I started recording my reading. I took the picture below before I started re-reading my original copy. It’s even more messed up now, in that way that well-thumbed and well-loved books are:

The Clan of the Cave Bear

It’s a dense book, almost 500 pages, and because the subject matter is both academic and mature, it’s strange to think of my child  self reading it. I can’t imagine any of the kids I know who are around that age reading this book, but I can recall reading and loving these books, taking the things I read in stride, but possibly not understanding quite a bit of it. My precociousness when it comes to reading is what makes me more open-minded about kids reading outside their age range, I imagine, because I don’t think I was damaged by the experience of reading this book so young.

But I’m absolutely positive I was influenced by it, even the parts I didn’t fully understand or absorb. The same kid who loved reading about how the siblings set up their new home in The Boxcar Children consumed the highly detailed story of how a traveling group of Neanderthals adopted Ayla, a young Cro-Magnon girl, and made a new cave their home. This same kid became a woman who loved the world-building of excellent fantasy novels like The Song of Ice and Fire books.

The series is categorized as historical fiction, but it seems to me that it would be more appropriately labeled speculative fiction, as it contains some of the same elements. I think people think of a future setting or sci-fi or fantasy tropes when they think of speculative fiction and Auel has instead speculated on the lives of our ancestors. With each book, she took the “known” information and relevant theories of the time and wove this research into a long, engrossing tale of how imagined characters would live during a period of significant advancement for the human species.

There was a significantly longer gap in publication with each book (two years between the first two, three for the next book, then five for the fourth). Our understanding of our early ancestors changed deeply over the ten-year period that the first four books were published. It took twelve years for the fifth book to be released, which represents another giant leap in what archaeologists and anthropologists understood about people and the Earth during the time Auel was writing about. My own life also made a significant leap. I was eight when the fourth book was published in 1990 and when I finally read The Shelters of Stone in 2003 (over a year after it was published), I was 21 years old. I had changed radically, but not so much that I didn’t feel the need to know what happened to Ayla and Jondalar, the man she heals and falls in love with in the second book, The Valley of Horses. When the last book of the series, The Land of the Painted Caves, was published nine (more) years later, in 2011, I had been living in New Orleans for four years and my life once again looked very different. I have literally grown up with these books. When I read The Land of the Painted Caves in 2011, I had just written one of my first bragging on posts and would, a few days after finishing it, change the name of my blog.

Re-reading The Clan of the Cave Bear this month (and it took me most of the month: you can see the book in two of the photos in this collage from my writers’ retreat, which took place at the beginning of the month) was almost akin to time travel. I felt like the pre-teen version of myself was cuddled against me, reading along from under my arm. I often felt like asking her, “Didn’t it scare you, the way that Ayla loses her family and her people and is on her own?” and “What did you think about all of the rigid rules that Clan women had to follow?” I wondered what she made of the occasions when Ayla is raped, in a way that is clearly rape, but depicted as happening in a social structure without a concept for sex without consent. I knew that those scenes (relatively few, near the latter half of the book and not especially graphic after the first time) stuck with me as something that I remembered when I thought of the book. While it’s an important plot point and it says a lot about the social norms of the people that are depicted in the book, far more words and pages are devoted to details about the plant and animal life that the clan people harvest for medicine and food.

While there is far more sex (almost exclusively romantic and consensual) in the rest of the series (particularly the third book), this would have been one of the first times I would’ve read about sex. I would’ve read the third book, the most romance novel-ish of the series up till that point, around the same time I read my first actual romance novel, clandestinely from my mother’s bookshelf (I’ll re-read that too, later this year).

I thought I would find The Clan of the Cave Bear really boring (some of the later books are a bit), the writing banal and bland, but that wasn’t the case at all. I was engrossed from the first page, sucked back into this world that captured my imagination so vividly so early in my life as a reader (before I knew I wanted to be a writer, in fact). I suspect, having re-read it now at age 32, that I owe a lot of my interest in archaeology  and anthropology (I almost minored in college) to this series. Not only that, but a lot of my feminist philosophy and social politics probably began forming while I was reading The Clan of the Cave Bear as a young girlI found myself referencing the book in numerous conversations as I was re-reading it, which also helped me realize how incredibly influential the book was to me.

Reading The Clan of the Cave Bear so young might’ve most influenced what I would love to read for the rest of my life. I could see that the Earth’s Children is a series that required as much complex world-building as George R.R. Martin’s The Song of Ice and Fire books (and perhaps waiting for the last two EC books prepared me for my wait for The Winds of Winter now). Moreover, I enjoyed that total immersion in a new world that the best fantasy series provide. I could see in Ayla some of what I later loved about Katniss in The Hunger Games, or Ellie Linton from the Tomorrow books. Perhaps because I had just finished reading Ronlyn Domingue’s The Chronicle of Secret Riven for review, I found parallels between the Utopian society depicted in that speculative fiction and the early socialism and mysticism depicted in Auel’s historical/speculative fiction series.

Most of all, what I felt re-reading The Clan of the Cave Bear was a desire to re-read the rest of the books in the Earth’s Children series, to delve once more into The Song of Ice and Fire books, and The Hunger Games, the Tomorrow books and Harry Potter. I wanted to stay immersed in a fictional world that felt real and vital, that made me think and made me care deeply for the characters. The Earth’s Children series are the only books Jean M. Auel is known to have published, but I’m glad to say that The Clan of the Cave Bear has stood the test of time for me.

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NaNoWriMo Day 26 (Fess Up Friday)

You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t been updating. I’ve noticed. Mostly, it was because I wasn’t writing. I was so tired most days after work, it was all I could do to keep regularly scheduled programming going, let alone write 2,000 words. It didn’t help that I lost any connection I might’ve had to my characters and story. I didn’t look forward to visiting them. They were boring and whiny and disappointing. That’s probably what happens when I write from an “idea,” rather than from character and genuine story. A lesson for the future.

But then, quietly, I started hand writing something entirely different than Story 1 or Story 2. It was a fictionalized version of something that happened to me. Something intensely personal that I feel desperate to write about, but haven’t because I know I’ll likely never do anything — i.e. publish — with the work. But you know, why not just write it now, for me? Why not write something that I need to write without caring that it’s “unproductive”?

And the reason I started writing again this NaNoWriMo season, the reason I started writing this intensely personal unpublishable story is because a friend started asking me questions while a bunch of us were out drinking during Words and Music last weekend. And I realized, as I answered his questions, that I had a lot to say. And it needed to be said whether it was published, whether anyone read it, whether anyone listened.

So maybe that’s what NaNoWriMo is really about, at least for me. Sometimes you just have to write. Stop thinking about the end game and the process and the ramifications of success and failure and just write.

I’d kind of given up on “winning” NaNoWriMo. I was too far behind and only writing in 700-800 increments before falling asleep. Which is something, but isn’t winning material. I didn’t think about it because it made me sad. And tired. Plenty tired. But, once more, a friend said something that got my wheels turning. Another friend, J. wrote on my Facebook page:

“Memories. Going to do some NaNo writing at Perks tomorrow. Thought about last Black Friday when I met you there and you helped spur a 5,000 word day that put me over 50K.  Thanks again and I hope you’re having a great holiday.”

And talk about sad!! Not only did I remember *exactly* the day he was talking about, I wrote about it here on the blog. J. helped me get over the hurdle last year and he was the first person I word warred with. And, I realized right then and there (last night) that I was winning NaNoWriMo 2010, come hell or high water. If only so that I would no longer invest in the idea of an “even year curse,” for future NaNoWriMo years. If only to prove to myself that I could write 50,000 without a great story or awesome characters. If only to prove to myself what I can do.

That being said, my word count went from 24,916 words going into this new motivation to 31,532 words today. I wrote 6,351 words today. And I spent time with my parents. And cleaned the kitchen.

My parents and I watched Knucklehead, the first of  the six WWE movies filmed in New Orleans in the last year (three of which I worked on). At first, my parents were like a lot of people and assumed they wouldn’t enjoy the WWE movies. Mamma Mia! said, “I’m not much into wrestling movies.” I assured them the movies aren’t what anybody expects them to be. They often include wrestling and wrestlers, but they’re funny and entertaining and well-acted. My parents were laughing all through Knucklehead and really invested. It was great to share with them. As it was great to share Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 with them this evening. I’m such a sap. I almost started crying not even five minutes into the movie. But the books and the movies have been a huge part of my life, so I guess that’s to be expected.

Thanks to the friend who asked me questions last weekend, J. for his friendly Facebook post and everyone who word warred and sprinted with me today. Thanks to my parents for giving me the time to write when I asked. Let’s see if we can do it all over again tomorrow. And the next day. And then for two more.

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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

[Slight spoilers, just so you know…]

Just saw what seems to me the best Harry Potter movie so far. Was reading in Entertainment Weekly some hubbub about whether the HP franchise still captures attention in light of the edgier appeal of Twilight and such.

Here’s the thing, Twilight rocks. I love it for some of the same reasons as HP and some very different ones. But it’s not been around as long as Harry has, so it hasn’t had the chance to grab us quite the same way, quite as pervasively. Not yet. N said she hoped there wasn’t a new New Moon trailer for HP because she couldn’t deal with the “Beatlemania,” and that’s just it. I’m not saying Twilight is going anywhere (I don’t think it is, and I don’t want it to) and the hysteria is quite livid, but.

But it’s not Harry Potter. I was 17 in 1999, when I first read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone at the recommendation of someone in the Library Club (where I met J, who remains my friend to this day, though he thought I didn’t like him when we first met). They’d already been around in the U.S. for two years and I’d heard about them, but was reluctant to jump on the bandwagon – which seems funny now because compared to how many people would eventually get on the bandwagon, it was nothing in 1999. I was a lonely student who had transferred halfway through high school and I could identify with orphaned Harry Potter and I found it impossible not to get sucked in. I quickly read Chamber and Prisoner, the only books that were out when I started reading. For a long time, HP and the Prisoner of Azkaban was my favorite.

I would eventually turn many people on to Harry Potter, including Mamma Mia! and one of my ex-boyfriends, who was hooked after I read the first chapter to him in the car on the way to a movie. I couldn’t wait till a friend of mine’s son was old enough to be introduced to Harry Potter. Until I could read them to my own children, watch them discover that world for the first time and, in some way, recapture my first time experiencing the world that JK Rowling has given us over the years.

Over the years. That’s an important bit. I’m 27 now. It’s been ten years. A decade. Which isn’t a lot of time in many scopes, but in terms of a “fad” or “craze,” it’s an eternity. So, perhaps, we can say finally that Harry Potter is no fad, no craze. Many of us have grown up with Harry Potter – I imagine the children who were 10 (or younger) when they first read the books, who are twice that now. Half of their life has been influenced by a fictional character in a time when it’s been predicted that every generation will read less and less and seem to forget they have imaginations to use, or even more horribly, sometimes seem not to even have imaginations to use. And I always remember the father who told me, while I was working a HP event at Barnes and Noble, that his 7-year-old son had been behind his reading level, struggling with simple chapter books, then he discovered Harry Potter and finished Goblet in less than a week. That book is 734 pages long. And a 7-year-old boy who’d had trouble reading had finished it in a week. That boy would probably be around 16 or 17 now, the age I was when I began reading. How could he fail to be sentimental or nostalgic about Harry Potter?

I missed out on a midnight showing, but I woke up early to make it for the 10 a.m. at my neighborhood theater. There were some children in the audience, at least two toddlers (who made noises throughout the movie), but by the end of the two and a half hour movie, the entire audience was collectively and completely silent. I’ve rarely experienced that in a movie, where it was clear that we were so wrung out from the emotions we’d experienced and we so needed time to take it in that there was just no way to speak, nothing to say.

Of course I cried. [SPOILERS] An important character died, one who is evocative and beloved by many, but by me, too. And there were two fires at important, cherished dwellings. And much destruction of Hogwarts. That was hard to take, after everything else.

But in its own way, it was satisfying and cathartic, despite the sadness (if that makes sense and I hope it does). I wouldn’t want it any other way because, having read the end of the story, I know that this is the way it’s supposed to be.

I’m going to go re-read the books. I can’t help it. And I don’t want to help it. 🙂

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