The Harry Potter Anniversary

In the spring of 1999, a friend of mine told me to read a fantasy book. I was an avid reader at the time, no surprise there, but I hadn’t really read much fantasy. I was much more interested in American Girl or The Boxcar Children.

“Is the book scary?” I asked. Most fantasy novels that I had seen featured a dark mysterious character holding some sort of menacing weapon on the cover, and were frequently about some sort of epic war that was bound to be bloody and/or scary. So I wanted to know what I was getting into. “There’s one part that could be scary,” my friend told me, “but you should read it.”

So, when spring break came around, I brought Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone with me on vacation. I devoured the book over the course of two weeks and couldn’t find “the scary part” that my friend had mentioned. And with that I was hooked.

Once my family got back from vacation, I immediately ordered the second book. It had been released in the UK at this point, but was not scheduled to come out in the US until that summer – which was just too long to wait. I devoured the second book as well, and the rest is history.

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J.K. Rowling with Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone circa 1997

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published this week (yesterday, to be exact) in 1997. It was then released in the US in the fall of 1998.

I was lucky enough to be the perfect age for Harry Potter. As I got older, the books got darker and more complex, but still maintained the same magic and wonder that was introduced at the beginning of the series.

Since the series lasted for such a long time, and since each book was fairly hefty, I feel like I know the characters of Harry Potter more personally than the characters in any other book I have read.

I know Harry, Ron, Hermione, their friends, teachers, and families, and the the world that they live in. I know the halls of Hogwarts, the classes that they took, the rules of Quiddich (which I still would love to play), and the parameters of the magic that Rowling’s world is based on.

I have reread the series and listened to the audiobooks countless times; it is a story that I always feel that I can return to. When I was younger,I frequently had the audiotapes of Sorcerer’s Stone playing in the background if I was ever just hanging out in my room.

It got to the point where I had a good portion of the first book down by heart, and could recite the first line, (Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of Number 4 Privet Drive were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much), in a British accent. To this day, I still hear Jim Dale’s voice in my head if I read parts of the first book. I was obsessed, to say the least.

Rowling’s personal story is also hugely impressive in my opinion. As a young writer, it has always been one that stuck with me throughout the years. Being able to go from a divorced mother living in welfare, to being richer than the queen is no small feat.

To add to that, Rowling is no longer considered to be a billionaire because she has given so much of her money away to charities such as Lumos, which she founded to help children living in poverty. So Rowling’s personal story in itself is pretty amazing.

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The Harry Potter books were much longer than many other Young Adult novels at the time, and they proved to teachers and parents alike that young children could in fact stay engaged throughout a long book.

Summers were defined by a new Harry Potter book or movie release. Kids who didn’t normally read were reading, and other young adult fantasy series, such as The Chronicles of Narnia, became more popular again.

The New York Times Children’s Book Review started around the time the third book was released. This was both to promote reading for children, and to free up the top 3 and 4 spots of the best seller list that Rowling was dominating.

To say the least, J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter series has had a huge effect on my childhood, my imagination, my writing, and my life.

I am currently rereading the series for its 16th anniversary, something that I have not done since the last book was released in 2007, and I am thoroughly enjoying myself. Currently, I am in the middle of the second book. While I love returning to the world of Harry Potter, I have also been noticing how Rowling really constructs the books as an overall series, which is something I could not do before reading the seventh book.

As a writer myself, I have really been able to see how a world that I know so well is constructed and developed throughout the series. The amount of detail, plotting, humor, and strong characterization that Rowling puts into her world is impressive to say the least, and it’s these factors that make Harry’s world become real for its readers.

As J.K. Rowling said during her speech at the premiere of the second Deathly Hallows movie,

The stories we love best do live in us forever so whether you come back by page or by the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.

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Winter of the World: The Second World War

BIt wasn’t until after I finished reading Winter of the World by Ken Follett, that I realized how many historical novels I have read this year, specifically ones about World War II (see here and here). Winter of the World is the second book in Follett’s Century Trilogy. I read the first book, Fall of Giants, earlier this year, and I really enjoyed returning to the series. I have always been interested in the World War II era ever since I was little, and I still find it to be a really interesting time in history.

The Century Trilogy, much like Follett’s Pillars of the Earth series, follows multiple interconnected families through the 20th century. These characters were established in Fall of Giants, and are picked up again a few years later. Winter of the World follows the younger generation, which gives the book a more of a youthful feel to it, but as always the story is grounded in history. Follett meticulously places his characters where they need to be to hit all the major historical events of the time. The first book established characters in the UK, Germany, the US, and the Soviet Union, which sets Follett up to easily sail through the 20th century. On a more detailed level Follett has a variety of characters, from government officials, to international spies, and from the rich to the poor, so that his reader gets as flushed out a picture of the era as he can give them.

One of Follett’s greatest strengths as a writer is his ability to give characters depth and variety. Each one of the people in his book has their own story, their own motives, and their own individual personality. As always, he is especially adept at writing particularly strong female characters, which I always enjoy. I find that at times his books can get to be a bit soap-opera-y, and that those element of the story can be overdone sometimes, but at the same time, the soap opera parts break up the political turmoil that the book is based on. It also gives his readers a more flushed out story by adding a personal element into the mix. I wasn’t blown away by his writing style, but Follett certainly knows how to write a good story and how to keep the suspense going.

I did notice that in this book there was a darker streak running through the text as compared to the first book in the series. Follett is definitely not afraid to put his characters through turmoil and have them deal with the outcome of said turmoil. At first I was surprised by the darker parts of the novel, especially after reading many of his other books, but I feel like the darker streak is expected when one considers the time period that he is writing about. Not only is he writing about a world war, he is writing about the second world ward that most of these characters have seen in their lives – and none of his characters are very old. That, and the specific facts of history: the fear of fascism and communism, and the terror that the Nazis inflicted on Germany and on the world during this time, justifies Follett’s darker streak in my mind.

Follett also does a good job of setting the scene for his third book, Edge of Eternity, which picks up where Winter of the World left off, and follows the next generation through the Cold War era. He introduces many of the prevalent issues of the time: specifically the power struggle between the Soviet Union and the US, the rush for nuclear weapons, and the fear that there would be yet another world war, all of which were concerns at the end of World War II. After finishing this book, I am in the mood to delve into his third book, but unfortunately I will have to wait until September 2014…

Bookish Quotes

I don’t have anything specific to report this week. Overall its been pretty productive. Right now I am waiting to hear back from a few projects, looking for new projects, am in the middle of a book, and am looking forward to the weekend.

So here are a few quotes to get you geared up for the weekend. And for summer. I can’t wait to be able to curl up on the beach or in the park with a good book and lots of sunshine.

Enjoy.

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(Disclaimer: I found all of these pictures on Google and I do not own any of them)

What Makes Things Tip?

The Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell has been on my radar for a few years now, but I never really had the chance to sit down and read it. I also tend to lean towards fiction more  than non-fiction when reading on my own. So this particular had been sitting on the back burner until I pulled it off the bookshelf last week and decided that it was time to see what it was about.

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In The Tipping Point, journalist Malcom Gladwell explores what makes things popular. How do trends start and spread to the general public? Gladwell looks into a few fads and movements that were successful over the years – everything from Paul Revere’s famous ride, to Sesame Street, to lowering the crime rate in 1980’s New York City, to Airwalk sneakers. What Gladwell wants to know in his book is what made these movements or epidemics a success?

Gladwell methodically takes his reader through his thought process. He lays out the three important factors of an epidemic, which he calls The Law of the Few, The Stickiness Factor, and The Power of Context. In other words Gladwell looks into the people that make a trend happen, what about the trend makes it popular, and the trend in its greater context. Each of these elements makes up a chapter of the book, and is supported by empirical evidence.

Gladwell looks into a variety of psychological and social experiments that were conducted over the years. But he does more than pile on the statistics and technical jargon; instead he creates a story from the research set before him. Gladwell describes the characters that he interviewed. He tells the reader what they were wearing, what they said, how they presented themselves, or how they laughed. Not only does this make the book more readable, it also makes the study or interview come to life in a way that pure statistics and results could not.

Gladwell sets out to show how a trend becomes big, but in the process he does a lot of analysis on human nature. After all, when someone wants their product to become big they are aiming it at a certain type of person, or at the general public as a whole. Therefore, it is essential to look at what motivates us, what interests us, and what affects us on a day to day basis. Many of the studies Gladwell references, such as the 1970’s prison experiment, I have read about in my various Psychology classes, but it was interesting to revisit them in a different context.

As I said before, Gladwell does not limit himself in terms of the examples he uses to explore fads and epidemics. Therefore the experiments that he references are equally varied in topic, ranging from Developmental to Social Psychology. Gladwell proves himself to be a man that is genuinely interested in the human condition.

All in all, Gladwell has put together a fairly comprehensive and entertaining study of trends, fads, epidemics, and the people that bring them into existence.