Tag Archives: J.K. Rowling

Why I Feel Sorry for J.K. Rowling

15th April 2012

Yes, I know she’s a gazillionaire and that her success is beyond what most people can even imagine. However, when Little, Brown announced this past week that J.K. Rowling’s new adult-fiction book The Casual Vacancy had a release date (September 2012) and a synopsis, the Internet went a bit crazy. The synopsis?

When Barry Fairweather dies unexpectedly in his early forties, the little town of Pagford is left in shock.Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war.Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils…Pagford is not what it first seems.And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations?Blackly comic, thought-provoking and constantly surprising, The Casual Vacancy is J.K. Rowling’s first novel for adults. (via Little, Brown)

Personally, I loved the Harry Potter series. I didn’t expect to, but I did. Yes, the beginning books were a bit unstable, but the magic? The storytelling? I loved it all. Even at the end of the series, yes, I felt J.K. Rowling made some missteps (I’m looking at you, awkward Dumbledore scene in the train station when Harry is supposed to be dead). However, as a series, as a composite group of work, Harry Potter is masterful.

This novel? It will be different. J.K. Rowling certainly could have published this book under another name and avoided all the drama; however, she chose to place her name on The Casual Vacancy, a markedly-different book in almost every conceivable way.

In 2007, there were rumors that J.K. Rowling met with Ian Rankin in Edinburgh to discuss crime novels. The man himself tweeted me in February, saying she “does love a good whodunnit.” It isn’t being touted as such, but politics and small-town issues put this one in a perfect position for a murder or two. Speculation only, but isn’t that what revealing a blurb this early in the game is all about?

Many vowed to read anything written by the author of the famed boy Harry Potter. Others weren’t so excited:

 

https://twitter.com/#!/ArnoldGareth/status/190704002168651778

Twitter / @ArnoldGareth: #jkrowling should have sto … via kwout

On Bookalicious.org, Pam says it sounds “boring,” and the comments on her blog tend to agree. The Telegraph’s Sameer Rahim talks about why he’s “dreading” The Casual Vacancy, with the oh-so-original argument that J.K. Rowling sucks as a writer and that kids should be reading Charles Dickens (I’m thinking that deserves a post of its own).

So am I so ensconced in Jo’s camp (yeah, we’re close. I call her “Jo”) that I feel the need to defend her against all this scuffling nonsense? Hardly. I’m sure the woman who has built a multimedia empire can hold her own. However, in terms of J.K. Rowling as a writer, one who created something that has, for many, become legend, how do you move past it?

I, for one, am impressed that a mere year after the last HP film, she has jumped into the fray and is releasing a book. She had to have known she would meet this sort of response as there are some who will be unhappy with anything less than full-on magic. There are still others who have never understood her success to begin with.

Releasing a book so radically different is natural. Had she released anything else about Harry or any of the characters from the series, she would likely have faced much criticism for “milking” the success of the series. There would inevitably be articles written about the watered-down stories, much like spinoffs of successful TV shows. [Who can forget the Friends spinoff, Joey? Or maybe, who can remember it? Cheers boasts the successful Frasier, but it also had a 13-episode run of The Tortellis.]

J.K. Rowling will face a multitude of critics come September (and months before as ARCs are parceled out). The reactions? Disappointed Harry Potter fans angry that Queen Rowling didn’t produce the magic. Devout HP fans who will laud the queen, regardless of the quality of the book. Raging journalists, who have wanted to pounce for years but didn’t want to be attacked, will come out of the woodworks, decrying the death of literature.

Do I feel sorry for J.K. Rowling? Indeed I do. There is no way for her to win here, even if she produced a Dickensian novel, and I say “Dickensian” simply because these days Dickens seems to be the media’s favorite measurement for true literature. Once she gets this first novel out of the way, I think it will be easier for her to continue writing if she chooses to. So get it under your belt, Jo. I’ll pour the tea (with a bit of spirits) come September.

Mischief Managed!

1st August 2011

It is August in Texas, yet I am looking forward to starting this month more than you can possibly know. July packed a punch, and not in a good way. It was one of the worst months of my life because of some job-related stress. However, apparently stress and no money are really good for reading. I read 16 books in August, and thankfully my Shelfari account, instead of telling me I am behind last year’s pace, now tells me I am ahead of my 2010 reading pace. Yippee! It’s a damn shame when a website can make you feel guilty…

As per the title of this post, mischief has most certainly been managed. Since last Friday, I completed Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. That’s approximately 3,184 pages in one week, and I also listened to Live and Let Die by Ian Fleming and read Attachments by Rainbow Rowell.

That’s why reviews have been a bit light around these here parts over the last month. Looking back I only reviewed 5 (five!) books. Don’t hate me. I promise I’ve got a lot in store for you this month, and that’s partly because so many great books are coming out this fall.

So sit back, try to stay cool, and tell me what the heck you’ve been up to.

I Solemnly Swear I Am Up to No Good…

27th July 2011

If, that is, you consider non-stop reading as “no good.” I have been a bit down for various reasons lately, and after seeing the last Harry Potter film, I decided I needed to start back at the beginning of the series. I have owned all the books at some point, but after lending them to different people over the years, only one is left on my shelves, so I went down to my library and checked them all out.

Since Friday, I have read Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and I am halfway finished with Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I am thoroughly enjoying my re-read, and I feel like a kid again when summer reading meant reading to the exclusion of all else until Mom made me go play outside.

I hope you’ll stick around. Right now, I just need this escape into something other than my real life. I will return once I can safely say “Mischief Managed.”

jenn aka the picky girl

#fridayreads take me away: Harry Potter

15th July 2011

#fridayreads take me away is a weekly meme to celebrate the start of the weekend and the glorious day of reading whatever the heck you want. I’d love for you to join! For further explanation, click here.

 

The boy who lived, come to die…

Unlike almost any other character for me, Harry Potter certainly lived. Rowling made his world and his friends and his trials come to life in a magnificent way that has spoken to so many people – readers and non-readers.

Today, I will be consumed with all things Harry Potter as I plan to watch the first half of HP7 this afternoon before a 4:10 viewing of the last. Potter. film. ever. I’m much older than the characters in the series, but I am so grateful my mom (a 6th grade reading teacher at the time) made me pick up the first three books. And I’ll never forget how devastated I was to realize there were only three out at the time. Each time a new one was scheduled to come out, I waited in the lines – sometimes with friends; sometimes with Mom and Dad. We grabbed our copies, said goodbye, and tucked in at 1 or 2 a.m. to continue the story of the boy who lived and those who made sure he did.

Though I love each of the books for different reasons, the last stunned me. From the very first scenes, it reminded me of a Holocaust narrative – people hiding and running from an evil power determined to destroy them. Neighbors there one day and gone the next. The Dark Mark, though opposite, is still as oppressive as the signs many were made to wear, among them the Star of David and paper clips. So, for me, this book/film is an epic not only because it contains a battle but also because it tells a story of good and evil and of those caught somewhere in the middle. In the first half of the film it was painful to watch Draco caught up in a man’s game – so much more deadly than any he had encountered before. I ached for him, and I certainly didn’t want to.

I will miss the fun and mischief. I will miss Hogwarts. But more than anything, I will miss the Weasleys, Lupin, Snape, Hermione, Neville, Harry, Ron, Luna. Tomorrow will feel like a loss of sorts – and as I know you are fellow readers, I can say that without feeling batty.

So in honor of Harry Potter, Hermione Grange, and Ron Weasley and all the other beloved characters of the series as well as their creator, J.K. Rowling, today I will simply ask you to share your favorite Harry Potter moments from the films, the books, or the community built around HP – either in comments or in a separate blog post. (Don’t forget to link up below!)

And, of course, you can watch the trailer for the millionth time….


 jenn aka the picky girl, house of gryffindor

 

Will we still have this argument in another 153 years?

6th October 2010

Is it in feminine novels only that courtship, marriage, servants, and children are the staple? Is not this true of all novels? — of Dickens, of Thackeray, of Bulwer and a host of others? Is it peculiar to feminine pens, most astute and liberal of critics? Would a novel be a novel if it did not treat of courtship and marriage? and if it could be so recognized, would it find readers? When I see such a narrow, snarling criticism as the above, I always say to myself, the writer is some unhappy man, who has come up without the refining influence of mother, or sister, or reputable female friends…

These words begin Fanny Fern’s article “Male Criticism on Ladies’ Books,” first published in the New York Ledger in 1857. 1857. 153 years ago, and if you need a little perspective, it was prior to the Civil War. Fern was one of the most commercially-successful writers during this time period, and at the height of her career was the highest paid journalist – male or female. Again, I’ll put a little perspective on that. Most of us my age or older didn’t study many female writers in school. They weren’t included in the textbooks for study. In my American Literature class, we discuss this article, and when we got to it this week, the parallels were blatant between that time period and the current controversy over whether or not the New York Times is biased toward male writers.

I haven’t said much about #franzenfreude, as the argument has been dubbed on Twitter. If you haven’t heard, two female writers, Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner, publicly discussed how the Times seems to favor the white male darlings of the literary world. At the time, Jonathan Franzen’s name was absolutely everywhere. He was the first writer to be on the cover of Time magazine in the past 15 years (Stephen King was the last). His book was pre-selling like crazy. Reviews abounded. Even President Obama got a copy, causing a rush on an unpublished book (and headache for the publisher).

Picoult and Weiner both agree they are not on the same plane as Franzen (they are considered commercial fiction as opposed to literary fiction), but they do not argue for themselves alone but for all the women writers whose names seem to remain in obscurity. Now I’m not a huge fan of Franzen as I have read The Corrections, a novel, and How to Be Alone, a collection of essays, but I have not yet read Freedom. Neither of the former reads blew me away; in fact, the essay collection was a bit pretentious. Ultimately, though, Franzen is just the vehicle for the current issue: do white male authors receive more attention than female authors and authors of color? I don’t think anyone is really even trying to claim otherwise.

In fact, the Times is not alone in the pomp and circumstance. I read an excellent blog post at Color Online about how even Oprah has bowed to Franzen. I don’t have a problem with her adding him to her Book Club as that is her right and choice (even though he snubbed her in 2001, citing previous “schmaltzy” picks behind his reasoning). But as the article points out, it’s about who Oprah’s list leaves off: women. But again, is it really Franzen’s fault? No. Obviously, this is much larger than the Times or Oprah. (I’ll leave the chick lit discussion for another day and time).

Why are we so dismissive of women’s voices? To me, good fiction is good fiction. I just find it ironic and sad that we have not really evolved past the problems with which Fanny Fern takes issue. Male writers at the time were criticizing Fern’s commercial success, which is a slight shift, but you could certainly view J.K. Rowling in a similar light. In fact, part of the reason no one knows her first name (Joann) is her publisher encouraged her to be a bit androgynous on the book cover so male children would pick up Harry Potter as well. This is discussed in a Salon article here, though the author seems to get a bit off track. Jodi Picoult is also a commercially-successful writer, having most recently had her novel, My Sister’s Keeper made into a movie. Hunger Games is written by a woman, Suzanne Collins. Are these books less important or less literary because women wrote them? Harry Potter is certainly in a league of its own, but I would argue Rowling knows her craft and is extremely literary. Does her popularity mean she cannot be a good writer? Lorrie Moore, on the other hand, is not a well-known name. Similar to Franzen, she writes quiet novels of family and home. Her face, though, has not graced the cover of Time; she was not chosen for Oprah’s Book Club. There are frighteningly good women writers out there, but we tend to marginalize them or use their popularity as a bar to their “literary” status.

Fanny Fern knew and understood this, and she ends her small column from 153 years ago with a stinging retort to all those who have written her off (and I couldn’t say it better myself):

But seriously — we have had quite enough of this shallow criticism (?) on lady-books …. Whether ladies can write novels or not, is a question I do not intend to discuss; but that some of them have no difficulty in finding either publishers or readers, is a matter of history …. Granting that lady-novels are not all that they should be — is such shallow, unfair, wholesale, sneering criticism (?) the way to reform them? Would it not be better and more manly to point out a better way kindly, justly, and, above all, respectfully? or –what would be a much harder task for such critics – write a better book!