One-Minute Book Reviews

August 17, 2007

Harry Potter and the Critic Who Gave Up (Books I Didn’t Finish)

The latest in an occasional series of posts on books I didn’t finish and why I didn’t

Title: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Scholastic, $34.99), by J.K. Rowling

What it is: “The seventh and final installment in the epic tale of Harry Potter” (dust jacket).

How much I read: The first two chapters, a total of 29 pages.

Why I stopped reading: This novel wasn’t good enough or bad enough to hold my attention. I hadn’t read the first six books in the series, so opening this one was like walking into cocktail party full of people I didn’t know. The first chapter seems to involve mainly the bad guys. They have names like Snape, Malfoy and Voldemort, and they’re all sitting around a table plotting to kill Harry. But I was skeptical about whether they’d pull it off, because a white peacock appears on page 2. And here’s how critics read books: “White (symbol of purity) + peacock (symbol of immortality in Christian art) = pure character/Christ figure lives.” White is also a symbol of resurrection. So, I figured, the deal might instead be: “White peacock = Christ figure dies but is resurrected.” Naturally, I have no idea how things turned out. I may have looked at one too many peacocks on cathedral walls or altarpieces. But I didn’t want to slog through 759 pages only to yell at the end, “It was obvious! Major resurrection symbol on page 2!”

Best line in what I read: A line from a newspaper obituary written by one character for another: “Several of his papers found their way into learned publications such as Transfiguration Today, Challenges in Charming, and The Practical Potioner.” Nice satire, especially that Challenges in Charming.

Worst line in what I read: The names of some characters, such as Dolohov and Grindelwald, clash with the best in the series and seem unconsciously to imitate Tolstoy, Agatha Christie and others. It’s as though Rowling had named these characters 15 minutes after she finished reading War and Peace or Murder on the Orient Express.

Published: July 2007

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

July 20, 2007

Could This Weekend’s Group Grope of Harry Potter Actually HARM Children? Quote of the Day

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:59 pm
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What could possibly be wrong with millions of children lining up to buy and read the same book at the same time? Here’s an answer from Ron Charles of the Washington Post:

“Consider that, with the release of each new volume, Rowling’s readers have been driven not only into greater fits of enthusiasm but into more precise synchronization with one another. Through a marvel of modern publishing, advertising and distribution, millions of people will receive or buy The Deathly Hallows on a single day. There’s something thrilling about that sort of unity, except that it has almost nothing to do with the unique pleasures of reading a novel: that increasingly rare opportunity to step out of sync with the world, to experience something intimate and private, the sense that you and an author are conspiring for a few hours to experience a place by yourselves — without a movie version or a set of action figures. Through no fault of Rowling’s, Potter mania nonetheless trains children and adults to expect the roar of the coliseum, a mass-media experience that no other novel can possibly provide.”

Ron Charles, a senior editor of the Washington Post’s Book World Section, in “Harry Potter and the Death of Reading,” Sunday, July 15, 2007, Page B01. I can’t link directly to this post but you can find it by Googling “Harry Potter and the Death of Reading.”

Comment by Janice Harayda:
I love Charles’s observation that reading a novel offers “that increasingly rare opportunity to step out of sync with the world, to experience something intimate and private, the sense that you and an author are conspiring for a few hours to experience a place by your selves.” This suggests the possible dark side not just of Harry Potter mania but of book clubs and all those campaigns that aim to get all the adults in a town to read the same book.

Could such efforts be a subtle way of co-opting the solitary pleasures of reading? What do you think?

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

July 1, 2007

Is Harry Potter Sexist? Quote of the Day #32

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:15 pm
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Are the Harry Potter books or movies sexist? A children’s biography of Daniel Handler, the creator of Lemony Snicket, says he is wary of how movie versions of books can change authors’ characters:

“After viewing Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, for example, Handler was annoyed at the film’s portrayal of J.K. Rowling’s character Hermione Granger.

“He remembers Hermione as being smart and appreciated for it in Rowling’s book. In the film version, however, he said he noticed that every time Hermione said something smart, the camera would pan over to catch a shot of the boys rolling their eyes. He explains, ‘If you are a girl seeing the movie – and you’re the kind of girl who is always reading a lot, learning a lot of facts – then the lesson you’re going to get from this film is that somehow, that is not the appealing and acceptable way for a girl to behave.’”

Hayley Mitchell Haugen in Daniel Handler: The Real Lemony Snicket: Inventors and Creators. (Gale/KidHaven, 2005). The “Inventors and Creators” series www.gale.com/kidhaven/ includes biographies of J.K. Rowling, Roald Dahl, Laura Ingalls Wilder and others for elementary- and (some middle-) school students.

Comment by Janice Harayda:
I saw Harry and Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone but didn’t notice the pattern Handler describes. And I haven’t read any of the novels. If you’ve read the books or seen the movies, what do you think? Are they ever sexist?

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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