Archive for the 'books (etc)' Category

Literary Mixtapes, 8tracks and Fan Fiction

December 14, 2011

I’ve long been a devotee of Flavorwire’s Literary Mixtapes.  Every so often the clever folks over there “sneak a look at the hypothetical iPods of some of literature’s most interesting characters”  and provide their readership with a list and links.  The character write-ups are pithy and thought provoking and the music is always interesting and often enjoyable.  Some of my favorite mixes are:

Lyra Belacqua – “Here’s what we think Lyra would battle Mrs. Coulter, deceive Iofur Raknison, and read the alethiometer to.”

Harry Potter– “Here’s what we think Harry would be moping about, Wronski Feinting, and saving the world to.”

Ender Wiggin – “Here are the songs we think he’d calculate, strategize and defy gravity to.”

Earlier this year I was inspired to a couple of my own.  The seed of that inspiration actually came not from “literature” per se but from a piece of Harry Potter fan fiction, albeit a very literary example of the type.  Amends, or Truth and Reconciliation is the epic tale (as yet incomplete at 300,000 words – some of which I needed to look up) of what happened to Hermione after the war.  Its complicated and dark,  turning over all the rocks in the Potterverse and looking underneath them.

Perspective is nearly everything in fiction.  Harry simply doesn’t pay attention to the complexities of the wizarding world the way Hermione does.  So although wizarding world has authoritarian governments combated by underground resistant movements, rebel forces on the run, pirate radio stations and break ins at highly secure official installations, the seven Harry Potter books feel more like the story of one boy’s heroic brush with fate.    Amends, told from Hermione’s perspective, is more complex and darkly nuanced and much more political.  I spent most of September steeping myself in her combative, question-everything point of view and thoroughly enjoyed it.  One of the results is this trio of playlists based on three of the main characters in the Amends plot line.

Wandless Incencio: Here are the songs I think Hermione would be time turning, writing code and plotting to overthrow the Ministry of Magic to.

Worth Twelve: Here’s what Neville would be pining, planting and pacing the Lancashire moors to.

House Arrest: And these are the tracks Draco would be stunt flying, sulking and re-evaluating his place in the world to.

8tracks doesn’t allow its users to list the songs in each mix (something to do with the legality of making music available for free on the internet – like Pandora there has to be an element of randomness).  But each of the songs on the mix was chosen for a specific reason and, if you care to, you can read the liner notes for Hermione’s playlist, “Wandless Incendio” after the jump.  Warning: it contains some spoiler alerts for the Amends plot line so beware. Read the rest of this entry »


What to read next.

October 11, 2011

NPR has created a list of the top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy novels.  This as awesome.  Still more excellent is the  funny (and very functional) flow chart of NPR’s selections created by SFSignal.    ENJOY!

You might also want to check out Monkey See’s analysis of the final list with suggestions for how to be a winner including:

1. Write it a long time ago.

3. Be a dude.

4. Be British.

There are plenty of quibbles.  But still its a very comprehensive list – I’ve only read a third of the books on it – and a great jumping off point for a fun reading adventure.

Starting from the top:

On the Fantasy side:

Or for Science Fiction:


“Reducto,” “Impedimenta,” and “Priori Incancatatum:” Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

October 26, 2010

NB: I have to admit … I’m not giving this post my all here.  I have a couple of reasons (excuses) including that I’ve been really busy, that I don’t really like Goblet of Fire all that much, and that I’ve now gone past it and am well into Order of the Phoenix so it isn’t even all that fresh in my mind.  Never the less, I am way too OCD to skip it and move on so …

Dark Defence Training Camp, Courtesy of Lord Voldemort

As much as I don’t really enjoy this book, it is very necessary to the plot.  To buy the series as a whole, we all have to believe that Harry Potter does indeed have a chance when it comes to beating Lord Voldemort.  This seems irrational in the first book even when the Dark Lord is just a creepy face in the back of Quirrel’s head.  As we watch Voldemort cut a swath Read the rest of this entry »

Hogwarts Math: How many wizards are there?

September 8, 2010

Its always around Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire that I start tilting my head sideways and wondering about how many witches and wizards there are in the wizarding world anyway.  Up until this point I, at least, didn’t think too hard about the world as a whole – Harry had enough going on just with his own circle at Hogwarts.  At this point though, the book starts opening up a lot of new possibilities – other schools of magic, foreign wizards speaking other languages (and casting spell in them?).

Rowling also starts throwing numbers around all over the place … numbers which don’t always add up.  Here are a couple of key numbers that can be used to come up with different overall populations from different places in the cannon:

Five beds in Harry’s dorm

We know that when Harry comes to Hogwarts, there are five Gryffindor first year boys.  We actually only ever learn the names of three girls in his class: Hermione, Lavender and Parvati but this may be because he’s not paying attention to them. I assumed, based on this, that there were roughly ten students per house per year.  This is born out by Harry’s first flying lesson; for Gryffindor and Slytherin first years there are Read the rest of this entry »

“I’m not going to be murdered:” Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

September 3, 2010

This is the first book in which Harry feels (and is assumed to be by the rest of the wizarding community) specifically persecuted.  In the first book the trio basically stumble on the mystery of the sorcerer’s stone and in the second book, although Tom Riddle is particularly interested in Harry, the danger from the Monster of Slytherin is pretty general.  Ironically Voldemort is barely present in Prisoner of Azkaban but both Harry and the school and ministry authorities believe that Sirius Black is hunting him on the dark lord’s behalf.  Its interesting how coolly Harry takes it, despite dark and unsubtle hints from Professor Trelawney and his own multiple encounters with an apparent “grim.”

Hermione Granger and the Voice of Reason (ignored)

Does anyone else think that Hermione gets the very short end of the stick through this book.  Sure she gets to mastermind the final action sequence but that’s one day; she spends most of the year working her tail off in school and being shunned by her two best friends for trying to point out the truth.

  • First she’s in trouble because her cat, to quote Hagrid, “acted like a cat.”  She says that there’s no evidence that Crookshanks ate Scabbers, and, in fact, he did not.
  • Then she’s dissed and dismissed for pointing out Read the rest of this entry »

You Are What You Speak

August 31, 2010

Note: Its been brought to my attention (Hi Laura) that not everybody enjoys reading about Harry Potter. all. the. time.  So here’s something else that’s been on my mind recently.

I stumbled on this fascinating analysis of the way language affects perception in the New York Times this weekend. I find the study of languages fascinating and have often wished to be ploylingual.  In fact, I’ve never become completely fluent in another language but, through many years of education, I have studied Spanish, Latin, Italian and Dutch.  I’ve often thought that languages are affected by culture (for example the punctuality oriented Dutch ask about temporality not by asking “What time is it?” but by asking how late it is: “Hoe laat is het?”) but this article suggests that perhaps the reverse is also true.  Our perceptions, both personal and cultural, are affected by our language.

Although the author, Guy Deutscher, discounts Benjamin Lee Whorf’s theory (first published in 1940) that mother tongue languages can restrict the way people think, he does point out many ways in which our perceptions are shaped by our native languages.  For example:

German bridge is feminine (die Brücke), for instance, but el puente is masculine in Spanish; […] When speakers were asked to grade various objects on a range of characteristics, Spanish speakers deemed bridges, clocks and violins to have more “manly properties” like strength, but Germans tended to think of them as more slender or elegant. Read the rest of this entry »

The Oh-So-Unstable Triumvirate

August 30, 2010

Three is an awkward number for a friendship in any situation and Harry Ron and Hermione demonstrate that in nearly every chapter of the Harry Potter books.  Its two against one for large swathes of each of the seven.

Oh No!  Not the hospital wing again!

In the earliest books its often due to extenuating circumstances:

  • as when Ron can’t come send Norbert on his way because he’s recovering from a dragon bite and then likewise missed out on the resultant detention in the Forbidden forest;
  • or when Hermione is petrified during Chamber of Secrets (having just solved the mystery) and Ron and Harry have to figure out what she knew and go into the chamber after Ginny without her;
  • or when Ron’s leg is broken in Prisoner of Azkaban and so Hermione leaves him in the hospital wing and takes Harry back with her time turner to save Buckbeak and Sirius.

The three of them (as well as a lot of other students) seem spend an alarming amount of time Read the rest of this entry »

“As celebrity does:” Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

August 25, 2010

I love this book.  Its very funny and packed with ridiculous situations and characters – midnight escapes in flying cars (both from Dursley muggle-dom and from hoards of spiders), singing valentines, Lockhart in general, dueling clubs, Myrtle.  Its delightful … but its also quite serious.

I think this is the book where Harry really establishes himself as the true Gryffindor hero type.  In Sorcerer’s Stone, he and the trio in general are mostly just nosing around into things not their business.  They’re curious about the mysterious Gringotts break in, they hate their Potions teacher and imagine all sorts of things about him, they wander the castle at night and find magical mirrors and then Harry basically trips over the Dark Lord while wandering the Forbidden Forest at night.  Although the book ends with Harry bravely striding off alone to a confrontation with Voldemort it is largely through happenstance (or fate) and not much by his own intention.  His actions in Chamber of Secrets seem somewhat different.

Celebrity is as Celebrity Does

This time around the stakes are much, much higher.  Instead of beginning with an apparently insignificant Read the rest of this entry »

The Very Secret (and rather evil) Diary

August 20, 2010

Watch out for that thing, Harry.

I was struck while re-reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by how much the Diary Horcrux reminds me of J.R.R. Tolkien’s ring.  [The similarity is, of course, much stronger with both of the later horcruxes Harry comes in contact with – the Gaunt ring and the locket – but I’ll get to them later.] The Chamber of Secrets passage that describes how Harry keeps the diary with him even after they’ve tried and failed to get any information out of it is particularly eerie:

“… even though he knew the diary was blank, he kept absentmindedly picking it up and turning the pages, as though it were a story he wanted to finish.”

I’m strongly reminded of Bilbo describing his feelings about the ring to Gandalf in “A Long-Expected Party” as “growing on” his mind:

“I am always wanting to put it on and disappear, don’t you know; or wondering if it is safe and pulling it out to make sure.”

Its nice foreshadowing.  Even though Harry thinks of the diary as a “half-forgotten” friendly figure the third person description is enough to make us, the audience, feel creepy about it.

She was really holding out on us.

I stumbled across an old interview which Read the rest of this entry »

I guess I owe Chris Columbus an apology.

August 12, 2010

image from

Not a big one – I still think Chamber of Secrets is a travesty but … I have to rescind one point of criticism today.  Listening to the Chamber of Secrets last night as I drove home from work I came to “The Dueling Club” and realized that they were just following the text with that scene.  Here’s what I said:

The things they add: First there’s the insistence on souping up the spells; Expelliarmus is supposed to knock the wand out of someone’s hand, not blast them backwards bodily across a room.  If they wanted it to cause a person’s arm to jerk dramatically as the wand flies away (theoretically toward the spell caster) fine but wire work effects are just so totally over the top.  There is no need to try to make magic more magical.

But actually I had just imagined it less dramatically.  I’m still pretty sure there are times when expelliarmus does just knock the wand from a hand (and sometimes bring it sailing back to the original spell caster) in her first description it does literally Read the rest of this entry »

Oh … you’ve forgotten something: Neville Longbottom

August 10, 2010

Here’s one more thing from Sorcerer’s Stone that I didn’t mention Friday.  I really had forgotten that Neville Longbottom was such a major character from the very beginning of the series.  Which is all the more shocking to me because he’s a favorite character from the books overall.  I love his whole journey from “There’s no need to tell me I’m not brave enough to be in Gryffindor” in the first book to pulling the sword of Gryffindor out of the sorting hat and killing Nagini with it in the seventh.   Neville really has to overcome some internal demons and, to a certain extent, totally reinvent himself as the hero of his own story.

The Boy Who Nobody Cared About

Neville is one of the first people Harry meets on the train; he rides with Harry and Hermione in a boat to the castle, discovers Fluffy with the trio while wandering the halls at night, tries to warn Harry about Draco and gets detention with him.  He inadvertently gives Harry the secret of Nicholas Flamel by handing him back the Dumbledore chocolate frog card.  He’s everywhere in the story and yet … always peripheral.

I started to wonder this time through if there was ever a draft of the book that had him coming down beyond the trapdoor – he would have known how to handle the devil’s snare … in fact, now that I think of it, that task seems to have been put there just for him.  Harry catches the key, Ron defeats the chess set and Read the rest of this entry »

“Harry, yer a wizard:” Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

August 6, 2010

I jumped on the Harry Potter bandwagon back in 1998 when my uncle sent a copy to the house and, after several weeks of my sister and I ignoring it, my mom proposed what has been known since as “the Harry Potter test,” namely, that she would read us the first chapter out loud and if we didn’t want to continue after that we wouldn’t.  Unsurprisingly, we clamored for more, made short work of the first two books and were left waiting with baited breath for the third.  I’m not at all sure of the number of times I’ve read the early books since then.  I certainly read the series through from the beginning before starting each of the last five books.  But this is the first time I’ve read it since finishing Deathly Hallows and I’ve noticed a few things with fresh eyes:

Foreshadowing 101

Each time I read this book I’m blown away by the foreshadowing and, still more, by the way Rowling seeded the whole book with important people, places and concepts that won’t be brought back for many books.  I remember setting down Prisoner of Azkaban to ask ‘wait, Sirius Black? We’ve heard that name before.  Wasn’t he they guy who lent Hagrid his motorcycle in the first chapter of the first book?  Wow.’  But after reading to the end of the series its hard to turn a page without being amazed at the way key concepts come up in throw away lines and Read the rest of this entry »

“When in doubt, go to the library”: Books at Hogwarts

August 5, 2010

Say what you like about education at Hogwarts (and I could say plenty: There’s seriously not a single year’s class on literature or even basic math?  That’s putting a lot of faith in early home schooling, folks!), wizarding students know how to hit the books.  Hermione is the one everyone thinks of first in conjunction with research and reading at Hogwarts, but one of the things I love most about Harry Potter is that really ALL the students read nearly constantly.

“Honestly, don’t you two read?”

When Harry Ron and Hermione wanted to know who Nicholas Flamel was in Sorcerer’s Stone, they couldn’t Google it.  There is no wizard Wikipedia.  Instead they spent every spare minute in the library, stopping off there between classes and during evening hours.  When Harry gets an invisibility cloak for Christmas and decides to take it out for a spin, the cool, illicit place he decides to sneak into is the Restricted Section of the school library.  Even Hagrid turns up Read the rest of this entry »

Poor Little Rich Boy: Draco Malfoy

August 4, 2010

I came across this really delightful blog about all things Potter and paging through some recent entries, I stumbled on this post about Draco Malfoy and was so drawn into thinking about his character that I started to add a comment, something I rarely do.  But my comment went on and on and I ultimately decided it would be better adapted to a post of my own.  The result is below.

I’m inclined to be open minded about Draco Malfoy.  [I should note here that I also spent the two years between Half Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows repeating over and over to myself and everyone else that Snape MUST have had a hidden motive for killing Dumbledore.  Its not that I like bad guys; its just that I believe that J.K. Rowling writes more nuanced characters than that!] He is certainly a snob, a bully and an outspoken muggle-hater but I also think that a lot of this anti-social behavior is at least partly a cover for his own insecurity.

Raised by Wolves … or at least Death Eaters

Look at his background: he was raised by two people who have thoroughly entrenched themselves in a world of privilege and bigotry and its unclear where he would ever have gotten any other perspectives.  Sure, we can all see his parent’s behavior as despicable but he is their beloved child.  The combination of his mother’s doting and his father’s disdainful borderline abusive Read the rest of this entry »

Where Dwell the Brave at Heart: Houses at Hogwarts

August 3, 2010

“The four Houses are called Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin.  Each House has its own noble history and each has produced outstanding witches and wizards.  While you are Hogwarts, your triumphs will earn your House points, while any rule-breaking will loose House points.”

I’ve been thinking about Hogwarts Houses lately.  I understand the rationale for breaking a large school up into smaller chunks; it’s helpful from an administrative perspective as well as giving the students a slightly less cavernous feeling to the new place when they come.  It builds identity and friendships within each House and, to a certain extent, competition between Houses motivates each to perform at its best.  But in the end I wonder if it doesn’t do a lot more harm than good.  At several points the houses are described as being equal, or at least each good in its own way, but there are actually some fairly clear value judgments made based on house selection and I don’t think they appear merely because we the readers spend all of our time following Gryffindor house.

Why introduce this separation into a group which might otherwise be disposed to be cohesive?  Rowling clearly describes the students, nervous about their entry into the school, gathering together for comfort and safety.  “The crowded in, standing rather closer together than they would usually have done …” and clearly the sense is Read the rest of this entry »

Incorrigible Fangirl

August 2, 2010

Anyone who knows me at all is already aware that I am an incorrigible fangirl.  I mention this now not because it really needs re-stating but as a warning that I think there’s about to be a flood of Harry Potter analysis and discussion and general fandom on this blog soon. I’m in the mood for it.

I’m in the mood for Harry Potter specifically, rather, because I’m pretty much always in the mood to geek out about some favorite fiction or other and will happily debate the most minor character or plot details from sun up to sun down with anyone so unwise as to get me started.  I read and re-read favorite series and find myself thinking of the people in them, both major and minor, as friends and relations.  When I really need to buckle down and work hard on something in my life for a few months I usually touch base with Alanna and Kel first to get inspired by the value of hard work.  When I need a mental vacation, I take it in middle earth.  If I feel like I need some momentum to push through and beat the odds, I turn to Star Wars.

I think what kicked off this Harry Potter furor is that I somewhat randomly picked up the soundtrack to the latest movie from the library and fell instantaneously and completely in love with it.  The Half Blood Prince score, by Nicholas Hooper is by far the best to date (I’m heart broken that he’s not slated to score the final two).  Listen here and then buy it!  I like John Williams as much as the next die hard Star Wars fan, but  this musical score completely outclasses the first three movies!  Its delicate and filled with a sense of yearning that complements rather than overplays the darker tone of the book.  Interestingly, the CD is also organized into a series of musical themes for characters or moments rather than simply tracking the plot of the movie minus sound effects and dialogue.  I’ve been listening too it pretty much non stop since I adding it to iTunes a few weeks ago.  The soundtrack made me curious to watch the movie again, which led to more movies over a weekend and then fired me up with a desire to re-read the books.  The result is that I’ve been steeping myself in the world of Hogwarts and wizards to the saturation point and now I need to share.

So (assuming this counts as an apology) you’re only going to get one apology.  Strap in.

Happy Birthday, Harry.

July 31, 2010

In case anyone is still paying attention its Harry Potter’s birthday today (He’s turning 30).  Actually its also J.K. Rowling’s.  And a very happy birthday to the both of them.

I’ve been on a bit of Harry Potter kick lately.  (My love for the series really knows no bounds.)  I re-watched several of the movies over the last couple of weeks and decided that its been too long since I read the books.  So … I’m starting again from the beginning.  More to follow …

Click here for more on Harry Potter.

Terminator … by Joss Whedon

July 22, 2010

Apparently the Terminator franchise is for sale again (well it can’t get worse than the third movie).  I happened across this open letter to the ownership team by Joss Whedon offering to buy it out.  I can’t imagine anything better … plus its a very funny letter.  I’m not sure of its provenance but here’s the source.

An Open Letter to the Terminator Owners. From a Very Important Hollywood Mogul

Dear Sirs/Ma’ams,

I am Joss Whedon, the mastermind behind Titan A.E., Parenthood (not the movie) (or the new series) (or the one where ‘hood’ was capitalized ’cause it was a pun), and myriad other legendary tales. I have heard through the ‘grapevine’ that the Terminator franchise is for sale, and I am prepared to make a pre-emptive bid RIGHT NOW to wrap this dealio up. This is not a joke, this is not a scam, this is not available on TV. I will write a check TODAY for $10,000, and viola! Terminator off your hands. Read the rest of this entry »

Less is More

July 3, 2010

Its a cliche at this point but I, for one, didn’t know it was an architecturally derived one.  According to the beautifully written piece in the Opinionator Thursday, the “phrase “less is more” was actually first uttered by a German, the architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.”   I found this piece fascinating for a number of reasons so I’ve reproduced it below.  You can also find it here at the NY Times website.

I think the timing is particularly appropriate for the holiday weekend.  Rather than burying our heads in the sand of Rah Rah American Patriotism, I think we can aim a little higher – for a new path that will actually improve our standing in the world and our own lives.  Taking a renewed interest in how we can make our offices, public buildings, and homes both “less” and “more” couldn’t be more timely.

When Less Was More


We tend to think of the decades immediately following World War II as a time of exuberance and growth, with soldiers returning home by the millions, going off to college on the G.I. Bill and lining up at the marraige bureaus.

But when it came to their houses, it was a time of common sense and a belief that less truly could be more.  During the Depression and the war, Americans had learned to live with less, and that restraint, in combination with the postwar confidence in the future made small, efficient housing positively stylish.

As we find ourselves in an era of diminishing resources, could “less” become “more” again?  If so, the mid-20th-century building boom might provide some inspiration.

Chicago's Lake Shore Drive

William Zbaren Ludwig Mies van der Rohe designed these towers on Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive in the 1940s. They were recently renovated.

Economic austerity was only one of the catalysts for the trend toward efficient living. The phrase “less is more” was actually first uttered by a German, the architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who like other people associated with the Bauhaus emigrated to the United States before World War II and took up posts at American architecture schools. These designers, including Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer, came to exert enormous influence on the course of American architecture, but none more so than Mies.

Mies’ signature phrase means that less decoration, properly deployed, has more impact than a lot. Elegance, he believed, did not derive from abundance. Like other modern architects, he employed metal, glass and laminated wood — materials that we take for granted today but that in the 1940s symbolized the future. Mies’ sophisticated presentation masked the fact that the spaces he designed were small and efficient, rather than big and often empty. Read the rest of this entry »


June 25, 2010

Yeah, well.  I apparently fell off the posting wagon.  I’ve been busy at work, traveling every weekend and balancing an extra element or two in my social life.  Excuses excuses.  I shall simply have to try to improve.  Meanwhile here’s someone else’s blog to look at, the excellence of which will (I hope) distract from my own failings:

These are all scans from catalogs brilliantly re-messaged by Molly Erdman at her brand new blog Catalog Living.  Look.  Laugh.