The Compulsive Reader: January 2016

Friday, January 29, 2016


I'm slowly coming out of my post-Harry Potter re-read induced depression, but Pottermore has been extremely helpful! I'm happy to report that I have been re-sorted into Ravenclaw, which was my original house to begin with, and I am very happy. (Although, I would have been cool with Hufflepuff. Everyone's so nice and I like growing things, and also sleeping near kitchens.)

I've also taken all this wallowing time to make a ranking of my favorite Harry Potter books, because these things are important. It goes as follows:

  1. Prisoner of Azkaban
  2. Order of the Phoenix
  3. Goblet of Fire
  4. Half-Blood Prince (it made quite the jump!)
  5. Deathly Hallows
  6. Sorcerer's Stone
  7. Chamber of Secrets

My little brother just saw this and said, "So, Chamber of Secrets is your least favorite?" and technically yes, but actually no because Harry Potter is my favorite and they're all great, and I don't know why I decided to subject myself to a re-read in the first place, what was I thinking, maybe one day I won't be feeling so lost and forlorn without a Harry Potter book to read. Maybe I'll go read a grown-up book. Maybe I should read the Cormoran Strike books again...

J.K. Rowling, master of of my soul.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Great Harry Potter Re-Readathon 2016, Day 25

I honestly thought that it would take me all month to get through these books, but it seems like the further along I went, the faster I had to read. And now that I'm at the end, I'm just as emotionally drained as I was the first time I finished the series.

Here's another confession: Before this month, I only read Deathly Hallows once! I've gone back to bits and pieces of it, but never straight through. Finales are difficult. Beloved characters die, and things get dark for Harry. A lot of this book is about shattering the illusion that Harry and about Dumbledore's goodness and might, and seeing him for what he is, and in the process, Harry has to seriously confront the fact that he is very likely going to die, and probably fail to kill Voldemort as well. Dark stuff.

I also was seriously frustrated by the fact that there is NOT ENOUGH GINNY in this book. I know she's underage, and she had to go back to Hogwarts because it's the law, but I also felt like she was constantly sidelined in the book, even at the end when she did join the fight. At this point, Ginny is so beloved that I wanted her to be as important as Ron and Hermione. And speaking of Ron, there is that dark point where he leaves and doesn't come back for pages and pages and pages and just, ugh, but once he's back, the story does get back on track. And I was very impressed with the plotting, and how everything weaved together at the very end.

The truth is, no matter how many times you read it, this book will gut you. The epilogue will not be enough. Luckily for us, we live in the age of the Internet and Pottermore and you can go read about the characters and what happens to them afterwards, but it still doesn't feel like enough. I feel vaguely tricked, like I thought I could read through this series and just feel all the happy feelings, and not the crushing sadness of finishing an amazing series and having to leave a world that I would gladly live in forever and ever. Damn it, Rowling. You got me.

I could go on and on about every line, all my favorite scenes, favorite moments, but I should cut myself off before this just gets pathetic. I'm going to go wallow a bit and re-activate my Pottermore account. Resist the urge to start the first book. Again.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Great Harry Potter Re-Readathon 2016, Day 23

I'm going to be real honest with you all...I've always thought of The Half-Blood Prince as my least-favorite Harry Potter book. I'll be fair and admit that 90% of this has to do with the fact that on the release day, when I picked up my copy for the first time, my immediate reaction was, "WHY IS THIS BOOK 200 PAGES SHORTER THAN THE LAST ONE?"

Because when you wait 2+ years for a new Harry Potter book that you will in all likelihood consume in less than two days, these are important considerations.

There are other craft reasons that I found Half-Blood Prince difficult, too. There aren't very many action scenes until the very end, Draco is being mysterious and absent, even Quidditch is vaguely disappointing, and there's a lot of flashbacks to Voldemort's past, which is interesting, but not exactly super exciting as say, Harry forming Dumbledore's Army.

Confunded anyone lately?
So all of this was swirling around in my mind when I went into Half-Blood Prince, not to mention my reluctance for the terrible inevitable ending. I thought, "Just get through it!" But rather than just getting through it, I was really surprised to find how much I enjoyed the sixth year. Maybe the absolute comedy of everyone hooking up and making hilarious romantic decisions completely went over my head at age 13, but I adored it all at age 23. (Oh, Won-Won!) Plus, some really hilarious moments as Hermione becomes a little bit of a rule-breaker. And how could I have forgotten that this was the book where Harry and Ginny date? The magnificence of their first kiss all came rushing back, and it just made me the happiest.

I also realized how obvious it was from the second chapter that Snape was going to have to kill Voldemort. (Okay, so thirteen-year-old me was a little dense when it came to story structure.) It still works, I think, because at this point Harry still doesn't understand Snape's motivations or loyalties. I'm still caught between feeling like Dumbledore was smart for withholding so much from Harry (because so much depends on him figuring things out on his own, and acting according to his character and moral compass), and getting so angry at Dumbledore because didn't we just learn that godfathers die when we withhold crucial information for no good reason? But Dumbledore's actions do hold with his character, and they underscore the fact that he's not a perfect, always-wise person. And I suppose Harry wouldn't be able to defeat Voldemort until he could see Dumbledore as the flawed person he is.

I'm not going to declare Half-Blood Prince my favorite book in the series, but I will have to bump it up above Chamber of Secrets. And now, on to the final book! I thought I knew what I was getting myself into, reading these books again. But now I'm feeling all sorts of feelings and it's overwhelming! Damn it, Harry Potter! (Just kidding, I really love it.)

Friday, January 22, 2016

Friday Barnes Blog Tour & Giveaway!

Imagine if Sherlock Holmes was an eleven-year-old girl! 
When Friday Barnes, girl genius, solves a bank robbery, she uses the reward money to send herself to Highcrest Academy, the most exclusive boarding school in the country―and discovers it's a hotbed of crime! 
Soon she's investigating everything from disappearing homework to the terrifying Yeti haunting the school swamp. But the biggest mystery yet is Ian Wainscott, the handsomest (and most arrogant) boy in school who inexplicably hates her. Will the homework be found? Can they ever track down the Yeti? And why is Ian out to ruin her? 
With black-and-white art throughout, Friday Barnes, Girl Detective is the launch of an exciting new mystery series that "will keep readers laughing from start to finish." (Publishers Weekly)

Welcome to the Friday Barnes blog tour! Each stop of the blog tour will feature a "puzzle" piece of original art from the book’s illustrator, Phil Gosier. Go to the Mac Kids Tumblr on January 24th to see the full image with all the pieces!

Here's this stop's image!

Friday Barnes is out NOW, so pick up a copy, or enter the giveaway!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Great Harry Potter Re-Readathon 2016, Day 21

Also pictured: My Hermione's Everyday Socks in Wizard Green.
I haven't blogged, because I read Order of the Phoenix in one ginormous gulp. It's probably the book I've read the most out of the entire series and although it's not my favorite, I think it is the best. Harry grapples with such a broad spectrum of issues--friend drama, potential romantic relationships, guilt and fear over what happened to Cedric and Voldemort's return, new information about his dad and Snape, and isolation from the rest of the Wizarding community, even from people who care for him. And of course, UMBRIDGE. It's a huge emotional maelstrom, and for most of the book Harry is packing those emotions down tight. Sometimes, it almost seems too packed down...

I think the single most maddening thing in the entire book was and still is when Umbridge gives Harry detention and she gives him that blood pen and he has to write "I will not tell lies" into his hand over and over and over. It's visceral and cruel and of course so wrong, and I cringe and squirm every time. It's an even worse punishment than being banned from Quidditch. So when Harry doesn't go to McGonagall or even Dumbledore about it, who would put an immediate end to that punishment, I seethe. I don't think I ever saw why he didn't speak up about it until I read the book this time around--in this installment, he's holding so much in, it's his MO, his only way to keep moving forward.

But, of course, you can't do that forever. And when Harry finally lets all of his frustration and anger and fear out in the very end, in Dumbledore's office, it felt like such a cathartic moment for him, and for the reader. I was so relieved that Rowling gave him this moment of losing control, of having a temper tantrum, or being able to scream that it wasn't fair. Because it's not, it's terrible and awful and why does it have to be Harry anyway? It sets things up perfectly for the next book, in which Harry has to grapple with this "Chosen One" nonsense and actually study and learn how to defeat Voldemort. And it lets Harry behave like an actual teenager with actual anger, which I so appreciate.

I also greatly enjoyed how everyone's hormones seem to explode onto the scene in this book. An alternate title for this book could be Hermione Explains Feelings to Harry & Ron, and it's so entertaining to read. It balances out the darker aspects Umbridge being awful and so unbelievably unfair. I also loved Dumbledore's Army. Because of course.

Even though Goblet of Fire was the turning point in the series, from high-stakes adventure to just high-stakes life and death, battle for good and evil, I think that Order of the Phoenix really is another turning point, too. (Lots of turns!) After this book, there is definitely lots of fear, the danger isn't something Harry goes looking for but just is there, around every turn. I read the rest of the books with excitement, but also dread for all the sadness that is coming. The intellectual part of me knows that in order to tell good stories, stakes should be high and bad things need to happen, but it's sort of nice to just wallow in the middle of the Order of the Phoenix, where there's danger and sadness and struggle, but nothing is irreparably damaged and the deaths aren't too personal.

Nevertheless, we press onwards...

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Horcruxes of My Childhood

This is a "between books" post! As anyone who grew up loving and reading Harry Potter, I have lots of memories where the Harry Potter books play a big role. To me, they were never just a series of books, they were markers of my childhood.

My mom decided to read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone before allowing me to read it, because I went to a parochial school that disapproved of the books. I was about eight or nine, and I thought my mom was taking too long, so while at my older brother's basketball tournament, I lied and told my mom I wasn't feeling well and I wanted to go out to the car and try to take a nap. She let me, not knowing that what I really intended on doing was starting the book she had left in the front seat...

I didn't tell my Mom I did this until I was 23 and she was shocked, then highly amused at my deception. Needless to say, Harry Potter passed the mom test, and a few years later the parochial school I attended decided that Harry Potter was going to be a losing battle, although I had many school friends who weren't allowed to touch those books for years and years.

I received Prisoner of Azkaban for Christmas. I finished it in a day and cried. My brothers were disgusted with me. "It's just a book," they said.

Goblet of Fire was the first book I got in hardcover because my mom got sick of telling me to wait for the paperback. She bought it for me on Easter weekend. It took me three days to finish and I was immensely proud of myself for finishing a book of that length in only three days.

By the time Order of the Phoenix rolled around, I was wise about hardcover vs. paperback release dates, and I had no intention of waiting around for the paperback, nor did I want a long, drawn-out battle with my parents about whether or not I should wait for the paperback. I figured I'd start prepping my parents early with the notion that they would be forking over money for a hardcover, and they'd be doing it on release day, too. I promised I'd do extra chores, good behavior, anything. And they still refused to buy it for me! Not since Harry was forced into the cupboard under the stairs has a child experienced more unjust treatment. About a week after the release, on the day we were to leave town to go camping, a box arrived for me. Inside, it contained...the Order of the Phoenix! My dear aunt in Colorado had wanted to surprise me with the book, which is why my parents had so unjustly refused to buy it for me! I was overjoyed!

I put on my headphones, plugged them into my portable CD player, and read Order of the Phoenix in the car--much to the disgust of my brothers and our friends, who wanted to talk and hang out. Things were going so well, until around the Michigan-Indiana border, when I realized something very, very dire: pages were missing. PAGES. WERE. MISSING. Eighty-two, to be precise. I let loose a scream that very nearly sent us careening off the highway, and insisted that we pull over at the next exit to find a replacement copy, ASAP. My parents heeded my wishes, whether in sympathy or in fear that I'd go ballistic, Carrie-style, I don't know. We ended up swapping it out at a Sam's Club, and I spent the entire weekend reading and ignoring my parents when they suggested that I put the book down for a minute and go fishing or something. Whatever. HARRY POTTER. The weekend ended with me crying ugly tear over Sirius and everyone ignoring me. My brothers thought I got what I deserved.

When the final Harry Potter book came out, I spent months in anxious excitement. I was in high school when it came out, and the week before I spent a week at a summer camp. It was biotechnology summer camp, and that only seems important to mention because the only teens who go to a summer biotechnology summer camp are uber nerds. And uber nerds read Harry Potter. Our group shared a dorm with a boys' high school hockey camp, and so every evening would find us in the same situation: the nerds sitting cross legged in a circle, cradling our copies of Half-Blood Prince and discussing theories, while the hockey boys would pelt past us, hurling expletives and insults. We would scream back "Sectumsempra!" and they would laugh. We passed every evening like this until camp dispersed and we all went home and then straight to a midnight release party. I read the seventh book in one day and wound up sobbing for an entire evening. I have read bits and pieces of the book again, but never straight through...until this month!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Great Harry Potter Re-Readathon 2016, Day 13

Day 13, day 13 already. I think I'm pretty well on schedule still, although I've now entered into the hardcover behemoth territory of my adventure. I finished Prisoner of Azkaban in about a day, because I love it so. (Really, I just got to the last two-hundred pages and realized that there was no way I could put the book down at any point going forward, unless I reached the end. So I went to bed at 1 AM that night.) And of course, it was all I loved and remembered it to be. That book!

And now I am on Goblet of Fire! I'm about halfway through, and the going is a little slower because of work, and the fact that this book is also so much longer than its prequels. But I have to say--I'm impressed by the plotting so far. I'm remembering lots of little details that happen in the very beginning at the Quidditch World Cup that won't be explained or made clear until the end of the book, months later. And it's quite interesting to see how the hormones seem to suddenly switch on in this book...lots of crushes, stirrings, and some very funny, sneaky jokes. (Ron's comment about Uranus in Divination class made me snort my tea.)

On the darker side of things... This is the last book where Harry's thoughts aren't weighed so heavily down by Voldemort's return. He's still concerned, of course, and his scar does start hurting, but for the most part he's still concentrating on school and friends and his crushes. I've also noticed that he's not still not super vocal when it comes to voicing his opinion in front of Dumbledore or any other authority. I suppose if there is one thing that does bother me about Goblet of Fire thus far, it's the fact that when Harry is chosen for the Triwizard Tournament, he only says, "I didn't put my name in" and that's it. No protests about having to participate against his will, or the fact that he isn't qualified. When the whole school hates him, he doesn't even say, "But I didn't even want to do it!"

That bothers me, because it seems like an obvious thing to say, even if he did secretly want to compete. But maybe this is all a part of his character growth as he bottles things in and struggles with who to trust and how to deal with his emotions.

Other than that, the re-read has been perfectly delightful so far! More soon, once I finish Goblet of Fire!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Great Harry Potter Re-Readathon 2016, Day 7

All right, one week in, two books down! Last night I finished Chamber of Secrets, which has traditionally been one of my least favorite HP books (along with Half-Blood Prince, but I'll get to that). I don't really have anything against it, exactly. It's just that if you've read the entire series, you can't help but feel like this one is a little...lacking. More on that later.

My original copy, purchased at a Scholastic Book Fair, 2000.
But I do like aspects of it a lot. I like the ridiculousness that is Gilderoy Lockhart and even Dobby. Harry has to learn how to deal with how his fame has caused people to unjustly glorify him, and the fact that he's always ducking these overblown praises makes me like him a lot...and yet, he's not so modest that he won't occasionally use other people's perceptions of him to his advantage. Like, how he totally plays Lockhart to get what he wants in his pursuit of the Heir of Slytherin. That makes him seem like a real twelve-year-old boy to me.

I also really love the bits with the Polyjuice Potion, which is so gross yet fascinating. I love that Harry, Ron, and Hermione cook up a dangerous potion in a neglected bathroom and use it to get into the Slytherin Common Room. It also, of course, sets the foundation for another mystery to come along in Goblet of Fire.

Overall, the plotting in Chamber of Secrets is a bit more cohesive than in Sorcerer's Stone. You can tell that Rowling was really improving at plot, although (I hate to say it), there were a few points that seemed superfluous--such as visiting Aragog. I wasn't sure if the visit to him was worth the information or the experience that Ron and Harry got out of it, although I do know he'll pop back up in the series again later. So maybe then it will have been worth it, but it does remind me that so much of the first two books involve foundation setting for all the adventures that take place later on.

For as enjoyable as the line-level writing is, I'm realizing that so much enjoyment in the series depends on readers getting in it for the long haul. Which works for the middle school age--kids love reading series. But it does make the writer in me look for ways that Rowling makes each individual book satisfying on its own. As a kid, I remember reading these books for the first time and just going mad with frustration and excitement because I didn't have all the information, and in some cases I had to wait years for the next installment. I take for granted that I read these books now and think, "Yeah, that makes sense because of what happens in later books." Reading while knowing the whole story certainly makes for a very different reading experience.

My original copy, received for Christmas 2001.
Which leads me to...Prisoner of Azkaban! My absolute favorite Harry Potter book. I love it because of Lupin, Sirius, Gryffindor wins the House Cup, Gryffindor wins the Quidditch Cup, time travel, and no one dies (this is the last book where that happens!). I started it last night, and even though I'm only two chapters in, I realized something else--I also love this book because this was the book where Harry's eyes are really opened up to the wizarding world. Sure, he knows about Diagon Alley and Hogwarts, all magical and wonderful, but in this book he also sees the darkness of the wizarding world, learns about the fear of Voldemort and how it affected people personally, and of course, discovers so much more about his family history. Even though he doesn't directly confront Voldemort at the end of the book, like he has in the first two, this is the book where the conflict between Harry and Voldemort becomes more real, more personal.

I should probably stop analyzing this book before I've (re)read it.

I've been giving myself three days each for the first three books, which will give me a little better than four days apiece for the last four books, which are considerably thicker. We'll see if it'll be enough...I'm starting to feel the pressure.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Great Harry Potter Re-Readathon 2016, Day 3

Well, it's DAY 3 of the Great Harry Potter Re-Readathon, and I'm at about page 200 of The Sorcerer's Stone. My feelings at the moment: I love Harry Potter, wow book one is SHORT, and damn I'm going to have to step it up a notch if I'm going to finish the series by January 31st.

Like I feared in my Day 1 post, I am a little critical in my reading. This is natural, because I am an adult and analyzing children's lit is pretty much my job these days. I was worried that it would take away from my enjoyment of the re-read, but so far it hasn't. Mostly my observations have been:

--Holy cow, it takes 100 pages (one-third of the book!) before Harry actually makes it to Hogwarts!
--Damn, Hermione is so obnoxious and whiny in the first 150 pages, but I do not care. I was a Hermione at eleven. I get her. I'm glad that Ron and Harry eventually get her, too.
--Hehehehehehe I KNOW ABOUT SNAPE!
--This first book is light on plot and heavy on world-building and foundation-setting and I do not care one whit.
--Harry says a lot of things coolly.

It does delight me to find that I remember so many things from these books--not just narrative or character details, but actual sentences and paragraphs. They're imprinted on my brain--turns of phrase, punchlines. I've read this first book maybe 6-7 times, but I read my favorite sections many more times. It occurs to me that Fred and George may have given me my early love of all things banter. 

I'm zipping along, just basking in the details, but it is always interesting when I come along slight variations between the books and the films. For example, how many times do we repeat the line, "You're a wizard, Harry!" in Hagrid's inflection? The actual line in the book is, "Harry, you're a wizard." Slight difference, but it's curious to see how the film's version is the one that gets circulated.

Also, I'm struck by how the narration really keeps us from getting inside of Harry's head. We see his excitement and confusion a lot from the outside, and we occasionally are party to his private feelings, but we don't get much of it. Perhaps we won't, not until Harry knows more about Voldemort and his own past, and his worries and fears increase.

Nonetheless, it's ever so much fun and I am going to finish off book one tonight! See you in the Chamber of Secrets!

Friday, January 1, 2016

The Great Harry Potter Re-Readathon 2016, Day 1

Happy 2016, everyone!

When I graduated with my MFA back in July, I admit to spending a few weeks feeling bit lost when it came to my reading habits. While I was in my program, I read anywhere from 10-15 books each month, making certain to keep a careful balance of YA, MG, picture books, early readers, graphic novels, fiction and nonfiction, contemporary and classics. This sort of thing requires careful planning, a bit of juggling, and lots of energy, and even though it was fun (because I was basically reading kids' books for homework--teenage me would have died of happiness), it did get a little tiring. Sometimes you just want to binge read something you love, you know?

But then graduation came and passed and it felt so peculiar not having a reading list that I forgot why I had even looked forward to such freedom to begin with. Give me a list and a deadline, damn it! It was in the midst of this post-graduation confusion, when my reading habits were wild-ranging and erratic, that I had an epiphany: For the first time in my adult life, I could read whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. As an English major who went straight to grad school for writing, this concept felt almost sinful. Anything. I. Wanted. So I asked myself: If I could stop time or run away to a mountain cabin for a month, what books would I take with me?

The answer was obvious--the entire Harry Potter series, all over again.

Like most twenty-somethings, I grew up reading Harry Potter and then re-reading, but I haven't had a great big binge read since the seventh book came out, the summer I was 15. I've always had the excuse of school to stand in my way, but now that school has poofed away out of the equation, I can do this! And honestly, what better books to get me back into my reading groove than the series that made my generation into such great readers to begin with?

I'm a bit nervous. I was still very much a kid and read like one the last time I enjoyed these books. I think they'll hold up to an adult re-read pretty well, but I'm afraid that with my new MFA perspective, I'll over-analyze them (this happens quite a bit these days). There's nothing that can erase how magical I found them as a kid, and how much I loved the books and imagined myself into that world, but I'm afraid I'll read them and not tap into that sense of wonder because the critical part of me will be in the way. Nonetheless, I'm going in! And I'll blog about it as I go, plus tweet/Instagram it, too.

My goal is to finish the seventh book by January 31st--completely doable, I think. I usually read 8-11 books per month, and even though there are only seven, those last three are loooooooong. Either way, it's on. And I'm not stopping til Voldemort is dead. (Also, these posts are going to be spoilerific. You have been warned.)

My original copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, purchased at a Scholastic Book Fair, circa 2000.

If you can to join me, please do! Comment/tweet me your thoughts and progress!