Sorry, Queen Rowling.

The Casual Vacancy Launch

As I’m assuming much of the novel-reading world knows, J.K. Rowling recently released her first book outside of the Harry Potter empire. The Casual Vacancy, specifically aimed at an adult audience, is about the small town politics of Pagford, England and is, to the great dismay but not surprise of all her fans, totally void of wizardry. From a woman of humble beginnings but fabulous, deserved success, we are bequeathed with what is essentially a very straight-forward book about the life and times of the English working class, the nastiest of corners included…

Although I consider myself an avid and loyal fan of the Harry Potter books and do, on the odd occasion, hope to find my mailbox stuffed with Hogwarts letters, I did not await the release of Rowling’s new work with the kind of fervour I did the final Harry Potter instalment. I braced myself for what I knew would invariably be something vastly different to the story of magic that has captured and held us all for the last fifteen years. I did not get my hopes up.

I was however, incidentally browsing through a Dymocks Bookstore in Melbourne (on a wee little holiday!) on the day of The Casual Vacancy‘s release and, having just finished reading the novel I had taken with me, I decided to deposit a little more gold into J.K.’s Gringotts vault. I bought the whopping great boulder of a book and lugged it around in my handbag for the return trip home (involving taxi, plane and bus…plenty of reading time.)

Although I had been incessantly reminding myself that this was not Harry Potter, I did expect to be entertained and interested by she who has become known as the greatest living author. I began its first page with a melange of trepidation and excitement but found myself, a three hour flight and five chapters later, quite under-whelmed. To put it bluntly, I knew at the sixty page mark that I would not at all be impressed by The Casual Vacancy. 

My very honest thoughts:

The entire spectrum of swear words and adult themes (sexuality, domestic violence, drug use and adolescent disobedience) had been either directly included or at least alluded to before I had even read my way through the first quarter. Now, I’m nineteen and am therefore no stranger to profane language and rule-bending behaviour, but I cannot say I was impressed by The Casual Vacancy‘s flood of irreverence. When it comes to the use of profanities in literary works, I personally find that less is one hundred times more – not because I’m at all bothered by it but because after you read the word ‘fuck’ twenty times, you become immune to its impact. If used only once or twice, it knocks the reader back for a moment with its poignancy and isn’t that the point of using it at all?

From my perspective, Rowling’s overuse of mature language was a blatant attempt to get her foot in the door of adult literature, to shatter her image as ‘the author of Harry Potter’ in favour of a more general ‘best-selling author’ title and to prove that she really can write outside of the children’s fiction genre. However, by using certain literary techniques for the sake of her author’s reputation rather than for the sake of serving the novel’s actual content, I found she missed the mark.

Another aspect of The Casual Vacancy that I found less than impressive was its structure: numerous characters, multiple perspectives, countless sub-plots and too grand an array of themes – all of which happened to be exhaustingly dark. The plot felt scattered and unfocused and, although many books successfully include an abundance of different characters, in this instance, I felt torn between too many perspectives and was therefore unable to ever really get into the book.

To J.K. Rowling’s credit, she did not compromise the filthy truth of lower class English life for the sake of entertainment. Exposing the dirty underbelly of small town life and politics, Rowling painted quite a shocking picture and I applaud her for her bravery and honesty. However, that’s where my praise ends.

Although I wasn’t expecting another Harry Potter, I was thoroughly disappointed by J.K. Rowling’s newest literary venture. The Casual Vacancy, for me, left much to be desired in all literary arenas, inclusive of plot, character, style and scenery. Sorry, Queen Rowling, but I simply cannot recommend your latest read.

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Who was your first love?

Book Love

They say your first love is intense…and this is true. I fell hard, at age eleven, and have since been irrevocably rapt by the magical world of witchcraft and wizardry. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, my first literary love, was certainly a real book and was followed by six others, each as exquisite as their predecessors. But they have not been my only loves…my heart has been passed around the library quite a bit, its strings plucked by the likes of Life of Pi, Tomorrow When the War Began and The Five People You Meet in Heaven.

According to J.K. Rowling, whose word no one can dispute given her literary crown, “If you don’t like to read you haven’t found the right book.”

Have you fallen in love yet? Multiple times? To whom?

Do they have bookstores in New York City?

I have some very exciting, very unrelated-to-books news to share with you all and although I dedicate my blog to feeding your inner nerds, I cannot help but do a little shameless gushing today.

Are you ready?

On behalf of the admissions committee, it is my honor and privilege to share with you that you have been admitted to the College of Arts and Science at New York University. Congratulations! I could not be more excited to welcome you to NYU.

This is what I read at 8:32 this morning and although the letter was cut and trimmed with all of the formalities that you’d expect (“Dear”, “Yours Sincerely”, “Your next step is…”), this is the only sentence that I read before transforming into a shocked and giddy humanisation of the Cheshire Cat, grinning like a maniac and subsequently scaring my brother. I am a member of the New York University’s Class of 2016!

You’ll all be proud to know that I was miraculously accepted after having written about Harry Potter on my application. This probably wan’t the pivotal aspect of my admission but we can just pretend that it was, can’t we? In response to the question ‘What Intrigues You?’ this is what I wrote:

I turn eleven and I run to the mailbox, survey the fireplace and check the doormat. Where is my letter from Hogwarts?

Along with numerous other children and adults alike, I have been spellbound by J.K. Rowling’s realm of wizardry and witchcraft. For centuries, the fictional works of poets, authors and playwrights have captured our imaginations with stories of magic and it should not be denied that we have eagerly leapt onto the pages of Dracula and a Midsummer Night’s Dream, seeking a kind of exhilaration that only magic can provide. But these stories are just that: stories. Like no other author in history, J.K. Rowling did not simply write a series of books; she built a whole, new world.

Over the course of six years, I attended Hogwarts, sent letters by owl, fought the Dark Arts and played Quidditch. I spent hours upon days absorbed in the world of Harry Potter and have thus grown up in awe of J.K. Rowling’s vivid imagination. Born on a delayed train journey in 1990, the Harry Potter sensation has since manifested itself in the forms of books, films, theme parks, webpages, games and groups. Harry, Ron and Hermione may be fictional characters but have had a very real and unparalleled impact on humankind, igniting imaginations, nurturing literacy and exuding messages of love, friendship and morality. As a child of the Harry Potter era, I will always have a place in my heart and in my imagination for Hogwarts and all of its inhabitants.

So, thank you, J.K. Rowling. And thank you, New York University. And thank you, Harry Potter.

“Every child in our world will know his name!” You were right, Professor McGonagall.

On the fifteenth page of my very battered and tattered copy of ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’, the much beloved (and also somewhat feared) Minerva McGonagall doesn’t mince words when she predicts Harry Potter’s future fame: “He’ll be famous – a legend…every child in our world will know his name!” Well, Professor, maybe you should teach Divination.

Harry Potter is indeed a household name and unless you’ve been living in the middle of the Sahara Dessert, you’ve heard of him. I began reading J.K.’s first book when I was ten years old and have since been a self-proclaimed student of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Yes, I’m a nerd. But I’m not the only one.

Joanne Rowling

I have no qualms in making the bold claim that Joanne Rowling has set the benchmark for imaginative storytelling. As a writer (or at least a wannabe writer), my greatest and seemingly unattainable dream is to pen a story that captures the imaginations of as many children and adults around the globe. To this day, no other author, film-maker, painter or playwright has come within a one hundred kilometre radius of J.K. Rowling’s feats of imagination. They have tried (oh, how they have tried!) and they have oft succeeded in producing wonderfully creative tales, but none has ever come close to pinching the crown from Harry Potter’s lightning-scarred forehead. That is, in my own personal opinion.

Today, while driving to work in weather so miserable it seemed the height of cruelty that I was unable to curl up with a mug of coffee and a book, I heard an announcement on the news that excited me so much that I very nearly drove straight into a pole. Saving my wing mirror in the nick of time, I spent the remainder of my journey very carefully grinning from ear to ear. Are you ready to hear the news? (Exercise caution if currently operating heavy machinery.) The beloved queen of fiction, J.K. Rowling, is returning to her kingdom with a fresh and exciting new novel for adults!

Although the title and plot of this up-and-comer are as unknown to us as magic is to muggles, she has disclosed that her latest book will differ greatly from her Harry Potter stories. Exploring different territory, writing for a different audience and using a different publisher, Ms. Rowling certainly has us all waiting with bated breath, intrigued and excited. The question that I’m sure is now on everyone’s minds is whether or not anything will ever compare to the phenomenal success of Hogwarts. Although I certainly will be in line to buy her book on its release date, I must confess to feeling the slightest bit unsure as to whether or not I have room in my heart for anything post-Harry Potter… I guess I’ll just have to wait, read and see.

Welcome back, Joanne, we’ve missed you!

Quote of the Day – a little nonsense because it’s Friday.

“Before we begin our banquet, I would like to say a few words. And here they are: Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak! Thank you.”

Thank you, Professor Dumbledore, for those wise words.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – J.K. Rowling

Listen to Will Smith: Run and Read!

 

“The keys to life are running and reading. When you’re running, there’s a little person that talks to you and says, “Oh I’m tired. My lung’s about to pop. I’m so hurt. There’s no way I can possibly continue.” You want to quit. If you learn how to defeat that person when you’re running. You will know how to not quit when things get hard in your life. For reading: there have been gazillions of people that have lived before all of us. There’s no new problem you could have–with your parents, with school, with a bully. There’s no new problem that someone hasn’t already had and written about it in a book.” – Will Smith

I am a huge fan of Will Smith and just not because he’s a rib-cracking-ly funny comedian or because I love to get jiggy with it. Will Smith is an inspirational man with a whole host of inspirational wisdom to share with those who love to listen and learn. His work ethic, his approach to success, his genuine desire to contribute to the world in which we live and his down-to-earth personality make him a very rare breed of man and an extremely talented one at that.

At Nickelodeon’s 2005 Kid’s Choice Awards, Will Smith shared the above advice with the children who voted for him to receive his award. Now, I’m not a huge fan of running, I’ll admit, exercise never having been my choice of pastime. But, I am in full agreement with his advice that running and reading are incremental keys to success in life, agreeing especially with his esteem of books and their role: “There’s no new problem that someone hasn’t already had and written about it in a book.”

Some Wisdom from Books:

Feeling pressured by your friends? Unsure whether or not to stand up for what you believe in? Take Professor Dumbledore’s advice, from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: “It takes a great deal of courage to stand up to your enemies, but a great deal more to stand up to your friends.”

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

When you find yourself in a situation where you feel the odds stacked against you and the only conceivable option seems to be to give up, think of Pi, from Life of Pi by Yann Martel. He spent countless weeks afloat the Pacific Ocean, in a tiny boat with an injured zebra, a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker, an orangutan and a spotted hyena. But with faith and perseverance…

Life of Pi Cover

Knocked down? Ganged up on? Making mistakes? Take a leaf out of Steve Jobs’ biography: believe in yourself, don’t sell yourself out, push for excellence and don’t relent until you succeed.

Steve Jobs' Biography

Want to learn more about the power of positive thinking? Want to know how to turn the lead of your life into gold? Well, according to Paulo Coelho in The Alchemist, “People are capable, at any time in their lives, of doing what they dream of.”

The Alchemist Novel

These four books exemplify only a sliver of the wisdom and inspiration that can be found within the binding of a book. Will Smith is right; trillions of people have lived before us, made mistakes before us, triumphed before us and written before us. There are an astronomical number of books on our planet, written in every existing language and about every conceivable topic and, if we only took the time to read a little more, we just might find ourselves better equipped with the necessary emotional tools to survive any obstacles that lie ahead.

Shall I say it again? The keys to life are running and reading.