BOOKS REMAINING: 25
CURRENT BOOK: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
You wouldn’t know it here in South Louisiana that the first day of Autumn has arrived. The temperatures are still in the mid-90’s. And since the humidity apparently has no intention of going away anytime in the foreseeable future, the feels-like temperatures have still been over 100 on some days. “Ugh” isn’t a strong enough word.
I’m not sure I’m bored enough to bother double checking my count of how many of the books I have read, but it’s hard to believe I’m halfway through. And I haven’t forgotten I have a milestone birthday coming up after I’m done. I even tried sending an e-mail to the writer who put together The List to let her know I actually was reading all of the books in the year before my birthday, but she never replied. I felt a bit like Julie Powell at the end of “Julie and Julia” when she finds out that Julia Child didn’t approve of her cooking project. My husband and I are ready to book our trip to Ireland, but just over six months out (not thinking about it! not thinking about it!) the company still hasn’t made the package available. It must be a last-minute deal. I’m stalking their web site daily. We plan to spend a few days in my hometown of Chicago before leaving for Ireland from there, and hope to attend a sporting event. I checked the schedules and, while I was disappointed the Blackhawks’ regular season will be over, I was delighted to see the Cubs will have a home game.
While at lunch today taking a break from a big project for the magazine where I do freelance work, which has required me to sacrifice my lunch hour every day this week to make phone calls to request information, I finished Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Not that it took me long to read.
If one prong of The List involves significant woman authors, you pretty much can’t beat J.K. Rowling. I wish I could start writing something on my commute that ended up making me wealthier than the Queen of England! Rowling was a single mother working a clerical job and probably scraping by even more than I do, before she began writing the Harry Potter series.
Of course this was a re-read, although it’s been a long time. I think I may only have read the book once or twice; I have watched the movie many more times and it’s my favorite of the films based on the books because it’s the least dark. There are many subtle elements in the novel that didn’t make it into the movie, and I re-read with a new perspective, especially as far as Snape and Dumbledore, as I have not re-read the first book since before the last book came out.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is definitely more about a significant female author than it is about feminism or the female experience. Don’t even let me get on my soapbox about how the protagonists in youth fiction are almost unfailingly male because it’s fine for girls to read books about boys, but not okay for boys to read books about girls. (Huck Finn assigned for girls? Sure? Little Women assigned for boys? No way!) Despite the presence of Hermione Granger, for at least the first half of the book she is a figure in the background rather than part of a trio with Harry Potter and Ron Weasley. She is not even a likeable character until the scene with the troll in the girls’ bathroom — she is not as winsome in the novel as she is in the movie. I mean, the same actress who portrayed the supposed-to-be-plain Hermione has been cast as the female lead in the live-action “Beauty and the Beast.” I do appreciate that Hermione is a female character whose main trait is brains rather than beauty, but perhaps her smarts didn’t have to make her as hard to relate to as she is in the beginning. That said, one thing I’ll give Rowling credit for is that many of Harry’s feelings and experiences are universal, even if you aren’t an abused orphan going off to wizarding school, and throughout the series the wisdom conveyed by those who mentor Harry is worth taking to heart, even for adults.
Not only as far as the characters, Rowling wrote the books under her initials rather than her full first name at the request of her publishers since they didn’t think boys would want to read a book written by a woman. The nerve!
On the other hand, as far as being a significant female author, no one can argue with Rowling’s success. While many of the elements of the fantasy world of Harry Potter aren’t entirely original, Rowling did something new by putting the magical factors together and combining them with the concept of a British boarding school. Another thing I always liked about Rowling is how she follows in the tradition of Charles Dickens and Roald Dahl with the names of her characters, as far as how the names sound and how they suit the characters’ personalities.
Even acknowledging the financial opportunities presented by extending the series with things like “Fantastic Beats” and “Cursed Child,” and that the novels towards the end of the series were still strong (unlike Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series), and as much as it was bittersweet when I reached the end of “Deathly Hallows,” I would rather Rowling had rested on her laurels. From what I’ve heard about “Cursed Child,” I’m not sure I’m interested in reading it or seeing it. And I’m not even going to talk about that other novel written by Rowling under a pen name — which I never read — wherein her identity as the author was publicized just before the book came out. Harry Potter is something special…but for me, the magic ended on the stroke of his graduation from Hogwarts.