Category Archives: Harry Potter

Getting to know them

My most recent book cull made me think. You can look at reading in different ways.

I’ve often envied those who came to Harry Potter once he was all here; with no need to wait for ten years before being able to finish the series of books. But then, we who did wait, had ample time to read and wait and think and do other things.

Back in 2003 – and how long ago that seems now! – Offspring’s secondary school library started its Author of the Term project. Our first one was Adèle Geras. Then came Tim Bowler and after him, Linda Newbery. After them it is a blur and I can no longer recall who came or when.

I had barely read anything by Adèle when she came. (I’d probably hurriedly read a short book to enlighten myself a little.) But afterwards, well, I read them ‘all.’ Because I wanted to and I could. I had the time to cover her backlist, as well as everything new that came my way. What a treat! And how lovely it was.

With Tim I had read a little more. After all, I was the one who suggested him and who ‘forced’ Tim to agree to come. But there was still room for improvement and I did have a few of his books to catch up on. And then, again, the new ones.

Finally, I am almost certain I’d not read any of Linda’s many books. But she spoke so well about her writing that no sooner had she left than I started working my way through ‘all’ her books. I especially liked her war books, of which there were quite a few. And before long I also tackled Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain, for the simple reason that if Linda had been inspired by it, it had to be good. Which it was.

I can no longer do this. Occasionally I have read someone’s books extra fast, before an interview, perhaps. But that was also some time ago. No more. Anyway, reading too fast is a waste of a good book, and if it isn’t all that good, then why bother?

It was a luxury, getting to know someone both as a person and reading what they’d written.

(And although I mostly bought copies of my own, I had the good luck to be helping out in the school library, with instant access to the books by Adèle, Tim and Linda. That’s why we need libraries.)

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Angie Thomas

‘Do they know it’s not August?’ both Offspring asked. They did. They being the Edinburgh International Book Festival. And bless them for having an extra event for us, in the dreary days of March, when it was so cold that I suspect Angie Thomas, whose event this was, wanted nothing more than to get back to Mississippi. ‘I can’t do cold weather,’ she said. Although it appears Scottish shortbread goes some way to pacify her.

Angie Thomas ticket

This event, where Angie spoke to poet Nadine Aisha Jassat, was very popular. People queued outside the Gordon Aikman lecture theatre in George Square before being let in. It was a predominantly female audience, mostly young ones, but a fair few unaccompanied adults too. This is testament to how well known this new American author has become, and how popular she is. I’m guessing most had read both her books, The Hate U Give and On the Come Up.

As one [black] fan in the audience pointed out, Edinburgh is not a very black city, or I’m sure there would have been a much larger proportion of black readers present. Angie’s books must be what they have all been waiting for. I would have, if only I’d known.

On this, her only Scottish gig, Angie said you should do what you’re scared of. She’s surprised that she’s now making a living lying, which she’d not been expecting when working as a church secretary in Mississippi, occasionally writing her novel at work. Like her two heroines, Starr and Bri, she grew up in a poor black area, going to a white school, having to live two different lives.

‘I respond to things’ is how she describes herself. She changed after a shooting of a young man in California, where everyone concentrated on the fact that he was an ex-con, rather than on the fact that he was lying on the ground and was shot in the back. So Angie wrote The Hate U Give to prevent herself from burning down her school in anger. And On the Come Up was written in response to that book.

Writing is cathartic, and she has inspired young people to write, which has empowered her. For many of them it has been a revelation to read a novel where ‘they talk like I talk, they sound like me.’ Angie pointed out that although her speech may sound simple, using words like ain’t, she has a GPA of just below 4, which is very high.

Angie wants people to remember that Trayvon Martin was a boy whose mother loved him. She also said that contrary to popular belief that black fathers are not part of their children’s lives, there are statistics that prove they are more than average involved. For Angie it’s important to concentrate on the people, not on the issues.

She feels that she can’t worry about what others think of her; it’s better to follow her heart. The best way to change the world, is to change the world around you.

And with that it was time for questions, and we were all very taken with the flying mic. It’s a soft – red – cube, that was chucked round the auditorium. It was hard not to hold your breath as you watched to see where it would land, and if its intended target was going to miss. First one out was someone I know, and it was one of many really good questions.

Angie Thomas, with Sheila

Angie feels that white Americans have stolen from the country by celebrating people like Dr [Martin Luther] King only after their deaths, especially when they were responsible for him dying. But she’s hopeful, feeling that the young of today are much more aware of issues. ‘The work has to start now.’

She has always made up stories, beginning by rewriting Green Eggs and Ham because she didn’t like the ending. At the age of eight she entertained her friends at school with cliffhangers. Her books need both the trauma and the triumph, which answered a question I’d had too. Subjects like fatal shootings don’t generally have much good about them, but Angie has inserted hope into her stories.

She loved Harry Potter. Those books ‘saved my life!’ And we could see that in The Hate U Give; it’s almost incongruous to have the famous wizard in a story about crime against black people in America. But it gives it recognisable reality (I know. They are books about magic), something nearly all of us know.

On the Come Up features hiphop, which when it’s good Angie describes as poetry. Luckily someone asked her to rap, which she did, long and well, to jubilant applause. (The sign interpreter in Newcastle the day before had had to give up halfway…)

Asked about her books being banned, Angie said that ‘the banned book list is a great list’ to be on. Americans always want to read more of banned books.

At first Angie hadn’t been sure it was OK to write the way she did, so she asked an agent on Twitter, which is how she got herself an agent, and how her debut novel had 13 US publishers fighting to get it. Another five in the UK. Her very sensible editor tells her that she needn’t worry about how she writes; she should stick to being authentic, and if white readers don’t get it, they can Google. There are apparently a number of in-jokes in both books…

Angie Thomas

We could easily have done another hour. As it was, Angie had a plane to catch, but there was time for some signing downstairs. At first I wondered why so many fans went to the toilet instead, until I realised the signing queue went down to that level and then round and up the other stairs, and initially back outside as well.

I chatted briefly to a friend before going in search of Dodo and Son for some tea. When we’d failed to get into our first two choices of café, and walked back behind the lecture theatre, the queue was still going strong.

Angie Thomas

I’d say that was one successful event. Even if it was in March.

Whoever had, has been given more

Until some years ago I admit I often felt grumpy when seeing among the books most sold during the year, the names of Jacqueline Wilson and Julia Donaldson. I recognised their greatness and that being ‘names’ and very popular, it made sense that adults bought lots of their books for little readers.

I just wanted there to be a few more children’s authors on the lists. Usually there was someone, but not many.

But at least they were there, alongside Jacky and Julia.

Now I feel grumpy beyond belief when having a quick look at the 2018 list of the 100 bestselling books of the year.

Yes, I am glad that children’s books make up a third of that top list. Although I have to take the Guardian’s word for that, since I was unable to identify all 33. And that’s so wrong. As the Bookwitch, even if I haven’t read them, I ought to know who’s who.

A third of the third – i.e. 11 of the bestselling titles – belong to the well known comedian David Walliams. This is wrong in so many ways. Jeff Kinney is there, but I can allow that. Three Harry Potters, thank goodness, one Julia Donaldson, one Kes Gray. Also one Michael Bond and Wonder by R J Palacio, both of which will be movie-related.

And some more celebrity-penned books, not all of which I actually recognise, despite people’s fame.

It seems both wrong, and unkind, to leave 2018 in a bit of an angry mood, but this is not right. Children deserve better. The world is full of really good books. I hope many of them found their way into children’s hands anyway, despite the big names hogging everyone’s attention.

Bookworm – A Memoir of Childhood Reading

I want to be Lucy Mangan. We are so alike in many ways, but I haven’t read all the books she has, nor can I write like she does. I want to [be able to] write like Lucy Mangan!

I don’t expect that will happen.

I also want to know what her house/library/bookshelves look like. I can’t conceive how you can keep that many books – in a findable way – in a normal house. Assuming she lives in a normal house.

Lucy Mangan, Bookworm

After reading Lucy’s Bookworm, I now love her parents, too. I especially feel I’ve got to know Mrs Mangan better – and that’s without the letter to the Guardian stating that the Mangans were happy to have their daughter adopted by some other Guardian letter writer.

A friend of mine often mentions the fear induced in millions of people by the four minute warning so ‘popular’ in the 1980s. I’d almost forgotten about it, and never really worried all that much. Little Lucy was extremely concerned, but was reassured by her mother, who clearly knew what the child needed to hear. Basically, it would be in the news, so they would be prepared. They’d not send her to school if the end seemed imminent, and they would all die together at home. Problem solved.

Bookworm is about what one bookworm has read – so far – in her life of loving children’s books. She is not repentant (I must try harder), and will keep reading what she wants, as well as keep not doing all those ghastly things other people like, if she doesn’t want to. That’s my kind of bookworm!

This reading memoir is full of the same books we have all read, or decided not to read, as well as some real secret gems I’d never heard of and will need to look for. Lucy rereads books regularly, but doesn’t mention how she finds the time for all this.

It’s been such a relief to discover that she dislikes some of the same books I’d never consider reading, and even more of a relief to understand how acceptable, and necessary this is. Lucy even has the right opinions on clothes. Very useful to know there are sensible women in this world.

I had to read Bookworm slowly. I needed to savour what I could sense wouldn’t last forever. Although one can obviously reread Bookworm, just as one can other books. (Where to find the extra time, though?)

Growing up a generation – not to mention a North Sea – apart, we didn’t always read the same books. But by now we sort of meet in the here and now, and Lucy ends her book by listing a number of today’s must-read authors, and her judgement is almost completely spot on and correct.

So to summarise; I can read the same books. I can probably not store as many in my house. But I will never be able to write as well. (And I rather mind that.)

(According to Lucy, she loves her young son more than she loves books. Bookworm was given to me – after some hinting – by Daughter, whom I happen to love more than books too.)

A small travelling miscellany

I lied a little. I told Daughter I’d only visited Cambridge twice, but once we got there I remembered a third time. Still, it’s not a lot, is it?

She had cause to go there for a couple of days, and I asked to be allowed to come along, to see a little more of the world and to discover if there was anything new since 2006. (Open Day, with Son, trailing round as many colleges as possible…) I’d say there was.

The weather was gloriously cold and sunny. And isn’t it marvellous how flat it is? Realised on the train home that I’d not travelled north of Cambridge before, so I really enjoyed seeing the flat landscape as I left. It might have been there on Monday as well, but it was dark so I can’t be sure.

I saw Newton’s apple tree. I’d been a little confused, thinking I was being promised to see his apple, but Daughter pointed out this was unlikely. I suppose someone ate it. I saw a Hogwarts shop. Or two. Had a nice cream tea, including the largest milk jug I’ve ever come across in a tearoom. Admired the Christmas lights in the darkening streets.

We met up with Anne Rooney, who kindly sacrificed some of her morning on us, and introduced us to a non-chain coffee shop. (If this makes it sound like we did nothing but drink tea and coffee, it’s because we – almost – didn’t.)

I didn’t actually have time to read any of the three books I’d brought until I was on the second train home, and I only finished one of them.

A bit of ethnic cleansing?

Eleven years on, I had not returned to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, except for watching the films when they came. Daughter, on the other hand, has the audiobook on loop to fall asleep to, so between actually falling asleep occasionally, she does get a lot of reminders of all that happened in all of the Harry Potter books. Besides, she’s young and not forgetful in the way I am.

During my recent foray into Stephen Fry at bedtime territory, I also fell asleep with the help of Harry. We had book seven on this past week, and mostly the beginning of it. And I realised I’d forgotten about the ethnic cleansing aspect of the plot.

I also realised that what was going on in a world where you had to have pure magic, and how muggles couldn’t ever be the real deal, was precisely what’s filled the media in recent weeks. J K Rowling must have written Deathly Hallows 12 or 13 years ago, which just goes to show how everything comes back, and comes back far too soon, when it’s something bad.

There is obviously no question about Hermione’s status as a witch. But that doesn’t stop people from questioning her magic. What does this remind you of today? Well, I suppose it depends where you live. I’m afraid that my sleepy mind suddenly could see very little difference between our ‘beloved leader’ and Dolores Umbridge.

On Wikipedia I found the following, which is worryingly apt today:

J K Rowling on Wikipedia

Now, what does that make you think of?

Spend with Harry

Back in autumn 2001 we were quite pleased with our Hermione doll for Daughter for Christmas. We were in London, and had a little look in Harrods, and found Hermione and bought her. I’d say she was a successful gift, but that maybe Daughter was just that little bit too old to really play with the doll. And maybe Hermione wasn’t intended to be played with. What do I know?

Anyway, I seem to recall the doll cost a little over £20, which as a parental purchase was OK.

On the other hand, I do agree with journalist Alice O’Keeffe, who wrote in the Guardian about her seven-year-old son who thought long and hard about spending nine weeks’ pocket money on a small chocolate frog (£4.50). But I agree less with Alice’s thoughts on the general commercialisation of Harry Potter merchandise.

If you go to a gift shop after a Harry Potter tour of some kind, you have to expect it to be too expensive, especially at the level of a child’s pocket money. And if you do go into the shop, especially with a fairly young child, you need to have done the adult thing first, which is to either bite the bullet and let the child have something overpriced that you pay for, or to talk to them about this and how you really can’t afford, or tolerate, this price level, and you’re not going to stop, or buy.

You are the adult. It’s your job as a parent to teach your small human what is all right, and what isn’t. In the end it’s up to you to decide whether to go somewhere like this at all.

I don’t feel it’s fair to blame J K Rowling for the £4.50 frog.

And to some extent I reckon the merchandise has been produced for somewhat older fans. In my own friends and family circle the immediate customers for these kinds of items that I can think of are on the ‘wrong’ side of 30. And they can afford wands and broomsticks, school uniforms and yes, the chocolate frog.

With this in mind, I was intrigued to learn that my old neighbourhood has a Harry Potter shop. Stockport now boasts a shop called Hoot, and what’s more, it’s a charity shop. No, I can’t quite get my head round that, either.

But it seems that anyone can open a shop and source the same products you would go to Harrods for. So if you require a wand, downtown Stockport might well be the place for you. It’s just a bit annoying that this happened after I moved away, and it wasn’t there when The New Librarian and Pizzabella were regular visitors at Bookwitch Towers.

And if shopping at Hoot is too expensive, you can always make your own wand, or buy a [used] striped school tie in a normal charity shop. It’s what we did, and I am a witch, after all.