Tag Archives: Potter

A is the first letter of the Alphabet

A is for Authentic. Of course A could also be for Authority, Argument, or Agnostic, words which could all lead to profitable Academic discussions. I’m going to stick with Authentic as my A-word. Authentic things are true and real. Truth plus reality gives these authentic things weight. On the other hand, if something is inauthentic it has a hollow ring of fakery about it.

Why be concerned with something authentic, something weighty? Recently I saw a question posed in a header in social media that separated reality and truth from one another – do we care if something is true, so long as it is real? I’m not sure reality and truth should so casually be separated. Can something be real without being true? And if it were one without the other, would it be an authentic thing, something that carried solid weight?

As an example, lets compare two people called Harry – Potter and Prince Harry of Wales. Both are appealing people, well known and loved by millions. However, Prince Harry is authentic, and Potter is not. Potter is a character in a book and movie series. Because of the ongoing appeal of the series in print, on film, and online, Potter may seem very real. There may be true things to say about Potter and his world. Potter may even seem closer to the world in which you live than Prince Harry does. But Prince Harry shows up in our worlds from time to time, Harry in the flesh. He does things in the real world that Potter cannot do. He is an authentic human being, living and acting in the world, not a character in a fictional universe.

Of course there are many ways to spin authentic. I could argue that I have a more authentic relationship with Potter than with the prince, having read the Potter books more times than I care to admit, and never having met the prince. I could say I have a couple of authentic Canadian first edition Potter books. This sort of spin may have led to the question separating the real and the true that I saw on social media. I’m not sure we should do that in such an off-hand manner, without thinking about what it is we’re saying.

I find that I rather like authentic things, that have both reality and truth, that carry weight. Separating the real and the true diminishes something. So my answer to that internet question, “Does it matter if something is true as long as it is real?” is YES. Yes it matters to me. And I think it should matter to you too.


(This is an Authentic Alphabet Soup Monday Morning Blog Post. The authenticity is guaranteed by the capital letters.)

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Recommended Reading?

A few years ago the Telegraph published a list of 100 novels everyone should read. Of these 100, I’ve read 15, own 4 with the intent of reading them, am actively interested in finding a copy of about 4 others, and have no intention at all of reading 2. My question is, why should everyone read these novels? What makes this the definitive list? Why should everyone read certain books?

I think part of the answer to why we continue to make lists of books everyone should read is the idea(l?) of a common culture. If we have stories in common, we will know how to talk with one another. Previously, the Bible provided a common fund of stories and proverbs and phrases that most people knew and could refer to. In our 21st century culture are literary novels and the always-debated canon of western literature replacing the Bible? Perhaps required reading lists only add to the Bible. Now we have even more to know.

Do you pay attention to these lists? Why or why not?

If I were to make a list of 100 novels everyone should read, I’d probably include many of the 15 books I’ve read that are on the Telegraph’s list. I’m not quite decided about The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I think my list might have more Canadians on it. I’d probably throw in Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay. Margaret Atwood is already on the list (Handmaid’s Tale), but Robertson Davies needs to make an appearance. I’m sure there are others. I think I’d add Harry Potter to the list. Potter has shifted the way people think about children’s literature, and whether you think that is good or bad, the fact is that Rowling’s books are a cultural phenomena. If we read for shared stories, everyone should read Potter.

What about you? What books would you include in your 100 novels everyone should read?


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Examples of Atmosphere; or, A Sense of Place

Previously I suggested that it was a particular kind of atmosphere in some books that meant I classified them as a comfort read. Most books that I re-read have a strong sense of place. Pride and Prejudice is overshadowed by Pemberley, whose shades would be polluted by association with Miss Elizabeth Bennet. All the Harry Potter books centre on Hogwarts. But there’s more to it than just that. Somehow the place has to be properly suggested by the author. Here is an example of a scene that gives a sense of place:

“Respect the Pedestrian, say the street signs of Metro Manila. As soon as Randy saw those, he knew he was in trouble.

“For the first couple of weeks he spent in Manila, his work consisted of walking. He walked all over the city carrying a handheld GPS receiver, taking down latitudes and longitudes. He encrypted the data in his hotel room and e-mailed it to Avi. It became part of Epiphyte’s intellectual property. It became equity.

“Now, they had secured some actual office space. Randy walks to it doggedly. He knows that the first time he takes a taxi there, he’ll never walk again.

“RESPECT THE PEDESTRIAN, the signs say, but the drivers, the physical environment, local land use customs, and the very layout of the place conspire to treat the pedestrian with the contempt he so richly deserves. Randy would get more respect if he went to work on a pogo stick with a propellor beanie on his head. Every morning the bellhops ask him if he wants a taxi, and practically lose consciousness when he says no. Every morning the taxi drivers lined up in front of the hotel, leaning against their cars and smoking, shout ‘Taxi? Taxi?’ to him. When he turns them down, they say witty things to each other in Tagalog and roar with laughter.”

That description comes from Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson. Randy walks to work — the whole of his walk gives a sense of place. It was hard to choose a particular passage from that book — one thing that Stephenson does well is give a sense of the variety of places there are on the planet. Characters in Cryptonomicon travel a lot, and Stephenson manages to capture well the sense of difference between places.

Do you have particular places that inspire your imagination and prompt you to return to books? Or is it an entire world (Narnia?) that draws you back? Or do you just think I’m a little bit crazy?

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Further musings on book reviews with An Example

Yesterday I had some thoughts about negative book reviews — which prompted some thoughts on book reviews in general. Later that same day, I read a brief article bemoaning the forthcoming adult novel by J.K. Rowling. Here it is, it is short, go read it, then come back. Mr. Rahim has attempted to give reasons he thinks Rowling is OK, but not great. He also acknowledges that people may not agree with him, but he does give the criteria by which he makes his evaluation. Let’s have a look at his two criteria.

1. Rowling lacks a feel for language. This is the point he expands upon when he compares the Potter books to Alice in Wonderland and thus Rowling to Lewis Carroll. (Here I must admit that I’ve still not read the Alice books.) Rahim calls Rowling’s works “wholesome” and “decently paced” but finds her magic “logical and plodding.” In contrast, Carroll’s books contain “unexpected weirdness” and they are “riddling, disturbing, unexpected and memorable.” Rowling’s prose, like her magic, he calls logical and plodding and asks “can anyone honestly say they can quote one line?” This is in contrast to Carroll’s “relish for language that means you can still recite whole passages from memory years after reading them.” Here is the crucial point — Rahim’s way of knowing if an author has a feel for language is the memorability of lines of their prose. If one finds people who can recite lines from a particular book years later, the prose must be memorable and thus, by this criteria, move from good to great.

I’m not sure this is a helpful way of discerning great prose. For example, many of my friends and I can recite lines from the movie “The Princess Bride.” Many of us haven’t seen the film in years. But we say things to each other like “Bye-bye, have fun storming the castle,” or “I do not think that word means what you think it means.” We know what we’re talking about. Sometimes someone picks up the scene and continues it. Does this mean “The Princess Bride” contains great prose? Possibly. But it also means we’ve seen the movie several times, and have repeated some bits of it over and over, so of course it is a bit stuck in our heads. Rahim asks if anyone can recite lines from Rowling. Probably there are people who can. I remember key phrases “The boy who lived,” or “He Who Must Not Be Named.” That’s something more than I remember from lots of books I’ve read.

Rahim also calls Rowling’s use of language “logical and plodding” after saying that the books were enjoyable and noting that one could “easily while away a rainy hour or two in their company.” I’m not sure one can while away an enjoyable hour or two in the company of books whose language is plodding. Further, Rahim seems to be implying throughout his piece, though he does not come out and say it, that Rowling’s prose is too easy to follow, thus it must not be great. I think that this is wrong-headed thinking. Well written prose in a story should allow us to easily move into another world. That is the point of the story-telling. It seems to me that good prose does not draw attention to itself, it points to the subject matter or story that it refers to.

2. Rowling lacks a feel for character. Rahim does not expand upon this point, but drops it in and moves on. Really? Rowling lacks a feel for character? I’m not sure this holds water. I may be wrong and people may wish to comment that they think the characters in the Potter books are flat and uninteresting, but I think the success of Potter has a lot to do with the main characters in the books. Even in book 5, the one where everyone complains that Harry is just too annoying, I think shows good characterization. Harry acts like a 15-year-old boy, and they can be pretty annoying at times.

What other criteria should be used in discerning whether a book is only good or great? While I agree with Rahim that Rowling’s adult novel being released in September will sell primarily because of her name initially, might it not be well-written too? We’ll have to wait and see.

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