Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Snape? really?

Recently, 13,000 people voted on their favourite Harry Potter characters. The results can be found here, if you're interested. And what do you know? Snape was the Winner.

Now, not that I have anything against Snape, but I just don't see him as that person. After I finally deigned to read the first novel in my last few years of school (2003, 2004), I fell in love with the novels and ABSORBED them into my being. I read them over and over, I researched them, I joined Mugglenet and debated anything about the books on the forums and tried to earn virtual Galleons, I became intensely angry when I heard uninformed anti-Harry-Potter sentiment, I sent J. K. Rowling letters.

And I definitely remember spending entire lunch breaks (and a surprising amount of the next period as well) debating the best characters with my friends Katie and Jenna. Snape just didn't cut it.

Of course, we'd only made it up to book four at this stage. And we were basing our opinions on the books we'd read, not on the treacle tones of Alan Rickman.

I have to admit that I did come across one obsessive Snape fan. This was after I had formed a yahoo group for Christians who love Harry Potter (naturally), and we had one member who furiously insisted that Snape was still a good guy even after he killed Dumbledore. She turned out to be right. But I didn't take her opinion very seriously after she also insisted that Harry and Hermione should have fallen in love, not Ron and Hermione, because this was the 'biblical model'. Er, if you say so.

Anyway. The point is, I think Snape is a good character, and one of the most interesting characters. He's the sort of character you can really get your teeth into in a good debate. In the end, his story is rather irresistible. He also has the fact that he is a not an angsty teenager going for him, especially in books 4 or 5. But he's not really the sort of character one warms to. He's just not "Favourite" material, at least, not number one favourite.

And it's not just that. What are characters like the Dementors doing in the Top 40, for crying out loud? Or Lucius Malfoy? Crabbe and Goyle?! DOLORES UMBRIDGE?!?!

So I am going to fix the Favourite Harry Potter Character List. The Guardian shows the top 40; so will I.

Oh, and hello to all the Snape fans making their way here from sites like this or this. I think perhaps the "sour grapes" might be yours, but, if not, thank you for putting up with my "tantrum" and allowing that sometimes people have different opinions. It has been approximately three months since I last read through the series. And please don't call me "Hon".

Sheesh.

If you read what I've written without a pre-determined conclusion in mind, you would notice that I absolutely agree that Snape is an important character, a great character. I just don't want him to be my BFF.

I invite you to leave your comments about MY juvenility, arrogance and/or complete wrongness here, to my face, non-anonymously, as opposed to the completely grown-up and academically-sound method of preaching vitriol to the choir on your forums.

(By the way, however, I am willing to admit that my definition of "favourite" is slightly skewed. For me, it does signify the HP characters for whom I feel an affection. Actually, if I were to make a Top 40 list of All Fictional Characters and choose them based on their well-roundedness or fascination, Snape might just be on it. I just felt like doing it this way, this time, and it's not supposed to be read as a studied insult to Snape. There. I hope my apology is accepted.)

Here are my choices. They are all based on the characters of the books, not the presentations of those characters in the movies.

1. Hermione Granger - because she saves the world through bookishness

2. Luna Lovegood - because she is too delightful for words

3. Harry Potter - a true Gryffindor! I think we all see a little of ourselves in him.

4. Rubeus Hagrid - who couldn't love him?

5. Gilderoy Lockhart - the star of The Chamber of Secrets, which is, in my opinion, the funniest book

6. Minerva McGonagall - I love her. Especially when she marshals an army of desks, or charges off to stop people arresting Hagrid.

7. Augusta Longbottom, Neville's grandmother - so she doesn't get much coverage - but what she gets is enough to place her in the top ten. What a great character. Strong women for the win.

8. Arthur Weasley - for many reasons but this is one of them:
He looked around, saw Harry and jumped.
'Good Lord, is it Harry Potter? Very pleased to meet you, Ron's told us so much about -'
'Your sons flew that car to Harry's house and back last night!' shouted Mrs Weasley. 'What have you got to say about that, eh?'
'Did you really?' said Mr Weasley eagerly. 'Did it go all right? I-I mean,' he faltered, as sparks flew from Mrs Weasley's eyes, 'that-that was very wrong, boys - very wrong indeed...'
'Let's leave them to it,' Ron muttered to Harry, as Mrs Weasley swelled like a bullfrog.
9. Sirius Black - only this low on the list because he annoyed me so much in book five. He is pretty fantastic though.

10. Ron Weasley - who is a good friend but whose insecurities drove me a bit mad

11. Mad-Eye Moody - is it wrong that he makes it this far up the list mostly because of Barty Crouch Jr's interpretation of him?

12. Neville Longbottom - we all love Neville, right?

13. Albus Dumbledore - whimsical, wise, powerful, and compassionate - but also very flawed. I've moved him down the list because I realised that I didn't like a lot of the things we found out about him later, especially that he'd been planning Harry's eventual death from early on. I know it all worked out in the end but this lent a certain chilliness to his kindness.

14. Colin Creevey - a wonderful character. He was the most distressing part of the end of book 7.

15. Lily Potter - somehow she manages to be wonderful from beyond the grave

16. Dobby - I think it's the Harry-Potter-ized Christmas baubles that cemented Dobby's place in my heart

17. Hedwig - a constant companion for Harry

18. Remus Lupin - he would have been higher had he not got so moody later on

19. Fred Weasley - the Weasley twins together are rather wonderful. Especially in their business ventures.

20. George Weasley

21. Molly Weasley - as generous and warm as her name suggests

22. Fleur Delacour - for her unexpected warm-heartedness

23. Peeves - for his finest hour:
Fred looked across the hall at the poltergeist bobbing on his level above the crowd.
'Give her hell from us, Peeves.'
And Peeves, who Harry had never seen take an order from a student before, swept his belled hat from his head and sprang to a salute ...
24. Sybill Trelawney - for whom you can't help feeling a slightly annoyed affection
Professor Trelawney broke into hysterical sobs during Divination and announced to the startled class, and a very disapproving Umbridge, that Harry was not going to suffer an early death after all, but would live to a ripe old age, become Minister for Magic and have twelve children.
25. Mundungus Fletcher - I love him despite his faults. His name helps.

26. Severus Snape - And here he is. A great character.

27. Nearly Headless Nick - Poor old Nick and his desire to join the Hunt. His Deathday Feast is one of my favourite Harry Potter scenes.

28. James Potter - Almost but not quite as charming as his wife

29. Kreacher - Yes, this is strange, but first you feel sorry for him and then he becomes nice - it's a winning combination.

30. Stan Shunpike - I wish Stan hadn't been Imperiused. But he and his pimples have a firm place in my heart regardless.

31. Narcissa Malfoy - Now this is strange. And yet she, like Snape, is a complicated character. Not entirely irredeemable.

32. Horace Slughorn - is hilarious

33. Grawp - his piteous cry for "HAGGER! HAGGER!" left tears in my eyes

34. Dudley Dursley - almost for his name alone

35. Percy Weasley - for the comedy at his expense in the first few books. For his eventual redemption from bureaucracy at the end.

36. Lee Jordan - almost as funny as Fred and George

37. Griselda Marchbanks - for siding with Dumbledore in the Wizengamot

38. Draco Malfoy - I can't really bring myself to feel VERY sorry for Draco... but I feel like he deserves to be in the top 40

39. Dedalus Diggle - for his part in book 1

40. Professor Flitwick - for always being cheerful, and for being able to levitate

Who are your favourites?

Coming up - most loathed Harry Potter characters.

Monday, August 29, 2011

reading paint V

reading outside

Matthieu Wiegman, 'Reading Woman'
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Gustave Caillebotte, 'The Orange Trees'
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Adelaide Giannini, 'Sul Balcone'
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Winslow Homer, 'Sunlight and Shadow'
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August Macke, 'Man reading in a park'
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Henri Matisse, 'Woman Reading in a Garden'
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Peder Kroyer, 'Die Frau des K├╝nstlers im Garten in Skagen'
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Claude Monet, 'Camille Reading'
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I loved putting this blog post together, because spring is on its way here in Christchurch and I am eagerly looking forward to getting out my hammock and tying it up under the blossom for some quality reading time.

Monday, August 22, 2011

secrets, spiggy holes


I've been lying around feeling miserable most of the day with a bad cold. When I was a kid, one of the few things that could make me forget sickness was an Enid Blyton book. When my eye happened to pass over this one - The Secret of Spiggy Holes - sitting in my shelf, I felt an unaccountable urge to read it. I told myself, Allie, you'll just be disappointed. The favourites of your childhood are bound to fall short in adulthood. But I picked it up anyway. Enid Blyton was the reason I first wanted to become an author and I will always feel an attraction to her books for some strange reason.

This is one from yet another series written by Enid Blyton, the "Secret" books. Generally extremely unrealistic, exciting and packed with adventures. Written in 1940, it is just as you might expect it to be - full of "queer sorts" and "odd chaps" and "jolly fellows" and suspicious foreigners; subtle racism and not-so-subtle sexism; definitely a product of its time. Same old Blyton formula of 4 or 5 children, doing without too much adult supervision, outwitting the bad guys and doing exciting things. Nothing about this book pushes the envelope.

Having said that - it was, surprisingly, still a lot of fun. I will say this for Enid Blyton - she has a sympathy for things that appeal to children. Somehow, she manages to cram in secret passages, references to smuggling, camping on a secret island, kidnappings, sinister but inept enemies, lots of hearty-sounding food, tree-climbing, running away, long summer days, young foreign princes, at least one orphan, absent parents and independence from too much control.

Heck, these things appeal to me almost twenty years after I first read about them.

This passage may give you some idea of the general tendency of these books. It describes what happened in the last book, The Secret Island.

[Jack] was not really the brother of Mike, Nora and Peggy, and had no father or mother of his own.
But the children's parents had taken him for their own child, because he had helped Mike, Peggy, and Nora so much when they had run away from an unkind aunt and uncle. Captain Arnold, the children's father, had left them at a farm with his sister, whilst he and his wife had tried to fly to Australia in an aeroplane.
Captain and Mrs. Arnold had been lost for months on a desert island, and when it seemed as if they would never come back, the children's aunt treated them unkindly. They had made friends with Jack, who had helped them to run away to a secret island in a lake, and there the children had lived together until they had heard that their parents had been found and had come back to England to look for them.
... now here they all were together again for the summer holidays. At first they had been sad to hear that Captain and Mrs. Arnold were to go to Ireland to lecture there all about their flying adventures - but now that they were on their way to Cornwall together, to live in a house on the cliffs, and do just what they liked, the children couldn't help feeling excited and happy.

This isn't exactly a normal review but because it was so fun I'm going to give it two and a half stars.

Friday, August 19, 2011

reading paint IV

painters who have done awesome things with reading and with light

Jamie Wyeth, 'Monhegan's Schoolteacher'
[source]

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 'Woman Reading'
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Rembrandt van Rijn, 'Old woman reading'
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Edward Hopper, 'The barbershop'
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Helene Schjerfbeck, 'Maria'
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T. F. Simon, untitled
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I don't know who painted this!
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burning books

What is with the book-banning that has made headlines lately?

First, in Missouri, it was Slaughterhouse-Five and Sarah Ockler's Twenty Boy Summer.

Now, in Virginia, it's Arthur Conan Doyle's A Study in Scarlet.

I've read the Sherlock Holmes. I haven't read the Vonnegut or the Ockler but now I sure as heck want to. Can't these busybodies see that that is all the effect their ill-informed opinions are having?

I have yet to see any evidence that Wesley Scroggins - a man with an appropriately villainous Dickensian name who has a PhD in Management, of all the irrelevant qualifications - is in any way an authority on teen reading.

I have slightly more sympathy for the intentions of the people wanting to ban A Study in Scarlet for its anti-Mormon tone, but still think they're wasting their time and trying to suppress free thought.

Kids need to learn how to deal with ideas. They need to learn how to deal with the real world, and the real world is generally not a place full of cosy inclusive ideals and tales-with-a-moral.

So three cheers for the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, offering 150 free copies of the book to students of the Missouri School affected by the ban.

Three cheers for Sarah Ockler: "You can ban my books from every damn district in the country — I'm still not going to write to send messages or make teens feel guilty because they've made choices that some people want to pretend don't exist. That's my choice. And I'll never be ashamed of my choice to write about real issues."

And three cheers for the students and alumni of the Virginia school who turned up to protest the censorship of Sherlock.

Monday, August 15, 2011

20 hours of Harry Potter

I have not yet seen Film No. 8 - but of course I will be!

This excellent article
from the NZ Listener - first instalment of a series going through all the Potter films, this one covers Nos. 1 and 2 - made me RATHER EXCITED, despite the fact that I absolutely agree with all the criticisms that could be levelled against the first couple of films.

My favourite Harry Potter film is probably The Prisoner of Azkaban. Least favourite: The Chamber of Secrets. I have enjoyed the last few, although not as much as PoA. One of my favourite MOMENTS from a Harry Potter film was Jim Broadbent, as Horace Slughorn, presiding over Aragog's funeral in The Half Blood Prince. Gloriously funny!

What are your favourite Harry Potter moments on the big screen?

Sunday, August 7, 2011

reading paint IV

books as accessories

Sir William Beechey, portrait of Kitty Packe
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Vittorio Matteo Corcos, 'Dreams'
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Tamara Lempicka, 'Polish Girl'
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Hubert-Denis Etcheverry, 'Le Dame en Blue'
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Hugo van der Goes, 'Maria Bonciani with her daughter Margherita and Saints Margaret and Mary Magdalene'
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Friedrich von Amerling, 'In Traumen versonken'
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Edward Burne-Jones, portrait of Georgiana Burne-Jones
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Camillo Mori, 'In a train'
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Juan Gris, 'Woman Reading'
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Thursday, August 4, 2011

holding touching flicking smelling seeing

I just wandered around our local Borders store - closing down on 15 August - selecting a pile of books because everything was fifty percent off. In some ways, this is like a dream come true, but in other ways it felt horrible. Maybe this is silly, to be sad about the death of one cog in a big chain, when really we should be lamenting the loss of independent bookshops with personality. But really at the moment it seems like bookshops are all in the fight against the internet together.

Someone turned to me as we stared at the row of Henry Jameses, and said: "In some ways I feel like this is my fault. I've bought an e-reader last year and haven't visited a bookshop since. I mean, what's the point? Even with fifty percent off these books are still cheaper as e-books."

Since I finished my Masters, I've been working a couple of part-time jobs almost entirely from home. My jobs consist of writing emails and writing a manual, for the most part. In some ways it's been great having the flexibility to work from home, when I want. But I have now reached the point at which I realise that I could stay inside all day if I wanted to. I actually have to decide to leave the house. Almost everything I need is available on the internet or by phone. It's almost Orwellian.

If e-books become the norm, is this just one more step in the process towards becoming permanent stay-at-homers? Are they just another excuse to avoid actually having to talk to people, or deal with people, whenever we want to get more reading matter - whether it's at a library, a big chain, a classy independent bookstore, or a dingy little secondhand bookstore?

And if e-books take over the market entirely, which I have no doubt they will, what will happen to the bookshop? What will happen to publishing companies, and opportunities for authors, and the standard of literature? Will bestsellers reign supreme and the only chance an author has to be recognised is to wallow among the millions on the Kindle store?

On the upside, it might be more difficult to ban books if they are available freely on the internet. And I went through a phase of declaring that perhaps the e-reader was a good idea (it is), and perhaps it was worth having, right after I had to lug all my books with me when I moved house. Too heavy!

But now I'm starting to wonder if the price we pay is not too high. I'm probably just being reactionary, but I LIKE visiting bookstores. They have an environment you can find in very few places. I LIKE collecting books with colourful spines and arranging them thematically on my bookshelf. And no doubt tomorrow's generations won't know what they're missing and will be perfectly happy with their e-readers, but I will know, and I'll be sad. So from now on it's paper and ink for me.