Archive for the ‘Reading’ Category

Foundational Books: Harry Potter Series

Happy Friday, squiders! This week we’re going to talk about the Harry Potter series. Like LOTR, this is perhaps a bit obvious, but hey, it’s still true.

(We’ve discussed Harry Potter here before–I think the first readalong we ever did was HP. Waaaaaay back in 2011. First post for that is here. We had discussion questions back then.)

I am not one of those people who grew up with Harry. I came into the series a few months before Goblet of Fire came out (so 2000) when I was 17. My mom (an middle school English teacher) passed the first three books along and the rest, as they say, is history.

But HP is perhaps more foundational not because of the books themselves (though I am a great fan of the books) but because of the fandom that sprung up around them.

I was not new to fandom–I grew up a Trekkie, went to my first Star Trek convention at the age of 12 (where, in the middle of a panel on the Dominion War, the panel was invaded by a bunch of Klingons wielding a Cardassian skull) and had fully integrated my friend group into the madness by 16 (when my high school boyfriend and I were finalists in the dance contest at the Federation Ball while dressed like Vulcans), and did a ton of online roleplaying online between the ages of 14 and 19.

But the HP fandom was different and new. For once I was surrounded by people my own age (Trekkies skewed older at the time, though I think that is no longer true with the advent of the newer movies), and it was huge. It was the first fandom I ever read fanfiction for, looked at fanart for, joined fan communities for.

(I even made a Gryffindor uniform in…2003? I don’t remember which book release it went along with. I still have my tie just in case I ever need it again. And my Slytherin tie. Both of which are somewhat amusing, because if I am honest with myself, I am neither a Gryffindor or a Slytherin.)

(I am Ravenclaw.)

Between books six and seven I even ran a LiveJournal community dedicated to exploring a new theory every week until Book 7 came out. I couldn’t tell you what it was called anymore, but even though I was some random person on the fringe of the community, people were more than willing to engage with me.

But the weird thing about being so involved in the community and so involved in the fandom is that, when Deathly Hallows came out–it read like fanfiction.

There were theories that I had brought up in my community that turned out to be true, and I’d read fics that had correctly predicted portions of the book. It was surreal.

And after Deathly Hallows came out–the whole thing kind of died. Oh, not that there isn’t a Harry Potter fandom, or that there still isn’t great fanfiction or fanart being put out for it, but there was a fever pitch in there for a while that I’ve never seen matched since.

Fandom is a bit cyclical anyway–they rise and fall, based on if/when new material comes out, and while I still do occasionally read new HP fanfic or favorite a fanart piece on tumblr, I’ve never really gone back to it. But man, for those seven years (2000-2007, when Deathly Hallows came out), it was really something.

And to actually talk about the books, I do admire the pure amount of characters JK Rowling manages to juggle and make feel alive, and the way she introduces plot points books before they’re actually relevant. It’s pretty damn amazing, from a plotting and worldbuilding standpoint. And while we can argue all day about the weak and strong points of the series (and, believe me, I have), you can’t deny that they, perhaps more than any pop culture phenomenon since, made an impact.

Thoughts on Harry Potter, squiders? Favorite character? What’s your house?

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Foundational Books: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

I am a secret horror lover, squiders. But only a very particular type of horror. You won’t catch me watching horror movies (I had to sleep with my TV on for three nights after seeing The Ring–because if the TV was already on it conceivably couldn’t turn itself on) and I don’t like a gore, but I love horror with a tinge of the supernatural–ghost stories, or tales of ancient, forgotten evil, doppelgangers, things of those ilk.

And among the first versions of this type of story I came across was Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series, written in the 80s and early 90s. There’s three books with a different selection of short stories in each.

(Alvin Schwartz also wrote other horror short story collections for children, including In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories, which features one of most haunting stories I’ve ever read, “The Green Ribbon.” And, you know, non-horror short story collections for children, but who cares about those.)

I guess they made a movie of the book series this year? Because when I googled the title that’s what came up first. How do you do that, make a movie based off a collection of short stories? Anyway, the movie comes out TODAY which is a weird coincidence.

(I will probably not see the movie, because as noted above I don’t have a very high threshold for terror, and the nice thing about reading horror vs. watching horror is that you can control the amount of imagination you put into picturing things.)

These books were a great intro to the horror genre. All the stories are pretty short, so you could read one or two in a few minutes and then go find something else to think about to get said stories out of your head.

I would go on to read more horror as I got older, especially the Goosebumps series and another author I’ll discuss a little later on in this series, Mary Downing Hahn (specifically Wait til Helen Comes, which I re-read recently as an adult and is still terrifying), and this flavor of horror has certainly informed my own horror stories when I write them.

(I’m working on a haunted space station novella right now which is super fun, not going to lie.)

I haven’t re-read these as an adult–I don’t think I ever owned them, honestly, instead checking them out incessantly from the school library–but I would bet they hold up pretty decently.

Read Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, squiders? Any stories stand out in your head? Recommendations for supernatural horror to read?

Foundational Books: The Lord of the Rings

I know this one sounds a little stereotypical, but bear with me, squiders.

Somewhere in my early teens I received a box set of the Lord of the Rings trilogy (and The Hobbit). I still have the books, though not the box. Okay, to be fair, I loaned The Two Towers to a friend in high school, who never gave it back (TODD), but I found an identical copy at a thrift store so it’s fine.

My dad read The Hobbit to me as a child, but I didn’t pick the rest of the books up until I was in late high school, when I was going through some emotional turmoil (my sister and my best friend were dating, and had hidden the relationship from me for some months before I found out, so I was feeling betrayed that they hadn’t told me and lonely because it felt like I’d lost my relationship with both in one fell swoop).

And there was something very comforting in that story at the moment in my life. Maybe it was the way that Sam stuck by Frodo through thick and thin, or Aragorn, or how Legolas and Gimli overcame centuries of racial hate to become the best of friends. Whatever it was, reading through those books, appendices and all, really helped me, and I will be forever grateful, even though re-reading them has never had anywhere near the same impact.

These were not my first foray into epic fantasy (I’d found the Shannara books by Terry Brooks when I was 12), so I didn’t personally run into the whole fact that a lot of epic fantasy is just LOTR rip-offs thing (and by the early 2000s epic fantasy was changing enough that it wasn’t necessarily true).

A few years ago I took an excellent course through Coursera, called Online Games: Literature, New Media, and Narrative, offered through Vanderbilt University. It’s honestly one of the best courses I’ve ever taken. In it, we used the Lord of the Rings to explore differences in narrative between different forms of media. Each week we’d watch part of the movies, read part of the books, and play a section of Lord of the Rings Online (excellent game, little bit addictive, plus you can turn into a chicken and try out a chicken run, which is where you try to get from the Shire to somewhere else without getting eaten by anything). We also read a lot of romantic (the time period, not like, modern romance) poems and stories, which were the start of modern fantasy.

(I almost made it to Rivendell as a chicken once. It was in sight when I was killed by a giant bug.)

So, I appreciate the books for being there when I needed them. I appreciate the characters, who, for the most part, are good people and willing to help their friends and family, no matter what. I appreciate the movies, even though they are very long, and I appreciate the source material for being there to teach me really cool things years later.

Thoughts on the Lord of the Rings, squiders?

Foundational Books: Winnie the Pooh

This one works somewhat backwards from normal because I, like many people in my generation, came into Winnie the Pooh through the Disney movies/TV shows. We had a VHS of the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh that I watched to destruction, and I was a great fan of the New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh television series.

(Seriously, it was a fantastic show and I wish they would re-release it in some form so I could show it to the small, mobile ones.)

I loved the characters, the way they’re all willing to help and go on adventures in their own ways. I liked that they’re so rarely going against each other as a source of conflict, and I liked how each character is given the opportunity to push beyond whatever their core element is, to grow as the situation demanded.

(Tigger has been and shall always be my favorite, but I am also fond of everyone else. Rabbit’s probably my second favorite.)

When I was 15, my grandmother, who knew of my great love for Tigger (I have never been subtle in my preferences, and at the time had several t-shirts and stuffed toys of the character, and we’d been to Disney World the year before and I’d managed to find Tigger for a picture), gave me a lovely hardback edition that’s a combination of Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner. It’s fabric-bound and has golden bees engraved on the cover.

I still have it. And the small, mobile ones and I are into The House at Pooh Corner now.

The original stories are refreshing, each chapter a standalone adventure that never gets too scary or sad, peppered with little bits of silliness and a sense of love and friendship, especially between Christopher Robin and Pooh, or Pooh and Piglet.

It’s a nice thing to share with my family.

I know A.A. Milne came to resent the Pooh books, and Christopher Milne was never comfortable with the fame that came along with them, which gets into the argument about creation vs. creator that we see a lot, but the stories themselves are sweet, and I appreciate that they show that it’s okay to love your friends and to help them when you can.

(Also, if you’ve not read A.A. Milne’s The Red House Mystery, I highly recommend it. Apparently the only mystery he ever wrote, which is too bad.)

Read the Winnie the Pooh books, squiders? Thoughts on the books versus the animated versions? Favorite A.A. Milne book/play?

Foundational Books: Everything by Louis Sachar

I was originally just going to talk about the Wayside School series, but here we are.

Did you guys read those? They’re each a collection of short stories that take place at Wayside school, a school that, instead of being 30 classrooms next to each other on the ground, is 30 stories tall, one classroom on each floor.

(There is no 19th floor.)

(Except when there is.)

The stories themselves are vaguely horror, with evil teachers doing crazy things and weird kids with weirder traits. They mostly take place on the 30th floor, with the same class, so you get to know the kids and their quirks and there’s continuity throughout the series.

And there were a couple of books in the series about weird math, which I may or may not have enjoyed a dangerous amount.

The Wayside School books are an interesting mix of clever and weird, so when Holes came out, I remember being surprised that it was by the same author. I think I read some of Louis Sachar’s non-Wayside books previously, but they didn’t make much of an impact.

Holes, however, is brilliant and I love it a lot. And apparently so did everybody else since it won the Newberry and the National Book Award.

I remember being deeply invested in Stanley as a character, and being impressed with how interconnected each character was to each other, either in the present, or in the past. I think it’s probably the first book I read that had so many levels of story present.

It’s also not a terribly depressing book, despite some of its subject matter. I almost feel like that’s more effective, that if you make everything dark and gritty and horrible it just puts people off and makes it harder to see the lessons the story is trying to teach.

What do you think, squiders? Did you read the Wayside School series or Holes? Or was there another Louis Sachar book that fit your interests better?

Foundational Books: Alien Secrets by Annette Curtis Klause

Woo, squiders, it took me a while to figure out what this book was. I mean, I remembered the book itself–I read it probably a dozen times as a kid. I remembered the main character’s name.

I did not, apparently, remember the title of the book properly, nor could I find it in my basement stash (which is where the books I took from home ended up). Hooray for the Internet, I guess.

(But where did the book end up, then? Questions, questions.)

Alien Secrets is a 1993 children’s science fiction novel by Annette Curtis Klause.

This was probably one of the first science fiction books I read that was really, truly science fiction. (That wasn’t related to Star Trek, at least.) A lot of the books we read when I was a kid was your standard collection of Caldecotts and Newberry winners–things like Maniac McGee, Number the Stars, Caddie Woodlawn, Bridge to Terabithia, Where the Red Fern Grows–all wonderful books in their own rights, of course.

The closest thing I think I’d read before was A Wrinkle in Time, which is arguably science fiction, but it’s not mainstream science fiction, with spaceships and aliens and all that jazz.

At this point it’s been a long time, and I don’t remember the story too well (and with my copy currently MIA, I couldn’t flip back through it to remind myself). The main character Puck (not her real name, never is) makes friends with an alien on her way to meet up with her parents, who are on another planet. Said alien has had an important artifact stolen from him, so there’s a degree of mystery to the story.

Now that I’ve looked the book up on the Internet, I can see that there’s wildly varying views on it (Publisher’s Weekly, for example, did not care for the book’s pacing), but, for me, this was an important book, and helped cement my love of science fiction.

Read Alien Secrets, squiders? What book do you feel got you into science fiction and/or your favorite genre when you were a kid?

Foundational Books Intro

Good morning, squiders! I wanted to introduce a series I’m going to be doing over the next few weeks (and then on and off afterwards) where I go back and look at books that have been meaningful to me throughout my life for one reason or another. (Series will be included altogether rather than separately.)

(And I think, at least at this point, we’re only going to talk fiction. Nonfiction has its place and time, and while it can be extremely beneficial, it’s not really the same. There is a reason humanity needs stories, after all.)

Some we’ll probably have touched on before, here and there, and things, at least at the beginning, will probably skew towards children’s and middle grade books, but hey!

I think it’s really interesting to go back and look at the books and the media that have had the greatest effect on a person, to see what they learned and how that shaped them into who they are today.

And if you guys have had similar experiences or different experiences (with the book in question or just in general), I’d love to hear about them as well!