Category Archives: reading

Potter’s so hot

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 will hit movie theaters Friday at midnight. In preparation, I have decided to re-read the book — a behemoth-albeit-quick read — prior to watching the last installment. As promised, I also want to share with people — young and old — why this is such a spectacular event.

Last post before I leave for my Harry Potter Extravaganza Night of the Deathly Hallows 1 and 2.

Let’s see, I’ve mentioned how the books are much more than superficial children’s stories. I’ve also mentioned how one of the best characters jumped off the page and was brought to life so brilliantly by a revered thespian.

Honestly, I just don’t have time to sell you on it if you’re not already sold by now. The ultimate barometer — popular culture — has already cast its vote. Its word is golden. No room left for debate.

Snape to it: Harry Potter’s complex character

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 will hit movie theaters Friday at midnight. In preparation, I have decided to re-read the book — a behemoth-albeit-quick read — prior to watching the last installment. As promised, I also want to share with people — young and old — why this is such a spectacular event.

Naturally, a series that spans more than seven books and thousands of pages will have a hefty number of characters to draw upon.

There are the students, the teachers, the family members, the villains, the officials, the foreigners, the flashback-ers.  The list goes on and on and on.

But of them all, and there are hundreds, by far the best character that Jo Rowling created wasn’t Harry or Dumbledore or Voldemort.  Hands down it’s Snape.  Severus SnapeThe half-blood Prince.

Is he good?  Is he evil?  Is he loyal?  Is he treacherous?  Did he infiltrate the Order or the Death Eaters?

If physical appearance reflects intentions, then he’s definitely shady.  Always in dark robes, slouched with his greasy hair in his face.

If House sorting is a better judge, then he’s definitely suspect.  Snape’s the head of Slytherin House and as Ron put it so succinctly in the Sorcerer’s Stone, “there’s not a witch or wizard who went bad who wasn’t in Slytherin.”

What about ambitions?  The potions professor longed to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts. He waited for years (Book 6) until his wish was granted.  Why the obsession, Snapey?

Nowhere else is there a character that keeps you guessing until the very end… and when that end comes you stop (mouth agape) and let out a long “Ohhhhhhh… I get it. I didn’t see it coming, but I get it.”  Coupled by a, “Daaaamn. That sux.”

Let’s not forget that in the movies he’s played brilliantly by Alan Rickman.  Brilliantly!  How could you hate Alan Rickman??  I dare you to!  Watch the three-minute featurette below and you’ll see why it’s impossible.


Update: The reviews have been consistent. Here’s something from the New York Times:

Pale and unsmiling, his black hair framing his white face like mourning crepe, he has always suggested Laurence Olivier’s Richard III, an ominous thought with children in the vicinity. That Snape has proven worthy of that comparison is partly a tribute to Ms. Rowling, but that he has become such a brilliant screen character is due to Mr. Rickman, who helped elevate a child’s tale of good and evil into a story of human struggle.

Children Schmildren: Harry Potter can teach us all

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 will hit movie theaters Friday at midnight. In preparation, I have decided to re-read the book — a behemoth-albeit-quick read — prior to watching the last installment. As promised, I also want to share with people — young and old — why this is such a spectacular event.

To be sure, the movies have become a phenomenon because of their over-the-top production.  They showcase witches and wizards and the magical world unknown to us mere muggles.  Owls deliver mail.  Sports are played on flying broomsticks.  People hitch rides on the backs of flying hippogriffs (eagle/horse hybrid), thestrals (skeletal winged horse) or dragons.  They duel with wands.

The directors, producers, writers, cast and crew have done a spectacular job creating this landscape.  Nevertheless, they would never have been able to conjure it up on their own (no disrespect).  For that, they needed J.K. Rowling, mastermind and mad genius behind the books.  It’s her world being reimagined in IMAX and 3D.  For that, this first post is dedicated to how amazing the original text is.

If you have never read the books and disregarded them because you considered them a children’s series, you are woefully mistaken.  You should slap yourself on the wrist for, of all things, judging a book by its cover.  Weren’t you taught better?

The books are not a children’s or a young adult’s read.  They are just a read.  There is no adjective preceding it.  It’s a well-written book with serious themes to consider and a commentary on the world we live in.

Take note.

DEATH

Harry’s parents died at the beginning of the series.  Harry is the only known survivor of the killing curse.  Lord Voldemort splits his soul seven times to avoid death and seek immortality.  A prophecy linking Harry and Lord V. states that neither can live while the other survives and that one must kill the other.

Death and its flipside surviving are at the heart of the books.  But it’s more than just a fancy trick to make the read exciting.  It’s about all the emotions that come with it.  Fear of dying.  Coping with loss.  Acceptance as a part of life.

STRATIFICATION

The wizarding world is divided up into purebloods, mixed bloods, squibs and mudbloods.  There is a legitimate hierarchy and Lord V. wants to get rid of those born into non-magical families.  There are other races — house elves, goblins, giants.  At the bottom of the totem pole are the mere muggles, who haven’t the slightest idea that another world exists apart from their own.  When they see something out of the ordinary, like a flying car, they’re confunded into thinking something else.

The stratified society is painted in negative terms.  Those with power and money can trace their lineage to some of the earliest known witches and wizards.  House elves are treated like slaves and their magic (i.e. value) is often overlooked.  Goblins, described with nasty personalities, are charged with keeping money safe, building precious handiwork, like swords and tiaras, but never get a proper place in society.  Regular humans are easily malleable and made to do, see or know whatever witches and wizards want.  Racial prejudice abounds.

ACCEPTANCE and SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY

Harry is rejected by his actual family the Dursleys, but accepted with open-arms into the very large, very dynamic Weasleys.  Harry, along with Ron and Hermione, are the few students who accept and befriend Hagrid, the half-giant games keeper.  They stick by his side, even when he’s charged with opening the Chamber of Secrets.  Though ostracized by her classmates for her weird beliefs and nutty accessories, Harry accepts Luna Lovegood in all her crazy glory.

Though mistreated as a child, Harry grows up to be considerate and accepting of others.  He takes it a step further.  Harry sees himself as a protector of the weak.  He won’t stand idly by while watching someone being unfairly treated.  It doesn’t matter if the mistreatment stems from a classmate or a teacher.  If someone is being wronged, he’ll stand up to power to fix it.  Often, alone.

So yes, Harry Potter is set in a world of magic.  The story has an obvious hero in Harry and villain in Lord V.  But it isn’t a straight-up tale of good versus evil fought with wands.  The evil is layered — like in our own world — with varying degrees of intolerance, bigotry and hatred, power-hunger and greed.  In short, the worst of us.  Likewise, good is represented with acceptance, loyalty, stewardship and empathy.  Don’t believe me?  Read and find out for yourself.

PHOTOS (from top): Harry Potter in The Order of the Phoenix holding the prophecy that connects him to Lord Voldemort; Ministry of Magic statue in Deathly Hallows Part 1 with humans in the “rightful place” at the bottom; Luna Lovegood’s sporting headdress for the quidditch match in Half-Blood Prince.

HP: The book you can’t/won’t put down

It never matters what your intentions at the beginning of a journey.  Without a doubt, there will come a time when you’ll have to reevaluate those goals.

Whoa.  That sounded deep.

It’s most definitely true in my case, but not life-altering.  The goal I’m reevaluating is my 2011 resolution where I vowed to read 30 NEW books this year.  Yeah, that’s not gonna happen.  The only way I’ll make it to 30 is if I throw in some beloved re-reads.

The first of the year is my treasured Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  I have to prep for what is a life-altering moment.  Yes, I speak of the release of HP7PT2, the conclusion of a series, the end of an era.

Oh God, I just might cry or scream or hit something out of fury.

These books are amazing and J.K. is ridiculous.  The characters she developed and the world she created exists.  And now that I’m rereading the last book, I can appreciate so much more of it than the first time I read it four years ago.

If you’re on the same page as me, mazel tov.  You know a good thing when you see/read it.  If you’re not, then I’m going to pepper you with nuggets of Why Harry Potter is Awesome.

Not now. Let me get my shit in order.

Why not judge book by its cover?

I usually love hearing when Hollywood has taken an interest in an amazing book and decided to make it into a movie. Though they’re not coming up with original content, at least they’re not rehashing some tried and tired plotlines.

And yet, I get really protective of the books they choose to make into movies. Will it be awesome? Will it suck? Are they invested in the entire series? I mean, just remember the disastrous rendition of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials

That would have been an amazing series to see on the wide screen with all the fantastical elements — animal daemons, parallel universes, soul-eaters, angels, witches, gypsies, armored bears, oh my! What we got instead was the sorry, halfhearted Golden Compass that bombed so badly, future efforts to film the trilogy were immediately abandoned. That was not the kind of treatment that Pullman’s award-winning allegory on religion and philosophy deserved.

Which brings me to the upcoming release of Water for Elephants. I’m already unimpressed by the trailers and the cast (Robert Pattinson, really?!). But that’s not what bugs me the most. What kills me is that when Hollywood takes an interest, the publishing companies revamp the books and pander with new covers. No offense to Reese, but I don’t want to read a book with her and Pattinson embracing on the cover. When I read this book, the love story was the least compelling aspect. To me, it was more about the other circus characters, life in the Depression, reinvention and the human-animal bond.

Exhibit A is the photo on the left. Otherwise known as a ridiculous cover for Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants. I got bombarded with it when I walked into Border’s this weekend and I assume most other big-chain bookstores (those that remain) have similar displays. Exhibit B is the previous cover. It’s simple and understated and evokes the mysteries behind the circus curtains. That’s what the book is more about.

Ok, I’m over my rant. Full disclosure… if it were anyone other than RPatz, I probably wouldn’t have cared. Sorry dude.

One Month check-in

It’s February = time to check in on New Year’s resolution progress

Revisiting 2010

  • GOAL: Read 30 new books. As of today, I have read 1.5 books, loads of magazine articles and too many stories about protests in the Middle East. But, because not much of this counts toward my goal, the official tallY is 1. 29 to go.
  • GOAL: Run 500 miles. I knew this was going to be hard since I started the year unable to jog and with no clear deadline of when I would be able to. I have not run a single mile since October 2010, but I have walked briskly a respectable 2 miles in the past month. I’m counting that towards my goal. Again, official tally stands at 2. 498 to go.
  • GOAL: Eat more kosher meals. I’ve done fairly well but haven’t been able to string together a few days’ worth of kosher eating habits. AMENDMENT: Kosher Mondays. I’ll post my Monday meals here so you know what I’m up to.

My B4-30s

  • Started accordion lessons on Saturday afternoons. More to come…
  • Arabic studies continue. Watched Al-Jazeera in recent class and could make out a few things. Progress!
  • AHHHH! Even before I write it, while I’m thinking of writing it, I’m peeved. I had booked my trip to Egypt and Jordan almost two months ago and now, because of obvious circumstances, that trip is on hold. I sympathize with all those people protesting and find it exciting that such changes are unfolding across the Middle East. But, I’m also bummed that I might not be able to go. How awesome to be in that midst and witness history?! If I’m forced to change my travel plans, then I likely won’t see those World Wonders before my deadline.

Purging

  • Total failure. Life remains as cluttered as before.

Sucker: The True Story of What Guilt Buys You… or You Buy It

Armed with little knowledge of crime/mystery literature and with even less knowledge of my purpose, I walked into Mystery Bookstore last night.

I don’t know what I was expecting, but it’s not what I got.

TO RECAP: This specialty book store has been operating on Broxton Avenue in Westwood for more than 20 years. A bad economy and a flux of new technology translated into steadily declining sales. At the end of the month, they will close the doors for good.

I think I half expected empty shelves or almost empty. Stocked with the dregs of crime fiction literati. Having undoubtedly heard of the store’s upcoming demise, people would have flocked to pore over books—old, new, first editions, signed copies and all at a minimum 35% off. They’d circle and strike like vultures. And they’d leave scraps for poor, defenseless, yet well-intentioned looky-loos like me. And not knowing any better, I’d pick up some obscure crime novel from and even more obscure Eastern European writer that I’d crack open and lose interest in after a paragraph.

Hey, at least I tried.

That picture didn’t unfold last night.

The place I walked into was warm, charming, inviting, stock full of books and character. Posters announced upcoming author signings. With little more than 10 days left as a functioning business, they’re still planning a few more in-store events. The only signs of trouble brewing were the little orange and green stickers on book spines that signaled massive markdowns.

Overwhelmed and waaaaay out of my element, I started along the left-hand wall. I’ve been in my fair share of bookstores and have always managed to make my way through the stacks and come out with a gem or two. There were John Grisham-esque book covers and fonts, some books that looked more at home in grocery store aisles and a whole slew of awesome macabre-type stuff. I managed to find some books that I’d read—Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, The Strain, The City of Falling Angels, The Devil in the White City, Da Vinci Code.

Now more lost than ever, I turned for advice.

Me to the clerk: I know nothing about this, but I know I like nonfiction thrillers and an occasional low-brow Dan Brown conspiracy. Oh, and L.A. noir. WHAT CAN YOU RECOMMEND?

Famous last words from a sucker with a guilty conscience.

What I bought

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much:
The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession

by Allison Hoover Bartlett

A story about a book thief who “steals for love” and the “self-appointed ‘bibliodick’ driven to catch him.” Praise from Devil in White City author Erik Larson: “Compelling with elegant suspense.”

The Sleepwalkers
by Paul Grossman

A high-ranking Jewish detetective working a bizarre murder in Berlin 1932. “About a good man trapped between his duty to serve and his grave doubts about what, and whom, he serves.”

L.A. Requiem
by Robert Crais

Apparently one in a series of Los Angeles detectives that I won’t have any trouble reading midway through. Joe Pike/Elvis Cole ring any bells?

PS I’m aware of the gross irony that I use Amazon.com (the very cause of the store’s closing) for the book links.

The things I do for no apparent reason

GUILT |gilt|
n. the fact of having committed a specified or implied offense or crime;
a feeling of having done wrong or failed in an obligation
SYNONYMS: self-repoach, self-condemnation, shame, a guilty conscience, pangs of conscience; remorse, remorsefulness, regret, contrition, contriteness, compunction

Guilt is the universe’s greatest weapon transcending language, culture and religion. Used effectively, one can successfully will other people to do their heart’s desire without even breaking a sweat. Just ask your mother.

On a smaller stage, guilt makes you do silly things even when no one is pulling your strings. That comes from one of two reasons. Either you’re A) highly sensitive to the needs of others or B) Catholic.

Though some would argue with me, I fall in both categories. Yes, I’m sensitive!

Here’s my evidence:

I love to cozy up under my electric blanket with a good book. I’ve collected an exceptional library over the years, which I have schlepped across the entire city, out to the IE and back. If ever there were a fire (what am I saying, if? I’ve had enough close calls), I would cry over the loss of those books. They would be my first insurance claim. I hate borrowing from friends or libraries. I underline and highlight passages, dog-tag pages as I go. On the flip side, I’ll lend you whatever you want… so long as I get it back. I won’t forget and haven’t forgotten who has wronged me in this regard. I’m unlike Adama in that regard.

It took me a long time–five years at least–to be cool with ereaders. The tactile experience couldn’t be downplayed. But, I got over it and for Christmas I got a brand spanking new Kindle. hell yeah! I’m loving that beast. It’s easy, breezy. I can download anything at any time for a fraction of the cost. I can peruse best-sellers. Even read a free sample chapter or two before committing. Awesome!!!

And then what happens. I read about this tiny Westwood bookshop going out of business because people like me who used to buy them are now downloading them on their readers. That was last week and this week (as if it were a slow news cylce), it’s back in the Daily Bruin. A nearby Borders closed up earlier this month… big deal. But this tiny little mystery bookshop… ahhh. Poor baby!

Now, of course, I’m feeling sufficiently bad for putting these people out of business. How will they feed their families?! Damn it! Now I have to go into Westwood and buy a stupid mystery book. Yes, have to. That’s called guilt.

PHOTO: Mystery Bookstore on Broxton Ave. in Westwood is closing its doors Jan. 31. Go get a book before I buy the rest of their inventory out of guilt. (credit: Daily Bruin)

What resolve!

I made the deadline. My own internal, meaningless deadline.

To make sure I was serious about my New Year’s resolutions, I vowed to write them out by the end of the first week of January. First, it was Dec. 31. But laziness impeded that. Then, it was Jan. 1, then the end of the weekend and finally, the end of the first week.

Writing them out and posting them, holds me accountable. It also helps provide a reference because, unfortunately, my resolutions don’t read like deep life-changing goals. More like a To-Do list or some weekend errands.

REvisiting 2010

I roundly failed at each and every one of my resolutions from last year. Which means? I’m trying them again. To recap: I resolve to read 30 new books, run 500 miles, eat kosher (for more than one day in a row), do a pull-up. It won’t be easy. I’ve already started off on a bad foot/ankle. Haven’t run more than a couple yards to beat the bathroom crowd at HP7Pt1 in mid-November. Even that was ill-advised. But things are looking up. I’ve started PT and hope to be back to the back-of-the-pack by February.

But for everything else, I’m looking good. I have a shiny, new Kindle for the reading. I’m cutting down on cheese, which will undoubtedly, help me in my attempts to have a few back-to-back-to-back kosher meals. I’m focusing more on upper-body strength (thanks to a weak ankle) so I’ll be able to conquer that elusive pull-up, my own personal Windmill.

My Before-30 List

The crux of this blog. I need to get cracking on the list of things I wanted to do. I, sadly, can’t run The LA Marathon this year, but maybe once I’m all healed I’ll be able to run a marathon in Los Angeles. Lame. This is what I absolutely will do this year: watch AFI’s 100 best movies, find my red lipstick, play the accordion, ride a horse, visit two world wonders, continue my Arabic studies, shoot a gun, go rock-climbing, run in Central Park and see a Broadway play on Broadway, win at chess, take a dance class, take a martial arts class, take a cooking lesson, relax at a spa… ahhh!

And there’s still more…

Year of the Great Purge

In terms of resolutions, this one will truly require my constant attention. I am up-chucking everything!! Clothes I haven’t worn in the last year. Jewelry that I haven’t sported since I was a freshman at UCLA, which is really not that long ago ;). Shoes that don’t fit or don’t get rocked! Shit in storage that’s been sitting in storage FOR-EV-ER. I’m also going to tame that impulse I have to buy meaningless knick-knacks and tchotchkies. Get stripped down to the basics.

Once upon a time, I lived “comfortably” with two other roommates in a cell dorm known as Rieber Hall. I only had some storage under my bed and a small-ass armoire to put my shit in, on and around. “Comfortable” may be too strong. The point is, I managed. How’s it possible that my larger bedroom with a closet, a nine-drawer dresser, a four-drawer dresser, a bookshelf and a jewelry stand is not enough?! My place always looks like a disaster zone and attempts to organize it are full-day affairs! That’s ridiculous! RI-DIC-U-LOUS!!

Post mid-year updates

Taking some time to update my status on my 2010 resolutions and other tasks I’ve set aside to do soonish.

1. Eat kosher.

Almost happened. Barely happened. Didn’t happen.

Who’s kidding whom? Of all my resolutions, this was a total throw-away. I never took it seriously. Maybe if I grew up kosher and had never experienced the joys of cheeseburgers, shrimp and bacon-wrapped anything, then I could give eating kosher a legitimate shot. But since I wasn’t… since I fondly remember breakfast burritos with crunchy bacon and chicken quesadillas, there was no way I could suppress those memories and switch on the kosher diet switch. I’m sorry. I failed. But is it really failing when you never thought you’d win? Am I cheating the system? *shoulder shrug* Who cares?

2. Run 500 miles

I thought I was getting a good handle on this until I remembered I hated running. I run because I race and I race because I want a medal. No other reason. That’s my motivation to run and that was lacking in great supply in 2010. I have only run ONE measly 5K, but I did get a huge n heavy medal out of it. That has sorta changed. I signed up for the Los Angeles Rock ‘n’ Roll in October and will soon sign up for Las Vegas Pt. 2. I’ve already started training and have, since Aug. 1, logged 9 miles, which leaves me with 391 to go.

I rounded up. I calculate that I ran about 100 miles in the first seven months of 2010. In order to meet this goal, I have to log about 80 miles/month until the end of the year or about 20 miles a week!

This may be a sliding finish resolution. If I do end up reaching it, it’ll be, as we say in Spanish, ¡de panzanzo!

3. Read 30 books

As soon as I finish Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, I’ll have 20 books left to read. I’ve stalled. I was dragging this book all over South Africa and not once popped it open. I blame Emirates well-developed in-flight entertainment. Instead of reading a book that I could have finished on ONE leg of that flight, I spent my time eating their awesome food, drinking cocktails and watching a slew of rom-com and other movies. Don’t ask me what the weird inhabitants of the island are, but if you want to know how Leap Year ends or the origin of Kristin Bell’s curse in When in Rome or what’s up with Percy Jackson’s mom marrying Joe Pantoliano, come my way…