Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman Thursday, Jul 28 2011 

I’ll try not to give away too much about Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, because you’ll have a lot more fun if you find out on your own. I will tell you, however, that the plot involves the coming of the End Times. Specifically, the book involves an angel and a demon who’d rather the Apocalypse not happen just yet, an eleven-year-old boy who has no idea he’s the Antichrist, and a rather dull but strangely accurate book of prophecies written by Agnes Nutter in the 17th century (just so she could get a free author’s copy).

I found the plot of Good Omens got a bit convoluted, though I think that’s inevitable in a book with so many characters and so much going on (it is about Armageddon, after all). That my schedule sometimes led to my going a few days without picking the book up didn’t help much, either. Whatever kept me from thoroughly appreciating the plot of the novel, however, didn’t keep me from seeing how entertaining it is. Pratchett and Gaiman take a lot of centuries-old ideas about supernatural beings and the Apocalypse and put incredibly clever, modern twists on them. Aziraphale the angel and Crowley the demon are not what you’d normally expect from such characters; both are quite attached to the material world after living on Earth since the Beginning, and each has his complaints about his side in the eternal conflict between Heaven and Hell. The authors’ take on the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse provides some smart commentary on the modern world, and the book’s answer to the question of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin provides one of the funniest passages I’ve ever read in any novel.

Good Omens is a terrific blend of fantasy and comedy. While the novel is most obviously a parody of apocalyptic films and literature, Pratchett and Gaiman find plenty of room to poke fun at the occult, historical treatment of witches, the everyday absurdities of human life, and well, human beings themselves. While I’m sure I might have missed a few references in the book that would’ve made it even funnier, this is still one of the most hilarious books I’ve ever read. It’s more than just a fantasy novel; it is a brilliant send-up of a genre that often takes itself so seriously that it ends up being unintentionally funny. This book was my first experience of both Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, but from what I already knew about them, I’m not at all surprised that they succeeded in making the premise of a funny Armageddon work so well.

I’ve always hated when someone gave all the jokes away before I got to read or watch something, so I’ll leave it at that and let you experience this fun read for yourself. Just one more thing: do NOT skip over the footnotes. They are just as funny as the rest of Good Omens, if not more so.


Reflections on Harry Potter Tuesday, Jul 19 2011 

Like much of the world, this past weekend I went to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. The movie was absolutely fantastic—emotional, exciting, and visually stunning. It was exactly the kind of movie I had hoped would bring this great series to an end. The film also got me thinking about what Harry Potter has meant to me since I read the first book in 2000, and I’d like to talk a bit about that now.

Harry Potter didn’t make me love reading; I loved to read long before I ever heard of these books. It didn’t get me interested in other fantasy fiction. I read each of the seven books only once and don’t remember many of the details as well as some other fans do. I never attended a book release or a midnight showing of a new movie, let alone dress up as one of the characters for such an event. Harry Potter didn’t change my life and was never really a central part of it. Nevertheless, the series is still special to me for all the entertainment it provided for the past eleven years.

The universe J.K. Rowling created, full of rich details, suspense, and humor, is one that I always enjoyed visiting. I loved how intricate the magic was and how much Hogwarts students had to learn. The wizarding world proved to be as complicated and full of drama and politics as the real world, and just as gripping, if not more so. I can still remember being so absorbed in the final chapters of several of the books that I couldn’t even move from my chair until I finished reading. Harry’s showdown with Voldemort in the Chamber of Secrets, the Dark Lord’s return to power at the end of the Triwizard Tournament, and, especially the Battle of Hogwarts were all especially captivating and suspenseful for me. On the lighter side of this universe, I always loved that the portraits talked and moved and even left their frames to visit other portraits, that Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans really did come in every flavor (including a few you wouldn’t want to think about…), and that the Weasley twins always knew the perfect prank or joke for every situation. The Harry Potter books could certainly be very dark, especially later in the series, but it’s things like these that I remember most fondly about the books, and they still make me smile.

While I don’t think I’d go so far as to say that I “grew up” with the Harry Potter characters, I always liked that J.K. Rowling made them relatable and gave them many of the same problems that adolescents face in the real world, from unrequited crushes to fights with friends to the obsessive drive to be a brilliant student.  Harry, Ron, and Hermione could sometimes be irritating, and they didn’t always get along perfectly, but I never stopped rooting for them or their friendship. I found Luna Lovegood hilarious and appreciated that Rowling made her deeper than her eccentric behavior and beliefs. But I think the Hogwarts student I came to love most was Neville Longbottom, who started off as awkward and fearful as could be, but grew up to be a brave and loyal friend who played a critical role in protecting his classmates and bringing down Voldemort once and for all. Then there are the teachers and staff at Hogwarts, especially the now iconic Professor Snape, who is easily one of the most complex characters ever included in a series written for children. The characters, though not all as well-developed as I would have liked, never seemed remote to me; they reminded me a lot of myself and people I knew, except that, well, they could perform a lot more magic than anyone I ever met.

What I appreciate most about Harry Potter as I look back, though, isn’t simply reading the books and watching the movies. It’s the memories my friends and I have from being fans of the series. Harry Potter led to so many jokes and discussions among my friends that I couldn’t possibly name them all here. We spent a lunchtime trying to match our high school teachers with the Hogwarts professors they were most like. We debated our favorite characters and which of the books and movies were the best—or worst. At one birthday party we sampled some of the candy based on the series, though I don’t remember what conclusion we came to about it now. We imagined what it would be like to go to Hogwarts and joked about transferring there when frustrated or bored with our classes in the real world. Sometimes we even mused over which male characters were the cutest, though as I recall, I never really thought of any of them that way. There was always a lot of spirited conversation and laughter when the subject of Harry Potter came up, and our shared enjoyment of the series was a wonderful addition to the camaraderie we already had. I’m still hoping to get to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter down in Orlando with a few friends someday; I can’t even begin to imagine how much fun that could be.

There’s been a lot of analysis of Harry Potter over the years, just as there usually is with any book series or any successful entertainment franchise. People have accused the books of promoting witchcraft, debated their literary merits, drawn parallels between the Death Eaters and Nazi Germany, suggested other symbolism, and talked about the moral lessons that one could glean from them. The controversies and commentary on the book are interesting and worthy of discussion. But ultimately, I think what matters most about these books is that they were entertaining. While I already loved to read by the time I picked up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in fifth grade, I know that Rowling’s powerful imagination and her ability to mix humor and suspense are what got many children interested in reading. The books were not only fun, but also a major turning point in their lives; reading was no longer a chore to them, but something they enjoyed and of which they wanted more. For me, the series was simply a joy to read and, for the most part, to watch. It was a fun experience to share with friends and gave me a lot of great memories. I hope Harry Potter will continue to entertain both children and adults for generations to come, and that they will get as much out of it as I did—and maybe even more.

Wuthering Heights: The Strange, Twisted, Brilliant Novel that Changed My Life Sunday, Jul 10 2011 

Wuthering Heights is one of those classics that tends to elicit strong reactions in those who read it. Thanks to a cast of unsettling characters, an uncomfortable Gothic setting, and the obsessive, amoral love story at its core, Emily Brontë’s only novel is one that fascinates some readers while simultaneously boring or infuriating others. Even fans of other works by the Brontë sisters are divided on Wuthering Heights; some love it as much as or more than Jane Eyre, while others vehemently insist that Charlotte Brontë’s novel is far better written and far more enjoyable.

Having read Wuthering Heights in both high school and college, I consider it not only my favorite book, but also one that changed my life. Reading it in English class during my sophomore year of high school opened my mind to so much about literature. I came to realize just how complicated literary characters could be, how setting can reflect plot and themes, and how much more interesting a book can be when there is no clear hero and little distinction between the good and the bad. While some readers have decried the twisted love story between Catherine and Heathcliff and especially Heathcliff’s bitter vengeance on Catherine’s relatives and their descendants, I was instantly enthralled with the strange relationships between the characters, the way Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange reflected the lives of their residents, and the themes we discussed in class. Simply put, Wuthering Heights was the novel that made me want to study literature like never before and lead to my decision to major in English in college.

Toward the end of my college career, I once again found myself reading Wuthering Heights for an English class. While I was excited to read it again, I also wondered if I would love Brontë’s novel as much as I had several years beforehand. I was thrilled to find that after several years of honing my critical thinking skills and learning more about literature, Wuthering Heights was better than ever. I had the chance to explore fully Heathcliff’s racial difference from those around him and its potential implications for the novel, as well as what may have inspired Brontë to include a Roma character. The brilliance of the structure of Wuthering Heights became clear to me; there is a reason, and perhaps even multiple reasons, for its framing, story-within-a-story format. With a deeper, more complex reading of the novel, its themes became more powerful and its plot more disturbing. While I had read and discussed plenty of other books between my first reading of Wuthering Heights and my second, seeing the novel again through sharper eyes made me remember exactly why I had chosen my major, and just how rewarding the study of literature could be.

I believe that the things that cause many to dislike Wuthering Heights are exactly the things that I love about it. Centering a novel on a mysterious, bitter individual such as Heathcliff provokes questions that would be impossible with a more likable main character. Especially after my second reading of the book, I found myself simultaneously despising and pitying Heathcliff, as well as finding much more to discuss and analyze about him than I would have a more conventional, romantic hero. As for the love story between Heathcliff and Catherine, I think it might shock some readers to find out that it isn’t the beautiful romance they often expect from literature, or that they had been told was part of Wuthering Heights (the 1939 film adaptation, which excludes the second half of the novel, has shaped many people’s image of what the book is really like). I’ll admit that I was initially a bit taken aback myself at the bizarre, obsessive nature of their relationship. I had not expected their passion to be so destructive and unchanging, especially in the years after Catherine’s death. However, their love story, if it can indeed be called that, is now a large part of what keeps Wuthering Heights so vibrant in my mind. It is a relationship in which both parties are entirely obsessed with one another, yet completely selfish. Their passion ruins others’ happiness and continues to do so for years after one of the lovers has died. The relationship between Catherine and Heathcliff is unlike any other I’ve encountered in literature, and it too inspires discussions that would never happen with a more typical love story.

I could go on forever about Wuthering Heights from a number of perspectives, but I won’t. I doubt that my praises here will change many minds, but for me, this will always be an extremely fascinating and special book—one that changed my life and my outlook on literature forever. Feel free to leave a comment about what you love or hate about this legendary novel, and how it has affected you.

In Which I Introduce Myself Saturday, Jul 9 2011 

My name is Anna, and I am here to talk about books.

I’ve always loved to read, and I think blogging is a great opportunity to share that passion and connect with bookworms like myself. In addition to reviews of both books I’ve recently read and long-time favorites, I plan to blog about book-to-movie adaptations, literary characters, and any other book-related topics that come to mind. You can also expect occasional posts on other subjects, but I’ll mostly be discussing books–especially since my “want to read” list is currently over 250 strong!

Once this blog gets going, I want to hear from you. Feel free to join in the discussion; there are few things I enjoy more than talking about books with other people who love to read as much as I do. Finally, I always appreciate book recommendations, so if you read something great recently, don’t hesitate to suggest it!