5 Things I Learned When I Critiqued Harry Potter

For awhile, my critique partner and I were reading and critiquing published novels. One day, he suggested critiquing Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, a book we’d both enjoyed. I’ve read every Harry Potter book multiple times, and while I know they’re not perfect, I also know that they’re wonderful.

But an odd thing happened when I read Harry Potter with an eye to critique it. I found tons of flaws. If JK Rowling had brought the manuscript to group, I would have probably shredded it.

It taught me valuable lessons that have somewhat changed the way I approach critiquing and being critiqued.

  1. No book, no matter how wonderful, is perfect. These books are among the most popular of all time. A book doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to invoke that magical connection with the reader.
  2. If you look for the flaws, you’ll find them. The “flaws” in Harry Potter were always there, but I wasn’t looking for them, so all I saw was what I enjoyed. When I started looking, they were everywhere.
  3. Anyone can find the dirt in someone. Be the one that finds the gold.   (paraphrased) Proverbs 11:27

  4. Flaws don’t interfere with the reading experience. I’d never noticed any of the so-called flaws before I went looking for them. In some books, I can’t ignore the flaws. They’re so glaring and make me angry. But any flaws in Harry Potter melted into the background because the story, the characters, and the setting are so engaging that the rest were just details.
  5. When writers bring work to group to be critiqued, I should balance looking for flaws and enjoying the story. It’s not an easy thing to do, read with both my critic hat on and my reader hat. I want to point out as many “flaws” as possible so that the writer sees them. That doesn’t mean they have to change everything I point out, just that they should be aware of them. At the same time, I need to ask myself, “Would I read this story if I weren’t critiquing it? Why or why not?” It makes a difference to what I point out and what I choose not to.
  6. My story is never going to be perfect, and it doesn’t need to be. When other group members ask me questions I don’t have answers to, or that I just didn’t put in the story, I feel myself tightening up, like I should have all the answers to every possible question anyone can think of. (Overachiever alert!) JK Rowling didn’t answer every question I ever had about the Harry Potter universe, and I still love those books.
  7. “Perfect is the enemy of good.” -Voltaire

  8. Critiquing Harry Potter was probably one of the best things I could have done. I can know that there are flaws and still love it. (And read past them when I reread it in the future.) Have you ever tried critiquing a published novel? What did you learn from it?
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Late to the Proverbial Book Party

IMG_9361.jpgHave you ever come to an author or book after everyone else has read it, and wondered, “How did I miss this?”

This happens to me fairly frequently. In the past, it was because I stubbornly ignored popular recommendations, figuring that any book that everyone was reading had to be overrated. (I was young and stupid and didn’t end up starting Harry Potter until Prisoner of Azkaban was out. Lesson learned.)

Nowadays, I’m not sure how I miss the in books. Maybe because I don’t pay attention? Maybe because I have so many books to read that they just keep getting bumped to the bottom of the pile? No idea.

Well, I just discovered Liane Moriarty. Her books were recommended by a few people, but I just never got around to reading anything by her. Then I found Big Little Lies at Goodwill, and the rest, as they say, is history.

At first, I didn’t think I was going to like the book. The writing style seemed odd to me and it took me a few pages to get into it. Also, there are mini-interviews interspersed in the story, dropping hints about an event that happened, but not telling what happened until the end.

Describing it now, I’m not sure why it worked for me, but it did. Eventually, the words on the pages disappeared, and I was in the story.

Now I want to read everything she’s written, which is always a nice feeling. It’s like I’ve discovered this wonderful secret, and my universe has expanded. Yes, I realize I didn’t discover her, but it feels like I did, so don’t burst my little bubble.

I’ve been resisting reading Game of Thrones, but writing this post, I realize that I’m doing the same thing I did when I was younger. *sigh* I think I’m going to have to at least give it a try.

Have you ever been late to the party in discovering a books or author? Any books that everyone else has read that you’re not interested in?

 

U is for Umbridge

Hello, and welcome to Blogging A to Z 2017! Thanks for stopping by. Fellow A to Z-ers, please make sure to leave a link to your blog in the comments.

My theme this month is 26 of the Best Characters in Fiction.

IMG_8447Yes, this blog is about Delores Umbridge. From Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by JK Rowling (in case you’ve been living under a rock or something).

You may have noticed by now that I like villains and antiheroes. I like complex characters who make you see their point of view.

I loathe Delores Umbridge. I wanted to see something awful happen to her. Like being forced to watch reruns of Jersey Shore. Or being dismembered.

It’s not just because she tortures Harry. I always kind of liked Snape. Even before the last book, I always thought he was good, deep down. Like Vader.

But everything abut Delores Umbridge is detestable. She talks in a sickly sweet voice that makes me want to vomit, even when I’m reading the book and not actually listening to her. She has plates of creepy kittens (and anyone who makes kittens a bad thing deserves to die, in my book).

She’s got her own agenda, which is Villain 101. But she runs roughshod over the other teachers, respecting nothing and no one who opposes her. Every time she tightens her grasp, more slips out of her grubby little fingers.

But all this is what makes her such a great villain. Every once in awhile, it’s nice for things to be in black and white. There’s no reason to like her. Even He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named wasn’t as horrible as she was.

And that’s really saying something.

Who’s your favorite villain?

Some of you may have seen my “V” blog go live for a brief second this morning. I apologize… apparently I don’t know my alphabet. If anyone wants to send me back to Kindergarten to relearn it, as long as I get snack time and nap time, I’m in.

G is for Guy Montag

Hello, and welcome to Blogging A to Z 2017.

My theme this month is 26 of the Best Characters in Fiction.

IMG_8343I’m ashamed to admit that I only recently read Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury. Guy Montag is a fireman. But in this universe, firemen don’t put out fires; they burn books. A chance encounter with a strange young girl makes Guy question why they must burn books.

The world depicted in Fahrenheit 451 is superficial and frightening, with people mindlessly consuming media. They don’t have TV; they have walls of media. Shows take up whole walls in the house, and it’s an immersive experience that blurs the lines between fiction and reality.

Guy starts to question this reality, and steals a book to see what’s the big deal. Why would anyone risk their lives for what’s in the pages?

He’s not a comfortable character to visit. He goes a little crazy at one point, and makes bad decisions. But I can’t imagine what it would be like to start off believing that books are okay to burn (the thought makes my heart hurt) and then to begin questioning everything you know.

Imagine all the ideas destroyed! Imagine every copy of Harry Potter being wiped out, every copy of The Handmaid’s Tale, or All The Ugly and Wonderful Things.

Would I burn a book if I’d been taught my whole life that they were dangerous things that needed to be eradicated? Would I ever crack one open and discover magic inside?

I’m not sure I like Guy. I’m not sure I can forgive him for some of the decisions he makes. But he’s interesting, a product of his universe.

To one extent or another… aren’t we all?

Just Stop With the Harry Potter Stuff Already, Okay? Just… Stop.

img_7684My husband and I recently hung out with his family, and my sister and brother-in-law couldn’t believe that not only had I not seen Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I really, really didn’t want to. They asked if I’d read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and I had to explain that it wasn’t even a real book.

I was slow to board the Harry Potter train (see what I did there… c’mon, that was funny!). People told me how great the books were, but because I’m contrary, I didn’t read them. But by the time the third book was out, I decided that I should read the first one so I could tell everyone that they were WRONG for loving them.

Yeah, it didn’t work out that way. I loved the first book. And the second. And the third. So I was crazy with anticipation as I waited for the fourth book to come out. I went to the bookstore at midnight. I told everyone who’d listen how great the books were. And I think I lost four copies of the first book after I loaned them out and they were never returned. That’s okay though… at least I introduced people to the magic of the world.

I love the books. If I got my letter to Hogwarts tomorrow (a few years later than most people), I’d be on Expedia buying a ticket London, heading to King’s Cross station before you could say “Accio Adulthood.”

The books aren’t perfect, of course. But they were good, and fun, and I enjoy re-reading them.

In my mind, there are seven books. The series is over. I don’t want to read the screenplay or see the spin-offs. I was happy with the ending, and anything else is likely to ruin it for me. It’s like when I have the perfect dinner, and eat one bite too many of dessert. Then I feel sick and start to regret the whole meal. Or when I go to paint night, and I like my painting, but because I’m done with it before everyone else, I fiddle with it, adding strokes or details, and eventually add too much and then I hate it.

Enough is enough. Seriously.

The Harry Potter series is seven books. As far as I’m concerned, the others don’t exist. Leave me be in my happy world of denial.

How to Win at Life

 

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Longhorn Cavern State Park, Marble Falls TX

There are no great stories that start without adversity. No one wants to hear about the rich man who got richer or the smart woman who got smarter.

We want to hear stories about people who beat odds. Who overcame obstacles.

Sometimes those obstacles are external. Life situations like poverty or bad parents. Racism. Oppression.

Sometimes the obstacles are internal. Like mental health issues. Perceived messages from others, like “You can’t do it” or “you’re not good enough.”

If Scrooge had been a philanthropist from the beginning, there wouldn’t have been a story. The narrator in Fight Club started off feeling powerless, and went on to make something bigger than himself. Abraham Lincoln was poor and mostly self-educated.

I know many successful people who beat themselves up for not being perfect. Of course, they know they’re not supposed to be perfect, will tell you that it’s impossible to be perfect, but then stress out over mistakes.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Maybe because we know we’re capable of being better than the mistakes we make? Maybe because we judge ourselves by our mistakes and worst behavior? Or we’re worried that others are judging us that way?

I’m sure that it’s all more complicated than just one or two reasons. Our brains are magnificent, frustrating, complex entities, capable of creating art and science, and capable of telling us that others have nothing better to do than remember when we say or do something we shouldn’t have.

Here’s the thing: your life is just a story. It’s a series of memories, and moments. You get to pick what you put int that story. You’re the narrator. Are you going to pick on your main character every time they screw up? Or are you going to treat them kindly, putting in only the learning from the mistakes?

Most of us don’t focus on all the times Harry Potter screwed up. He destroyed Voldemort in the end, so what does it matter that he drove a car into the Whomping Willow or that he didn’t learn occlumency? People still read Twilight, despite the fact that Edward was an emo sparkly vampire. (Maybe not the best example. And yes, as much as I make fun of it, I read and enjoyed Twilight. But please don’t tell anyone.) We still like Kevin Smith, even after Gigli.

Mistakes don’t define us. It’s how we deal with mistakes that counts.

X is for Crossover books

IMG_5580I don’t have a specific book for “X.”  I tried, but I got nothin’.

So instead of a specific book, I’m going to talk about crossover books.

When I was a kid, people either read kid books (which included young adult) or grown up books.  Then, along came Harry Potter, which everyone read.  After Harry Potter was Twilight, and suddenly the barrier on YA was blasted wide open.  Now it’s a legit genre for adults, and everyone is reading it.

I’ve never stopped reading young adult books and even some middle grade books.  If they’re well-written, I don’t see any problem with my enjoying them.

I’ve had people ask me why I was reading a particular book, “Isn’t that a kids’ book?” and my answer is always, “Because I like it.”

Since everyone started reading young adult books (or admitting they do), it does mean I have more people with whom I can discuss these books.

I think that genre is becoming less important with books than having them be interesting with characters people can connect to.  They also must have at least a little magic.

Many of the books I’ve written about during this challenge are books that I loved as a kid and still love as an adult.  Special mention of several other books that I won’t be talking about during this challenge, but have also managed to stick with me: Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls, Watership Down by Richard Adams, Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter, anything by LJ Smith, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.

Are there any books from childhood/ teenage years that you still read?