Friday, 16 December 2011

Death Comes to Pemberley - P.D. James

I am a girl who studies English Literature. Obviously, I love me some Pride and Prejudice. The passion of Mr. Darcy, the wit of Elizabeth Bennet, hell, just the use of the word 'ardently' is enough to have me happily sighing all day. I have seen every movie adaptation and enjoy passionate debates about the relative merits of Darcy versus Bingley. 

I am a girl who grew up with Sherlock Holmes and has watched more detective television than I know what to do with. I have seen so many Japanese crime dramas that I know words like 'suspect', 'prosecuting attorney', 'suicide' and 'blood-splatter' in Japanese. There is absolutely nothing I love more than a puzzle coming together in an interesting and unexpected way. 

You would think with these two very different facets of my personality that I would love Death Comes to Pemberley. A detective story in the style of Jane Austen, Death Comes to Pemberley takes place six years after the end of Pride and Prejudice. Darcy and Elizabeth live at Pemberely with Georgiana and their two sons. Jane and Bingley live close by and come over often for visits. It's all quite idyllic and typical.

The beginning of the novel finds the Darcys on the eve of their annual ball, preparing everything and receiving guests. Late in the night, while a few of the family are remaining in the dining room, there is a frantic knock on the door. Lydia Wickham is hysterical, claiming that Wickham has been killed. And then she faints.

It's definitely a great start to a story, to be sure. The problem is that this tale reads less like a detective novel and more like a court procedural. Darcy and Elizabeth, of course being very proper in their manners due to the customs of the time, don't actually do any of the detective work themselves. Well, Darcy does a bit but only as far as his jurisdiction as the man of the house goes. Otherwise, there are new characters running around and doing police procedurals, Austen-style.

This might be actually interesting if there were any actual detecting going on. This is more of an open and shut case. Of course, there are some twists at the end but most of the novel is Darcy, Colonel Fitzwilliam and a new character trying to figure out what they're going to say on the witness stand. In a study of Austen-era courtroom drama, I suppose it's interesting. For a book marketed as Jane Austen meets Sherlock Holmes, however, it's a disappointment.

That's not to say that I didn't enjoy it. There are definitely some fun moments and it's nice coming back to familiar characters that are written very much in Austen's style.The insight to what has happened in the six years between the novels is entertaining and if only for that, it's an interesting read. 

If you were coming to watch LIzzy Bennet solve a murder, though, you unfortunately have another thing coming.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

My Name is Molly and I Like Comics

As tomorrow is the third meeting of my beloved Comics Gosh!p, I think I should drop the bomb on all of you: I love comics. 

I always loved comics ever since I was a little girl. Admittedly, I wasn't huge into the superhero genre but I'm pretty sure I had a good ten years worth of Scooby Doo and Star Trek: TOS that are still up in my closet. Yes, I was an extremely dorky child. 

I grew out of the comics buying mentality around high school but little did I know that I'd be drawn right back in. I mean, yes, I went through that four year phase where manga is your life but that is not what I'm talking about. You see, my life was about to be overrun by comic book artists.

One of my best friends in high school was a girl named Tally Nourigat who has since gone on to become an up and coming graphic novelist. When I moved back to Portland after the earthquake this spring, Tally was one of my few friends who still lived in town. Clinging to her for company, I found myself in the midst of a large, close knit group of local comic artists and basically some of the nicest people I've ever met. 

Tally took it upon herself (at my okay) to begin educating me in comics. I would say I have a fairly good schooling in classic literature and pop lit but when it comes to comics, I was very far out of the loop. Since getting closer to my new friends and moving to London and seeking out (and finding!) more of them, I'm continuing my education on my own. And I think you guys should join me as well. This week, I'm going to share with you a few of my favorite books. Feel free to suggest more.

Mysterius the Unfathomable by Jeff Parker and Tom Fowler

This may be my favorite comic book of all time and high up there in my books in general list, as well. As a fan of Sherlock Holmes since my childhood, I easily fell in love with this story of a psychic/magician and his new assistant. The wonder of this story is that there is so much and it seems to be unrelated but it all comes back in a cohesive story. Our stand in of Delfi is relatable and fun but the most compelling character is obviously Mysterius himself. I fell in love with this miserable louse the moment he first appeared. The plot is remarkable but it is the characters that drive this piece and there's not a thing I would change (except for perhaps adding more).

Batgirl Year One by Scott Beatty, Chuck Dixon, Alvaro Lopez and Marcos Martin

I love the Year One books because I can get into a mythos of a character without actually knowing a whole lot about them. Although I knew few things about Barbara Gordon before picking this up, I don't think it made a huge difference to my enjoyment. Once again, this is full of well developed characters and impassioned storytelling. It's easy to watch Barbara make her decisions and become the person she ends up. Not to mention the art is gorgeous. I keep trying to find a copy of this at my bookstore but I can't. :(

Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol

You can tell I like these for the characters, can't you? This is another amazingly crafted tale of a young girl trying to find herself. Anya just wants to be a normal girl at her school and all seems great when she meets a ghost that decides to help her become popular. When the ghost becomes a bit too determined, however, things start to go downhill. WIth amazing art and interesting pacing, this story is definitely a page-turner. 

Emitown by Emi Lenox

Okay, this is a bit of pandering because Emi is a friend of mine but still! This book is marvelous! It's a comic diary Emi's been keeping for ... forever, it seems. She uses her art in a very interesting way to capture her day to day life, including super heroes and cat armies. Emi is an amazing person and she makes her diary fun to read. Also, there's a second volume coming out in February. Although you can read Emitown for free on her website, she's a bit behind and the new volume will have something like 170 pages of new material. Awesome? Awesome.

Hemlock by Josceline Fenton

Also, I am all about the small press, if you didn't realize. I had the pleasure of meeting Josceline Fenton when she came to a Gosh!p meeting where we were talking about, what else?, Hemlock. I had only read through Hemlock due to that meeting but I'm so happy it was introduced to me. A Scandinavian fairytale, Hemlock follows a witch Lumi and her man-turned-frog familiar. The characters are engaging, the art is quite perfect for the storytelling and this fantastical world is slowly revealed with each new page. Even better, you can read Hemlock online here (it updates on Fridays) and the first three volumes are out in print. Josceline has the whole story planned out in six volumes, as well, and it's nice to know there's in end in sight. I can't wait to find out what happens!

Between Gears by Natalie Nourigat

Okay, you're going to have to wait a few months for this one because it doesn't come out until February but it's already my favorite graphic novel of all time, mainly because it's written by my beloved Tally. Her senior year of college, Tally kept a sketch diary on Between Gears and in February it will be collected in graphic novel format, with tons of bonuses (including a foreword by yours truly!). Tally realistically portrays her life's ups and downs throughout the year, not holding anything back and really creating a unique piece. I think you'll love it but that may just be the friendship talking. You can, of course, still read the original at Between Gears.

Well, that's all for today, I think. I'll definitely post some more graphic novels and comics up here. I've been meaning to do it for awhile but there's nothing like finishing your essays and just generally hanging in Humanities 1 of the British Library to get you motivated. Enjoy! 

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Shades of Grey - Jasper Fforde

I hate to admit this but it's true: I have never read a Thursday Next novel. I know that they're very popular and have such a major literary theme and they're detective novels (my love!) and despite the fact that the first book in the series has been sitting on my shelf since some point during high school, I've just never flipped it open. To be honest, I was never quite bothered by it, either. I knew they were probably good but so were lots of other books and I'd get to it if I got to it. I may have to make an exception now.

I'd been curious about this novel since it came out; not because of the plot (as I had no clue what it was) but due to the different covers. They were all very interesting. After looking at them all in Google Image Search a few minutes ago, I think I prefer the one that I read (this one) but all of them are just, to put it simply, cool. They draw the eye and even if the book is crap, the cover is aesthetically pleasing enough that I'd happily put it on my bookshelf if only as art.

As you can probably guess by the cover, color plays a big part in the novel. In this completely uniquely thought out society, social hierarchy is determined by what colors a person can see. As such, there are different social circles for Greens, Reds, Blues and the like. Like any other book with such a complicated and new world, Fforde creates reality but, while he clearly knows every minute detail, only shares with the reader need to know facts (and sometimes not even those), letting us struggle through the first fifty pages, true, but ultimately giving us a greater understanding through our own observations. I never realized how well I'd absorbed the world until I tried to describe the setting to a friend who'd never read it and found myself tongue-tied. 

Our hero is a young Red named Eddie, sent to the Outer Fringes with his father due to a small rule infringement on his part. Despite his determination to keep his nose to the ground, marry a high-hued girl and live as boring a life as possible, mysteries just keep appearing in front of him and he is, unfortunately, cursed with a keen sense of curiosity. As he navigates a murder (possibly two, possibly three), the curious case of a wheelbarrow at night, ghosts, the apocryphal man who lives in his house, the pretty young grey girl who obviously wants to punch him in the face, never mind a conspiracy that may go all the way up to the top of the top, Eddie finds much more than he bargained for. And he just may be killed for it. 

Despite the fact that I had (have!) essays to be writing, this page-turner of a book was done in two days. I honestly could not put it down. Even if the plot itself slows in parts, just the world creation alone is worth a look. And although I'm not completely satisfied with the way the book ended, there are still two more to look forward to. This is a great set up to what I'm sure will be a great trilogy.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Good people of the Blogosphere!

I apologize immensely for the great hiatus I have inadvertently taken. Between finishing work at home and moving overseas, not to mention my graduate school work load, it's been a lot to go through.

It's somewhat exactly like this.

However, I refuse to let this blog die, especially since I have recently read some amazing books that are much deserving of praise. Also, I need something to keep my mind off of the upcoming essay due dates that are biting at my heels, like essay due dates are wont to do.

Like this, although not quite as adorable. Also, this picture looks remarkably like my friend Carrie.

I have not forgotten you! I will be back before the end of the week, I promise.

That is, if Prince Hal and Rumour in 2 Henry IV doesn't eat me alive first.

Until then, keep reading!

Monday, 1 August 2011

Book of the Week - Week Four


It's always nice to have friends that love books as much as you do. Mainly because I'm rather horrible at picking books--I like the randomosity factor now and pick books from the shelves at whim or send the children I nanny out in search of something that catches their eye. When I was at my friend Colin's place the other day, I mentioned this in passing and he gave me the eye, saying "Why don't you just ask me? I love books." Which was a very good point. I went home with an Ikea bag full of his and Terry's favorites.

The first one I read, which I had been excited to check out since Colin mentioned it, was this week's book Einstein's Dreams. Framed within the period of Einstein working on his Theory of Relativity, the novel explores different ideas of how time could work in a society, each short chapter a different idea that floats through the mind of a sleeping genius.

Beyond the stereotypical time conventions ala Benjamin Button or time stopping, this book is filled with interesting scenarios presented in a dreamlike but powerful manner. What if time slowed the higher up you went? What if time slowed the faster you went? What if, every once in a while, time just blinked out for a second? What if you couldn't tell what was a cause and what was a result? 

The style is beautiful, full of imagery and poetically phrased ideas. Each chapter is also maybe three pages long, giving just enough to introduce the idea but let it linger with the reader. Although I did hastily get through this book in one evening, I considered what I should have done was read one of the dreams a day and let myself think about each before moving on. I might have gotten more out of it that way. It was just too interesting to put down, though.

Beyond all of the wonderful things I'm saying about the prose and the ideas inside, I also want to point out that it's only 140 pages of sparse but fascinating prose. It's definitely a quick read. Not something thrilling or page-turning but meditative. I very highly recommend it. 

Oh, and all of my google searching for the cover image informed me that apparently it's also a play? Part of me is intrigued and part of me is worried that it would be very Brechtian in production. I've never really liked epic theater and I could just see this great book becoming pretentious and pompous onstage. Read it instead of watching a bunch of actors try to make you think you like modern art please.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Book of the Week - Week Three

It's time again for 


This week's book was chosen because I simply can't stop telling people about it. It's called The Island at the End of the World and it's by Sam Taylor, the author of The Amnesiac which I have not read but it sounds fantastic.

The basic plot of the book is that there has been another great flood and the sole survivors are a small family unit: Pa, Alice, Finn, and Daisy. They have lived for years and years on a small, idyllic island which seems to fulfill all their needs. One day, however, a boat is spotted on the horizon and a stranger wanders into their perfect world. While Pa worries that this will spin the world he has created out of control, the children start to grapple with what this new addition to their tribe could mean.

Now, to be perfectly honest, the only reason I picked up this book in the first place was that it was published by Penguin, my favorite publisher and holder of my undiminished faith in all of their novels. Twenty pages in, however, I was dismayed to find that perhaps I had for once picked the sole rotten apple in the bunch.

My main problems with the beginning of the novel had to do with their narratorial style. Each chapter switched between first person narrators, from Pa to Finn and back again, switching to Alice later in the book. While each of these narrative voices are very powerful, unfortunately, young Finn's style, having been raised on the island, is completely phonetic. While an understandable choice, it becomes grating to read and the novel seems more like an exercise in patience than an interesting read.

Sticking through it, though, proved gratifying. The story the novel tells is interesting and the last twenty or so pages were as page-turning as the best of them. I absolutely loved the conclusion. 

The absolute best part, however, was Alice's narrative voice. We don't get to experience it until about halfway through the novel, when Finn's narration switches to Alice's. One of the details in the book is that Pa had only brought three books with him on the ark: a book of children's fables, the Bible and the works of Shakespeare. Knowing that that is all Alice has known since she was a young girl, her voice is a beautiful mix of normal speech and Shakespearean poetry that heightens the strong emotions as the novel races towards the inevitable conclusion.

This book is nowhere near perfect and very hard to get into but I feel it rewards the reader at the end, telling a complete and thought-provoking story. Definitely worth a try. 

Monday, 18 July 2011

Book of the Week - Week Two

Time once again for ....


In honor of this week being one year since moving to Japan, I picked this week's book from one of Japan's most famous authors, Haruki Murakami. An important figure in postmodern literature, Murakami has written many books that have been published to great acclaim all over the world.

The book I have chosen, After Dark, is by no means one of his most famous. You'd have to find Kafka on the Shore or Norwegian Wood for those. No, this is a short little novel he published in 2004 (2007 for us English speakers) but my favorite simply because it was the first of his I read.

A short novel at 208 pages, it takes place in the lives of several people over the span of one night in Tokyo. A student studying at Denny's. A manager at a love hotel. A girl in a deep sleep at home. Each of these characters, as well as several others, manage to intertwine their lives with those around them yet stay a distant presence at the same time.

An interesting look into the alienation of life in a big city, the thing I find most amazing about this book is the way it reads. The only way I can think to describe it is that it reads like watching a play. The images are so clear and so direct that it just happens in your mind's eye. And although there is no doubt as to what is happening, there is a vagueness and murkiness about it, too, as if the reader should be looking deeper or finding the meaning to the hollow areas.

It may not be his most famous piece or one of the deepest things you've ever read but it's a good taste of Murakami and a good starting book. If you have some time to sit down, it's a fast, interesting read. 

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

A Little Bit of Background

Hi. My name is Molly and the two things I love most in this world are books and journeys.

This was the first result for "books and journeys." Despite my lack of masculinity and jungle journeys, I feel it's appropriate.

Now, that isn't to say that there aren't other things I'm interested in. I watch much too much television and there was a point in my life when I could rattle off the names of countless Japanese celebrities. But if you were to ask me the two things most important to me at any time from the ages of three to twenty three, I would have no hesitation. I love to read and I love to go places.

I've been in love with books since the first time my mother took me to story time at my local library when I was two. I have vivid memories of wandering up and down the halls of the old library, knowing every inch of the children's section and, with the addition of the new self-check machines, helping confused adults check out books while my mother stood in line for our holds. 

There's just something incredibly magical about losing yourself in a book. There is no other medium that sucks you in like that, that mesmerizing state of imagination and prose, when no matter where you are, you're somewhere else. I can honestly remember periods of my childhood where I'd sit down on a couch with a book and look up to find it somehow hours later and my stomach growling out of nowhere. 

I looked something like this, but more modern and way less coifed.

If you recognized anything of yourself in those last few paragraphs, you should know that I now consider you a kindred spirit.

I think it was all those books at a young age that inspired the second love. I never said that I loved travelling. No, what I always wanted was a journey. Like all the characters from the books I loved so well, I wanted to head out with a purpose and discover things along the way. Of course, I probably wouldn't be the best heroine as a four year old but I'd like to think that as time passed, I might just have inherited those qualities of a classic novel heroine. 

If those animals could do it, so could I!

As such, I've taken pretty much every chance I could to go pretty much anywhere. As a kid, I traveled all around America with my parents, visiting ever-moving relatives and seeing lots of different sights (some I wanted to see, others not so much). It wasn't until I was older that I caught that world travelling bug. A trip to Japan in high school awakened the desire to see different cultures around the world and so, during college, I took every opportunity to fly off into the wild blue yonder. I recently figured out that, since 2008, I haven't gone more than six months without taking an intercontinental flight. It's frantic, it's tiring but, by gosh, it's the journey my life has taken. 

Molly's Journeys


July - Niigata, Japan
A school exchange with a small group of my friends to a small city in Japan. That's where it all started, friends.


January - Ireland
A class on the history of Ireland took me on a tour starting and ending in Dublin, hitting cities like Belfast, Derry, Galway and Killarney on the way. It was glorious.

September through December - London, England
A semester sent abroad at Queen Mary University in the East End of London. Good friends, good classes, good adventures.

November - Copenhagen, Denmark
A visit to another friend studying abroad. I never thought I would go to Denmark but I'm so happy I did. It's like a storybook.


April though August - Tokyo, Japan
Another semester abroad at Sophia University. With my group of four great friends (Angela, Tegge, Amy and Jenny), we pretty much conquered the city. It was an amazing experience.


January - Italy, France
Another class, this time on Christian Art History took me from Florence to Rome to Paris, with several stops along the way. It was certainly interesting, from a crazy group of students to freezing churches in January. 

July through December - Tokyo, Japan
Here's where we met at first, dear readers. A job teaching at an English school in Tokyo brought me back to the city where I had my greatest adventures. Sadly, I didn't have my four companions beside me but a few new friends helped the time go by.


January through March - Tokyo, Japan
The last few months in Japan were filled with a bit of stress and a surprise ending. Although it was tough at times, it was good, too and I'm happy it happened.

September through September 2012 - London, England
Is this my first time announcing it on the blog? I'M MOVING TO LONDON! I was accepted into University College London to get my Masters in Shakespearean Studies. So don't worry, this book blog isn't going anywhere.

And that's it, folks. That's the girl who's writing all of these nonsensical posts. I definitely turned all of my studious travels into mini-adventures that I promise to fill you guys in on. And now that I'm moving abroad again, you'll be the first to know when something ridiculous happens over in the UK. 

You know, as long as I can write about it on the internet.

And hopefully it is as awkward and hilarious as failbook

Monday, 11 July 2011

Book of the Week - Week One

Time to introduce a new corner of the blog. Every Monday we're going to have...


Our very first book of the week is Harry Potter. I wanted to choose something a little less well known but as the last movie comes out this Friday, it seemed only appropriate.

If you haven't read Harry Potter yet, well, I'm not quite sure how you've managed to get along in this world til now. Harry and his classmates have not only enchanted millions of children into reading but have created a whole generation of young adults waiting for their Hogwarts letter. It has gone beyond simply a series of books and has become a marker of a time period, something that connects people of a certain age with that same dream, "what's your sign?" turning into "what's your house?"

I'm a Hufflepuff, by the way.

The last movie is coming out this week and for many of us, it seems like a marker of the end of our childhood. We grew up with Harry and his friends and now there will be no more new magic. But that's the wonderful thing about books: they're always there for a reread. There's always some little detail that you forgot about, a spell that slipped your mind. And Harry, Ron and Hermione will always be a part of our lives, for as long as we want them to be.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

It's new, it's exciting, it's the BRAND NEW 'LIT NERD AROUND THE WORLD!'

Let's face it: this blog has become boring. I'm so far behind on my book reviews that it's become worrying to even think about it and I try to ignore it whenever possible. Which I shouldn't because, deep down, I do love this and want to update it. So, it has come time for a drastic change.

Not that drastic

There will no longer be super long book reviews where I'm rambling mostly to fill up space. There will be lots and lots of different content, from personal stories to tidbits about different countries to thoughts on different literary genres. The point of the blog will be the same (and, of course, there will still be book reviews, if shorter) but hopefully, it will be much more fun.

One can only hope as fun as this

Ideas? Things you'd like to see? Drop me a line. I'd love to hear more ideas.

Example: This is a great idea

See you all soon!

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Why Molly Isn't Dating an Irishman

An idea struck me last night as I sat in a poetry reading with a friend: this blog is called Lit Nerd Around the World. And while I'm sure the literature aspect is very well covered, I haven't really delved into 'around the world.' I do travel quite often and, as in all travels but especially in ones of a college-age traveler, there tend to be a lot of interesting stories that pop up. So, let's give this blog a bit of a revamp: I'll still be writing all my literature reviews (which I am woefully backed up on) but I'm going to add on travel stories. Because, to borrow a phrase, sometimes real life is stranger than fiction.

I think I'll start off this new angle of the blog with one of my favorite stories from one of my first times abroad. I call it: Why Molly Isn't Dating an Irishman.

These are the most important players in all my Ireland stories. I'm third from the left.

When I took my trip to Ireland, I was twenty years old and one of the youngest members of our group. It was a month long class from my college that made a giant loop around the countries of Ireland and Northern Ireland, stopping in major areas and learning about Irish history. While the days were probably my favorite parts of the trip, being a really dorky girl who loves history and stories, the obvious favorite of everyone else were the nights, where everyone had free reign to do whatever they wanted and what they usually wanted to do was go to a pub.

I've never been much for bars or pubs, mainly because I don't drink but pubs in Ireland are different. They're comfortable and really encourage you to meet other people and just enjoy yourself. To my surprise and delight, I found I could happily spend every night in a pub with my friends. And so, most nights I did.

One night, however, I found myself stuck at the hotel. It was about midway through our trip and we were in a small fishing village around Donegal called Killybegs. Although the town was tiny and smelt of fish, it was quite a favorite of the trip because our group was 4/5 girls and the town was 4/5 men.

Killybegs! It's beautiful but smells of fish.

We spent two nights in Killybegs. The first night, my roommate was feeling a little under the weather and asked if I would stay in with her. I informed my friends that I was doing that and spent a very chilly night tucked into my tiny twin bed, reading Friday's Child by Georgette Heyer. When I found them the next morning at breakfast, I discovered that I had missed one hell of a night. My friends had met several men down at the pub and had spent a fun evening being typical young women in the presence of nicely-accented young men. They told me that there was no way I was getting out of going out that night. I didn't argue, mainly because I was curious to see this strange drama play out in real life.

That night, after a tour of an authentic Irish wool shop and some sight-seeing in Donegal, my friends decided they were going to "pretty me up" for the night. I had a habit of not wearing makeup and spending every day in a tee shirt, jeans and a giant sports jacket, certainly comfortable for Ireland in January but not the most attractive look in the world. They had me borrow a top from Nora and did my make up and I was, to be quite honest, a little embarrassed. I wasn't used to this and ended up wearing my jacket the whole night.

Well, the three of us went out and, to their disappointment, could not find the men from the night before. We wandered from pub to pub, finally ending in one down the street from our hotel, where we apparently ran into the least attractive man from the previous night. He found a table for us and bought all the girls a drink. He started chatting up my friend Christina and another man came from somewhere to talk to Claudia. I sat there, blissfully zoning out while my friends were preoccupied when I felt a tap on my shoulder.

I turned around to find possibly one of the most attractive men I've ever seen in real life grinning at me. He said, "Hello, there," in a gorgeous Irish accent. "My name's Shaun. What's yours?"

I managed to squeak out "M-M-Molly."

"Well then, Molly," he said with a big smile, "what are you doing the rest of the night?"

It was midnight at this point, I was the definition of a nerdy A student and apparently terrified of attractive men so I answered in a very high-pitched voice "Probably going back to bed. I have class in the morning."

Shaun, however, would not let my obvious awkward nature deter him.

"Well, my friends and I are going down to the disco around two. Maybe I'll see you there?"

I'm sure sheer terror was in my eyes.

"Yeah, m-maybe."

"I hope I do," he replied, before giving me a wink and heading back to the bar. 

Here is where my propensity for an overly comical reaction wins out: I took one look at my friends, muttered "I'm going back to the hotel" and full on ran out of the pub. I didn't look back, just ran all the way down the street and didn't stop until I was in the hotel lobby, collapsing on a couch and realizing what I had just done. 

I sat there, talking to another trip member who had happened to be down there and trying to make sense of my ridiculous reaction, for a half or hour so before my friends came back and proceeded to tease the life out of me. They did begrudgingly admit, however, that somehow I had attracted the most attractive man of the trip. You know, despite my running away from him.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

[037 & 038] Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban/Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban & Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

What the Back of the Book Has to Say:

Prisoner of Azkaban:

For twelve long years, the dread fortress of Azkaban held an infamous prisoner named Sirius Black. Convicted of killing thirteen people with a single curse, he was said to be the heir apparent to the Dark Lord, Voldemort.

Now he has escaped, leaving only two clues as to where he might be headed: Harry Potter's defeat of You-Know-Who was Black's downfall as well. And the Azkaban guards heard Black muttering in his sleep, "He's at Hogwarts...he's at Hogwarts."

Harry Potter isn't safe, not even within the walls of his magical school, surrounded by his friends. Because on top of it all, there may well be a traitor in their midst.

Goblet of Fire:

You have in your hands the pivotal fourth novel in the seven-part tale of Harry Potter's training as a wizard and his coming of age. Harry wants to get away from the pernicious Durselys and go to the International Quidditch Cup with Hermoine, Ron, and the Wesleys. He wants to dream about Cho Chang, his crush (and maybe do more than dream). He wants to find out about the mysterious event that's supposed to take place at Hogwarts this year, an event involving two other rival schools of magic, and a competition that hasn't happened for a hundred years. He wants to be a normal, fourteen-year-old wizard. Unfortunately for Harry Potter, he's not normal---even by wizarding standards.

And in his case, different can be deadly.

Why I Picked It Up:

A continuation of the plan from October to re-read the Harry Potter books.

What I Think:

You may have noticed that I have combined both the third and fourth Harry Potter books into one entry. That is for convenience's sake. There are going to be five novels coming up so I've combined books with similar themes (at least, things I think of as themes) so as not to run out of things to say. Not that a flood of Harry Potter related posts wouldn't be a great thing but I don't want to begin repeating myself.

The first four books of the Harry Potter series have a very different feel from the later three. These books are about the magic of the series, about friendship and school and loyalty and fun. These are the books centered around Harry's Quidditch matches, balls to go to and the hijinks that typical children can get into when they go to school to study magic.

It seems as if this is a reflection of the ages of the characters. Harry and company are thirteen and fourteen for these books. There is still the innocence and wonder of childhood in these stories. Although there are elements of danger and the threat of Voldemort always hanging in the air, it's more of an afterthought, something that one has no trouble believing Harry, despite being a very young boy, will triumph over.

The main reason I think people are able to get beyond the idea of the danger Harry could honestly be in is that the magic world is a place where children get what seem to be life threatening illness almost every day: Hermione turns into a cat for a spell, Harry gets bit by a basilisk or a charm goes wrong and someone walks to the nurse's office with a six foot long tongue. Despite horrible things happening to children almost daily, they become almost an afterthought. All of these problems can be treated magically, if a bit painfully. Harry even has to regrow bones after a bout with Gilderoy Lockhart. This unbelievable remedy in the magical world, however, only requires one (rather painful) night's sleep. 

Yes, Rowling has created a world where anything can be cured by a spell or a potion. The only problem with this is the background that heavily influences the ideas of the books. We have been told over and over again about the old war, about all the people who died under Voldemort's reign of terror, not to mention Harry's own mother and father. All these acts of tragedy seem hard to reconcile this with what we know of Madam Pomfrery and her array of magical remedies. 

So in all of this wonder and magic of childhood and friendship, there is an underlying dissonance between what we see and what we hear. What could possibly be as evil as we're told in a world where nothing is quite as bad as it seems?

And here is where the brilliant transition of the fourth book comes in. In the last fifty or so pages, there is a complete one eighty in tone. So far in this book, Harry has faced dragons, merpeople and the press, all coming out mostly in the clear, not to mention all the creatures he battled in the three previous books. The reader has a vision of Harry as indestructible, a character that faces danger but is never really menaced by it. And then he and Cedric Diggory are kidnapped by Deatheaters and the first real blow to our vision of magic is stuck: someone dies.

The death of Cedric is especially dramatic because it hasn't happened before in the series. Sure, we know Harry's parents died by Voldemort's hand but we didn't witness it and this certainty, this sudden slap in the face of reality really changes the tone of the entire series. Hogwarts is no longer just fun and games; now there is a direct threat to the lives of all of our favorite characters and no one is completely safe.

And so, just like that, Harry Potter manages to slowly move a generation of children into adulthood. But of course, first must come that strange, horrible, delightful period of life known as your teenage years. But that's a post for another day.~

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Where Were You When the Earthquake Hit?

I find it very appropriate that on March 11, 2011 at 2:46 pm, I was sitting in my classroom, awaiting children and reading The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing. I only had fifty pages left and I wanted to finish it so I could head to the library on my way home the next day. 

On any other Friday, I would have already been at home by this time or at least, almost there. I usually got off work at 1:30 on Fridays, on account of only having two classes that day and had taken to going on a long walk on my way home. I was working overtime that day, though, due to the fact that one of my coworkers had been hit by a car a few days previous. Looking back, I'm not entirely sure if it's a good thing I was there or not. On the one hand, I wouldn't have had to walk so terribly far but on the other, I had company and could offer a place to go for my friend E, who couldn't get home. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I was the first one to feel the beginning of the earthquake, mainly because I was sitting down. I looked up and glanced at my coworkers, trying to figure out if I was really feeling an earthquake. Earthquakes are not a rare thing in Tokyo and most of us just kind of let them do their thing and move on with life. It wasn't until coworker Y in the other room shouted "Earthquake!" that we all got up and started heading towards reception. We could already tell this earthquake was strange; it had been going on for far too long. We all stood in reception, looking at each other blankly when a construction worker who'd been up on the seventh floor burst into the door and shouted at us in Japanese, "You need to get out of here!"

That's when the dam broke. We all rushed to the doorway, shoving our shoes on unceremoniously as we suddenly realized just how much the building was swaying. I have a distinct memory of trying to decide if I should bring the book that was still in my hands down with me and instead, setting it on top of the shelf. We all ran down the emergency stairs, shrieking as they swayed beneath our feet. Jumping out into the street, the whole picture finally became clear. Each building in our surrounding area had evacuated and we all stood in the street, watching the world around us tilt. Skyscrapers swayed from side to side. Streetlamps made strange noises. The ground, the pavement, felt like a very solid waterbed. 

I'm not sure exactly how long it lasted. It felt like ten minutes but it surely couldn't have been that long. Even when it was over and we all stood, catching our breath, we didn't know quite what to do. Go back inside? Stay outside in case of aftershocks? It turned out the decision was made for us. There were only two ways of getting back into our building: elevator or emergency stairs. The elevator's power had gone out in the quake and the door to the inside from the stairs had slammed shut behind us in the shaking. We were, effectively, trapped outside. 

I was the unluckiest, as I was dressed only in a tee shirt and jeans. I got various clothing donations from people around me, including a scarf from a man that was randomly passing on his bicycle. We all made jokes, strange gallows humor, mainly because no one was quite sure what to do. My friend and coworker E showed up, having come from our other building a ten minute's walk away. That's when we had our first big aftershock. We had been outside for an hour at this point.

Finally, we realized that while we couldn't get to the third floor, we did have a room on the fourth floor with a computer we could maybe reach. Safely in our room from the fourth floor, my coworker H bravely tried to kick down the emergency ladder that would take her to the third floor balcony. We advised her against it but like Spiderwoman herself, she made it in and opened the door to all the things we had left behind in the rush: coats, house keys, cell phones. 

Still not really understanding the severity of everything that had happened, I went on Facebook to inform others that I was indeed still breathing and okay. The only immediate problem was getting home. It was already five o'clock by this point and none of the train lines were running. I lived an hour away from work by train and set out google mapping how to get home on foot. The other two native teachers who were there, D and E, set out with me.

I don't know quite how to describe that walk. Since the train lines were down, every person who had been away from home when the quake hit was in the same boat as us. It felt like an exodus. An endless trudge with every other poor person just wishing they were home. The women in their heels. The old people waiting in miles long lines for the buses. It was bizarre.

D walked half of the way with us while E was coming home with me, her apartment being in the other direction and closer to the ocean. It took us four and a half hours and fifteen miles to get to my apartment. It wasn't until we got back and I talked to my mother on Skype when I realized the extent of what we had just lived through. We hadn't seen any of the destruction on our long walk, only talking and scowling and soreness. When we turned on the television and saw what was going on up in Miyagi, that's when it hit us. 

The next few days are a bit of a haze to me, to be honest. I remember some details perfectly but most of it just sits in my mind as a general feeling of dread, a fear hanging over everything I did. 

I went to work the next day, against my wishes. Although the train lines didn't open up until halfway through the school day, our boss opened school, the only English school open in Tokyo the day after. We got in a fight. I came home and my mother called me on Skype, telling me she and my father wanted me to come home. I wanted to come home. I went to work the next day only to quit. My boss wasn't happy about it. He spent an hour lecturing me, making me cry and making up bullshit reasons why I was making the worst mistake of my life. I only remember sobbing and the sympathetic face of my coworker N who was waiting for me outside. At least I got a few pictures with my Sunday kids before I left teaching in Japan for good.

It takes a lot of effort to leave a country and I had to do everything in three days. I cancelled utilities, moved out of my apartment, donated half of my wardrobe to Salvation Army, and just tried to feed myself in a place where every store had been picked over by panic buying shoppers. I fought an old lady for a box of bento and lost one afternoon. I had to eat ice cream for lunch as it was the only thing left. 

My friends in Japan were supportive. I had two last minute going away parties. I tried to give them things from my apartment that I wouldn't need anymore. I still worry about them, although most did leave Japan for a period right after the worst of it hit. All are back now and I do miss them terribly.

I don't miss the general haze of fear that settled over me those last few days, though. Waking up to the earthquake alarms that go off automatically on all cell phones. Sitting there, shaking and just hoping it would stop soon. Having a giant aftershock while I sat at the airport, an hour before I needed to head to my gate and hoping nothing would happen to the runway so I could just go home already. I know this is rather dramatic but I honestly felt like I could die at any moment. There was an 'end of days' feeling that surrounded everything I did and my heading to the airport on Wednesday was a deadline, a beat the clock idea that stuck in my mind. No one knew what was going to come next. Every day was rumored to be the next big aftershock.

I made it out, obviously and now sit here on my parent's couch, comfortably back in Oregon. I've kept up my good reading habits from Japan and still head to my local library every two weeks or so. I will admit, though, that it's not quite the same. I love the Beaverton City Library but there are just so many options. I miss the surprise of not knowing what I would read next. I miss the random footnotes in half of the editions. Hell, I just miss the Ogikubo Public Library. I hope the next new gaijin in Suginami City discovers the treasure trove that I will always miss.