Harry Up, Already

Yes, I’m desperate for the sixth book in the Harry Potter series to be published, already. I realize that in some circles this marks me as a rube, a sucker, someone sucking at the mass-market teat. The type of person who, if he wanted Chinese food, might go eat at P.F. Chang’s.

I don’t care. If Roger Ebert gets to like monster movies, I get to like Harry Potter.

I actually do agree with A.S. Byatt that J.K. Rowling does not, in fact, write beautiful sentences. She is not a writer’s writer. She is, however, a superb storyteller who is crafting an intricate tale that is true enough to its archetypes to bestir recognition in most readers. And I like that she can flit back and forth between light humor and earnest seriousness so smoothly: that’s a trick that other writers stumble over regularly.

So yes. I have the book pre-ordered at Amazon, and whenever I encounter an article about it, I read it. But that’s not quite enough to fill the time, and the new branch of the Carnegie Library in Squirrel Hill just opened, and it turns out they have lots of books.

One of these books I picked up because Christina recommended it: Sorcery and Cecilia. Apparently, Susanna Clarke’s Johnathan Strange and Mr. Norrell must have struck a nerve (or being cynical, must have sold fairly well), because suddenly you can’t shake a stick without accidentally whapping a book about magicians in Victorian or Edwardian England. Thwap! Here’s Sorcery and Cecilia. Smack! Here’s The Bartimaeus Trilogy. One wonders what the next trend in light genre fiction might be. Religious cult leaders in 1920’s Hollywood, perhaps?

In any event, I’m finding it an enjoyable, if somewhat silly, read. I’m often critical of fanfiction because I find it intellectually lazy: it feels to me like fanfiction writers are substituting someone else’s developed mise-en- scene, characterizations, and overall setting and then grafting their plot onto it. And plot, generally, is the least interesting and unique part of a novel. To some extent, I feel like this epidemic of neo-Victoriana is similar: really, there are only so many Elizabeth Bennetts I can take before succumbing to despair. The fact that your Elizabeth Bennett is, say, evading a sinister spell in Covent Garden, or, let’s see, having tea with Arthur Conan Doyle in Nevada, while helping Calamity Jane track down the murderer of her lesbian niece, Annabel Lee doesn’t really improve the quality of the writing.

But, of course, I’m not reading Sorcery and Cecilia because I’m looking for superb writing. I’m just waiting for Harry. And in that respect, it fits the bill perfectly.

I’ve also been dipping into David Brin’s Uplift novels, mostly because someone mentioned to me that they were the inspiration for the Star Control games. I’ll have more to say about those another time.