Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

51MU5VilKpL Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Book 1)
by J.K. Rowling

This is going to be short and sweet, because, really, what can I say about Harry Potter that hasn’t already been said?  I finally read it – the first book of the series, anyway – sixteen years after it was published, and almost as many since it became one of the biggest deals in children’s literature.  I hadn’t planned on ever reading it, but I appreciated Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy so much that it warranted, finally, a look at what else she’s done.

On the off chance that you haven’t read Harry Potter and don’t know what it’s about, it’s about a young boy in contemporary England who is orphaned as a baby and unwillingly taken in by his mean aunt and uncle.  The circumstances of his parents’ demise are rather mysterious, but it’s well known – at least among witches and wizards – that it was at the hands of the evil Voldemort, although Harry believes that they died in a car accident.  Poor Harry, neglected and abused by his aunt and uncle and tormented by his spoiled cousin, has little to look forward to, until one day – shortly before his eleventh birthday – a letter arrives for him.  Actually, a deluge of letters, the contents of which have his aunt and uncle scrambling to ridiculous lengths to run from.  Finally, the letter catches up with them on a deserted, storm-swept island, by way of Hagrid, a giant and gamekeeper of Hogwarts, the premier school of witches and wizardry to which Harry is being summoned by the letter.

And so begins Harry’s education as a wizard.  It is at Hogwarts that Harry learns of the true circumstances of his parents’ death, his own seemingly royal status, and where he befriends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger who accompany him on his many adventures.  Harry proves to be a good student, a formidable Quidditch player, and a brave wizard who finds himself in numerous scrapes in his quest to fight evil.

The beginning of the book reminded me very much of Roald Dahl’s writings, and although I’m not much a fan of fantasy, I enjoyed the book and can see what kids find so appealing about it.  Rowling is a talented and imaginative storyteller; I’m looking forward to reading her newest grown-up book.  Maybe I’ll find time to read the second Harry Potter book before too long.

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

200px-The_Casual_Vacancy The Casual Vacancy
by J.K. Rowling

First, a confession: I have never read J.K. Rowlings’s Harry Potter series.  I very well may be one of very, very few holdouts.  There are a couple of reasons I’ve never read them: first, I’m not necessarily a big fan of YA or children’s literature – not that I absolutely won’t read anything in those genres, but they are not my preferred genres.  Also, I have found that the more everyone and their brother is reading something, the more I balk.  Not that I don’t read best sellers!  It’s hard to explain.  It’s like this: if people keep telling me, “You have to read this!” the mule rebel in me silently yells, “Back off, Mofo!”

I bought The Casual Vacancy when it was first released a while back – mostly for my then-fifteen-year old son to read because he’s a huge J.K. Rowling – or at least Harry Potter – fan, and I also thought I might read it eventually, because it’s not Harry Potter.  Kevin read it and enjoyed it but advised me that I probably wouldn’t like it because it’s “depressing.”

Then it was chosen by my book club for this month, so I read it.

I liked it.  A lot.

The setting is Pagford, a quaint little town in England, situated next to the larger, much less quaint town of Yarvil.  A certain plot of land was transferred from one to the other town a number of years back, and on that plot of land a housing development named The Fields went up.  the Fields houses hoodlums, ruffians, junkies, prostitutes, dealers, and down-and-outers.  Oh, and Bellchapel Clinic which doles out methadone and treats the addicts.  The Fields is a blight on Pagford’s topography, and the citizens of Pagford want it transferred back to Yarvil.

The story opens with the untimely death of one Barry Fairbrother, Pagford Parish Council member and beloved citizen and resident.  Fairbrother was one of the few champions of The Fields and Bellchapel, and with his death, which creates an empty seat on the Parish Council (or a casual vacancy), the disagreements that quietly simmered below the picturesque surface of Pagford blow up into an all out civil war of sorts.  Families are at war with each other, council members are at war with each other and with town residents, teens are at war with their parents.  There are so many memorable characters and intersecting of relationships – for the first third or so of the book I had trouble keeping track of everyone, but that’s probably the only negative thing I can say about this book.  At the center of the story is a family who live in The Fields, and their plight is bleak and heart wrenching.  The story culminates in events that completely took me by surprise – all along I saw what I thought was foreshadowing and I thought I knew exactly what was going to happen – but boy, was I wrong.

Very adult themes – reading it, I was cringing a little knowing that my teenage son had already read it (although I know I read at least as bad, if not worse, when I was his age).

This story really got in my head, and I think it will stay with me for a while.

And, I may even read Harry Potter now.