Sunday, September 29, 2013

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - J.K.Rowling

This is the Sixty-fourth in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

It is appropriate that Harry and Dumbledore dominate the cover as they dominate the story. Dumbledore has been a strong presence since the first page of the first book, but in this book he gets more screen time and much more depth.

Reflecting on the changing tone of the books as the series has progressed, it seems to me that they become darker as Harry becomes older, in some way reflecting the passage from child to adolescent and finally to almost adult. I'm not sure that this is a conscious thing from Rowling but the later books are more young adult in keeping with the age of the protagonists. As anyone who has read young adult fiction it isn't generally a pleasant place to dwell for too long!

The second last book in the series is an extended treasure hunt and has an ending that I didn't see coming and that I didn't accept until I had read the last book. As one has passages in a book that one doesn't like but has to pass through to get to the good parts, so this book is a passage to more cheerful things!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - J.K.Rowling

This is the Sixty-third in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

Over 700 pages! Enough said on that score.

I don't find the larger than life and ever present Voldemort all that scary. Professor Dolores Umbridge from the Ministry of Magic however is another matter. Her small minded, bureaucratic, saccharin coated meanness is all too believable and I think she is one of the great villains of the series. When the revolution comes she would my choice for first up against the wall! 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - J.K.Rowling

This is the Sixty-second in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

While I am of the opinion that the Harry Potter series hits a peak with the previous book, that doesn't mean that the remaining books are not excellent. They are engaging and draw the reader along relentlessly (with one exception that I will mention in a later post), full of invention and plot twists.

However the size of the books grows alarmingly, starting with one, and I don't believe that just because an author has a head full of ideas and a complicated plot that their publisher should indulge them. I'm sure any of the last 4 books in this series could be improved by a ruthless editor. This is something of a modern trend, and I don't blame publishers who need to make a quid in a tough market, but the quality of a bloated book suffers from this lack of discipline.

Minor quibble. Enjoy, take your time and go along for the ride.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - J.K.Rowling

This is the Sixty-first in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

I have no doubt that this book in the Harry Potter series is the best.

As a hardened reader of fantasy and science fiction I am not often surprised, but this devious and twisty plot was a surprise and a delight. There is also a poignancy about the relationship between the title characters that hits the right note. Coincidentally (or not) the film of the book is also, in my opinion, the best of the films by a long mark.

For me the series reaches a certain height in this third novel that isn't surpassed by the remaining books. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - J.K.Rowling

This is the Sixtieth in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

Following up a first novel with a solid second book is a challenge and Rowling steps up to the plate. She uses a clever mixture of the familiar, starting in Primrose Lane, and the new - playing with the expected routine to tantalise the reader. The characters are well established but allowed to grow as they get older.

Harry Potter is a pastiche of genres in some ways and the 'children as detectives' is a tried and true plot device that Rowling exploits to full advantage in her series. In this second book there are also darker elements that begin to intrude giving a hint at the deeper themes that Rowling explores as her series progresses.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - J.K.Rowling

This is the Fifty-ninth in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

Not all of the books on my bookshelf were published in the middle of the last century and I do have some 'modern' works that are a must-have of which the Harry Potter books are top of my list.

As I reflect on what to say about this first book I realise that it is nearly 16 years since it was published. I can recall that we had recently moved into our house and had our first child when I began hearing about these hot new children's books. This was before information was passed at the speed of light. News was forced to slowly filter out via the more traditional word of mouth and mentions in the paper. The copy I have on my shelf is dated 1997 but mentions the first three titles in the cover pages and was likely printed in 2000. I wasn't early to the scene of the Harry Potter juggernaut but as I read about Harry and Ron and Hermione I remember telling my better half that she had to read this, it was something special. I was right!

There has been so much hype around the Harry Potter phenomenon that going back to read the first novel again is a breath of fresh air. It moves at a terrific pace, is packed with ideas -big plot ideas that carry the seven books and small sorting hat, Diagon Alley, mirror of Erised, Quidditch ideas - and is funny. I think that with the latter part of the series being rather dark that one forgets that Rowling is very, very funny. She is also gifted with the naming of people and things, rarely misses a step in that regard and it is one of her under valued strengths. This is a laugh aloud book. Harry Potter is fast, fun, inventive and a delight.

I think it was C.S. Lewis who said that a children's book that could only be read by children wasn't much of a book, and in this regard Rowling nails it as well. This first book works as well for me as for my kids. Never too late to get on board the Hogwarts Express.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The World of Pooh - A.A. Milne

This is the Fifty-eighth in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

Speaking of iconic English bears I am delighted to include this ancient, battered and much treasured copy of Pooh. I can honestly say that the travesty of the Disney Pooh and his Disney friends have never been heard in our house but the original has been aloud with appropriate voices to the children and pondered for its simple wisdom and gentle irony, often quoted. To be enjoyed at leisure.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Bear Called Paddington - Michael Bond

This is the Fifty-seventh in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

It would be hard to think of anything more typical of the English than Michael Bond's Paddington. The bear is exotic (from Darkest Peru) but everything else is so whimsically English. The eccentricities of one's home are best exposed by a visitor from abroad. Paddington fits the bill to a tea.

Like other classics on my bookshelf there are so many derivatives that if one hasn't experienced the original (and best) then one is missing out.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Story of Doctor Dolittle - Hugh Lofting

This is the Fifty-sixth in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

As a child I was an avid reader of Hugh Lofting's Doctor Dolittle books. I would take out two or three at a time from the library and return them in a couple of days and look for more. I only have this single copy on my bookshelf, a copy that I bought for my kids, and I'm disappointed not to see the full set in the bookshops. I'm sure that silly film versions don't help! Might be time for a resurgence.

In any case my childhood was full of John Dolittle and his adventures.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Revenge of Samuel Stokes - Penelope Lively

This is the Fifty-fifth in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

This slightly more whimsical work by Penelope Lively is a delight. Gentle and pointed!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Astercote - Penelope Lively

This is the Fifty-fourth in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

In Astercote, Penelope Lively's first book, we see the blending of the old and the new that characterized her works. The new has an authentic, contemporary crispness that provides a backdrop for the memories of older times. I particularly like the very 70's cover art on this copy.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Ghost of Thomas Kempe - Penelope Lively

This is the Fifty-third in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

After my short run of Australian classics I thought I'd have a run of rather English children's books. I wouldn't say this was such a novelty as books set in England tend to dominate my bookshelf. For me, growing up in Australia, a Cornish village or a London street were interesting, exotic locations.

There are lots of things to like about Penelope Lively, especially her blending of historical and contemporary settings - a technique used by Ruth Park in Playing Beatie Bow. In this award winning novel I particularly like the way she has captured the exuberant joy of a boy's world and the low key use of fantasy.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Sun on the Stubble - Colin Thiele

This is the Fifty-second in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

Unusually for me this Australian classic has no hint of fantasy but nevertheless finds a place on my bookshelf. I suspect I was exposed to it first at school but it was good enough to survive being a set text (something publishers love but authors often don't).

This finishes my run of very Australian classics. I would recommend any of them for a flavour of the real Australia.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Taronga - Victor Kelleher

This is the Fifty-first in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

My search for Australian classics on my bookshelf found this excellent post-apocalyptic work by Victor Kelleher, providing a rather different view of Sydney's iconic zoo, which I've yet to visit in person. I'm sure there is at least one other of his books that has stuck in my memory, something to do with groves and I will have to go shopping!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

An Older Kind of Magic - Patricia Wrightson

This is the Fiftieth in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

My last bookshelf post made me wonder what other Australian classics I had on the shelf and so I went looking...

Patricia Wrightson is an icon and an inspiration, perhaps under appreciated. I can only find one of her novels on my shelf but I've read most of her works at one time or another. The lack of her others on my bookshelf is one that I will have to address!

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Playing Beatie Bow - Ruth Park

This is the Forty-ninth in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

I love a good fantasy, as you may have worked out from my bookshelf, and I particularly like one that is set in a realistic urban environment and this is Australian with an historical twist to boot. Having lived all of my life in Perth my vision of Sydney and a wider Australia was formed by books such as this.

Ms 14 has just finished reading it and comments "it is so nice to have a really Australian classic to read and with a protagonist my age". I couldn't agree more.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Coffee - greasing the wheels

I was pondering the role of coffee* in my working life and have come to the realisation that it is important. I am not the only person to come to this conclusion. Our recently retired Vice-Chancellor commented (I loosely paraphrase) that world class scholars needed world class coffee - and coffee shops that open after 4pm.

When I say coffee is an essential ingredient in my working life I don't just mean the act of drinking a hot brew, though that is self evidently a Good Thing. I am talking about the process of having a coffee with someone. This is different to having a meeting. If you are having a meeting then you would meet in a meeting room, have an agenda and commit to actions. You sent a meeting invite. You take notes. You try to get through the business efficiently so you can go and have a coffee.

However in my working life you often want to engage with someone, perhaps someone you don't know very well or someone that you want to sound out on an issue (that might lead to a meeting) or someone you just want to get to know better in the likely event that you may have common interests - now or in the future. These coffee catch ups at work are the not-meetings that help build the intangible network that makes up an organisation.

In days gone past you may have had a beer with someone at the club during lunch or caught them at the pub  on the way home from work (while the wife prepared your dinner). Today it is the coffee shop where you have a meeting of minds.

Coffee - the essential ingredient in building a working community.

* you can of course substitute any other brew of choice, I am using the word coffee in a generic 'hot or cold drink' sense

Monday, September 02, 2013

Masters of The Vortex - E.E 'Doc' Smith

This is the Forty-eighth in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

This last and later book in the lensman series is more of a story set in the lensman universe than a part of the series as such. Still enjoyable and rounds out the works by E.E. 'Doc' Smith on my bookshelf.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Children of the Lens - E.E 'Doc' Smith

This is the Forty-seventh in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

This is the real conclusion to the lensman series and brings the saga to a crunching and satisfying finish, tying up the loose ends and rounding out the story cycle.