Reading the End Bookcast, Ep.1: Jennifer Weiner, Where’d You Go Bernadette, and Arctic explorers

At last, at last, the promised podcast commences! Welcome to our inaugural (and slightly disorganized) Reading the End Bookcast (with the demographically similar Jennys). You can listen to the podcast in the embedded player below or download the file directly here to take with you on the go.

Advertisements

Review: Binny for Short, Hilary McKay

Oh I sure do like Hilary McKay, and I will tell you why. I like Hilary McKay because she doesn’t worry about inventing characters who don’t act and feel the way you tend to think likable characters should act and feel. Michael from Saffy’s Angel can’t be bothered with animals. Rose refuses to politely compliment her father’s art if she doesn’t think it’s any good. Binny from Binny for Short does not feel as sad as she knows she should feel about her father dying, even though he was a good father and she loved him.

Binny for Short is about a girl called Binny. After her father dies, her family is no longer able to keep Binny’s beloved dog Max; and Max goes to her grandmother, then is disposed of (to a loving family) by her awful Aunty Violet. Binny’s wrath about this is uncontainable, and although she works hard to be good to her mother, she holds a terrible grudge against Aunt Violet. It only gets worse when Aunt Violet dies and leaves her Cornwall cottage to Binny’s family. Guilty about her aunt’s death and still resentful of her for taking Max away, Binny makes an enemy of the boy next door, Gareth, and tries to sort out her new life in Cornwall.

Oddly, Binny for Short is more melancholy than the Casson family series, even though Binny is in a totally organized, non-dysfunctional family, and even though it has a happy ending. I checked in with my mother about whether I just found the book melancholy because melancholy things were happening that week, and she agrees that no, this is quite a melancholy book. Binny’s feelings about Max are hugely, unendingly sad, and she is full of anger and guilt. I love Hilary McKay for taking children’s feelings seriously, by the way. Children’s feelings are serious! Even as an adult, understanding the adults’ thought process re: Max, and the reasons that everything went down the way it did, I identified completely with what Binny was feeling all the way through.

Like the Casson books, Binny for Short is funniest when dealing with characters who are sort of matter-of-factly amoral, like Binny’s small brother James (prone to taking off his clothes in public to prove that he’s not a girl) and her sister’s best friend’s brother (does no favors for recent half-orphan friends of his sister). Rose Casson is this way in a lot of areas of her life (but not in many other very important areas! of course!), and it’s what makes her such a fun character to read.

Lovely Legal Sister bought this book from the UK for Mumsy’s birthday, and I sneakily read it when I was home for a visit. If you are based in America, you won’t regret buying it early from the Book Depository (the UK cover is much nicer); or you can wait until it comes out in the US on 23 July 2013. And if you haven’t read the Casson books, the first of which is Saffy’s Angel, may I also highly recommend that you get on that? You won’t regret it. You haven’t missed the window.

Changes are a-coming (and one of them is a podcast)

As some of you may know, I’ve been thinking about changing my blog name for a while now. I started up Jenny’s Books in college thinking that it would track my reading and entertain a few of my friends-and-relations. I really didn’t anticipate that it would last so long or that I would end up loving the book blogging community as much as I do. But so it has proved! So here’s the plan:

  1. I am renaming the blog. Yes! At last! I’m going to call it “Reading the End”. This is not the most hilarious of the blog names y’all recommended to me (that honor would go to Care’s idea, “Jenny’s Amazing and Not Boring Thoughts about Books and Other Cool Stuff You Need to Know About” or Kristen’s, “Thus Saith Jenny”), but it’s the one that I think will be most easily remembered, since almost everyone I asked mentioned the fact that I read the end before I read the middle.
  2. I am moving to a whole new site, a dot-com domain that I will own. The WordPress theme I’m going to use will be very clean and attractive; there will be a button you can click for a short(er) URL to each post; and the tags will be more clearly differentiated than in days past. I have been making some minor changes to the CSS and have proved to be a CSS GENIUS (hyperbole), so if there’s something you don’t love about the new theme when it shows up, I invite you to tell me so that I can make more CSS changes. Changing the CSS makes me feel powerful.
  3. The really really big news: I am starting a podcast. Eek! I am nervous about this part! I mentioned it very tentatively to Captain Hammer, and he responded with an outpouring of enthusiasm and ideas and offers of assistance. Thanks to enthusiasm from Captain Hammer and Miniature Former Roommate (woe! I miss you, Miniature Roommate!), I was brave enough to ask my friend Jenny (yes, we are both called Jenny) if she wanted to do a book podcast with me. And she did! So now we are going to do that. This is, like the new website, a work in progress. We did a test run yesterday and had a lot of fun, and I think we’re both really excited to record more.

So that’s what’s coming up over the next few months. If there are any books you particularly want us to talk about, or literary questions you would like us to address, you are (and will continue to be) strongly encouraged to email us at readingtheend (at) gmail (dot) com.

Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye is out in trade paperback today!

As requested, I am posting this reminder about the release of Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon. My review of the series is here. The gist of it is that Matt Fraction and David Aja have produced something really cool, stylish, and unique, and you do not need to be in on all of the Marvel backstory to think it’s incredible. Go buy it immediately. Buy it at your local comic book store if possible! Buy several copies for your friends and relations. It’s not fair to this character for everyone to be thinking of him in terms of boring oatmeal Jeremy Renner.

Revisiting Harry Potter: Goddammit, feelings!

Seriously, I’d have said that by this time, thirteen years since I read Goblet of Fire for the first time, I would be inured to how heartbreaking the last couple of chapters are. But here I am, thirteen years older and still wiping away tears when Harry tries to give his winnings to Mrs. Diggory. Why does Harry always try so hard to do the right thing?

Goblet of Fire is my second-to-least favorite of the seven books, my least favorite still being Chamber of Secrets. However, unlike in Chamber of Secrets, everyone in Goblet of Fire appears to be knocking themselves out to remind me why and how much I love them. Even people I don’t love that much. Like Percy! Don’t y’all love the part where Percy splashes out in the water to get Ron? It’s the nicest thing we ever see Percy do. This is the moment I would always point to when the Family and I would discuss, from the fifth book onward, whether Percy was irredeemable. We all knew Percy was going to turn out okay, didn’t we?

Or Hagrid. Oh Hagrid. When Rita Skeeter turns her evil green eyes on Hagrid, I want to put her in a cage with twelve Blast-Ended Skrewts and then set off a firecracker. You back off, lady. I know Hagrid makes people’s lives a little hard in this book with the Blast-Ended Skrewts, but honestly — and I hope Future Jenny remembers it this time, because I tend to remember them as being a major plot point in the book, which they really are not — they’re hardly a problem for anyone at all. When set against the awesomeness of the moment where Hagrid throws Karkaroff up against a tree for disrespecting Dumbledore, they aren’t even a blip on the radar. I do love those rare occasions when J.K. Rowling reminds us that Hagrid is a dangerous guy. That side of him never makes an appearance around Harry, whom he loves, but man. You would not want to be Karkaroff right then, amirite?

You know how later on in the series, Harry discovers that he’s destined to kill Voldemort? And he has a lot of talks about it with Dumbledore and eventually he realizes that because of what his life has made him, he wouldn’t back away from that even if he could? You know how Dumbledore sort of steers him around to realizing that this is true of him? I think if you had to pinpoint a time when it became true of him — like the day that it became inevitable that he was going to kill Voldemort — it would be this evening right here:

Lying in the darkness, Harry felt a rush of anger and hate toward the people who had tortured Mr. and Mrs. Longbottom…He understood how they had felt…Then he remembered the milk-white face of the screaming boy and remembered with a jolt that he had died a year later…

It was Voldemort, Harry thought, staring up at the canopy of his bed in the darkness, it all came back to Voldemort…He was the one who had torn those families apart, who had ruined all those lives…

And Harry is so brave and decent in this book. He and Cedric do not deserve the brutal consequences of their decency. They deserve a shiny prize and a big pile of Galleons. I got chills so intense I had to put on a sweatshirt when they were arguing about who got to take the cup. It’s such a good scene because the maze has felt very high-stakes the entire time, and all of a sudden they get Portkeyed to the graveyard, and that is JK Rowling’s way of telling us, You think you’ve seen stakes? You don’t know from stakes.

Finally, credit where credit is due, even though I never want to give Snape credit for anything because he is terrible, it’s insanely brave what Snape does at the end of this book. The way Voldemort so casually says He will be killed, of course — it’s not like Snape doesn’t know that’s what Voldemort would have said — but still Snape doesn’t even blink when Dumbledore sends him off to, for all he knows, die. Damn, Snape. I don’t want to praise you ever. This should be the only time it’s really necessary. I’ll have some sad things to say, but nothing else praisey.

Parenting Harry, Molly Weasley edition: Molly damn Weasley. I love her enormously. She’s so great. She shows up for Harry as a surprise before the third task, and, and, she refuses to badmouth the Dursleys in front of him even though they are obviously terrible. But mainly, she comes sit by Harry after he’s been through hell, and she tells him it wasn’t his fault, and she hugs him like a mother. I teared all up. What, what, what would we do without Mrs. Weasley? She sometimes tries to shelter Harry too much, but she is good and well-intentioned.

Parenting Harry, Sirius Black edition: Sirius is eating Rats. Rats. He is living on rats so he can be on hand to keep an eye on Harry. That must be maddening because Harry is a dope and always wants to go investigate crimes instead of staying put in Hogwarts and keeping his grades up. All of Sirius’s letters to Harry make me happy. Slash sad. Because Harry is a dope who doesn’t take his own safety seriously.

Sirius was sending daily owls now…He reminded Harry in every letter that whatever might be going on outside the walls of Hogwarts was not Harry’s responsibility, nor was it within his power to influence it.

If Voldemort is really getting stronger again, [he wrote,] my priority is to ensure your safety. He cannot hope to lay hands on you while you are under Dumbledore’s protection, but all the same, take no risks.

Aw, Sirius. I know that if you had your way, you’d be taking Harry out for awesome, like, wizardy expeditions every school holiday. Instead you are living as a dog, eating rats, and Harry is in near-constant danger, and you have to always be telling him to just stay focused on his own stuff and not go wandering off to address the ongoing problems of the wizarding world. Sirius is also, as Dumbledore mentions to Harry at some point in the book, a regular correspondent of Dumbledore’s. In my imagination, that means that Sirius has a big stack of copies of the same letter, which he sends to Dumbledore every Monday:

Dear Professor Dumbledore:

It looks like once again Harry has been placed in mortal danger on your watch. You are awful at keeping him out of mortal danger. Please try harder.

Best,
Sirius Black

P.S. He is all I have in the world.

Damn, y’all. It wrecks me when Harry comes back from Voldemort, and absolutely everyone is being careful and kind with him because they want so badly to help, but there is nothing they can do because the unimaginable trauma they wanted to protect him from has already occurred. Poor Dumbledore. Poor Sirius. Poor Mrs. Weasley. And everyone. It is heartbreaking.

Incidentally, if you are fixing to complain about Harry’s behavior in the fifth book, you are wrong. If you have any posts in the drafts folder right now where you get mad at Harry for shouting at people in the fifth book, please do the following: 1) remember your own adolescence; 2) reread the last few chapters of Goblet of Fire in which Harry goes through a super-horrific ordeal; and then 3) reconsider your position.

The Veronica Mars movie is so happening

I know this doesn’t mean Firefly movie sequel, but every time I look at the Kickstarter page, I think, Does this mean Serenity can have a sequel?

If you haven’t yet, consider heading over to the fundraising page and donating a few bucks. Partly because you want a Veronica Mars movie — right? — but mostly because you want to live in a world where a smallish group of excited, happy people can make something delightful happen.

Uh, and if you haven’t watched Veronica Mars, you should get right on that. It’s got a nearly perfect first season. I don’t know why you wouldn’t watch it.

Imaginary Reader Mail: Writing mean posts

And now for some Imaginary Reader Mail.

Dear Jenny,

Your post about The Devil in the Dark City was meaner than your reviews usually are. What gives? The last time you were this mean was about Stephen Marche’s awful book. Do you mean to suggest that Erik Larson is as bad as Stephen Marche?

Love and kisses,
[name redacted]

Gentle Reader:

You make some excellent points. Nobody is as bad as Stephen Marche. To my inexpressible joy, everyone else now agrees with me on account of that Megan Fox profile. How I do love being vindicated! When I mentioned my dislike of Stephen Marche to Acquiescent Roommate and he asked if that was the same Stephen Marche who had written the worst thing ever, I thought he was teasing me. But no! HaHA! The universe actually said, “Correct as usual, Jenny!” to me via Vice.com. Thanks, universe! I am frequently correct about things!

The reasons for my uncharacteristic crankiness with Erik Larson are two in number:

1. He is famous and popular, so there is very little chance that my mean blog post will come up in the first few pages of search results for The Devil in the White City; thus very little chance that any substantial number of people will find that particular post. If my opinion were likely to be encountered frequentlyish upon googling Erik Larson, I would have spoken more moderately. However, most people who are aware of Erik Larson seem to like Erik Larson, so my small post will not make any difference. Nor is it likely that Erik Larson will ever happen upon my blog while self-Googling and have his feelings hurt. He is much too fancy for that.

By contrast, my blog is the fourth result to come up if you search “was Ted Hughes a cad?” If the blog post thus found were intemperate about Ted Hughes’s caddishness, I would consider editing it. But it isn’t. It says exactly what I feel on that topic. Yes, he was a cad, but not so much of a cad that he deserved to lose two significant others and two children to suicide.

(Gentle Reader, I will confess that I just said the last part because I wanted to brag that my blog comes up when you search “ted hughes cad”. Because that makes me happy.)

2 (and more important). I had to read The Devil in the White City for book club. I didn’t have a choice. When I wanted to stop reading it, which was at 20 page intervals throughout, I couldn’t. Because book club. Every time I wished to switch to some other, more agreeable book on my Nook, I couldn’t. I had to just grind my way through Devil in the White City no matter my level of disinclination. One thing I have learned about myself in the years of writing this blog is that I am very rebellious against reading constraints of any kind. When I try to make a reading plan for myself, I always, always rebel against it. Having to read The Devil in the White City when I didn’t want to made its faults that much starker.

Thank you, Gentle Reader, for your imaginary mail.

Love and kisses,

Jenny