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Why I’ve Never Read Harry Potter and the Deathly Stone of Secrets

For some reason, many of my friends seem to believe that I’ve read all the Harry Potter books. For the most part I play along, not wanting to get into any confrontational situations. I don’t want to step on my friends dainty toes and I don’t want them stomping all over mine.

Kids these days…. Credit: baloo-baloosnon-politicalcartoonblog.blogspot.com

In truth, I once tried to read the first book, but didn’t get to far. I must have been around ten years old. I’d seen the first (and possibly the second?) movie, but for some reason I had assumed that the book would be way too smart, and boyish and difficult for me to handle. Then one day, my  younger brother’s (probably unread) copy was lying around, so I picked up and started reading. I was actually pretty impressed. It wasn’t above my reading level. And I actually liked it.

But then an unforeseen predicament arose. I got bored. Reading it felt too easy. I’m not really sure what this means, or what it meant to ten-year-old me, but I distinctly remember feeling unchallenged and putting it down and never picking it up again. I don’t even know where this copy is to date. My family does not (and has never) owned any of the other Harry Potter books. My siblings and I are perhaps the only products of our generation, living in North America, who have not read this cultural phenomenon of a series.

I am very entertained by the fact that, because I’m ‘a reader’ and a future English major, my peers assume I commiserate in their love and admiration for Harry Potter. I think that our interpretation of these facts about me are a little off base. The way see it, the facts that I’m ‘a reader’ and a future English major are why I have still snobbishly avoided reading this series. I also I have better books to spend quality time with.

Along the same lines is this little scenario: Knowing that I read, a girl in my gap year program asked me if I’ve read Fifty Shades of Grey. She was literally aghast when I told her I hadn’t and made a general inquisition to those in the lunchroom, beginning with the question, “Okay, who here’s a reader”.

Really, this was the cutest thing I’ve ever witnessed. I’m sorry — very, very sorry — but the term ‘books’ is not synonymous with the term ‘literature’. The fact that someone reads a lot means nothing in my highly pretentious mind. And to me, Harry Potter is not literature. (Although, I will be the first to admit that Anne of Green Gables, i.e. my most favouritest book in the world, is not really literature either. But that’s entirely different. Obviously.)

Anyways, going back to “HP”, I find it very entertaining to think about how far back my snobbery goes. Even as a little kid I was pretentious with regards to reading material. Sorry, the little hipster in me seemed to say, this is just too mainstream. This was before I was conditioned to be pretentious and judgmental in order to feel good about myself and my life-choices. This was before I even started reading real literature — what already was I reading back then? Junie B. Jones? Little House on the Prairie? And yet, I closed Harry Potter and the Something or Other a few pages in, already thinking that it was just not good enough for me.

Of course, it’s not like I’ve ever read the books, so I can’t truly comment on this without coming off and kind of ignorant — and seeming ignorant is something I try to avoid when possible. Which is why I’m choosing this forum to make my somewhat pointless point. Real life conversations about such things freak me out. I don’t know how to think on the spot and then make my mouth say the things it should. I’m terribly afraid to offend people and spit all over their personal preferences and tastes when we’re face to face. And they tend to respond to my points, because apparently that’s how conversations work.

Also, I try not to ruin my friends’ illusions about my commiseration in their fandom. And I’m pretty good at playing along. I think my brother and I had a marathon of all the movies a few years ago (although I really can’t recall how the series ends, maybe I didn’t make it to the end) so I do know enough to keep up. One of my good friends even sends me Mean Girls/Harry Potter mash-ups on a regular basis, knowing how much I love the former and probably assuming I feel the same about the latter.

So, to be very open with you, this post is in response to situations I keep finding myself in. My friends (and teachers and teachers’ children) here keep finding out that I’ve never read these darned books and they are always being so shocked about it. So this is my crummy rebuttal that the people to whom this response is directed probably won’t even get. But those of you on my side will get it. And I much prefer preaching to the choir over preaching to the ignorant masses anyways.

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Eating Up “The Waves” by Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf’s The Waves is just a really long, complicated poem. By which I mean, I didn’t completely understand it, but it sounded really nice.

It follows six friends through their lives, from childhood until death, and is narrated by each of them in turn, in strange, trance-like streams of subconsciousness. These streams of sub-consciousness are told entirely using direct dialogue that does not seem as though it is actually being spoken. Breaking up chunks of this ‘dialogue’ are chunks of narration that describe the scenery, the waves and the sun on its journey through the sky, which mirrors our heroes’ and heroines’ journeys through life.

The words and sentences ebb and flow together like the streams of consciousness that Woolf alters between. But where waves can be messy, her tight prose weaved seamlessly together like the cotton threads in a gauzy, flowing scarf.

But, to write up another comparison, my experience with the book was kind of the opposite of how one views a pointillist painting. From far away, seeing it as a whole, it becomes a blur of metaphors and symbols that I can’t grasp. But up close, in one little sentence at the top of a page, a phrase a few paragraphs down, an excerpt later on, I bit into delicious morsels of truth.

Obviously there was a whole feast of truths and ideas, covered in brilliance sauce. But, for a little not-yet-an-English-major like me, the morsels were all I could get at. All I could appreciate. They were sweet champagne, bubbling over in seductive flutes, that anyone might sip. The rest was a deep red wine with notes of this and that, which my inexperienced palate couldn’t yet detect.

But I’m learning that that’s okay. I’m young, I don’t have to know and understand and appreciate every nuance in every piece of literature I read. I can take and enjoy my morsels and come back for a second plate of more substantial dishes later. Because the sumptuous spreads laid out in books never spoil. And you can come back later for seconds and thirds and even fourths. And what you gain from this kind of face-stuffing goes to your brain not your hips.

Twitter Poetry and a NYPL Contest

If you don’t know the premise of Twitter — posting micro-thoughts of up to 140 characters — you must be anciently old or infantile-y young.

There are obviously some polarized thoughts on this no-longer-new form of expression.

Blah, blah, deteriorating attention spans, darn lazy young people, blah, blah, blah.

Blah, blah, new forms of expression, advancing society, blah, blah, blah.

Blah, blah, social media marketing, brand-consumer interaction, blah, blah. Blah.

Was that quite enough blah’s to make your brain hurt? Okay then, moving on. I think that all those people with the polarized views are missing the point. As people with polarized opinions often. Yes, I think it’s a shame that people’s attention spans last about five seconds due to the constant stream of… whatever, but I read somewhere that decreasing attention spans has been a lamentation-du-jour for centuries.

And as a writer, Twitter’s limited space for expression is a great place to practice using language economically. “Brevity,” as we learn in Hamlet “is the the soul of wit.” I agree entirely with the sentiment, despite the irony of the fact that it comes from Shakespeare’s long-winded, dull Polonius. This is true whether we’re discussing humour, poetry or a novel. Why waste a paragraph on what can be said with more strength in one sentence?*

Really, twitter works with the same premise as poetry. I think my creative writing teacher from last year explained that poetry is prose distilled, and I think that in an ideal twitterverse, tweets are blog posts distilled.

They’re also a great medium for an up and coming form — Twitter Poetry! That’s right, poems composed of 140 characters or less. The New York Public Library has caught onto this trend and they are having a super cool poetry contest! You can find out all about it on their site and enter if you have a twitter account and live in The States (which I now do, so yay me!). The contest only runs until March 10, so get writing and check out my submissions at @asolitaryramble!

May the brief, witty, poetical forces be with you! (Whatever that’s in reference to…. Seriously. I have no idea what I’m referencing there. Something science-fiction-y?)

*Disclaimer: the only form that this does not hold true in is the academic high school (and possibly university) essay. In such pieces of writing, it is essential to be as redundant as possible, rephrasing the exact same idea using different words and examples as much as you can without absolutely dying of boredom. For some reason, teachers love this and will call your work things like “excellent” and give you mid- to high-nineties. There will be the occasional hundred-percent, but only if you say in five paragraphs what could have been summed up in one sentence.

Goodnight Room

Goodnight laptop. Goodnight iPhone.

Goodnight sleeping roommate.

Goodnight books

that I loved last year.

Goodnight books I’ve yet to read.

And to all those books I’m almost finished.

 

Good Lord! What have I done with my night?

 

Goodnight Facebook friends I’ve stalked,

I know it’s been five months since we’ve talked.

Goodnight Modcloth. Goodnight Anthro. I’ve had enough

of pinning you.

Goodnight to my school’s fun Facebook group

and to that post that-got-seven-hundred-comments-in-two-hours

all from the same seven girls.

 

Good Lord! What have I done with my night?

 

Goodnight to YouTube and

to the-poems-I’m-handing-in-tomorrow-

instead-of-the-short-story-my-teacher-asked-for.

Goodnight to the blasted fan and its incessant fanning.

Goodnight to my dry contacts, now where’d I put those glasses?

Goodnight to my teddy bear, she’s lonely in my big bed at home.

And goodnight to my blankets here that keep me warm and snuggly.

 

This post is not so very long. I thought it would be fuller. Of reasons I am up so late.

I guess the blame can just be placed

on loud, fun, crazy housemates.

It seems as though someone stole my idea. Before I even had it. Whoa. Credit: ifitshipitshere.blogspot.com

A Book- and Blog-iversary

On January 28th, 1813 Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen’s second novel, was published. On January 29, 2012, Welcome to My Shiny New Blog, the first post here on A Solitary Ramble, was published.

Coincidence? Yes. Yes it was. However, I don’t believe in coincidences, and I’m sure that this happened to happen for a reason. Probably so that I could conveniently celebrate P&P’s 200th book-iversary and my first blog-iversary in single post.

Photo credit: Wikipedia.com

Time to pop out the tea! Dust off the teacups! And throw ourselves another tea party? Well, maybe not. Mostly because I’m home for a few days. Which is an excellent thing, except for the fact that we don’t have fancy china here. And I’ve been so busy seeing friends and family and doing homey stuff that I kind of TOTALLY MISSED BOTH OF THESE -VERSARIES AND THIS POST IS SEVERAL DAYS LATEThere. Okay. It is so relieving to have gotten that out. I hope you can forgive me for being so remiss.

It’s actually quite fitting to have both of these dates so close on the calendar and bound eternally to one another in this post. I mostly started this blog to drool over Mr. Darcy in a public manner. I guess that didn’t happen much… Except for here. Oh, and here. And probably a little bit here.

My blog’s name, in fact, is lifted straight from a scene in Pride and Prejudice:

Elizabeth’s sister Lydia and her new husband, Mr. Wickham are paying a visit to the Bennets. Elizabeth is sitting outside, reading a letter from her aunt (which explains the exact conditions under which Lydia’s wedding came to be), when Mr. Wickham intrudes on her reverie. “I am afraid I interrupt your solitary ramble,” he says, as he joins her.

Aside from the Austenticity of the phrase, I thought it was quite fitting for my brand new blog. It represents me, because (like Lizzy who will walk three miles in the mud, getting her petticoats six inches deep in mud) I’m rather fond of taking walks through the countryside in solitude. Of course, by the countryside I mean the side-walked, suburban streets. And, unlike Lizzy’s, my petticoats aren’t quite long enough to reach the ground.

Also, I figured that these posts would mostly be solitary rambles — sitting by myself at the keyboard, ranting and raving to myself.

Joking aside (just kidding, I don’t know how to shove joking to the side) I think we should take a moment to admire and love Miss Elizabeth Bennet as much as Mr. Darcy does. Because, really, the girl’s amazing. And I don’t think we expend enough energy on adoring her.

Besides inspiring me to get off the couch and get some eye-brightening exercise (if you catch my reference), she literally changed who I am as a person. In far too many ways for me to count.

Credit: allystruth.tumblr.com

From what I hazily recall of the dark ages before Lizzy and I met, I used to be really into following the rules (at or at least appearing to do so). I used to literally tremble in the face of authority (mostly in the form of school principals). Thanks to Lizzy, I managed to stand up to my high school principal last year — in a witty, impertinent manner, no less — on an important matter. And then I stormed out of the man’s office in a huff. Kind of like that time Lizzy stood up to Lady Catherine de Bourgh.

I’m not really sure that this was quite what Jane wanted me to get out of her sparkling novel.

And while Lady C had no real power over Lizzy and her choices, this principal’s “yes” had the power to change my entire year last year (and, you know, probably the entire course of my life, if we’re going to be melodramatic about it).

Besides, I knew I’d be getting a big, fat, ugly NO from said principal anyways — this was not our first meeting on the matter — so I figured I might as well finish the ordeal with a clang.

Among other things, Lizzy has turned me into quite the impertinent  sharp-tongued young lady. (“No, she has not. It was ONE time,” the voice of reason in my head wants you to know.) And I love her for it.

“I must confess that I think her as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print, and how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least I do not know,” wrote Miss Austen of her heroine one day.

I couldn’t agree more. 

A Birthday Party for Miss Austen

If you aren’t already aware that Jane Austen was born two-hundred-and-thirty-seven years ago today, you’re obviously not as devout an Austen Addict as I am. Ordinarily I’d suggest that if this is the case you can just leave my blog, right now, but today I’m feeling generous — it is a day of celebration after all — and I realize that few people can possibly be as obsessed as I am.

I don’t know about THE world, but Jane certainly changed MY world. And clearly other people’s worlds as well. When I met new people at school this year, Jane often found her way into our conversation at some one point or another. My new acquaintance would then either nod in slight recognition of the somewhat ubiquitous name, or begin gushing about how absolutely delightful Pride and Prejudice is. The latter is what happened with one of my teachers and her daughters when we met a few months ago.

And so, in honour of this auspicious day, these lovely ladies baked a cake and we all got dressed up and had a tea party this afternoon. And let me say, I have never attended such a lovely tea party in all my life. Actually, compared with our afternoon tea, I don’t think anything I’ve ever attended or hosted could even be considered a tea party.

They took out their fancy china for the occasion and we drank from the dainty floral tea cups with our pinky fingers in the air. We put on classical music. We lit candles. We placed flowers on the table.

Tea Time!

We all dressed up — though none of us really got the period quite right. There were shawls and big, floppy hats that were more to the stylings of Anne Shirley than Elizabeth Bennet and we had a southern belle join us in a long, poufy gown. I attempted an empire waist look, placing a thin belt high on my waistline over a purple dress. Nonetheless, we all looked charming in our outfits of choice.

And then there was the food. Chocolate cake dusted with powdered sugar. Lemon pie. Cucumber sandwiches. And you can’t forget the tea. And the china sugar bowl. My family, for some reason or another, doesn’t have good china or sugar bowls or fancy tea sets, so that their family has such things, and that we used them, was very exciting for me.

The Food

The Food

And then we looked at my pictures from my pilgrimages to England where I visited Miss Austen’s house in Chawton and the filming locations for Pemberley used in the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. We had a marvellous afternoon. And then, to finish off our day we went to Anthropologie, were I got myself a present in honour of Jane’s birthday. The belt I bought was, after all, called the Pierced Floral Corset Belt so I think it was quite fitting.

Thank you Jane, for writing some of the greatest novels ever. You’ve played a huge role in shaping who I am over the past few years since we met when I was fifteen. You’re the reason I started reading Literature. You’re partly responsible for my decision to major in English when I get to university next year. You inspired me to begin writing.You inspired two incredible, bonding-filled trips to England with my daddy. Your novels have taught me so much about life, myself and those around me. And you gave me a great opportunity to have a really fun tea party today in your honour. Happy birthday, Jane. And thanks for everything.

Did you do anything special to celebrate Jane’s birthday? Have you ever? Do share!

Some other posts wherein I gush about Jane and her novels:

My Favourite Books

P&P&ME

Fictitious Crushes

Happy Birth(and Death)day to The Bard (wherein I discuss my visit to Miss Austen’s former home in England)

My Life in Books

The Jane Austen Book Club

For the Love of Jane 

Shooting for the Moon, Landing on the Ground

I haven’t really written much this summer. There, I said it. I mean, I’ve written plenty. I’ve been somewhat prolific. But it feels like I haven’t written anything at all. Same goes for reading. The two activities, for me at least, are completely and utterly intertwined. I planned on writing so, so much this summer. I thought I was going to blog nearly every day, I thought I was going to write some stories, I thought I was going to write a novel. I was also going to sit around reading all day. I was going to read every book on my somewhat vague, somewhat ambitious, somewhat long (and ever-growing) “to-read list”. And this is all on top of my handful of other household responsibilities, occasionally interacting with other human beings and sleeping in until noon. There were also TV shows to watch, plays to see and places to go. I was also really going to clean/thoroughly organize my room. So, while technically I had “no plans” over summer break — no camp, no job, no major commitments — I planned on getting a lot accomplished.

I did accomplish a lot. I “published” some blog posts, I wrote a story or two, made some decent headway in Novel Number One during Camp NaNoWriMo — at least as far as word count goes — before abandoning Camp NaNo along with that failure of a “novel”. I started planning Novel Number Two — although, at the rate planning is going, I may be ready to start actually writing the thing by 2020. I read about seven books in the past three months, which for me is pretty good (it probably would have been more if I hadn’t tried out the habit of reading more than one book at a time, but that’s a whole other discussion). I’ve travelled and slept in and just hung out this summer. I socialized, I watched TV, I saw some great movies. I even made some form of dent in the room-cleaning endeavour (by which I mean that now I can totally see what colour my floor is).

So, I had a great summer. A somewhat productive summer. But doesn’t really feel like it. And I think that’s because I aimed too high.

“Shoot for the moon,” some guy once said, “even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” Generally I hate inspirational/motivational quotes, mostly because they tend to be nauseating, thoroughly overused clichés. This is one I hate in particular, and, looking back over my summer, I’ve decided that I strongly disagree with it. I just don’t believe it. The higher the stakes, the farther you can fall — and the more that fall will hurt. At least in my experience.

The font and background in this image are about as tacky as the actual text
Credit: recoverygraphics.com

I tend to have a very “all or nothing” personality, so when I do set goals, they tend to be big and somewhat vague, and then if I don’t meet those ridiculous and all-encompassing goals in the ridiculous and arbitrary amount of time I’ve given myself to meet them, I see it as a failure. Furthermore, for me, just the setting of these enormous goals is enough to keep me from meeting them. I get overwhelmed and paralysed by what I have in front of me, so I just avoid starting. Forget the moon and stars; if that’s where I’m aiming, I’ll just end up dawdling around on the sidewalk, trying to work up the courage to get started on my upward trajectory.

I think “shooting for the moon” is often the clichéd equivalent of “biting off more than you can chew”, or piling up too much onto your proverbial plate — both things that the mighty clichés warn against.

I’m not against ambitions — I certainly have plenty. Ambition and goals are important, but I think it’s also important to remember that whole thing about moderation being key. Last summer, I had a couple of little goals that I wrote down on paper. The only one I met was along the lines of “write something, anything, every single day.” I have a nice journal filled with all sorts of ramblings from that summer and I was actually able to meet that goal. Sure, that journal contains nothing “publishable”, nothing that will directly achieve any of my hopes and dreams. But it was something I accomplished. Something I kept at. Something I felt good about having done. The self-confidence, and creative exercise, that it gave me led to more creativity and the confidence to move on to bigger, more substantial goals. Sure, I imagine I wasn’t completely satisfied by the end of the summer by how I’d spent my vacation — who ever is? But I had accomplished one of my goals and so I was okay. I look back at that summer as being very prolific, although, in terms of quality, I would venture to say that this summer has been far more of a success.

It really just depends on how you look at it. My plans this summer were too grand and so the results fell short; I aimed too high so missing made me feel like I had landed on the ground. Whereas last year I aimed just high enough. Writing (something, anything) every day was something I’d never done before, so while it wasn’t difficult, it was new, it was a challenge. I didn’t write everysingle day. There were days I missed, days I skipped. But there was always the next day and the day after that. Because I didn’t aim to high, I was able to stumble at times without much more than a bruise and then keep going.

Maybe this summer wasn’t a failure, I simply didn’t manage to reach an impossible, insane, unspecific goal. I think the real failure, isn’t that I didn’t meet that “goal; the failure was in the nature of the goal I set.  And if you remove the vague, all-encompassing plans and aspirations I had for the summer, and just look at what I accomplished, I think you’d find I did pretty well for myself.

I guess it’s all just a matter of perspective.

Do you set yourself up for failure by setting absurd goals? Did you get what you wanted out of the summer? Is this post starting to sound kind of like a super lame self-help book about how you can most effectively shoot for the stars? Would this be more interesting if I was giving out chocolate? (That was a joke. There’s no chocolate. Sorry to get you all excited.)

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