Although this information is specific to the Lexington Library, most is applicable to the other libraries in the Minutemen region so if you think that a particular capability is worthwhile you might find that your library has it. Also, much of the functionality is through the Boston Public Library.
So, how can the Cary Library help you now, even though it’s closed because of Covid-19??
Christine Muir, Community Librarian at Cary Memorial Library, focused on many library resources that are available even while the library is closed in a recent presentation to the weekly meeting of the Lexington Computer and Technology Group (LCTG). We recorded this presentation; you can view the program and see all of the options available to you right now—all at no fee. You may find it useful to pause the program so you can take notes, as she covered a lot of material!
The link to the video is under Past Meetings on the LCTG (computer group)’s page: http://LCTG.toku.us
Look for the April 8, 2020 entry and click on “Watch Presentation” in the column on the right.
The LCTG meets (virtually nowadays) on Wednesday mornings and we have been recording most presentations for nearly 2 years. There may be other topics on this page of interest to you. Membership in the LCTG is free; see the group page for information about joining the group and our upcoming meetings.
Let me know if you have any questions, comments, suggestions; or good jokes.
A long-time technology expert and guide, John provides his helpful hints in this BOLLI Matters feature. In the comment box below, provide John with questions, comments, or suggestions future tech items to cover.
A proper gumbo has to be thick, spicy, and loaded with shrimp, sausage, a particular assortment of sautéed vegetables, and it must include okra. An article in the Wall Street Journal reviewed four of the best gumbo joints in Louisiana. I tried placing an online order at the top three listed, but their sites were either not user friendly or indicated that they were “out of stock–leave your request and we’ll call ya when we make more to ship.” This was Mardi Gras time, and gumbo was in high demand down there.
I resorted to the telephone and called the top restaurant. The WSJ food editor said they made “the best gumbo in the world.” I strategized and called after the noon rush and spoke to Charlene. She had a soft, smooth, southern voice and was unbelievably friendly.
I told her about having difficulty ordering online and said I wanted to place my order by telephone. She checked with the chef owner and told me about what they could ship. I asked about what was in their gumbo–shrimp or crawfish? Do you use butter in the roux? Do you put okra in? What kind of sausage?
“Whoa, there, northern boy.” (The Boston accent had tipped her off.) “How do you know so much about gumbo?”
“Well, Charlene, I happen to make my own gumbo, and it’s terrific,” I said. “I like to cook, sort of a hobby.”
“You make gumbo up there? Do you have a recipe?”
I couldn’t resist putting her on…“Why, yes. It’s an old secret family one, and I use lots of butter, shrimp, and okra.”
“Well, by golly, for a Yankee, you do know your gumbo.”
We completed the order, and I gave her my AmEx info. As soon as a new batch was made and put in quart containers, it would be packed and shipped overnight in a foam cold pack.
All went well.
The “imported” gumbo from Baton Rouge, Louisiana was truly wonderful and almost as delicious as my own thick and spicy version (never the same twice).
More importantly, I made a new friend, sharing recipe secrets and “breaking bread” in a real sense. I hope Charlene feels the same.
So, here’s Barry’s Gumbo—which I started from a basic recipe found on the internet and modified to perfection. Substitute items depending on your own tastes and what you have available.
Stuff to Get Ready
4 tbsp butter
¼ cup flour
2 onions, diced
2-3 peppers, red, yellow, green, etc. diced, 1/4 to 1/2 inch pieces
3 celery rib (skinned), 1/4 inch pieces
1/2 cup chopped okra (more or less) in ½ inch pieces
3-4 garlic cloves, chopped (more or less, depending on what your crowd likes)
1 pound Cajun sausage (I try to get spicy turkey) cut into ½ inch pieces
1 large 12-15 oz can diced fire roasted tomatoes
1 jar spicy chunky salsa
1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning–if you want more, add when simmering to taste
4 cups chicken broth (I make from concentrate, Knoors)
1 pound real good med-large shrimp…shelled, cleaned. Leave tails on.
Bunch of scallions…cut up 3-4 to sprinkle on top if people want
Teaspoon of red pepper flakes (test, add more while simmering to taste)
¼ cup brown rice
White jasmine or basmati rice to serve with gumbo. Have ready, or just microwave some in those small containers.
In skillet, brown the sausage pieces. Set aside.
In large pot, medium heat, melt butter and add flour. STIR, STIR, STIR while mixing in flour until mixture (ROUX) darkens…5-10 minutes of STIRRING
Put all vegs in the ROUX and cook, stirring, for 5-10 minutes.
Add in broth, tomatoes, salsa. Bring to boil then to a SIMMER…stirring in cajan spices, the red pepper flakes, brown rice(optional, help to thicken as you like) some salt if you want..go easy on salt, pepper until you check it.
45-60 minutes of simmering. Check to see if vegs soft. NOT MUSHY.
then add in shrimp, sausage..stirring after about 5-10 minutes shrimp will get pink. Can also use cooked/cleaned shrimp but only leave to heat for 1-2 minutes, no need to cook.
DONE!! Serve over the white rice, sprinkle with scallion pieces and your favorite beer/wine.
Barry says that he and his wife Liz began taking courses at BOLLI “almost from the beginning while winding down my career in the computer field as GM of ADP. Love taking subjects that I’ve not had exposure to before. Being snowbirds, we’re delighted that spring semester has five-week offerings. BOLLI has been and remains an important part of our life.”
firstname.lastname@example.org for meeting link & pdf copy of script (pdf versions available for sharing will be linked in the Bulletin)
There’s something about reading a play out loud together…it just kind of enriches the soul.
So, when I arrived at BOLLI five years ago and saw a Bulletin notice about a Friday afternoon play reading group, I was quick to join, But, alas, Friday afternoons, as we know, are not ideal for BOLLI gatherings. In the winter, as the days grow shorter, we itch to get home before dark, and traffic gets heavy. In the spring, as the days grow longer, we itch to get to the Cape, the Berkshires, or Maine, and traffic gets heavy. The group dwindled in number and eventually petered out altogether…
This, however, seems to be ideal time to gather for reading plays aloud together. SO–I hit the internet and gathered quite a collection of “old nuggets” (and others) in free pdf form that we might enjoy bringing to life in a “remote” way. I discovered other favorites available as e-scripts that can be screen-shared when we meet. As a result, we have quite a treasure trove of material from which to draw over the course of the coming many weeks.
Up for trying this out? At the moment, we are enjoying classic American comedy–we started off with ARSENIC & OLD LACE and then moved on to YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU. Check the weekly BULLETIN for what comes next! Just email me at the address listed above for our Zoom meeting link and, when possible, a copy of the script.
Known in some circles as “Wurster the Wily Word Woman,” Sue has acted in, costumed, propped, stage managed, and/or directed countless plays with first grade through college students as well as community theatre groups over the course of the past six decades…more recently, she’s even started writing some as well.
Call me by my name: librarytwitt. I’ve been a user of this microblog, 140-word limit, for about 15 years. I follow 704 accounts, and I’m followed by 422. Over that 15 years, I’ve tweeted around 2500 times, not counting private messages or retweets. I check Twitter a few times a day, scroll through the “recents” for a few minutes, hop off. Who do I follow? Librarians, authors, a few celebrities, some news services (Reuters, AP, Daily Mail), a few friends, teachers, actors. No politicians.
Some call social media a time suck, and I guess it could be. Fortunately, I’m not compulsive. If I’m super busy, I may miss a few days. But when I have idle time, it fills me in on news that may take weeks to slog its way onto the pages of the Boston Globe or the New York Times. Such was the case these past few weeks.
Identity politics has made its way into the publishing/writing community with a vengeance. First came the total meltdown of the Romance Writers of America. The RWA has an operating budget of over $1 million, the largest of any professional genre writers’ organization. As of 2007, the organization had over 9,000 members and over 150 local chapters. The paid and unpaid administrators of the RWA began to be held accountable for the exclusion of people of color in their annual awards. As year after year passed with no recognition, groups of writers became more organized and vocal. At last year’s awards, the RITA judges were loudly booed at the annual conference. Then one of the leaders of the resistance was officially sanctioned in a backdoor, apparently illegal, ethics subcommittee meeting. The reason? She publicly called another member’s new novel “f..king racist trash.”
Tempest in a teapot? That’s what I initially thought, but within two weeks, almost half of the RWA members had cancelled memberships, the entire executive board and two(!) presidents resigned. Almost leaderless. The awards were cancelled, the annual conference is in danger of being cancelled, and local chapters are disbanding. Battle lines are drawn, and neither side seems interested in talking to the other. Sound familiar?
Then focus shifted to a book recently released and already chosen as an Oprah book. American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins is a story of a mother and son escaping from a drug cartel in Acapulco and attempting to enter the United States after the murder of their family. Latinx authors began to question how a white woman could possibly reflect this experience. Tempest in a teapot? Nope. As more people read it, excerpts began appearing on Twitter. Then parodies. A wave of disdain for a book which apparently does not reflect the experiences of Latinx women.
Then came the launch party. A tony affair with lobster and champagne. Lovely purple floral arrangements in containers wrapped in barbed wire. Completely tone deaf, but you could blame the publishing house’s event planner for that one. If only the author hadn’t appeared and proudly displayed her very expensive manicure. It featured the same barbed wire motif.
Is it a crime to be tone deaf and insensitive? One thing is clear. The publishing world is taking sides. Authors are demanding that the gatekeepers of the industry open those gates to people with different life experiences, different skin color, different sexual orientation. The next battleground of identity politics.
I read it on Twitter, raw and uncensored.
Donna is also a teacher/librarian, writer of unpublished romance novels, and sometime director of community theater. She has two fantastic faux knees which set off the metal detectors at Fenway Park.
“When leaving Manhattan, be sure to walk along the right lane of the bridge. Be sure to stay to the right at all times.”
The Brooklyn Bridge.
Star of the silver screen since the turn of the last century and the little screen at the hand of Dick Wolf since 1990.
Quick stop at the port-a-potties near the Ben Franklin statute at the corner of Spruce Street and Park Row. A moment to gaze at the neo-Gothic splendor of the Woolworth Building, over a hundred years old and still standing, just as the architects intended.
Some members of the tour are buying pretzels and lemon ices, as if there will not be food and drink on the other side of the East River.
Rick, our guide, answers questions at each photo stop where we focus on taking pictures – no video or audio allowed. We do have to be mindful of the hundreds of others who chose this perfect day in May to ramble across this historic overpass. There are little dips in the walkway, puddles near the Manhattan side, and distractions at every breath. The number of bikers increases as the sun rises high in the sky.
Watermelon! They are pricey chunks, but so tasty as we watch tugs and tour boats from where we stand in the shadow of the Bridge’s central tower.
We take in the solitary beauty of One World Trade Center.
The magnificence of Lady Liberty in the distance.
A dozen different languages, children and grandparents, strollers and wheelchairs.
Footwear and hats of every style and color.
The very best people watching.
The tour ends at the Brooklyn Heights Promenade at the beginning of Montague Street. You might not be able to find it on a map, but you’ve seen it in every iteration of Law and Order.
The restaurants and little shops embracing Montague Street all the way to Brooklyn Borough Hall have also been seen in cop shows and films.
Bagels, hand dipped chocolates, cafes, silversmiths, bookstores, and an Oz-like venue called Insomnia Cookies – don’t go there. You have been warned.
Rick leads us another block to the famous front stoops of the living and the dead–Truman Capote, Arthur Miller, Thomas Wolfe, and Hart Crane.
The group disperses. We gravitate to Rocco’s Tacos and Tequila Bar and are not disappointed. The braised beef tacos are over the moon, and the margueritas are perfection. The great advantage to a bus tour is being able to enjoy a really good drink or two before the long ride home.
Someday, we will walk the Bridge again and visit the celebrated Brooklyn Historical Society. It is an honor to have this picture of the past.
This day has compelled me to read The Great Bridge, a tome written by David McCullough. Your wrists will ache if you read this wonderful history book in bed.
It is worth every wince.
Our own “Renaissance Woman,” Lydia has done everything from teaching English to doing volunteer emergency service. She says she “hails from Woosta– educated at BOLLI.”
AGING WITH RESILIENCE & ENTHUSIASM (Group pictured above): The Aging with Resilience and Enthusiasm SIG had interesting and supportive discussions this semester. Gratitude was our focus for our first fall meeting. Whether you are grateful for health, friends, family, or sunny days, being grateful provides a positive perspective on life. In November, we talked about relationships—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Discussion focused on ways to maintain long-time friendships with those who may live far away. We suggested maintaining friendships that are helpful and uplifting but ending those that drain you of your own energy and enthusiasm. December’s meeting provided a chance to examine the winter blues, especially since we met the day after two days of snow. Talk focused on ways to be alone but not lonely. The benefits of the computer enable us to talk and see others. People have been suggesting interesting books, TV shows, movies and Amazon/Netflix series that make us think and laugh. (Send your suggestions to me at email@example.com) Our next meeting is Jan. 8th when we will be discussing remaining at home, right-sizing, or joining a senior housing facility. (Sandy Miller-Jacobs)
THE BOLLI BOOK GROUP: The BOLLI Book Group has recently read two acclaimed but very different best-selling novels that each feature the exhilaration, pain, and confusion of teen-age relationships: Normal People by the young Irish writer Sally Rooney, in which class differences and miscommunication discomfit the young couple; and Trust Exercise by Susan Choi, which upends our expectations and forces us to consider the meaning of reality in a fictional world. (Abby Pinard)
CAST: Throughout the fall, CAST (Creativity in Acting, Storytelling, and Theatre) focused on improvisational theatre. This was an adventure in creativity, spontaneity, group solidarity—and play. We’ve learned about acting by engaging in theatre games used to build teamwork and enhance sensory awareness as well as listening skills. The exercises paved the way for developing characters, environments that constitute the setting of a scene, and narratives that drive fully improvised scenes. It was a wonderful exploration of imagination and team building—fully entertaining! (Richard Averbuch)
POETRY WRITING GROUP: Since its founding in February, the Poetry Writing Group has continued to meet on a monthly basis. We have about ten members who participate in presenting their own work and joining in the discussion of everyone’s contributions. It’s all very loose and comfortable—we don’t write on themes, there’s no designated poetry expert, some bring new works while others bring older ones. Personally, I’ve found this all very stimulating and have written more than I otherwise would have. (Peter Schmidt)
WRITERS GUILD: We continued to challenge ourselves with creative writing prompts, one of which was about having a superpower. At that meeting, we got into a discussion about some of the problems that an aging Superman might have with his superpowers: maybe sneezing and accidentally blowing away half of Manhattan, for example. That led to a session in which we collectively brainstormed other common problems with aging that would be magnified for a superhero. We ended the semester with a guest speaker, writer Hallie Ephron, who engaged us and an audience of other interested BOLLI members in a wonderful talk about the art, craft, and business of writing. Watch the Bulletin for notices of upcoming meetings and the prompts we will tackle. (Larry Schwirian)
There is a place for you on our BOLLI Matters blog! No need to feel constrained or obligated to create items for a regular feature (unless, of course, you WANT to)–just send material reflecting your interests, concerns, experiences…whatever and whenever.
No blogging or journalism background is necessary–we will happily do basic editing for you and/or make suggestions for you about whatever you send us.
(We will need a digital image and a brief “bio” statement to accompany your submissions.)
What Can I Write about?
Local restaurant recommendations
Local “Hidden Gem” museums, craft centers, etc.
Local theatre, choral, orchestral, or other groups
Local, reasonably priced “lessons” available in anything and everything from pottery to kodo drumming, table tennis, or boxing…(I’m serious about the drumming and table tennis, by the way…maybe, for that matter, even the boxing.)
Local day trip ideas
Fellow BOLLI members to introduce and feature for all of us
Other interests that BOLLI members might well share
You’ll find fellow BOLLI members who share your enthusiasm for places and pastimes as well as those who decide to try new ventures as a result of your sharing your experiences.
And, of course, seeing your work in print is totally cool…
SUBMIT ITEMS TO firstname.lastname@example.org
While I’ve overseen school yearbook and newspaper production, blogging was a new form for me when I joined BOLLI three years ago. It’s an easy and totally satisfying venture–hope you’ll take part by providing items focused on your interests, concerns, and experiences!
Here, Larry responds to the Writers Guild prompt, “Just Desserts,” in his own wry way.
by Larry Schwirian
Alfredo and Ambrosia Bacon were a fiftyish couple who fancied themselves food and wine aficionados. They lived in a high-rise condo in an upscale neighborhood in the heart of the city and frequently partied with friends and acquaintances. These gatherings were often an opportunity for all those gathered to share their recent happenings and boast a little about their latest exploits and discoveries. Exaggeration was typically the name of the game, but the Bacons were particularly noted for their hyperbole.
At one such get together, Alfredo was bragging about a dinner that he and Ambrosia had recently enjoyed in a new Japanese restaurant, Shogun, in another part of the city. He described in great detail just how delightfully the food was presented and how the aroma of the Kobe beef delicately tantalized his sense of smell and caused him to drool with intense anticipation. He swore that, after the meal, his taste buds were in such a state of existential bliss that he couldn’t conceive of having dessert even though it was included in the cost of this repast. Likewise, Ambrosia went into excruciating detail about her choice: Secret Garden Maki with salmon tempura and a cream cheese center with avocado…and so on, and so on, and so on… she, too, rejected the idea of having dessert. They both waxed longingly about how well the Sake went with the meal and then bored everyone to tears about what a great bargain it was; less than four-hundred-fifty dollars for a complete meal with wine, not including tax and tip. Alfredo raved that a meal of Kobe beef alone typically costs in excess of three-hundred fifty.
Needless to say, the rest of those gathered were somewhat skeptical of the Bacons’ accounting of this bodacious dinner but particularly about its being such a great deal. Trying to be polite, one of the women asked Alfredo about what other delicacies had been included. The men seemed to be quite interested in the list of desserts and asked Ambrosia how she could possibly have skipped hers. As the guests headed home, there was considerable banter about the tale, particularly about its cost.
Shortly after the gathering, the Sunday newspaper featured a review in the Arts and Leisure Section about the recently opened Shogun Restaurant. The food critic was fairly complimentary about the quality of the food but very skeptical about whether the Kobe steak was really what it was purported to be; very few Japanese restaurants in the United States actually import Kobe beef as it is exceedingly expensive. As, at this particular restaurant, the Kobe beef was priced at less than three hundred dollars, he doubted the claim that this item was genuine. The writer was also of the opinion that although the food was decent, it was terribly over-priced. To those who attended the gathering and read the article, it seemed to them that Alfredo and Ambrosia may well have skipped their after meal sweets but did in fact finally get their…Just Desserts.
Architect Larry and his fellow architect wife Caroline live in an historic preservation home in Newton and, together, lead BOLLI courses on architecture. Larry has been an active participant in and leader of the Writers Guild special interest group as well as serving on the BOLLI Journal staff.
Our BOLLI Matters blog provides opportunities for all BOLLI members to share thoughts on the issues of the day, memories of issues of other days, stand-out BOLLI moments, favorite Lunch & Learn speakers or programs. You can recommend books, television shows, movies, and more to your fellow BOLLI members. Just write about whatever is on your mind, in your own voice–the way you’d talk to your friends.
In addition, it offers “showcase” space in which to try your hand at writing–creative nonfiction, memoir, fiction, poetry. It gives you a gallery for sharing your photography, drawing, painting, print making, weaving, furniture making, glass, mosaics…or whatever your particular creative venue is.
You might be surprised to find out how much your fellow BOLLI members appreciate and enjoy your efforts. And, who knows? You might surprise yourself and find that you enjoy the process as well–there could be a regular feature or column in your future!
Send items to me, Sue Wurster, at email@example.com. I am happy to help by making suggestions for strengthening your work and doing some judicious editing.
And if you have ideas for features or columns that you might like to see in BOLLI Matters, please pass them along!
Known in some circles as “Wurster, the Wily Word Woman,” I have happily worked on all things word related–public speaking, acting, writing, working on newsletters and newspapers, editing literary/visual art journals–since creating “The Maple Street Gazette” at age 8…
J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter: Serious Literature or Adolescent “Slop”
By Dennis Greene
“No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at age fifty.” –C. S. Lewis
Unless you have been living under a stone for the past twenty years, you have certainly heard of British author J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels. Ms. Rowling has sold over 500 million copies of this seven-volume “young adult” series published from 1997 through 2007. The series has spawned ten extremely successful films and is frequently credited with encouraging the millennial generation to enjoy reading thick, complex books. This literary phenomenon has made the author a billionaire, and the Harry Potter franchise is now valued at over $25 billion dollars.
The Potter fan base is not limited to young adults. Millions of mature readers have come to know and love the Potter books by sharing them with their children or grandchildren. Others have sampled The Sorcerer’s Stone to see what the fuss was about and discovered, in one reviewer’s words, “the liveliest, funniest, scariest, and most moving children’s stories ever written. The praise from many well-respected reviewers has been effusive. A. N. Wilson in The (London) Times referred to Rowling’s narrative skills as Dickensian while Stephen King predicted that Harry Potter deserved his place on the shelf with Alice, Huck, Frodo and Dorothy. The Mail on Sunday rated The Philosopher’s Stone as “the most imaginative debut since Roald Dahl,” and the Guardian called it “a richly textured novel given lift-off by an inventive wit.”
The skyrocketing commercial success of the Potter books, along with the literary awards and critical acclaim they have received, eventually attracted the attention of the elite literary establishment. Leading the attack on the popular books was Yale Professor and well-known ;iterary critic Harold Bloom. In a Wall Street Journal article entitled “Can 35 Million Book Buyers be Wrong? Yes.” Professor Bloom observed that Rowling’s writing was “dreadful” and the book was “terrible” (note Professor Bloom’s magnificent use of richly descriptive adjectives) and then went on to disparage her readers.
“Why read it?” Bloom said. ” Presumably, if you cannot be persuaded to read anything better, Rowling will have to do. At least her fans are momentarily emancipated from their screens and so may not forget wholly the sensation of turning the pages of a book, any book. And yet, I feel discontent with the Harry Potter mania, and I hope my discontent is not merely a highbrow snobbery or nostalgia for a more literate fantasy to beguile (shall we say) intelligent children of all ages.”
The disparaging comments of this prominent critic, cloaked in the prestige of both Yale University and the Wall Street Journal, was an unwarranted attack on a young novelist whose first published work had achieved startling commercial success. In Rowling’s wizarding world, Professor Bloom would be easily recognized for what he is—a highbrow snob and a bully. If Professor Bloom were rewriting his article today, it would have to be titled “Can 500 Million Buyers Be Wrong? Maybe not.” I have no idea if it was a conscious decision, but in a later Harry Potter book, Ms. Rowling introduces Professor Slughorn, a mercurial, pompous, social-climbing Hogwart’s teacher who hosts dinner parties for “pureblood” students from famous wizarding families while excluding Hermione, the smartest student at Hogwart’s, because she is a “mudblood.” Professor Slughorn might easily have been patterned after a certain Yale literary critic.
Once Professor Bloom opened the floodgates, the deluge from other critics began. One of the first to pile on was Dame A.S. Byatt, an English author with an honorary title and an aristocratic aura, who opined that the Potter books were “written for people whose imaginative lives are confined to TV cartoons, reality TV, and celebrity gossip.” Another British newspaper critic predicted that “in years to come, people will make a link between our plump, comfortable, infantilizing society and the popularity of Potter.” Other more measured critics did fairly identify a number of flaws in the Potter books, including tired writing, overuse of clichés, and being too complex for children and young adults to sort out. I don’t know exactly where Harry Potter should rate on the spectrum of young adult books of “literary merit,” but I believe it would be much closer to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Grahame’s Wind in the Willows than to Twilight or The Hunger Games.
After 20 years, the commercial success of the Potter series has assured Rowling and Harry Potter an honored place in popular culture. Whether the Harry Potter books are to stand as one of the great classics of English literature or are ultimately judged to be unremarkable adolescent “slop” as Professor Bloom contends, only time will tell.
I enjoyed spending time in Ms. Rowling’s imaginary wizarding world and coming to know all her unique and definitively drawn characters. But what made these books special tp me was Ms. Rowling’s extraordinary ability to make me care about each character and emotionally participate in their interactions. The seven-year transformation of each of these characters about whom I cared deeply was a poignant coming of age story. Ms. Rowling really “gets” the adolescent experience and makes the reader see it. I still have an emotional reaction when I think of Dobby’s death or Dolorous Umbridge’s tyranny. Along the way there are also trolls to kill, mysteries to solve, backstories to discover, unspeakable evil to oppose, and a series of wonderful friendships to admire. In addition, the books incorporate many of the traditional elements of classical English literature.
The most comprehensive discourse on the literary merits of the Potter books is John Granger’s Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader. He describes the way the author meticulously planned and structured the entire narrative before completing the first book. Ms. Rowling was familiar with many of the fundamental patterns of great English literary tradition and seamlessly wove them into her tale. Among the patterns evident in the narrative are:
The traditional Hero’s Journey.
The patterns of Literary Alchemy, a tradition dating back to the middle ages and evident in works of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Jonson, Blake, and Joyce. The mythical philosopher’s stone, which is the title of the first Potter book published in England, was the key to medieval alchemy.
Well devised narrative misdirection drives the reader to keep active and on edge through the 4100+ page journey and allows numerous plot twists and surprises.
All the trappings of the English schoolboy novel as established by Thomas Hughes’ Tom Brown’s Schooldays published in 1857.
Incorporation of numerous postmodern issues and concerns, including class prejudice, slavery, friendship, race, xenophobia, intermarriage, loyalty, family, bureaucratic ineptitude, credibility of the press, gender, individual transformation, tyranny, and, of course, love and death.
If you are a sophisticated reader who enjoys exploring the text to discover literary antecedents and subtext, as some scholars do with Tolkien’s works, there is much in Rowling’s Harry Potter books to examine.
There are many adult readers who haven’t read a Harry Potter book, either because they instinctively dismiss books designated “young adult” or because Professor Bloom and his ilk have driven them away. William Safire, in a New York Times article, argued that “children’s books like Harry Potter are responsible for the infantilization of adult culture,” and Ruth Graham in Slate argued that “adults should be embarrassed to read literature aimed at teenagers.” Faced with such highbrow snobbery, some potential readers may give in to the shaming. But those who do succumb will be doomed to reading only books like Portrait of a Lady,Anna Karenina, and “The Sun Also Rises” and existing in a continual state of depression. Instead, I suggest you look to the wisdom of C. S. Lewis who observed that “on becoming a man, I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”
If you are willing to risk being thought childish by literary highbrows, try reading Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone. You may enjoy it and discover for yourself the literary merit encased in Ms. Rowling’s magnum opus.
While Dennis spent five years as an engineer and then forty as a lawyer, he’s been a pop culture geek and junkiey for sixt. He saw “The Day the Earth Stood Still” in 1951 when he was seven and has been hooked on speculative fiction ever since.
A blog devoted to the interests of BOLLI members and potential members