The Book: J. K. Rowling, HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS. Scholastic, 1999 (third printing). Good condition; dust jacket shows signs of wear, spine is slightly cocked.
First read: 1999
Owned since: 1999
This book was a gift from my friend and colleague Montrice when I left Washington, DC. It was a surprising gift but an oddly appropriate one; I was taking off on an adventure, and Montrice thought I ought to take this book with me. She gave me the second book, rather than the first, because the Harry Potter craze was just taking off, and she couldn't find a copy of the first book in hardcover.
Certain people I admire (you know who you are) are scornful of this series, but I loved it from this first book, and bought every succeeding book as soon as they came out. Harry Potter lives the childhood we all fantasized about, learning magic in a safe place with his closest friends, undistracted by the demands of family. (In the real world, we call this college.) In this book, at least, good and evil are easy to distinguish, mistakes aren't fatal, and justice triumphs if you work for it.
BookExpo starts in earnest today, and I'm already glad I invested in a pair of magic shoes for the event. I'm only half-kidding; at the recommendation of a friend, I spent a frightening amount of money on a pair of Masai Barefoot Technology sandals. They force me into better posture and take pressure off my knees, which is going to be essential this weekend.
Because the soles are curved, they also make me look like a Weeble.
"They're supposed to make me walk like an African warrior," I told Grace Lechner.
"Fast or slow?" she asked.
Sometimes I miss the point...
What I Read This Week
Jennifer Kaufman and Karen Mack, LITERACY AND LONGING IN L.A. Anna lent this book to me ages ago, and I finally got around to it over the holiday weekend. Unapologetic chick lit about thirty-something Dora, beautiful, wealthy, separated from her husband and taking refuge from her life in books. Dora reads too much; she hooks up with a clerk from Brentwood's best independent bookstore (renamed here, which upset me because its real-life model, Dutton's, is now history); she realizes she needs to snap out of it and grow up. Easy on the eyes, easy on the mind, nothing but cotton candy -- and sometimes, that's just fine.
Denise Hamilton, THE LAST EMBRACE. A mystery set in 1949 Los Angeles, as former OSS agent Lily Kessler comes home to look for her late fiance's sister, an actress who's gone missing. The young woman's been killed, and the police seem too corrupt to investigate adequately. Period details about Los Angeles are the fun of this book, and it's interesting to compare THE LAST EMBRACE with Megan Abbott's THE SONG IS YOU, a very different novel inspired by the same real-life crime: the never-solved murder of actress Jean Spangler. I read an advance copy; the book comes out in July.
Tom Rob Smith, CHILD 44. I started to read this book in April, then set it aside because its grimness overwhelmed me. I'm glad I finished it, because it's a very impressive debut, but it is not a light-hearted read. In Stalinist Russia, state security operative Leo Demidov believes he is working to protect the state -- until, in quick succession, he is forced to bully a grieving father into calling his son's death an accident instead of murder, and he is asked to denounce his own wife as a counterrevolutionary. Exiled to a remote factory town, Demidov finds evidence that the child's death is one of dozens of similar murders, and tracks the killer down without regard to his own danger, or his family's. CHILD 44 is a book that deserves to be read and discussed at length, raising many questions about the effects of corruption and totalitarianism on the most fundamental human values.