Sunday, July 29, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Obligation: a digression about reading

I am so relieved to be done with the Harry Potter series. I don't have to hurry up and read it before I encounter a spoiler. I can now freely read the comments of others and agree or disagree with them. Mark and I can discuss the story. (He finished it by noon on the Sunday after it came out.) The series is a good yarn, but I am not sure I would recommend that people rush out and read it. It is a phenomenon, but is it a classic? Time will tell.

Anyway, millions of people bought and read the book over the last week. Presuming that some of them are habitual readers, then a whole bunch of other books were not being read. That is, the HP phenomenon is a category killer, sucking market share from many other worthy books.

In this age of marketing phenoms, how are people to find these worthy books? Not from the booksellers who have become suspect ever since they admitted to taking incentives bribes from publishers for pushing their books. Not from newspapers that are shrinking their coverage of books. No, readers will likely hear about books off the beaten path from other readers.

Now that I have finished HP, I can read the other books that I have accumulated recently. Click on the picture below for a bigger version of my sewing table. Notice that the disaster preparedness broadsheet on the and The Edge of Disaster on the right? Disaster preparedness is one of those things on my very long to do list. I heard the author, Stephen Flynn, interviewed on my local NPR affiliate. He states a very good case for why we should be more concerned and better prepared.

When the interviewer asked if there was any reason for optimism, he replied, "Yes". He elaborated that there are many smart people, working in universities and national labs whose job is to think of the ways things can go wrong and recommend ways to fix or prevent them. He called the class of people "professional worriers".

Right then, I had to buy the book. After all, he gave a name for my difficult to describe occupation. ;-) I am the woman who worries about everything, both at home and at work. At work, (amongst other things) I get paid to investigate technical problems and write reports about them. It is fascinating work.

Notice Superman. I already blogged about my superhero fixation. There are also pictures of clocks (the woman who needs to be in three places at once), a Gees Bend quilt, and a Brett Weston photo of a calming scene.

Anyway, I digress. What else am I going to read? The whole Peter Pan DVD project got me thinking about managing my Macs at both home and work better. Since Berkeley Unix, the underpinnings of OS X, is like mother's milk to Cal grads, and I was too impatient for the Mac OS X Missing Manual which assumes no Unix familiarity, I decided to go for the Mac OS X for Unix Geeks series.

The Japanese pattern books are delicious and deserve their own separate post later. I bought these from after seeing them on Sew Mad's blog.

Gina asked me if I read in phases. I have also been thinking about how I select reading ever since I read the article about the loss of diversity in book sales. My reading list is highly serendipitous and idiosyncratic.

For instance, I picked up How Proust Can Change Your Life at a used bookstore because it looked interesting. I opened it up and his prose captured my imagination immediately. I was well rewarded for my time spent reading the book. When the author, Alain de Botton, came out with a new book, the Architecture of Happiness, I bought that immediately. I read it at the Lair and blogged about it previously.

de Bottom said that he was depressed by the state of Japanese architecture until a friend suggested that he read The Pleasures of Japanese Literature by Donald Keene. I swiftly bought a used copy of it from an Amazon affiliate. I couldn't wait for the book to arrive. I was thinking about Japanese novels that I had enjoyed in the past. Since Mark and I had recently seen the movie, Snow Country (the old black and white version in Japanese with subtitles, not the one coming out next year), I decided to revisit Thousand Cranes by Yasunari Kawabata.

Remember my travails knitting Latoya described in Imperfect Knitting? Obsessing over tiny flaws reminded me of characters in the book. But, when I read the book, I realized that I had misinterpreted the book 20 years ago, when I first read it. I am a different person now with more life experiences and I am allowed to change my mind.

There is the obvious, that the cup I remembered in the story was not Raku, but a much older Shino piece. More importantly, I had missed the lesson of how objects and rituals are more durable than human life. The characters in the novel are all connected by their adherence to the rhythms and practices of the tea ceremony, even in the deprivation of the war and the post-war period. The tea bowls and other implements pass from owner to owner over the centuries (like wizard wands in Harry Potter). They endure when the owners do not. So who owns who?

Thousand Cranes reminded me of Contemporary Japanese Bamboo Art by Robert Coffland. Many of the baskets in that book are used in tea ceremonies. In fact, one reason that the art has not died out is that people are willing to pay large sums for such an enduring ceremonial object. The book also said that many of the apprentices entering the field are women who turn to art because their husbands support them, and because job discrimination in Japan against women makes art an attractive occupation.

I compare the optimism in basketry with the recurrent pessimism in Yoshiko Iwamoto Wada's Shibori. Time and time again, shibori samples are pictured along with prose stating that the technique is not known because the artist died without an apprentice. Or worse, the technique is about to die out because the artist cannot find an apprentice. Why are textiles not more highly valued?


  1. I am a fan of Alain de Botton. I liked The Art of Travel and have just finished rereading Status Anxiety. We should swap.

  2. Anonymous19:18

    I tend to think that Thousand Cranes is one of those books that should be read periodically. I find something new, or perceive something differently each time. It has been many years, perhaps it is time for a re-read. I see I shall have to find The Pleasures of Japanese Literature .

    As usual, your insights make me look at things a little differently than I had before.

  3. Oh... I think I'll have to hunt down a copy of "How Proust Can Change Your Life".


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