Saturday, July 21, 2007

If You're Not On the Pooper Reading Pooper...'re obviously reading this.

Here we are on the day of the release of the Book That Shall Not Be Named.

Wait, that's what I call the Website That Shall Not Be Named.

Ok, here we are on day of the release of Harry Pooper and the Ghastly Sellouts.

Like I said before, I'm not a big fan of the Pooper. And unlike my harsh judgments of The Website That Shall Not Be Named*, I can actually say I've tried the Pooper.

I was home from being forced out of college (I say forced out because if I had had the money I would have stayed in; I refuse to say "dropped out." That implies that I no longer wanted to attend.)

It had to have been 1999—before the Pooper phenom took over the globe.

It was probably the end of 1999 when I was working for Uncle Sam and planning Dr. Mad Scientist and my ghettorific wedding.

I was plagued with insomnia and couldn't get to sleep. I figured I'd read something and it would put me to sleep. I picked up Youngest Younger Sister's (who now works summers and winters at that same job for Uncle Sam that I did) library book which happened to be the first Harry Pooper story.

The book was amazing! It put me to sleep! For the blessed sleep I was grateful, but after reading the first Harry Pooper, I had no desire to ever touch anything by that author again.

I'd like to say it's because I'm an author snob, and if the first book I read by you doesn't do it for me, I'll never touch anything with your name on it again.

But this isn't true. I just finished my second Haven Kimmel novel which was a highly recommended author. Yeah well, let's just say that when I didn't want to violently smack the characters around for being so goddamned stupid in the first book of hers I read (The Solace of Leaving Early), I was too busy falling asleep reading the second book I tried (Something Rising Light and Swift).

I'd like to say it's because I'm not a big fantasy reader and wizards and magic don't raise my exciteometer.

However, a couple of months ago, on our monthly weekend trip to the library, Dr. Mad Scientist asked me to pick up a childhood favorite of his "Swiss Family Robinson." Since I was in the juvenile book section anyway (Chunky prefers the juvenile non-fiction section. We're raising a bonafide nerd!) , I decided to peruse the titles.

I made it to the "B"s when I discovered a blast from my past.

There was "The Figure In The Shadows" by John Bellairs on the shelf.


I had to check it out!

The Figure in the Shadows is part of the Lewis Barnavelt series of books by John Bellairs. It's about an orphan (hm, sounds familiar) named Lewis who lives with his wizard uncle. Living next door is his uncle's friend, Mrs. Zimmerman, who is also a witch. Lewis is a fat kid who's always picked on and has one good friend—a tomboy named Rose Rita. Put simply, in this book, Lewis and Rose Rita uncover a magical amulet that summons a spirit from the dead that tries to kill Lewis.

"A Figure In the Shadows" is not as voluminous as Harry Pooper and not as fantasmagorical either. Lewis is a normal kid living in a normal town.

In re-reading this book, I had forgotten that Lewis lived in a town in Michigan. Well of course having lived in MI for six years and spawning there, I looked up John Bellairs's personal history to see why he might have choosen to set the stories of Lewis in Michigan. Ends up John Bellairs was born and spent a good portion of his life in Marshall, Michigan.

This just made re-reading this story even more quaint for me because I myself have been lost down the snowy dark farm roads of Marshall that the climax of this book is based on in the wee hours of the night.

I credit my Old Man a lot for giving me the love of reading. Even if it means that I've got not-so-pleasurable childhood memories of him sitting me down when I was younger than Chunky and making me sound out the words of "Tom Thumb" over and over and over and over again to the point that I despise the story of Tom Thumb.

When I was somewhere between the ages of 10 and 12 and in the throes of my John Bellairs phase (much like kids of today are into their Harry Pooper) I believe it was my Old Man who encouraged me to write a letter to Mr. Bellairs letting him know how much I enjoyed his books.

I did, and thrillingly enough—he wrote me back. It was just a short note typed on a ruled index card on what appeared to be one of those old fashioned typewriters and signed by Mr. Bellairs. (I'm old enough to have typed a few school papers on an old shuddering typewriter, but I'm also young enough to have gone to school where we were taught "keyboarding" in highschool not "typing.")

I don't know if I still have that index card. I do know that in 1999, around the same time I read that first Harry Pooper, my mom made me clean out all my childhood junk and box up the stuff I wanted to keep and put it in the crawlspace. I know I kept all my John Bellairs books. Many of them are hardback as I always looked forward to their release just as Harry Poopophiles have been looking forward to today.

Mr. Bellairs passed away when I was a teenager and reading more mature books. He left behind two unfinished manuscripts and two summaries for two future books. Those were finished by a different author. That author went on to write quite a few continuations of the different series John Bellairs created after his death on his own.

I have not read anything not written by John Bellairs solely.

I'm not sure I want to. It wouldn't be the same.

Imagine if J.K. Rowling had been tragically killed in a landslide of her own money or if she choked to death on a silver spoon half way through writing book seven, and someone decided to finish writing Book 7 for her. Would the book many of you are reading instead of reading this blog post be as good?

So there's my nose-thumb to the Rowlinglings and their Harry Pooper mania. I'll stick with my chubby quasi magical protagonist and the world of everyday wizards and witches.

Pooper still sucks in my opinion.

But like a wise librarian once told me when I was grumbling about having to organize the shelves of "Choose Your Own Adventure" and "Sweet Valley High" paperback books that my fellow middle schoolers devoured like candy and always left a mess on the shelves**: It's not what kids are reading, it's that they are reading.

That same librarian also called me flippant once.

Maybe she was on to something.

*Although, a little sweet little birdie kindly invited me over to visit their nest, and I can now, without a doubt, back up my opinions on The Website That Shall Not Be Named. I stand by everything I've said about them. It's really not that exciting of a Place That Shall Not Be Named and certainly does not live up to the hype in my eyes.

**I dropped out of home economics and instead TAed for the school librarian.



Blogger Wendy said...

I read the first "Pooper" book, and like you, I was less than enthralled. It was a cute story, but the writing, quite frankly, sucked.

And people can say whatever they want about JayKay's billions of dollars, blah-de-blah-da, but the fact remains that the first book did SUCK! It was crappy, even for a kids' book, and I've read lots of those, and enjoyed them (have you read Lemony Snicket - awesome!). I just couldn't even begin the second book, because the first one was SO-O-O-O BAD!

As for standing in line for a book, I only have one First Edition book on all of my floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, and that's Book 3 of the Stephen King Gunslinger series ... which I have yet to read ;).

Maybe I should get on that ....

9:09 AM  
Blogger Lizzi said...

Wait, someone has heard of Bellairs other than me? I was beginning to think all those books of his that scared the bejeezus out of me when I was in fifth grade were some kind of hallucination! No one I know, not even my well-read husband, has ever heard of him, and I haven't seen a Bellairs book at a library or bookstore in years.

Pinch me! I thought I was dreaming!

9:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok! I have read one through four of the HP books and I have the fifth and sixth. I have not read them yet. I find that authors that get really popular get very repetitive. It is probably a good thing that this is the last. More power to the individuals that can buck the stream! Love, Mom

11:14 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

I think I'll have to get Owen the Bellairs books. He's always on the lookout for new stuff to read and it gets challenging at this age. So much kid lit and so much adult lit and so little for a smart 12 year old.

11:43 AM  
Blogger Carol said...

Everyone's reading today. Not me! I'm knitting and napping. At 12, I was sneaking into my mom's books and reading House of Usher and The Exorcist. What can I say? I was a strange kid;)

11:53 AM  
Blogger Linnea said...

Hey, cool. I'll have to check out the Bellairs books out. Children's books are so good for unwinding and replenishing that imaginatory section of the mind I seem to have lost.

As for HP, I've read parts of #1 and #2. I think I'll try them again soon, just as a form of escapism. Your mom is right about authors getting repetitive. Look at Dan Brown.

For more grown-up slightly-enchanted-wizardy-stuff, try The Belgariad series. I liked them, so much that I bought them instead of going to the library. And I rarely read anything other than non-fiction, job-related histories.

1:32 PM  
Anonymous birdie said...

Woah, woah, woah. I don't know where you got that Pooper book, but I never checked that crap out from the library. There was a copy by the computer and when that was running slowly, I began to read Pooper. It was the most boring book of my life. Maybe I tried to get through it and brought it up to our room, but I never finished it. I just wanted to be clear. Haha! I'm right there with you on this whole HP mania.

2:49 PM  
Anonymous pyewacket said...

Oh. My. God. I haven't thought of that book in 20 years! "Venio -- I come." *shudder* Rose Rita kicked ass.

I like HP the same way I like vanilla ice cream. It's fine, widely available, and has mass appeal. But it ain't Phish Food.

I'm about to embark on Neal Stephenson's "Baroque Cycle." I hope I don't drown.

4:40 PM  
Blogger T. Budnik said...

I remember you being so ga-ga for Bellairs. I don't understand the Harry Potter hype, either. I tell people I don't have any patience for that wizard-crap.


6:16 PM  
Blogger Carol said...

I don't understand the whole to do about the books either. I figure that it is the parents that are making a big deal about the books. The kids just get dragged along. I mean, the books are very similar to the ones Terry Brooks wrote about Shannara. (which I didn't really like either) So I havent' read anything but the first pooper book either.

6:25 PM  
Blogger Magatha said...

That librarian had your number alright. :-)
I didn't make it through two chapters of the first Pooper. I guess I was too old and jaded, had read too many books before, to get sucked in. Really, I just didn't get it, and when I watch the movies, beyond Rickman, I don't see the appeal.
I've been a member of the collective for 24 hrs. now and I can honestly say I'm bored of it already. I don't see myself using it much and I don't see myself engaging in any of the groups or socializing. I tried to inventory my books and was only able to enter 60% of them, and that was a total PITA. It is definitely not working well in Internet Explorer, yet.
I very much enjoyed this post. Your daddy taught you to read! My goodness how lucky you were. I'm not sure my father knows how to read. How he became an engineer, I don't know. With him it was all about math. Equations on paper napkins in restaurants. ;-)

7:40 PM  
Blogger Starfish said...

I actually like the books *ducking* but I agree, the hype makes them seem like they are better than they are. I'd like to think that JK was trying to earn a few bucks and then all this crap just took off...can you blame her though? You want to give me HOW MUCH for THIS CRAP? Sure, I'll take it!!

3:00 PM  
Blogger Tactless Wonder said...

Well, I finished it a few hours ago. I know, I suck. Whatevers. I think I'll have more to say on my blog when my jaw stops hurting, damn gum surgeon, but for me, I HAVE to finish a series, no matter what. It's a terrible addiction...

3:45 PM  
Blogger Cindy in Happy Valley said...

I came to HP very late. The first three had made it to paperback, when I decided to see what the fuss was about. But unlike the views expressed on this website, it was clear to me right from the beginning why it appealed to kids. The downtrodden kid getting lucky. But unlike Orphan Annie, he still got into trouble on a regular basis.

Add to that the fantasy of actually learning magic and well... don't even try and tell me you haven't wished you could say a few words and the inane staff meeting blabber would be struck dumb (or worse)...Try and tell me you haven't thought that at least once. And that folks is the appeal.

Like it, don't, where credit is due. Rowlings is serenely smiling all the way to the bank and more power to her.

The "release parties", and surrounding hoopla do give me the creepin' eeps though for sure.

12:58 PM  
Blogger Helen said...

but those "easy" books are great to just get kids reading. Granted, my parents always read to us growing up, which helped. but i read every SVH and all the FearStreet, etc. But good ones like Nancy Drew and many classics as well. Yeah, just get kids reading and they should hopefully mature on their own

10:09 PM  
Blogger Rain said...

I'm on both bandwagons that shall not be named and loving every minute :P

I lived in the library when I was a kid so a huge thanks for doing the librarian kick and making it possible. I'd be very disappointed if you didn't spend your days walking round hissing SSSHHHHHHHHHHH!

1:13 PM  

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