Jul. 31, 2007
Poem: "Vacuuming Spiders" by Charles Goodrich, from Insects of South Corvallis. © Cloudbank Books, 2003. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
I admire their geometrical patience,
the tidy way they wrap up leftovers,
their willingness to be the earth's
most diligent consumers of small bitternesses.
Sometimes at night I hear them
casting silk threads, clicking their spinnerets,
plucking their webs like blind Irish harpists.
I can almost taste the fruit of the fly
like sucking the pulp from a grape.
But when their webs on the ceiling
begin to converge, and the floor
glitters with shards of insect wings
I drag out the vacuum
and poke its terrible snout under the sofa,
behind the radioeverywhere,
for this is the home of a human being
and I must act like one
or the whole picture goes haywire.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of the creator of Harry Potter, J. K. (Joanne Kathleen) Rowling (books by this author), born on the outskirts of Bristol, England (1966). Just 10 days ago, the last of the seven Harry Potter books came out, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007). The previous six novels in the series have sold an estimated 325 million copies in 65 languages.
Her last few books have set records for the biggest first printings in history, and they've also been some of the fastest-selling novels of all time. At the end of last month, before it had even been published, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows had already sold more than 1 million copies in pre-orders alone. There have also been five movies made of those books so far, and there are plans to build a Harry Potter theme park. Rowling doesn't discuss her income publicly, but she is believed to be the first novelist ever to become a billionaire as a result of her writing.
Rowling got the idea for the Harry Potter books on a four-hour journey by train across England. The train was stopped somewhere between Manchester and London when Rowland looked out at a field of cows and suddenly got the idea for a story about a boy who goes to a school for wizardry. She later said, "Harry Potter just strolled into my head fully formed." By the time the train ride was finished, she had already invented most of the books' major characters and mapped out many of the main plot points.
In the first book about him, Harry Potter is an orphan forced to live with his aunt and uncle, Petunia and Vernon Dursley. The book begins, "Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you'd expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn't hold with such nonsense." Harry's aunt and uncle treat him poorly and force him to sleep in a cupboard under the stairs. He has believed for the first 10 years of his life that his parents were killed in a car accident. But on his 11 birthday, he learns that his parents were actually wizards, and that they were murdered by a man named Lord Voldemort, who is trying to take over the world.
The Harry Potter books follow Harry as he attends Hogwarts School of Witchcraft, with his new best friends, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, his teachers Albus Dumbledore and Severus Snape, and his archrival classmate, Draco Malfoy. He hopes to one day avenge the death of his parents.
Rowling only occasionally gives interviews, but she recently admitted that she chose to make Harry an orphan because she began writing the books while her own mother was dying of multiple sclerosis. Her mother died before Rowling had gotten very far in the book, and she never got the chance to tell her mother what she was working on. One of Rowling's biggest regrets is that her mother never knew anything about Harry Potter and never got to see her daughter achieve so much success.
The books in the Harry Potter series have grown darker and darker. Several major characters, including some of the most beloved characters, have been killed over the course of the series. Some critics have said the books are not appropriate for children. But those books have inspired a whole new generation of children to be readers. Parents have been shocked by the speed at which children read her books, even though, by the standards of children's literature, they are quite long.
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®