Reading Robertson (Davies)

The following is a diptych (hey, what did you call me?) I created for a photography project in my university days. It contains one of my all-time favorite literary quotes:

The author is Robertson Davies, a man whose work was introduced to me through my university studies. I discovered the aforementioned quote in Fifth Business and enjoyed that book so much I bought as many of his other works as I could find.

While all of the books I bought were purchased new, today at the Sally Anne I found a used hardcover copy of The Cunning Man for a grand total of $1. I felt like that woman in the Ikea ad: “Start the car!”

I thought, “is this really the right price? Do they even know what they have here?!” Imagine, finding a book of actual substance and literary merit amongst the ubiquitous Danielle Steele and other generic books of varying mediocrity. Surprisingly, I’ve actually found a lot of interesting books in second-hand stores, but this one takes the proverbial cake.

What really makes this find significant is that I just happen to be reading through my Robertson Davies collection at the moment. I recently bought The Cornish Trilogy, which I’m sure I used to own but lost. I’m nearly finished his second set, The Deptford Trilogy, so this was quite a fortunate and timely find for me. Once I saw this unsuspecting book sitting there, a diamond in the rough and a hard cover at that, I knew I had to have it.

The only drawback right now is that I was planning on reading the trilogies in order, so this:

Will have to wait until I’m finished The Cornish Trilogy, which is over 1,000 pages long. I’m currently reading at a pace of 25 pages per day, so it’s going to be more than a month before I can get around to the latest book in my collection.

At least I know it’s here and it’s not going anywhere. This was an investment in the future, a purchase made for posterity’s sake. This is one of the books I’ve been wanting and have never read. I’ve read the three trilogies before but the last time was a number of years ago. Reading through them now I’m remembering pieces here and there, but I’ve forgotten a lot of it.

This latest book, however, was the last one that Davies wrote and I’m completely unacquainted with it. While it’s unrelated, from what I understand, to the Deptford Trilogy, it does involve one of its major characters. Though I get the impression this character plays a minor role, I’m looking forward to seeing what happens.

By securing this latest book and others like it for a dollar or less, I think I’ve proven myself to be, undoubtedly, a cunning man.

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Halfway Through Harry (Potter) – Part I

When the Harry Potter craze took the world by storm, I wasn’t a fan. I avoided anything that had to with it but couldn’t help but wonder what it was that made the series so successful. So a couple of years ago, having never read any of the books or seen any of the movies, I decided to read one of the books, just to see what the big deal was. Starting with the first book I read through it with the aim of analyzing it and trying to figure out what made it appeal to so many people. I figured if I wasn’t into it I could stop reading at any time, but I finished the first book and didn’t stop. Halfway through the series, I found myself, begrudgingly, becoming a fan.

I read through the entire series and also bought and watched all of the movies that had come out up to that point. That was a couple of years ago, the books that I read were copies that I borrowed from the library but about a year later I felt like reading the series again and decided to buy my own box set. I meant to read them soon after buying them but had a lot of other books lined up in front so I decided to put it off until the beginning of this year. On February 14th, I passed the halfway mark of the series for the second time, and a lot of things resurfaced that I had pondered on the first time around. Most of it had nothing to do with what made it popular, but with the mechanics employed by the author.

One thing that strikes me about J.K. Rowling, as well as other British authors, is that even though they speak English just like we do here on the other side of the Atlantic, they almost speak an almost entirely different language. They have a different word for nearly everything over there: they call French fries chips, they call chips crisps, they call a car trunk a boot, they call the hood of a car a bonnet, they call a radio antenna an aerial, and they spell tires “tyres.” I often wonder if North American children know what Rowling and other British writers are referring to when they use terms like these when we don’t use them over here. Since her books are translated into so many different languages, couldn’t they translate them into “North American” English?

For the uninitiated, things could become a little confusing. For instance: Rowling often uses the word “sacking” to describe someone losing their job. This appears to be a very common British slang term, but over here in North America, “sacking” in its main slang form has an entirely different meaning. While it can, in very infrequent instances, refer to someone getting fired, we primarily use it to refer to a male being struck in the crotch region. Given this difference in regional definitions, I personally wouldn’t want to live in England if people are getting sacked all the time. If I did live there, though, I’d make sure I was wearing a cup at all times, you never can be too careful. Given the choice, I’d rather get fired than get sacked.

Rowling uses this term with great frequency, as well as another one: “screwed up.” This also seems to be a common British term as I also recall Douglas Adams using it on occasion. In the British vernacular it means something like crumpling or wrinkling something up. Rowling often uses it to describe someone making an unpleasant face or squinting. Here in North America we mean it to say something is ruined or disfigured, so if a British person were to say someone had a “screwed up face,” it would mean something very different than if they said it here.

I find that Rowling uses these, and other terms, a lot. As somewhat of a writer myself, I’m very conscious of repetitive words that I myself and other writers use. When I read another writer’s work, I dissect their style and when they utilize specific sayings repeatedly, it jumps out at me since that’s something I look out for. When I’m writing, I try avoid doing this as much as I can. If I use a certain word more than once in a paragraph or sentence, I’ll take one of them out and replace it with a synonym to provide some variety to the reader.

While I’m more than halfway through the book series, I feel I’m also halfway through this blog post as it is getting a little lengthy. I’ll continue on with some more of my thoughts about the literary stylings of J.K. Rowling very soon.

Until then, remember: don’t let the Muggles get you down!