On Reading J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Books


I read J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books over the winter break. All of them: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (1997), Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1998), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999), Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000), Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2003), Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2005), and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007). I couldn’t stop there. Then, I read Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2001), Quidditch Through the Ages (2002), and of course, The Tales of Beedle the Bard (2008). Luckily, there were more stories to be read in the Pottermore Presents series: Short Stories from Hogwarts of Heroism, Hardship, and Dangerous Hobbies (2016), Short Stories from Hogwarts of Power, Politics, and Pesky Poltergeists (2016), and Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide (2016). There’s more to be read on Pottermore, I think, but I haven’t yet fully explored the site.

Why did I voraciously read all of these stories about Harry Potter and the magical world he inhabits in parallel to our muggle world? Rowling’s books and stories filled me with delight and joy! They transported me across time (I’m almost 40 years old), place (back to the United Kingdom), and imagination (the self-consistent fantastic elements of magic, magical creatures, and magical history).

Rowling guides readers to her magical world through Harry and his two closest friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. Then, the world widens through the development of Harry’s nemesis Draco Malfoy, and his widening circle of friends, including Luna Lovegood, Neville Longbottom, Fred and George Weasley, and Ginny Weasley. We discover more about Harry’s past through his godfather Sirius Black and his favorite defense against the dark arts teacher Professor Remus Lupin. We learn about different forms of evil from the controlling Delores Umbridge to the megalomaniacal Tom Marvolo Riddle/Lord Voldemort. We witness tragedy through terrible loss–from Harry’s parents’ sacrifice and the sacrifices Harry’s closest friends and secret ally.

Through the lives of these characters, Rowling weaves struggle and triumph; mundane and wonder; bravery and fear; happiness and angst; courage and uncertainty; kindness and cruelty; and love and hatred. These themes explored and experienced by Harry and his friends drew me into the books unlike anything that I have read in a very long time. I felt the things that Rowling wrote her characters experiencing.

I felt an affinity with Harry and his friends as they confronted the challenges presented by youth, school, and Lord Voldemort. I encouragingly agreed with some of their choices, and I steadfastly disagreed with others. This tension between their choosing the path that I would choose and choosing the path that I would not choose endeared them to me as would real friends. Their youthful humanity made their world as alive and real to me–if not more so in some respects–as anything considered mainstream fiction.

Besides reading about Harry Potter, I consider myself very lucky that I can return to his adventures with LEGO. For those of you who know me, I enjoy building with LEGO. Even though Y and I had not read Harry Potter before, she bought some of the last LEGO Harry Potter sets when we lived in Ohio–4867 Hogwarts, 4841 Hogwarts Express, 4842 Hogwarts Castle. We had left these with my parents in Georgia, who I visited before school started back. I made a point of filling my checked bag with all of the LEGO that I could hold, including those Harry Potter sets and some LEGO train gear (motor, battery pack, IR receiver, IR controller, and track).

During the snow day last week, I assembled all of our Harry Potter LEGO sets and recorded a short video of the Hogwarts Express (with the Weasley’s car flying overhead) traveling past Hogwarts. Over the weekend, I modified Hogwarts to be three bricks higher and the buildings rearranged to be slightly closer to their film arrangement (I have only seen the first three films and those many years ago, so I have all eight films to see in order now, too!). I also made a LEGO vignette of the final duel between Harry and Lord Voldemort. Unfortunately, the aftermarket for Harry Potter LEGO sets is through the roof! I hope that I can get some of the other sets such as Hagrid’s Hut (4738), Graveyard Duel (4766) and Snape’s Class (4706)–I’ll have to save my galleons!

If you have never read any of the Harry Potter books, do yourself a favor and pick up the first one. After you begin reading, you won’t want to stop until you find out how it works out for The Boy Who Lived! In the meantime, you can watch the Hogwarts Express make its way to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry below.


Georgia Tech Library Tours Promote Writing and Communication Success in ENGL1101/1102 and LCC3403

Georgia Tech Library's Main Entrance
Georgia Tech Library’s Rotunda Entrance

Last Friday, I brought my ENGL1101 (College Writing I) and LCC3403 (Technical Communication) students to the Georgia Tech Library for a tour of the facilities and services (and archives for LCC3403).

I believe that libraries are an incredibly important part of one’s on-going learning, personal development, and professional distinction. Libraries aggregate knowledge for its readers through books, journals, databases, and other media. Libraries make it possible for readers to build connections between sources of knowledge, visualize relationships between books on the shelf or articles in a database, and discover things chaotically, serendipitously, and orderly. Libraries, in their own right, are a university for the self-motivated, curiosity-fueled learner. It is the kind of place where people like Ray Bradbury earn a cap and gown.

For these reasons, I am a firm believer in taking my students to the library early each semester and reminding them of its virtues and possibilities throughout the semester. I tell my students that the library is one place where you can grow beyond your peers and become part of a larger conversation in your field of study (or in other domains of knowledge that might enrich their success in untold ways). Furthermore, the Library is the embodiment of interdisciplinarity, because it unites all the disciplines’ collected knowledge in one place for all students and faculty.

Practically, I encourage them to use the library early and often so that they won’t think that it is difficult or hard later on when it might count a lot more in their studies.

Librarian Sherri Brown
Librarian Sherri Brown

With the help of Sherri Brown, the reference and subject librarian for the School of Literature, Media, and Communication and the Writing and Communication Program, I easily reserved a time for each tour and she coordinated with the other librarians and staff to pull off a well-orchestrated, hour-long tour.

Inside the Rotunda
Inside the Rotunda

We began in the rotunda entrance of the Library for a brief introduction to the library and its computing resources.

Learning about the Multimedia Studio
Learning about the Multimedia Studio

Then, we walked downstairs into the basement to visit the Multimedia Studio and its terrific wide-format plotter.

First Floor East Commons near the Science Fiction Collection
First Floor East Commons near the Science Fiction Collection

We stopped by the first floor, east to see the circulating Science Fiction collection before going upstairs to the second floor, east to see the periodicals and microfiche area.

Second Floor East and Periodicals and Microfiche
Second Floor East and Periodicals and Microfiche

Then, Justin Ellis, Library Associate in charge of Gadgets talked with my students about the many technologies from cameras to laptops to tablets that can be checked out for fun or study (or both).

Justin Ellis
Justin Ellis
Gadgets, like books, are a technology to be circulated via the Library.
Gadgets, like books, are a technology to be circulated via the Library.

My LCC3403 students had a special treat on their tour, because we visited the Georgia Tech Archives where Jody Thompson, the Head of Archives, introduced institute-oriented holdings (e.g., the Technique or planning reports) and how to search them. They will be using the Archives as part of their final project to propose and implement a technical communication solution to a problem that they identify around campus.

Head of Archives Jody Thompson
Head of Archives Jody Thompson
Learning about the Archives
Learning about the Archives

Many thanks to Sherri, Justin, and Jody for helping my students navigate and use Georgia Tech’s incredible Library!

Notes from LMC Conversation Panel on “Books, Libraries, and the Digital Future” with Jay David Bolter, Lauren F. Klein, and Me

These are my speaking notes and discussion notes from today’s School of Literature, Media, and Communication Conversation following Robert Darnton’s talk yesterday on “Books, Libraries, and the Digital Future.” The panelists included Jay David Bolter, Lauren F. Klein (remotely), and me.

We met with an audience of about 25 members of the Georgia Tech community in the Stephen C. Hall Building, Room 102 from 11:00am-12:00pm.

  1. My research in the area
    1. My interest in eBooks comes from two tangents.
      1. First, it comes from my research interests in video game narratives in older software for the Commodore 64, Amiga, IBM-PC, Apple II, and Apple Macintosh platforms. Part of this research focuses on the way characters read within the game—particularly, computer based reading on terminals, tablets, virtual displays, etc. and how these ideas filter into reality/production and vice versa.
      2. Second, it comes from my dissertation research on something that William Gibson wrote about obsolescence and how our technologies—typewriters, Apple IIc, etc.—are fated to become junk littering the Finn’s office—in an “Afterword” to his Sprawl trilogy of novels: Neuromancer, Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive [To read it, scroll to the bottom of this page]. The trouble with sourcing this text was the fact that it was not published in a physical book. Instead, I discovered from a Tweet that a mutual friend made with the writer that it come from an early eBook designed for the Apple Macintosh Portable by Voyager Company (what’s left of this company today creates the Criterion Collection of films).
        1. Gibson, William. “Afterword.” Neuromancer, Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive: Expanded Books. Voyager Company. 1992. TXT File. Web. 25 March 2012.
        2. Gibson has done other things with ebook and experimental writing such as his exorbitantly priced Agrippa: A Book of the Dead, a floppy disk based e-poem that erases itself after “performing” one time.
      3. Since working with Gibson’s ebook, I’ve begun studying other ebooks—rediscovering ones that I read a long time ago and rethinking what constitutes an ebook—thinking about encyclopedia precursors to Wikipedia and other software such as the Star Trek: TNG Interactive Technical Manual, which does on the computer things that Rick Sternbach and Michael Okuda could not do in their print Technical Manual.
      4. We can talk more about this later, but I support Aaron Swartz’s “Guerilla Open Access Manifesto.” In my research, I have deployed my own tactics for reading and manipulating text that enable scholarship that I otherwise would be unable to do. Read more about fair use and transformation.
  2. My response to Darnton’s talk
    1. Aaron Swartz’s “Guerilla Open Access Manifesto
    2. Peter Purgathofer’s Lego Mindstorms-MacBook Pro-Kindle-Cloud-based OCR assemblage for ripping text from Kindle ebooks
    3. DPLA  scans of Dickinson’s manuscripts (open) and copyrighted scholarly editions (closed).
    4. Issues of the Archive, Access, and Control.
  3. My suggestions for future research directions
    1. The relationship between haptic experience of pulp books and ebooks (e-reader, tablet, computer, Google Glass, etc.). How do we read, think about, and remember books differently based on the modalities of experiencing the book? We know that the brain constructs memories as simulations, so what are we gaining and losing through alterations to the methods of interacting with writing?
    2. A history of eBook readers—fascinating evolutionary lineage of ebook reading devices including Sony’s DD8 Data Discman (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Data_Discman).
    3. How are our students reading? More students this year than last asked me if they could purchase their books for ENGL1101 and Tech Comm as ebooks. How many students are turning to ebooks due to their cost or ease of access (pirating)? I don’t mind students purchasing ebooks over traditional books, but I have them think about the affordances of each.
    4. As researchers, how should we assert our fair use of texts despite the intentions of copyright holders? We no longer own books, but instead, we license content. [Purgathofer mentions this, but Cory Doctorow and others have commented on this at length: one source. Another more recent source.]
    5. How do we use ebooks and traditional books differently/similarly? For example, Topiary (aka Jake Davis), one of the former members of LulzSec, said earlier today on ask.fm that he prefers ebooks for learning and studying, but he prefers traditional books for enjoyment.
  4. Other responses, comments, and questions
    1. Jay Bolter: What about the future of books, the status of the book, and the status of libraries? What will happen to literature and the literary community? What is the cultural significances of print/digital to different communities (e.g., general community of readers vs. community represented by the New York Review of Books)?
    2. Lauren Klein: What are the roles of the archive and how do readers access information in the archive? We should think about how people use these digital archives (e.g., DPLA). In her work, she deploys computational linguistics: techniques to study sophisticated connections between documents. How is the information being used? Deploying visualization techniques to enable new ways of seeing, reading, and studying documents.
    3. Grantley Bailey: What about people who grow up only reading on screens/ebooks? What will their opinions be regarding this debate?
    4. Aaron Kashtan: Commented about graphic novels and comics in the digital age and about how these media remain entrenched in traditional, print publishing. Also, Aaron is interested in materiality and the reader’s experience.
    5. John Harkey: Commented on poetry’s dynamism and its not being wedded to books/chap books. Poetry is evolving and thriving through a variety of media including the Web, as electronic art, and experimental literature. We should think about literature as vehicles of genres and artifactual heterogeneity (essay, collage, posters, augmented reality, etc.).
    6. Lisa Yaszek: Pan-African science fiction is likely a model for the future. In the present, no single nation can support a thriving publishing industry for SF, but together, African SF is taking off with the diffusion of  new technologies of distribution and reading (ubiquity of cellular phones, wifi, cellular data, etc.).

Robotic Librarians and No Visible Books at New University of Chicago Library

Originally spotted on Slashdot here, Peter Murray of SingularityHub.com writes:

You enter the 8,000-square foot elliptical Grand Reading Room of the Joe and Rika Mansueto library, admiring the arched dome of glass panels overhead. You walk past the circulation desk, gaze at the stylish furniture and think: Where the heck are all the books?

Murray’s concern has to do with the apparent lack of books in the new library on the University of Chicago campus. Borrowing inspiration from robotic inventory management systems, the University of Chicago buried their books beneath the ground-level reading area topped by a glass dome. A robotic crane ferries books in and out of circulation based on computerized requests by library patrons. Is the way of the future that preserves books rather than destroying them by scanning (as described in Vernor Vinge’s Rainbows End)?

In addition to the YouTube video above, you can watch the construction of the library here.

From CNN: Amazon e-books now outselling print books

According to this article on CNN, Amazon e-books now outselling print books – CNN.com, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced in a statement that Kindle ebooks are now outselling print books. Apparently, Amazon is still selling a boatload of books, but the ebook sales are slightly higher than traditional print editions.

Personally, I prefer Apple’s iBook Store to Amazon’s Kindle Store. I also prefer my multifunctional iPad to the one trick pony Kindle. I wonder how Apple and other ebook sellers are faring with Amazon’s aggressive push and success with ebook sales?

Twinsburg Library Presentations on the Future of Books

This past week, the Twinsburg, Ohio Public Library held a special event that featured Donald “Mack” Hassler among a number of other guests to discuss the future of books. I didn’t go to the discussion, but I did hear about it through the grapevine by way of a conference-call email from Mack. One of the folks covering the event for the blogosphere was Tim Zaun, who wrote a very excellent synopsis of the gathering here, which includes an outline of the arguments that each guest speaker made on the future of books.

Reading Zaun’s reporting of the event reminded me of things that I had written in the past on the future of books here and here. In the past, I felt a tension between digital books and pulp books. Each have their own unique and promising properties. However, my thinking has changed somewhat after having played with an Apple iPad.

Actually, I fell in love with the iPad on the several occasions I’ve had to play with one. As much as I lament the loss of the physical book artifact, I cannot ignore the power that a computer affords a reader over a text. There’s so many cool things that you can do once the text is in an electronic form. The thing for the future is to make sure we insist on our rights as readers to the full text and power over the text besides reading. If we’re going to switch to a new mode of reading through computer technology, reading and the things we do with texts should change and transform into something new. I am afraid that ebooks will just be another fight as it has been with the RIAA and MPAA regarding the transformation of their industries. The FCC’s allowing media to control your TV, stereo, etc. with the output block bit is only one example of how big media wants to control what you see and how you may see it. I don’t want this to happen with books. At least for now, the debate seems to be taking place in the marketplace–there is competition and multiple players–all healthy things, but as we’ve seen with other media, a state of affairs that can change very quickly.

I do hope that I can own an iPad in the near future, but graduate life as it is, may prevent this from being an immediate possibility. Perhaps one will fall out of the sky, but I hope that it has some kind of descent assist. The psychic trauma of finding a destroyed iPad would be too much to bear.

PhD Exam Reading List Progress Thus Far

I’ve been working my ass off preparing for my PhD exams, but the numbers are saying that I haven’t done as much reading as I had thought. After finishing Alan Wilde’s Horizons of Assent a few moments ago, I decided to crunch the numbers on the number of books that I had read on my reading list. Here’s how it shakes out:

Major Exam, 20th Century American Literature, 27/59, 32 remaining

Minor Exam, Postmodern Theory, 15/29, 14 remaining

Minor Exam, Philip K. Dick, 14/45, 31 remaining

Total read, 56/133, 77 remaining

I checked off 14 authors over the winter break between semesters (some of these ‘numbers’ include several short works by one author), and I am hopeful that having only one class to teach this coming semester will allow me the time and attention necessary to properly prepare myself for my exams (including my French language exam).

I would probably get a lot of reading done if I locked myself in the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning (interior pictured above) and asked Yufang to bring me a picnic basket everyday, which I suspect will contain a sleepy Miao Miao cat who ate all of my food! Admittedly, that’s too far away, so I’ll sequester myself in my office. I do, however, need to venture out now to take the trash out and get some sleep. Adieu.

eBooks and Librarys

I know that there has been a lot more interest in eBooks following Amazon’s introduction of the Kindle and Kindle DX, but I was surprised to hear that ebooks, while only making up 3% of the book “publishing” market, represent the fastest growing segment of the book market according to this New York Times article.  I wonder if ebooks are beginning the logarithmic rise that mp3s did not too long ago to (almost) replace CDs.  MP3s were around for awhile before the firebrand RIO PMP300, and the style-and-function conscious Apple iPod took the stage and catapulted the digital audio file technology into something more than just a new technologically mediated way to listen to music.  The iPod with iTunes added a streamlined system for selling, distribution, and portable playback of purchased songs.  This, combined with rampant file sharing and a proliferation of inexpensive portable mp3 players, catapaulted mp3s over the walls of the compact disc stronghold.  Now, the rows of CDs for sale in big brick-and-mortar stores are dwindling.  Will the same be true in the near future for books and bookstores?

Amazon and Interead have reading devices and online ebook stores.  Many folks are scanning books and making them available online.  It seems like history may be repeating itself with books following the music model of going online–bits and tech replacing words on a published pulp page.  I’m weary of this transition, because I like controlling the bits that I own.  However, Amazon’s ability to remotely change the way a Kindle works (as in the case of the text-to-speech feature that was killed) leaves me concerned about who controls the device after it is purchased.  

Those concerns aside, what does the ebook mean for libraries?  Ebooks are much cheaper than books, which would give a library the ability to purchase more of them to satisfy their readers.  But, I don’t think the big ebook companies (like Amazon) or publishers want ebooks to follow a lending/reselling model that we’ve enjoyed with real books.  With a real book, I can lend it to a buddy, or sell it to someone else.  Additionally, lending and reselling may take place indefinitely for the life of the book.  This is not possible with the current offering of ebooks.  Amazon prohibits lending, and Interead allows you to trade books four times (kind of like Apple’s iTunes model of sharing songs–read more here). Additionally, there is the initial cost of a reader.  Electronic paper displays on ebook readers are much easier on the eye than traditional, backlit LCD, but this is a new and apparently costly (I wonder how much of this is licensing and not materials production) technology.  The point of libraries is to make reading available to a wide audience, but a greater shift to ebooks may marginalize libraries and their patrons.  What solution might the publishing industry offer libraries?  What should folks like us demand of the publishing and tech companies in the long term as books transition to the digital realm?  This seems like another case of the haves-vs-the-have-nots, and those persons with access to technology will make off with the spoils.  However, according to the Wall Street Journal, the homeless (this is not to say that all homeless experiences are the same) have computers and get online (read more here).

Another Book Haul

One thing that I enjoy about having free time is visiting book stores.  Tonight, Yufang and I drove to Cleveland to pick up a photo scanner from Microcenter.  With that errand done, we decided to visit the local TGI Fridays for dinner.  When we left dinner, we saw a book store across the plaza called Half-Price Books, and it’s big sign out front “We Buy Used Books” convinced us it was worth checking out.

With an hour before their closing time, I didn’t have enough time to scour the massive stacks of books in the relatively small store.  I wanted to go through the Movie and Military sections more thoroughly, but I devoted the majority of my time to the Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Literary Theory sections.  

After spending only a pittance, I walked out with five excellent purchases:  Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Wind’s Twelve Quarters (Book Club hardcover), Harlan Ellison’s Dangerous Visions edited volume (Book Club hardcover), Asimov, Warrick, and Greenberg’s War with the Robots: 28 of the Best Short Stories by the Greatest Names in 20th Century Science Fiction (this seemed appropriate after watching Terminator Salvation last night–more here), Signet Classics Three by Flanner O’Connor (Wise Blood, The Violent Bear it Away, and Everything That Rises Must Converge), and Joseph Tabbi’s Postmodern Sublime: Technology and American Writing from Mailer to Cyberpunk.

I will have to return to Half-Price Books soon, because they had a whole slew of Jane’s airplane books and other military aircraft books that were too jumbled and out of order to make a cursory examination of.  If you’re interested in used books at a great price, they are located at Golden Gate Plaza just off of I-271 at Mayfield Road to the East.

Very Busy and Productive Day

It is safe to say that I got shit done today.  I met Professor Raja at Angel Falls Coffee Co. in Akron this afternoon, and we finalized the first issue of Pakistaniaat: A Journal of Pakistan Studies.  It is an open access journal, so you may go here and read the first issue (or better yet, purchase a print copy so that you can really appreciate my page layout work while supporting the journal).  I had some trouble getting the fonts to embed properly in the PDF of the issue for publication, but I finally ironed out that last remaining snag before we enjoyed a celebratory lunch of hummus and kebab wraps.

After I left Market Square, I drove down Market to The Bookseller and found four useful books:  Science Fiction Discoveries ed. by Carol and Frederik Pohl, Crash by J.G. Ballard (blurb: “A startling off-beat novel of erotic violence”), Radu Florescu’s In Search of Frankenstein (mid-1970s volume on all things Frankenstein), and Jane’s American Fighting Aircraft of the 20th Century (this big book sports two F-104 Starfighters flying over a city port, and I will make good use of this tome when I’m writing my essay for the aircraft film genre essay on The Right Stuff).

When I got back home with some lunch for Yufang, I got back to work on the print version of the SFRA 2009 program.  I worked on that program all damn day, except for a break to enjoy fish and chips and Heroes, but I just finished a rough draft complete with index. I’m very happy with the way the program looks, and I hope that everyone will be happy with the scheduling. Thanks go out to Craig Jacobsen for last year’s program InDesign file, Betsy Gooch for the artwork on the conference flyer that I used for the front cover of the program, and Lisa and Doug for carefully watching over my shoulder as I put the program together.  There will probably be some changes, but I’m estatic that the lion’s share of the program is completed.

Oh, I did take a slightly longer break after dinner than I wrote about above.  In fact, Yufang and I went out for a walk, and we put Miao Miao in a backpack that I wore against my chest so that she could look around while we walked.  She was surprisingly good, but I did have to keep a hand on her to keep her from climbing over me.