Tag Archives: Harry Potter

Sorting in YA Lit

Next week in class (“The Life Cycle of Information”), I’ll be leading a discussion on how influences such as culture and language shape the frameworks through which we organize information. It relates strongly to the human impulse to categorize. Our entire thought processes tend revolve around putting “like with like.” I think this partially explains why people sometimes have trouble accepting people or ideas that exist within more than one existing category, or outside of the established categories altogether.

The reading and my preparation for the discussion got me thinking about some wildly popular young adult books, and how they include “sorting.” Harry Potter* is the obvious example. In the first book, each new Hogwarts student goes through a public sorting ceremony, which places him or her in one of four houses. Each house has a particular set of attributes. Similarly, in Veronica Roth’s dystopian YA novel, Divergent, all of society is based on five different factions (Abegnation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, and Erudite) to which people can belong. Again, each faction draws a different kind of person. Even with The Hunger Games, there’s the divide between the (tyrannical) Capitol and the twelve Districts it rules. And each District has its own distinct culture.

The trailer for the upcoming movie version of Divergent. It doesn’t come out until 2014, but luckily the third installment in the trilogy (Allegiant) comes out in only a few weeks.

What interests me most is not so much the existence of these different sorting systems in the books (though I think it’s fascinating how both Divergent and Harry Potter both take on the limitations and problems caused by having such fixed social categories). I’m more curious about the way fan culture incorporates these aspects of the books. When WB debuted the interactive online reading experience, Pottermore, one of the most discussed features was its official** sorting quiz. I personally had somewhat of an existential crisis when it placed me in Slytherin, the house known for its members’ evil cunning and ambition. After months of internal struggle, I came to the conclusion that the quiz did not take into account my strong rejection of Slytherin’s trademark traits, and thus I consider myself a Ravenclaw.

This song and video really captures the depth of fans’ attachments to their Hogwarts houses for me.

Likewise, many tumblr posts, fanart and quizzes are dedicated to studying the faction system within Divergent. In fact, before I even read the book, I kept seeing different posts about these mysterious “factions.” Curious about which one I would fall into, I finally read the book. Similarly with The Hunger Games, there’s a wealth of quizzes about which districts people are most suited for. Again, it’s to a lesser extent as residence in each District is a matter of dictatorship rather than personal choice. But I still find it intriguing that all three of these bestselling series incorporate worlds where people live in formally defined categories.

It reminds me of something one of my favorite musicians, Alex Carpenter (see above), said in a recent video blog he did about rivalry.

“We’re saying to someone, ‘Hey. We both like the same thing, pretty much. We both like this sport, or this book, but we’re going to create a division within that just so we can yell at each other and pretend that we don’t like the same thing.’”

This brings me back to the reading I’ve been doing for class, and the way we seem to instinctively categorize and subcategorize both ourselves and the world around us. There are people who like books, and within that, people who like certain types of books (fantasy, dystopian, young adult, etc.), even people who like specific series. But within that already pretty specific category, it keeps on dividing. Into people who sort themselves one way or another.

Do you have any other examples of popular series that have the attraction of sorting? If you have your own sorting story, share it in the comments!


*Harry Potter is a bit ambiguous in terms of it’s designated reader age. It’s a children’s book series with some very adult themes and crossover appeal. I DON’T KNOW WHICH CATEGORY TO PUT IT IN. But since its protagonists are teenagers and many young adults read it, I’ll include it.

**J.K. Rowling herself approved and tested it, which gave it much more authority than if it was just a quiz WB had created without her input.



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Because of Wizard Rock

“Is this song about Harry Potter?”

I’ve been asked this question by friends on more than one occasion over the past four years. I’m not ashamed to say that a large proportion of my music library is comprised of wizard rock. It has been the soundtrack for my college years. “This isn’t Hogwarts, this is a concrete box” aptly describes my first-ever dorm room and the feelings I had during my first month of college. I was singing “Charlie Weasley doesn’t really love me, he only loves his dragons” at the top of my lungs when I was pulled over for my first (and hopefully last) speeding ticket. And as someone who’s spent the past four years living on the banks of Lake Ontario, “by the banks of the lake, I watch the sun become a glimmer, I watch it set. As the summer breeze blows, I close my eyes, enjoy these days with my good friends” precisely captures some of my best college memories.

A lot of people have some misconceptions about wizard rock. After all, how many songs can be written about the same characters and plotlines? “I like the books, but I don’t think I’d want to hear about them all the time.” Good wizard rock, though doesn’t just summarize or transcribe the events of the books, it connects with the universality of many of the themes and characters in Harry Potter. Oliver Boyd and the Remembralls’ “Dumbledore’s Song,” though it tells the story of Dumbledore’s death, carries a greater message about the grief that follows the loss of a mentor. “Don’t Leave,” my favorite Ministry of Magic song, discusses the strain that constantly fighting for a larger cause can put on a relationship. And of course, the Moaning Myrtles’ “Transparent” talks about how love of this series, this music, and this fandom has helped give fans confidence to take their place in the world.

I know the wizard rock music I’ve listened to and the friends I’ve made through the Harry Potter fandom have really helped me personally grow in confidence over the past four years. I’ve made many online friends through a shared passion for Harry Potter, and I would not trade that for the world. I’ve gotten a chance to spend time with them through wizard rock concerts and LeakyCon 2012, a Harry Potter convention (miss you, Nadia, Ella, Patty, Mack, Sarah, and Chelsea!). Are our bonds based solely on our Potter passion? Of course not. That’s what fandom does, though. It acts as a starting point. It’s like my favorite C.S. Lewis quote: “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.'” That’s one reason why I love the Internet, why I love wizard rock concerts, and fan conventions. It helps the Luna Lovegoods and Neville Longbottoms of the world find each other.

It extends beyond the Internet, though. As I mentioned above, the first month or so of college, I was pretty miserable. I’d somehow ended up in a rundown party dorm, full of people I wasn’t sure how to connect with. In October, I made my first real friend at college. We had a class together, and the first time we ever really talked, I made a joke that she had “Ginny Weasley hair.” Though it has since emerged that she’s not a huge Harry Potter fan, the fact that she accepted the reference as something interesting and funny helped me realize it was okay for me to be me in college, nerdiness and all. I said goodbye to her today for the next few years, as we go our separate ways for grad school (her to Ireland, me to Seattle). We’ll stay friends, though – kindred spirits are like that.

Although many of my favorite wizard rock bands are (mostly) retired, the music will still be there (mainly on YouTube and iTunes) for those who want to listen to it. In the meantime, new musicians are constantly generating music, some for the Harry Potter fandom and others for different fandoms. As a B.A. in English and Creative Writing, it’s one of my favorite ways of analyzing literature. It explores the text and the subtext and expands upon it, bridges the personal and the universal. Some songs are musically brilliant, others have haunting lyrics. Some are just fun to dance to (I’m looking at you, “Looking for Trouble”). My go-to suggestions for people are The Remus Lupins (TRL) and Oliver Boyd and the Remembralls. If you want more specific suggestions, leave a comment and I’d be happy to give you some ideas! Also, note that Alex Carpenter, the voice of The Remus Lupins has also written a lot of songs about Doctor Who and The Hunger Games, if you’re interested.

On another note, I’ve decided to avoid promising future posts from now on. Last post I promised a review of The Moon and More for next post, and while I wanted to write that post then, as I had just read it, I was less interested in writing the review as more time passed and I read more books. That was part of the reason this post took a little longer than usual, and I finally decided to just post about whichever book-related topic I feel drawn to at the time.

The Remus Lupins’ iTunes page (Nevermind the Furthermore is my favorite album)
Oliver Boyd and the Remembralls’ iTunes page
Tonks & the Aurors’ iTunes page (artist of the infamous “Charlie Weasley,” which helped earn me that speeding ticket)
Ministry of Magic’s iTunes page
The Moaning Myrtles’ iTunes page

Bonus feature: A cover of The Remus Lupins’ “Lovely Lily” by my wonderfully talented friend Patty Pierzchala! Both the song and the singing are gorgeous:


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MarkReads (and reads, and reads, and reads)

Only four posts in, and the time has come already – blogception. This post will be a blog about a blog, specifically MarkReads.net. I discovered MarkReads the fall before last, during my time in Istanbul. While some days I loved wandering through the city in its perpetual autumn drizzle, sometimes it was just as satisfying to spend the day curled up in my dorm with a cup of apple tea and my laptop. I’d been trying to decide between the two Harry Potter conventions happening in the summer of 2012, Ascendio and LeakyCon. I saw Mark Oshiro of MarkReads listed as a special guest for Ascendio. Interest piqued, I innocently clicked the link to his website. I then proceeded to work my way through the entirety of his “Mark Reads Harry Potter” posts in only a few days

He’s even edited and compiled his posts into e-books, available at markdoesstuff.com

MarkReads provides some of the most in-depth book reviews I’ve ever come across. Mark Oshiro does chapter-by-chapter reviews of popular books and series. His whole enterprise started in 2009, when he undertook someone’s challenge for him to read and review the entire Twilight series (which he ended up hating). He later took on the Harry Potter series, writing reviews for each and every chapter of all seven Harry Potter books (which he ended up loving). I cannot even begin to fathom writing that many blog posts. Although he doesn’t review exclusively Young Adult books, many of the books he has reviewed in the past have been YA – Looking for Alaska, The Book Thief, His Dark Materials, The Hunger Games. For those of you less interested in reading, he also has sister sites called MarkWatches and MarkPlays, where he does similar-style reviews for television shows and video games.

On the surface, reading a review for every chapter of a book or series of books might not sound that enticing. This is where Oshiro’s writing comes into play. His writing tends to be full of humor, honesty, and enthusiasm. He sometimes includes details from his own life to explain why he connects especially strongly to a certain scene or chapter in a book. His posts contain unconcealed glee for well-developed characters and expertly executed plot twists. It’s not the kind of book review that gets printed in the New York Times but maybe it should be.

One of the best parts of MarkReads is that Oshiro knows little or nothing about each book he reads, which keeps the element of surprise almost completely intact for him. This leads to much ironic humor, as sometimes he’ll make joking speculations about future events in the story that turn out to be completely correct, or he’ll be totally off base with his predictions. If you’ve read the books Oshiro’s reviewing, reading his posts is the same kind of fun found in soap operas or books with third-person omniscient narrators; you know the endings, the character motives, the future betrayals, while he gets to be the hapless character, bumbling blindly through the book.

I suppose I should reveal my own secret bias. Right now, he’s reviewing all of Tamora Pierce’s books. He’s finished the first quartet (The Song of the Lioness) and is halfway through the second (The Immortals), and has already become a Tamora Pierce fan of my own magnitude. I sometimes think that the key to my heart is Tamora Pierce; every person I’ve ever met who enjoys her books turns out to be someone awesome (my former roommate, a friend from Germany, my little sister, etc). So nothing makes me happier than watching someone else fall in love with her work.

I’ll just wrap up by mentioning that Mark Oshiro is going on tour soon. For those of you who are also in the Central New York area, he is having an event in Syracuse on March 27th. At 6:30 p.m., he’ll be giving a talk at Le Moyne College called “Mark Reads & So Do You: Literacy Development Through Online Communities.” In his own words, it’ll be about “how Mark Reads started, why [he’s] so interested in promoting literacy and being a bookworm online, and how educators in the future need to consider things like online communities, identity politics, and the power of being a nerd when teaching English and literature.” I’d really encourage any local English and Creative Writing majors to attend; it’ll be a chance to get some insight from an extremely successful blogger, and any talk he gives is bound to be a lot of fun.

Facebook Page for Syracuse MarkReads Event

Edit: His reviews do tend to contain a lot of spoilers, so my advice is to either only read reviews for books you’ve already read, or read along with him. Much thanks to Carol for suggesting I add this disclaimer.


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