Reading Harry Potter for the first time: Part 2 (Chamber of Secrets)

Part 1 – Philosopher’s Stone

Warning: Spoilers for all 7 books throughout! Long post! Much snark!

Chapters 1–5: Dobby and the return to Hogwart’s

So Harry’s had a predictably shit summer holidays because his extended family are awful and Dobby the house elf has been keeping his letters from him because he doesn’t want Harry to go back to Hogwart’s. Apparently the somewhat convoluted plan is to make Harry think he doesn’t have friends so he doesn’t want to go back.

Dobby also does some magic, which not only causes Harry to be punished significantly by the Dursleys, but also gets him a stern letter from the rather Big Brother-esque Ministry of Magic. I would ask “How are they possibly monitoring all the magic use in the world?” but it’s obviously magic, duh.

But if we assume they can monitor all the magic, how can they be so ineffective against dark magic? Unless, of course, they ARE the dark magic…

Oh yeah, I’ve just remembered that character that Imelda Staunton plays was from the MoM! And she was bad, right? Or was she just an annoying bureaucrat? Can’t remember.

No, she must have been evil.

joeytribbiani

So is Dobby meant to be incredibly annoying? Or is that just me? I dunno why, but I feel like house elves would probably be female. So far it seems like all the magical characters are default-male.

Now Ron and his brothers have appeared with his brothers to jailbreak Harry. Wooo action scene.

The moving photos and book covers in the wizard world are pretty cool and I think we’re moving towards this as a society with our love of animated gifs. It would be cool if eBooks had animated covers.

Even the nice wizards are really dismissive of the human world, talking about “Muggle rubbish”. I feel like Muggle is supposed to be a really derogative term, but it’s bandied about by everyone. Sounds like a massive racial slur to me.

“The new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher must be a fan – bet it’s a witch”

What’s with the casual sexism?

So the Weasleys seem to be a really awesome family (it’s these kinds of literary families that make me want lots of kids) but concerned – quite rightly – about putting their 6 (?) kids through a massively expensive private school. Even a wealthy family would struggle with this, so why are the Weasleys painted as being so poor? Second-hand books aren’t exactly a sign of an impoverished life, especially in the wizarding world, where old books are commonplace, surely? [Edit: OK, they are probably poor because they have spent all their money on putting their kids through private school. Which leads me to wonder, are there other wizarding schools? Are they cheaper? Or free? You’d think if there were you would see some sort of inter-school Quidditch tournament.]

Ginny’s crush on Harry is adorkable.

So owls are used as the postal service. But if Ron has a rat how does he get letters delivered anywhere during term time? Surely then everyone should have their own owl PLUS a familiar? That’s like saying you may have an e-mail address OR a personal journal.

Harry has a bank vault filled with wizard gold. But he’s all like “oh, I don’t have any money in the Muggle world”. Like there wouldn’t be a money exchange somewhere. There seem to be way too many mixed families for this to make any sense. Also, where did his parents get all that money?

Floo powder seems like a horrible, horrible way to get around. Not only that but Harry is terrible at following basic instructions like “wait until you see Fred and George”.

We learn from Malfoy Sr that the Ministry are conducting raids. Raids? Seems like this Ministry of Magic are a rather authoritarian government. Were they even elected? Or did they all come of out Slytherin too? But Malfoy Sr does seem to have lots of potions for poisoning Muggles, so maybe they are trying to do good after all.

They refer to Hermione as “a girl of no wizard family” and lament that “wizard blood is counting for less everywhere”. So she has no wizard blood but is still a witch? I really hope this is explained.

Hermione’s Muggle parents are exchanging money! So that means Harry is rich in both worlds. Unless the exchange rate is really bad.

Gilderoy Lockhart sounds like the Lord Flashhart of the wizarding world.

Malfoy Sr is a nasty piece of work, which does make me feel bad for Draco. It’s not like he really had any better examples to follow. I’m kind of surprised that Mr Weasley and Mr Malfoy resorted to physical violence, but I supposed if there had been magic involved the MoM would have been round immediately.

Harry and Ron steal the magic car, leaving Ron’s parents presumably stranded on platform 9 ¾ indefinitely. How are they going to get the car back from Hogwarts? Can you just tell magic cars where to go? They say they need to worry about aeroplanes, but isn’t the train to Hogwarts in another dimension? I assumed Hogwarts was in the wizarding world, far removed from Muggles.

They’ve been heading North from London for several hours so can we assume that Hogwart’s is in Scotland?

Violent tree attacks them in their car, conveniently empties luggage and gives Harry, Ron, Hedwig and Scabbers the chance to get away first.

“Why didn’t you send us a letter by owl? I believe you have an owl?”

Because Ron and Harry aren’t exactly street smart, Professor McGonagall. Also, as much as everyone is dissing Muggles, you’d think they would have co-opted the telephone system by now.

Punishment feasts at Hogwart’s consist of sandwiches, pumpkin juice and silver goblets.

You can have your golden goblet back when you’ve learned to behave, Harry!

Chapters 6–10

Jesus, these howlers. Is public shaming really an acceptable form of discipline in this world?

Aaaaand the messed up points system is back. Hermione gets 10 points for answering a question correctly in class. Does that mean that answering 6 questions correctly would have earned her as many points as Harry got for saving the school/world in the previous book? If so, how could anyone be so upset with them when they got 150 points docked for wandering around at night? Just answer 15 questions in class! And if Ravenclaw is supposed to be full of smart students, how are they not winning every term?

Lockhart is insufferable. I think he’s meant to be though. How did he even get this job?

“My name was down for Eton, you know, I can’t tell you how glad I am I came here instead”

Hahahaha

Why has no teacher helped Ron fix his wand yet? Surely they wouldn’t be punishing him by denying him an important piece of equipment he needs for his studies? Maybe you can’t fix wands. Seems pretty dangerous having a clumsy second year roaming around with a broken wand, that’s all.

Quidditch practice at dawn and they make Harry feel guilty for the fact they lost the Quidditch Cup last year because Harry was UNCONSCOUS IN HOSPITAL. Aren’t Gryffindors supposed to be kind and understanding?

[Boring sports interlude with everyone getting really worked up about sharing pitches and comparing dicks brooms]

Oh, so it’s Mudblood that’s the awful racial slur and Muggle seems to be fine. The whole pure-blood thing is supposed to be a Nazi reference/metaphor, right?

But if there’s nothing wrong with being a Muggle, why is it such an offensive term? Offensive terms are normally offensive when a group of people has been historically repressed and dehumanised. Has something like this happened with Muggles? Did they have to fight for Muggle rights?

“Most wizards these days are half-blood anyway. If we hadn’t married Muggles we’d’ve died out”

How strange. Is the wizard birthrate abnormally low? OR were *they* the persecuted ones?

So someone born to a wizarding family with no powers is called a Squib. That’s nice. I’m really starting to think that wizards are just assholes.

“Have you got anything to tell me Harry?”

This is the point I lose all sympathy for Harry (and teenagers in general).  Dumbledore is a kind, gentle man, who can help you with your problem, but he chooses to stay silent out of a kind of misplaced loyalty to his peers.

Chapters 11-15: Sleuthing around

The terrible trio have based their entire plan on successfully concocting this Polyjuice Potion based on the assumption that Draco is behind it all. They don’t seem to have stopped to think “hey, what if it’s not him?”

We find out during a wizard duel that Harry can talk to snakes – or rather, everyone else finds out. Of course, this looks super dodgy, and now everyone is kind of suspicious and terrified of Harry. Wizards seemed pretty scared in general, with all the “you-know-who” stuff, and being afraid of a young wizard because he has the same talents as another wizard who was a bad wizard. Some very superstitious people, it seems. But then again, as Hermione pointed out in the first book, wizards aren’t terribly logical.

People are being petrified left, right and centre. And even though Harry doesn’t have anything to do with it, he’s being all like “should I have been in Slytherin?”.

“Snap out of it Harry! In five years’ time no one will give a shit about your petty little life at school, especially what boarding house you were placed in!” is what everyone should be saying. The whole school seems to have a really insular, co-dependent vibe though.

Our trio spends Christmas day dicking about turning themselves into Crabbe, Goyle and an accidental cat. The Slytherin password is “pure blood” – gee, how original guys. You might as well have made the password “we are evil, tee hee hee”. But seriously, are we to assume that everyone in Slytherin is a pure blood? If so, then the school/sorting hat really bears some responsibility for putting all the pure bloods in one house together. I mean, what sort of segregation is this? If the hat is merely sorting people into Slytherin based on how cunning they are, then are pure blood wizards simply more cunning than half-blood/muggle-born wizards? Is the wizarding gene inherently evil?

Also, if Voldemort was a half-blood, why are all the Slytherins obsessed with purity of ancestry? Do they only make concessions for Voldemort because he’s the most formidable wizard of the last hundred years?

Wait a minute, Hermione turned herself into a cat. HOW CAN SHE NOT TELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HUMAN AND CAT HAIR?

Speaking of weird, why did they cast a 37 year old in the role of Moaning Myrtle in the movie?

So Draco is not the heir of Slytherin, and he’s also really dumb about bragging about his dad’s underground vaults hidden with illegal Muggle items.

Harry finds Tom Riddle’s blank diary and starts writing in it, as you do. Tom Riddle is just like Harry! What a coincidink! He shows him a memory that is almost definitely fake, and Harry is all like “Hmm, ok, seems legit”. He goes as far as to ask “Do you really think Hagrid did it?”, showing just the slightest bit of doubt but not a morsel of scepticism. Even asking questions like “Who is this dude talking to me from a diary and what does he want with me?” is too much for Harry. HE KNOWS WHAT HE SAW!

Meanwhile, everyone is agonising over which subjects to choose for next year and Harry chooses the same subjects as Ron just in case he is rubbish at them and needs help. Great life choices, Harry.

Seriously, this school needs some sort of guidance counsellor. Especially as Harry keeps hearing voices telling him to kill/rip/tear.

Hermione has been petrified, but she still manages to be the only useful sleuth in the school. I’ve lost count of the number of petrified students, but it must be 6 or 7? Plus the cat/ghost? Either way, Hogwart’s is now starting to panic.

Harry and Ron go to see/confront Hagrid but have to hide when Dumbledore and Cornelius Fudge, the Minister of Magic, come to arrest Hagrid instead.

I really think one of Rowling’s absolute greatest strengths is in the naming of her characters. The names she chose for even the smaller characters just manage to describe them all so well. I wonder whether she has synaesthesia? The names seem to bring the whole Harry Potter universe to life.

Anyhoos, now Dumbledore has been suspended by Lucius Malfoy and the Board! I mean, I assume that Malfoy somehow forced them into this, but what exactly is their plan for running Hogwart’s without a headmaster and with basically no staff other than McGonagall and Snape?

Even in the face of being absolutely furious at Malfoy, Dumbledore remains calm:

“You will find that I will only truly have left this school when none here are loyal to me. You will also find that help will always be given at Hogwart’s to those who ask for it”

See, Harry, stop trying to solve everything by yourself and just ask for help once in a while.

Hagrid is taken to an excessively high-security prison but manages to tell Ron and Harry to follow the spiders.

Now there’s a massive interlude with lots of little spiders in the forest and then more giant spiders. They find Ron’s parents’ car (“the forest’s turned it wild…”) which then helps to save them from the spiders who are loyal to Hagrid, but less loyal to his friends.

It took that whole ordeal for them to realise Hagrid is in fact innocent, and yet they still don’t think “hey, maybe that Tom Riddle guy is dodgy after all”. Because after all, Tom is just like Harry, and you never suspect that people who are like you could do awful things.

Chapter 16–18: The Chamber of Secrets

They are finally able to de-petrify the students, but Harry still wants to go and talk to Moaning Myrtle. Despite the fact that teachers are now chaperoning students everywhere, when Harry and Ron sneak away from Lockhart, McGonagall is right there.

As usual, Hermione has all the answers. She figured out the entire thing, the basilisk, the reflections, the pipes. But since Harry and Ron were busy dicking about instead of checking Hermione’s hands for clues, it’s too late and now Ginny Weasley has been taken by the monster.

LOLS @ Lockhart being “volunteered” to go into the Chamber of Secrets. But why do Harry and Ron need to force him to come with them when he seems intent on running away?

Can wizards do any magic without wands?

Their plan for avoiding death against the basilisk is to close their eyes.

Sounds like they need the Sensory Deprivator 5000.

sensory_deprivator

Ermahgerd Tom Riddle is the bad guy! Luckily he is a fictitious bad guy which means he only almost kills his victims. But Harry’s still pretty dense and doesn’t get that TOM RIDDLE IS THE BAD GUY.

This is like the “HE’S BEHIND YOU” of the book world.

“Harry stared at him. There was something very funny going on here.”

He has to literally spell out the entire thing before Harry even twigs that something isn’t right:

Riddle: I’ve been stealing bits of Ginny’s soul and replacing them with my evilness for like, 6 months.

Harry: Tom, stop kidding around here. We gotta go!

Riddle: Yeah, because of me Ginny committed all these atrocities and then blamed herself and thought she was going mad.

Harry: The basilisk is going to eat us if we don’t hurry! Wait… what?

harrypotter huh

So Riddle leaves himself behind in memory form to one day lead another person to open the Chamber of Secrets. This is an excessively complicated and involved plan.

And now since Harry still hasn’t got a clue what is going on, Riddle has to literally spell out his name in the air and rearrange the letters to read “I AM LORD VOLDEMORT”.

obviously

So Voldemort/Riddle had a Muggle father but descends from Salazar Slytherin on his mother’s side. That’s almost as bad as being an Aryan Jew. But his Muggle father abandoned him, so basically the reason he turned evil is because he has unresolved Daddy issues? But what about his Mother? Surely the love of a pure-blood is enough to… oh, I don’t know. Do something magical? Even if she died when he was young?

Conveniently, Dumbledore’s phoenix and the sorting hat come to Harry’s rescue just in time, because he’s going to get himself killed sass-talking Riddle/Voldemort the way he’s doing.

“But I know why you couldn’t kill me. Because my mother died to save me. My common, Muggle-born mother”

So he’s taunting him because his mother loved him enough to die for him. Classy move, Potter.

Is calling someone Muggle-born a bit like accusing someone of being nouveau riche?

Fawkes the Phoenix does most of the difficult work by stabbing the Basilisk in the eyes. Then the Basilisk sweeps the sorting hat into Harry’s arms and he pulls out the Sword of Convenient Plot Points. This silver sword has rubies “the size of eggs” but Harry can somehow lift it. He stabs the snake but gets bitten anyway, but don’t worry because the Phoenix is crying on him and that will heal him.

And then all that remains is to stabby stab the diary with the fang and the big fight is over. Ginny’s alive! Lockhart has lost his memory. Hooray!

And even Dobby gets set free!

Happy endings all round! The good guys win and the bad guys lose.

And – most importantly – Dumbledore awards some extra points right at the end so Gryffindor win the House Cup! Again!

Which is important because Harry is a True Gryffindor as it turns out it was Godric Gryffindor’s sword he pulled out of the Sorting Hat.

So Harry is a hero now, and probably going to get significantly more insufferable as the books go on.

Sam’s verdict

By the end of this book I found myself actually looking forward to future books when good characters die and suffer and bad characters win (at least temporarily). To me, this read more like a kids book than the Philosopher’s Stone, and it was a bit less enjoyable, simply because Harry and Ron were so useless throughout, and the plot twists were so predictable.

And I missed Hermione’s character while she was in a wizard-coma. Without her, there was very little sense from any of the characters. It just seemed like most of this book was Ron and Harry bumbling around, trying not to get caught/expelled.

Still, it’s a rather addictive series and I’ve already made it a third of the way through Prisoner of Azkaban…

 

Things I read in 2015

When I was a teenager, I was a committed diary writer. I got out of the habit somewhat once I left home and discovered the Real World, but the thing I’d still do every year was make New Year’s resolutions. Aged 13-15 these “resolutions” would be more like attacks on myself: things I needed to change in order to be acceptable. I don’t have these diaries to hand, but I’m pretty sure 13 year-old me thought that “Stop being so fat and ugly” was a decent, achievable resolution for 1999.

As I grew up, I recognised that the compulsive need to change oneself was not healthy, and certainly not something I should be fuelling. Yet I couldn’t resist the urge to tinker, to track, to evaluate. I started spreadsheets (no, I’m not kidding). I divided my life into categories and decided what I wanted to achieve in each over the coming year. It didn’t help me feel any better about my life.

Over the last five years, illness, anxiety and depression have forced me to rethink my strategy. I have had to be much kinder to myself. I’ve grudgingly given myself permission to do things for fun (like start knitting and dressmaking) without the expectation that I will somehow excel at it and become the most renowned knitter-dressmaker in the world.

And part of that fun has been reading things for pleasure, rather than for the intellectual kudos. I joined Goodreads (add me if you want) so I could track what I read and get some good recommendations. I set myself the overly ambitious goal of reading 26 books this year (one every two weeks), and appear to have read just nine. Ah well, life happens. However, I really enjoyed writing last year’s post about the books I read in 2014, so I thought I’d do it again this year, if nothing more than to look back at what I’ve read and just acknowledge it as an achievement.

Without further ado, here is what I’ve finished this year. Links are Amazon affiliate links.

The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz

The book I suggest to everyone who is interested in a low-carb, high-fat diet, this non-fiction book reads like a thriller. It could have so easily been a dry account of how the diet-heart hypothesis (the idea that dietary saturated fat and cholesterol causes heart disease) came to be considered gospel, but it is so well written that it becomes quite the page turner. Teicholz leaves you in no doubt that some very Bad Science has been done, and that the conventional wisdom that “everybody knows” to be true, might in fact be the reverse.

What about Me? The Struggle for Identity in a Market-based Society by Paul Verhaeghe

This is the sort of book that I have struggled to explain to others, but I ended up highlighting large sections of it on my Kindle. There’s an interesting link between psychology, economics and politics, and while his thesis might not be based in solid science (Verhaeghe is a clinical psychologist but an advocate of psychoanalysis) there are some really interesting ideas brought up. I think this book works as a criticism of our increasingly neo-liberal society by covering a wide variety of topics: education, Big Pharma, scientism, and the DSM, but at the same time the breadth of topics discussed make the overall thesis a little confused, and each topic raised could have been discussed in its own right as a book. Still, I would heartily recommend it to anyone, as it’s crammed with interesting ideas.

The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell

A very “journalism lite” approach to the subject of why the Danes consistently report being the happiest nation in the world. There is very little criticism here, but it’s an entertaining read for those who know nothing/a little about Denmark. For me it was a little eye-rollingly gushing at times, as well as being rather blind to problems of race and privilege.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

The familiar “white woman rediscovers herself by going on a solo trip” trope is in full swing here, but this was a good read (at least compared to the vomit-fest that was Eat, Pray, Love). Based on her own life, Strayed tells the story of how she hiked the Pacific Crest Trail as a young twenty-something, grieving from her mother’s sudden death and recovering from a heroin addiction.

The Martian by Andy Weir

Probably my favourite fiction book of the year, The Martian is about a mission to Mars that goes wrong, leaving one of the crew stranded there. Luckily for him, he’s a massively talented engineer (with a good deal of knowledge about farming, apparently), and the book chronicles his survival on Mars. I can’t remember the last time I rooted for a fictional character to be rescued this much. It does somewhat stretch the limits of believability at times, but it’s so damn enjoyable that I totally forgive the author.

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

After rereading When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit (Judith Kerr), which was a childhood favourite of mine, this popped up as a recommendation. The two are very similar in a lot of ways, with the primary difference being that the protagonist is Danish, not Jewish, and she has to come to terms with the fact that others around her are being persecuted. Although the subject risks being rather depressing for young readers (and older readers, for that matter), both books have great charm and optimism, focussing on the actions of good people against the Nazis. The similarities are many: young girl with wise, kind, father. Girl has to come to terms with war & the upheaval in her life.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

This is actually one of my favourite films, and I find reading books far less enjoyable after I’ve seen the film because I’m trying to compare the two in my head. However, Stardust is simply a fantastic fantasy story, both in print and on screen. Plus points for the book: it’s quite a bit darker than the movie. Plus points for the movie: they do a great job of bringing the world to life way better than my imagination.

Zombie Titanic by Joel Snape

A self-published mini-novel by a blogger that I follow. Rather enjoyable. It’s zombies on the titanic – what more could you want?

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

A close second for my favourite fiction book of the year. Superficially it’s about a man whose wife suddenly disappears. Really it’s about relationships, manipulation, psychopathy, and hubris. I don’t want to spoil it at all, as there are quite a few twists, and this one is certainly worth a reread.

And here’s what I’ve started but not yet finished:

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Matilda by Roald Dahl (in Dutch)

The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein (this is rather heavy and quite depressing, I might try and give it another go in 2016)

The Diet Delusion by Gary Taubes (currently reading, it’s a massive slog but worth it)

The Paleo Approach by Sarah Ballantyne

So there you go! I’ve read some good things this year and I hope 2016 will bring me some great new reads. Any recommendations for me?

My top reads of 2014

As the very happy recipient of a Kindle for my birthday last year, 2014 became one of my most productive reading years ever. This list doesn’t include books that I’ve slogged through and given up on, and also doesn’t include a variety of “how to organise your life, stop procrastination and get things done” books.

1. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

Some of the most gripping accounts of war are written from the perspective of children. I remember being profoundly affected by reading Zlata’s Diary when I was young, and although this is a fictional account of the second world war in a small German town, the characters are so vivid and well-written that you are easily immersed in their world. Which is what fiction ought to do.

If you want a more historical account of events, look somewhere else. This novel is not about the war – it’s about people, friendship, community and loss.

I made the mistake of reading the second half of the book on a train. I don’t know anyone who has read this and not cried buckets. Give yourself an afternoon by yourself to cry your eyes out. Don’t read it in public.

2. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

This is a difficult book to talk about as it contains a plot twist early on in the story, which I will not reveal as I found it quite unexpected and rather wonderful. Essentially, it’s a book about family and relationships, even the unconventional sorts. The protagonist is simultaneously rather unlikeable but also charismatic, and her description of having a secret, having a family unlike any other is of course relatable… until you get to the plot twist. Then you realise that, actually her family really was unlike any other.

Yeah, basically impossible to talk about this one without ruining it. Read it.

3. Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes

Hitler wakes up in 2011 Berlin. He becomes a YouTube sensation.

That’s really all you need to know about this book. I found it laugh-out-loud funny in parts and I’m not usually one to chuckle through my books.

Read it if you’re interested in how modern Germany would react to Hitler, or if you like sharp satires on the media. Some of the references might be a bit confusing if you don’t know much about Germany (or Hitler), but there is a section explaining all of them.

4. Sane New World: Taming The Mind by Ruby Wax

Ruby Wax is a comedian turned mental health activist, who has had some very public struggles with depression. In 2013 she completed a Master’s degree from Oxford University in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, so this is far from another sleb book.

This book is a very practical guide to mindfulness, written in an honest, funny and sensitive way. Some mindfulness books can focus on one sort of meditation to the point where you feel like you are doing it wrong, failing, or not good enough. The approaches outlined in this book are no-nonsense, varied, and do not excessively focus on your breathing (which can be a trigger for some who have had panic attacks).

Wax’s writing style is humorous, self-deprecating, but above all incredibly warm, understanding and knowledgeable. One of the best self-help books I’ve read – if you could really call it a “self-help” book.

5. How to be a Heroine: Or what I’ve learned from reading too much by Samantha Ellis

This book is utterly charming: part-memoir about an Iraqi-Jewish playwright growing up in London, part-nostalgic recap of the best heroines of (mostly) British and American literature. Her love of reading is so infectious, and looking back on childhood favourites from an adult’s perspective is a weird but wonderful exercise. If you love the classics, you’ll love this.

6. The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

This one took me a while to get into but it’s well worth it. It’s translated from the Swedish, and the writing style doesn’t flow in quite the same way it would in English, but eventually you get used to it and the humour gets through.

It’s about a man who, on his 100th birthday, decides to leave his care home and climbs out the window while they are preparing his birthday festivities. The book follows his rather slapstick adventures from there, interspersed with many flashbacks about his life. Which it turns out was rather full and interesting.

It reminded me a little of Forrest Gump, with a smarter protagonist, and Allan’s life is very cleverly woven in with historical events. As an explosives expert, he is in high demand throughout the twentieth century, and while the plot gets ridiculous at points (I’m talking about the elephant, mostly), it’s really a wonderful read.

Other 2014 reads:

The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

I read this because the film got rave reviews and in general I like to try and read the book before I see the film. I found this one a drag, to be honest. It’s an account of recovery from mental illness, and reintegration into society, which should be a fascinating topic to write about but I found little to relate to in this book. The bro sports stuff bored me to the extent I can’t even remember which sport they were supporting (baseball? football?) and to be honest it didn’t seem like there was much to like about any of the characters. I would have guessed that maybe that was the point if it weren’t for all the rave reviews online.

Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay

I was curious to read the books which the TV series were based on. What can I say, the TV show stayed quite true to the books, at least this first one. I didn’t bother with the rest of the books as I felt they didn’t add much – plus, Michael C Hall’s portrayal of Dexter is so wonderful that I think I’d really rather watch the series.

The Psychology of Dexter by Leah Wilson

As a psychology nerd, I was curious as to how much of the characters portrayed on TV were based on real accounts of psychopaths. This is a collection of essays on the topic of Dexter and psychopathy, some of which are much better than others. Definitely a book to dip in and out of.

Bumpology by Linda Geddes

A no-nonsense guide to what scientific research says about all aspects of pregnancy, childbirth and beyond. From what I’ve heard, pregnancy is when total strangers give you unsolicited advice about your life, your health and your child, and I hope that when the time comes for me I’ll be able to bitchslap them with science. Or if I’m too tired, I’m sure I could hit them with my Kindle.

The Self Illusion by Bruce Hood

For days when you want the ground to swallow you up, take heart in the fact that there is really no “you” to swallow up in the first place, more like a collection of everything you have ever experienced – internally and externally – processed by your brain into a coherent narrative. It’s not a book you can breeze through but the information is presented in a way that’s accessible to non-psychologists as well.