Commitment | HPST B1C1

30 word recap

A world of magic is revealed when an unusual group leaves a very special orphan on a the doorstep of his unknowing, ultra-normal relatives, and hopes for the best.

Everything is Normal

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The Dursleys have a secret: they are not entirely normal. Mrs. Dursley has a quite peculiar sister, whom they never talk to or about. That’s why when Mr. Dursley notices some strange happenings about town, and even hears his nephew’s name mentioned, he tries to ignore it.

When he cannnot ignore it, Mr. Dursley tries to rationalize what he sees despite his fears. He doesn’t want to jump to conclusions, or disrupt the stability of his home. On Doctor Who, Rose does the same in her first appearance: after being attacked by mannequins, she reasons that they are students playing a prank. The Doctor is impressed by her reasoning, and begrudgingly, I am impressed with Mr. Dursley. He’s trying to live a normal life, keep his wife happy,  and provide for her and his son.

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It’s only after the Dursleys are asleep that we begin to see how much more there is in their world. The same way light pollution hides the majesty of the night sky from us, Dumbledore turns out all the lights on Privet Drive before we can see things as they truly are.

Dumbledore has decided that the dull, drab Dursley household is the best place for Harry to grow up. I’m not sure Dumbledore could have known how the Dursleys would treat him, but he was right in predicting that Harry would grow up safely and without fanfare. I’m still not sure if that made him more prepared for his re-entry into the wizarding world… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Where was commitment shown in this chapter?

  • The Dursleys and conformity
  • The Dursleys and fear
  • The wizarding community and fear (until recently)
  • Mr. Dursley and his role as head of the household
  • McGonical to Dumbledore
  • McGonical to protection of the vulnerable
  • Hagrid and empathy / protection of the vulnerable
  • Dumbledore to Hagrid
  • Dumbledore and humility
  • Dumbledore and hope

Lectio Divinia

He hurried to his car and set off for home, hoping he was imagining things, which he had never hoped before, because he didn’t approve of imagination.

  1. Narrative: What is the context in the story?
    • He has seen many weird things during the day, which unsettles him, because he wants nothing more than to be normal and unnoticed. He also thinks that a relative of his is involved in this, which has pulled him closer to weirdness, and made him very nervous.
  2. Allegory: What symbols or metaphors are being used?
    • Mr. Dursley seems to be a reasonable adult, committed to normalcy and other boring things. I think not approving of imagination is a red flag for kid reader, and should be for us adults as well. Mr. Dursley has been described the way a kid would describe an adult – boring, mean, not curious, not whimsical. He is living a contradiction: he hopes he’s imagining but disapproves of imagining. I think this shows his version of reality is impossible, and cannot be maintained.
  3. Reflection: How does this relate to your life today?
    • Hope requires imagination. The value of imagination is not just for the sake of fiction, we need imagination to create solutions. And, I think as a society we can be too much like Mr. Dursley, only worrying about ourselves and turning a blind eye to that which we don’t want to confront. This compounds our fear of everything that we don’t know, growing mental hedges around new ideas and keeping us from advancing. I think this is encouraged in media and politics, and it keeps us from tacking bigger issues.
  4. Invitation: What action will you take?
    • I think it’s easy to get stuck into a routine, and willfully avoid anything that disrupts that. Once things get stagnant, even small ripples feel like big disturbances. I want to stay aware of my surroundings, instead of shutting them out. I want to stay open to the world around me, and let myself be affected. And, react events appropriately (basically, aspire to a state of unagi*).

*(actually, it’s called zanshin)

Blessing

I often say about myself that “the apple fell directly under the tree.” I feel like I’m a balanced mix of both my parents. Knowing them made it easier to know and understand myself. I want to bless Harry Potter, who never got to know his parents.

Harry Potter and the Sacred Text

What if we take this seriously? What gifts is it going to give us if we love something, and love it with rigor, and we love it with commitment?

— Vanessa, Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, Book 1 Chapter 1

During the first episode of Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, this statement lead me to a revelation:  treating things I love with rigor was a natural state for me.

I considered it more of a bad habit: a tendency to over-examine and pick apart everything. This usually results in me being overly critical of whatever doesn’t stand up to this rigor, and overly obsessed with that which does. I mentioned this on twitter, and the podcast responded by asking what sort of things I treated as sacred. I realized that my twitter profile was a mashup of the things I rigorously loved.

In just the first episode, this podcast  re-framed my perspective. I now understood my rigorous love was valuable, and afforded me a greater understanding of the world around me. I eagerly listened to all the episodes, and became best friends with the podcast.

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I’m enjoying the podcast so much that I’ve decided to start a read-along blog. I’ll also go chapter for chapter for the next 4 years,  writing about my view on the themes, likely blending in other things I love.

Re-entering the wizarding world

After reading The Hunger Games, I thought that maybe I was romanticizing how good Harry Potter was. Its been about a decade since I read the first couple books, so I decided to re-read them. Today while working out I read the first line of the first book:

“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”

The first line confirmed two things: its better than Hunger Games and I’m already excited.

HTML & CSS

A solid chunk of my library books have been from the 000 section. I learned basic Ruby last year, with the intent to learn Ruby on Rails. However, I had no knowledge of PHP or MySQL, and my HTML and CSS knowledge was rudimentary and outdated.
After a home remodeling intermission, I am back to programming. There is a better selection of HTML 5 and CSS 3 books now, which is a plus. I’m reading as I create my own site completely from scratch, written in jEdit.
The book pictured here isn’t my favorite; a bit too wordy for me. The information within is very complete, and offers helpful bits of code (outside of HTML) that allow creation of more professional and complete websites.

Hunger Games Notes

There are few things I do because of peer pressure, but reading is one of them. A friend of mine read the first Hunger Games book and insisted that I read the trilogy along with her. I borrowed her book and blazed through in just a few hours. In fact, I think it took me about 12 hours to read the whole trilogy. I don’t share this to brag, only to confess that I read them quick, and my impressions are reflective of that.

I will NOT mention any spoilers. Overall I felt that the basic framework of the story was great, but the execution fell short. It’s not a bad trilogy, and it is for pre-teens after all. I will admit that I felt, while reading, that it was originally intended to be a trilogy for adults (especially considering the dark themes) and it was presented for teens because the writing was at more of a teen level. Maybe a comparison to another book would help me explain: The Harry Potter series is for kids but… it’s not the quality of the writing that makes it so.

The books raises some questions about human rights, society, government, and love. I think that any authored story will have some statements that the literature makes, by virtue of how it is written. In the case of the Hunger Games, I found that some of the issues that drove action in the story were not brought to a meaningful or full conclusion. Some of the statements the books made, in my opinion, were inconclusive or lacking. Sometimes, there were elements of the story that were necessary for the reader’s comprehension, but seemed out of place with the flow of the story. These tent pole moments were necessary to keep the story aloft, but were distracting.

I think that ends all the negative things I have to say about it. On the positive side, the framework of the story is interesting and thought provoking enough to be worth a read. Though some moments are truly tragic and heartbreaking, I think it is the situation that provokes these emotions. I’m not sure the writing was insightful and touching on its own accord. Even though the story is told in first person, I think the main character does not become as dynamic as I would have liked. Ok that was the last negative thing. But, these are impressions made during a quick read through. I may go back, read them more carefully, and write a real review.

Meta Review

These are the books I have read in roughly the last week:

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter by Tom Bissell
Bossypants by Tina Fey
Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America by Jeff Ryan
The Sibling Effect by Jeffery Kluger

Having read them so closely together, I will pit them against one another in this meta-review. These books don’t necessarily have anything to do with one another, though at times they do overlap. I often find that no matter what I read, if I read them in a short span of time I can’t help to notice connections between them. The Outliers book was a grounding factor in explaining not only the success of an individual like Tina Fey, but also companies such as Nintendo. The Sibling Effect, which discusses how birth order and your siblings help shape your identity, is another unifying factor across the different books and the viewpoints of the people that wrote them.

Simply stated, siblings are important. There were some fascinating facts, but overall it talked more about what cannot be said objectively since there are so many subjective experiences in any individuals life, and among any group of siblings. Any section that particularly applies to the reader’s own life experience is understandably more interesting than those that don’t, Kluger has a family history that covers most of the bases. His passion for the topic is widely founded in his own experiences, but the field of research on sibling relationships is strangely sparse and only recently gaining more attention. In any case, its fun to read and hypothesize about yourself and those you know, and how they fit into their familial roles. These family roles are the making of us, and can explain the choices we make. In Tina Fey’s case, her identity as the youngest, much cherished youngest child resulted in an outpouring of love and support that gave her the foundation of confidence so crucial to her success.

Bossypants was exactly what I expected, and yet, it made me realize what it wasn’t. What I expected was a humorous story about a humor professional. At times it was very personally detailed, but that also highlighted an absence of that same intimacy near the end of the book. Of course, that is a writer’s prerogative, especially when writing their own autobiography. Maybe there is not yet enough perspective distance for her to comment on her more recent life in the way that she comments on her adolescence, or maybe her adult life is public enough that she feels she does not have to comment. In any case, one thing that seemed very intriguing in a perhaps unintentional way is how she spoke of her time impersonating Sarah Palin on SNL after she had left the show and started 30 Rock. In the most literal way that it could possibly happen, she had found her place. She earlier laments that she does not look like anyone else, and where other actresses could wear a wig and convincingly portray others, she had never been capable of doing so. This excluded her from certain opportunities, and seemed like a disadvantage when she was younger. As she portrayed Palin, it was that distinctiveness that eventually gave her an unparalleled advantage.

Distinctiveness leading to an unparalleled advantage is the basic premise of Outliers. Gladwell digs into stories of success to show that they are extraordinary, but also explainable. It’s not merely a mystical lottery of  fate that allows people to achieve success: it is often a mix of coincidence, opportunity, and very hard work. Some find that work endlessly enjoyable, as with Bill Gates time spent programming as a young man, or a lawyer who takes cases no one wants, only to gain the experience that years later allows him to be at the head of the field later. (The hard work and experience needed, as a side note, happens to average ten thousand hours. So, you know… plan accordingly) The responses to the opportunities presented is often what opens the pathways to success. In many cases, what could have been viewed as a disadvantage or an obstacle was turned into a unique advantage. This was true for Tina Fey, and it was true for Nintendo of America as well.

In Super Mario, we learn that the start of Nintendo of America was precarious to say the least. The wealthy owner of Nintendo wanted an America outlet during the booming arcade period. He shipped a bunch of arcade machines along with his daughter and son-in-law over to America, where the machines failed to sell. Instead of swallowing the loss, the son-in-law decided cheaply recycle the machines by swapping the motherboards with a new game. That game was created by an unlikely nonconformist by the name of Shigeru Miyamoto. The Donkey Kong game Miyamoto created ignited the success of not just Nintendo of America, but Nintendo at large and subsequently created their flagship personality, Mario. There are also critical missteps by Nintendo, such as their reluctance to adopt discs and pushing for online game features, but never considering online multi-player. Even in overwhelming success stories, there are still some overwhelming failures. These failures mesh into the identity of the success, and are an important part of the story.

It was the same failure among success that I did not suspect to find in Extra Lives. I think that any and every gamer could, from their own perspective, write this same book. That is not meant to lessen the book itself, but instead endorse its premise. Bissell mentions that games gave him and extra life during a hardship he faced, but does not reveal the full details until later in the book. I felt that the book itself slowed in pace right before this revelation, almost reluctant to tell the whole story. But, as he shows in his chronicles of other game makers and in his praise for their work, games are a complex, personal reflection of the people who make them and the people that play them. The games are a mirror for their success, their pride, their failures and their regrets.

Outliers was defiantly my favorite of the five. I expected The Sibling Effect to be similar and found myself somewhat disappointed. I did not expect Super Mario to be similar and it was: full of information and told in a engaging style. Bossypants was easily the most entertaining of all the books, but Extra Lives proved the most personal. I would recommend all of them.

Deepak Chopra

So, I’ve been reading quite a bit of Deepak Chopra, who is a spirituality enthusiast. As I read more, his books seem to be increasingly similar. I don’t think that’s a bad thing necessarily. They are easy reads and certainly urge you towards a place of peace. Here’s my break down for each of the three books:

The Third Jesus:
I read this one first, after seeing it at the library. The subtitle seemed to hint at urgency (“the Christ we cannot ignore”) and I was intrigued.

I was raised Catholic and still consider myself to be so, but I have always found there to be a sort of gap in Catholicism regarding the application of Jesus’s message. I know it’s easy to villanize people who say they believe and act like jerks, but moreover I prefer a slightly more eastern interpretation of Jesus’s message, which Chopra provides. I feel that what Jesus was claiming was a little more abstract than he was letting on, and that his message was limited by those who interpreted it. I also think Paul can be a bit much, but that’s a completely different matter. Now, I’ve been told that really, this interpretation of Jesus isn’t all that un-Catholic, but that too is a different matter. I liked this book for how much it uses text, history, and a worldly viewpoint to give its message.

Buddha:



I almost didn’t check out this book once I saw that it was a novel imagining the life of Buddha, which just seemed corny to me. In The Third Jesus a lot of connections were made between Jesus, who I knew a lot about, and Buddha, who I knew nothing about. I concluded that an imagining of his life would still be informative, and a good place to start. I am glad I read it, even as a work of fiction, because I know the basic story and message of Buddha. Maybe it’s just because I am reading this from Chopra’s perspective, but it is a very similar message of love.

The Path to Love:
I suppose his emphasis on love makes this book very sensible for him to write. Seeing as the “love” part has never been an issue for me, this has been my least favorite of the three. In a fundamental way I agree with Chopra’s perspective of love, which makes reading the book feel a bit redundant. I am not sure I will finish reading it, but he did say some very precise things I have been trying to explain to my husband vaguely for years, so I may have him read it. I suppose I should have chose it for our next book…

Chopra’s style can be a bit flowery and transcendental, so if that is not your thing his books may see sort of corny and generic to you, almost like parody. Even though my skeptical side sees this, I also find the language calming and peaceful, radiating a sense of evenness. Surely, that’s how reading about love affects me: I mellow out and feel undisturbed by the waves of time, constantly in motion. I feel abstract and concrete at the same time. That is how I felt about The Third Jesus and certainly Buddha (since it was less about citation and more about sensation) I would rate those both as GET. But The Path to Love I would say CONSIDER, especially if you feel you don’t have love.

Overall, Chopra is a prolific author with a definite style and perspective. I find that alone worthwhile despite the message.

CONSIDER.

Reviews may continue to be written in this style, where the title indicates whether you should Avoid, Consider, or Get the item being reviewed. The first two books I borrowed from the library, the third one I bought in the clearance section of half price books for $2.