Sunday Salon: On Authors, Series, and New Releases

On 27 September, a little over a week ago, The Casual Vacancy was released. The first novel by J.K. Rowling set outside the Harry Potter Universe. The book had been announced for months. Its cover, in itself, set people talking [I am one of those who does not like it much]. There was a build-up, and excitement, and everything that was to be expected of the author of possibly the biggest series in the world releasing a new book into the world. The puzzling thing is that this Harry Potter fangirl wasn’t all that excited.

It is not so much the setting, the story in itself, the sex or the strong language that made me feel mostly apathetic about this release. It wasn’t even the endless stream of “this is not Harry Potter” warnings and interviews and reviews popping up everywhere (although I do admit that after reading that for the third time, I sort of got the message). I like the idea that Rowling is exploring new waters. I like the idea that she’s writing again and willing to show it to the world despite the fact that she’s probably made enough money to never write again. So really.. Why did I care so little for The Casual Vacancy’s release? Why was I more apathetic than exited (which I feel I should have been)? Well, there’s the rub: I don’t really know.

This is what I have been pondering about the past 10 days. I’m not sure I have any answers, but I did come up with a possible suggestion as to the why – which only left me feeling more puzzled in the end.

Because here’s the thing: Perhaps my apathy really is a case of The Casual Vacancy not being a Harry Potter book. Now, you might think that that is no surprise in itself, but I’m pretty sure it’s not what you think I mean when I tell you that. You see, it’s not that I wanted her to write another Harry Potter book. I think the series is pretty perfect as it is. I’d be okay with there never being another Harry Potter book released, even though the idea that this series is over fills me with nostalgia. It’s the fact that Harry Potter is not equated with J.K. Rowling in my mind.

It was only on the book’s release date that I somehow came to the realisation that the quality of the Harry Potter series is really the quality of J.K. Rowling as a writer. Somehow, in my mind they always were somewhat separated. To the point where I might think to myself that Harry Potter means so much to me, its universe, its story, its characters, I love them all. But, somehow, that never made me think of Rowling as a favourite author, or an author whose writing I really enjoy for the writing in itself. This does not mean I do not appreciate her as a person, as much as the next one I like her interviews and I had tears in my eyes when she appeared at the premiere of the last Harry Potter movie.. It’s just that somehow I’ve never equated my love of Harry Potter with J.K. Rowling’s qualities as a writer. Undeservedly, I now realise. But it’s true nonetheless.

The Casual Vacancy - JK RowlingIn a way this is a compliment, I think: it means the world of Harry Potter feels so real to me that I believe in it as a separate entity from the author. To some extent, I feel the same about Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking Trilogy, with the difference that I’ve already read a book by him set in a separate universe which means I’m better at acknowledging his quality as an author as opposed to a single series. In a similar vein, it means The Casual Vacancy will be Rowling’s chance to convince me that she is a favourite author of mine, instead of the creator of a universe I love. That in itself is quite exciting, isn’t it? Perhaps this post will convince me to feel a little more anticipation for the book that’s currently lying on my desk in a reminder that it’s there, ready to be read. (Because yes, for all my apathy, I did pre-order it at the last minute).

I’m left to wonder if I’m alone in this. If when you say you have a favourite series, book, or author, the book(s) or the author takes priority? And if the books are more likely to take priority in case of a series, especially with authors who’ve written only one series to date? I somehow feel it was easier for me to decide Margo Lanagan was a favourite author based on the one book, Tender Morsels, I had read by her, than it is to acknowledge Rowling as a favourite despite my growing up with Harry Potter as one of my favourites stories ever, so much so that I felt justified in exclaiming on twitter that Harry Potter was my teenage life. Perhaps this is because a stand-alone book ultimately makes you accept in advance that it will be the beginning and end of the created setting, whereas that’s different with a series? Which leads to the question if this changes once an author has released more?  I don’t know, I’m just playing around with ideas here. In a way, series or books perhaps do not make a difference. Perhaps it’s really the idea of knowing an author can create separate worthwhile universes?

I really hope any of this makes sense.

13 responses to “Sunday Salon: On Authors, Series, and New Releases

  1. I like the cover in the way that it shows the basic idea of the story in a simple way, though if it weren’t for the author it wouldn’t be eye-catching. I’m with you on the relation to HP, because Rowling’s so tied to Harry’s story that yes, it’s a bit like who is she otherwise. She could be writing this book in part to answer that, but it’s like stereotypes and movie actors, you want them in the same role. Maybe because you read it when you were younger, when it’s more likely you’ll see Harry for Harry rather than Rowling, that’s why you feel as you do?

  2. Another writer this could be true for is Anthony Trollope. You can read twelve books without leaving his two Barchester and Palliser series :)

  3. Yes, I completely see your point – if an author has only ever written one series, how can you be sure that it isn’t just the premise you’re in love with rather than the author themself? I’m sure we all have books that we’ve read and enjoyed largely on the basis of a fun plot or inventive ideas even where the writing isn’t that great. I can’t think of any examples off the top of my head but your words definitely strike a chord with me!

  4. So I wonder if Harry Potter is like Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew for some readers in that what works about it can work in the hands of multiple authors. As long as some basic rules are followed regarding character and setting, etc. the reader isn’t concerned with the author’s writing so much.

    I’m not a big fan, I did read the first two and they were quite good, but I do admire Rowling for continuing to write. I would probably retire if I were her.

  5. It is weird but I have no interest in reading this book. And the Harry Potter series is one of my favorites of all time. You make a good point, and I would agree…I don’t consider Rowling to be a favorite author. Harry Potter stands on its own. And I don’t love it for the writing. I love it for the world, the creativity. So I’m not totally sure how that would translate into other books…

  6. I feel exactly the same way. I loved the Harry Potter books, but I don’t know that I would call Rowling a favorite author. I think that’s part because I think of Harry Potter as one entity, and often when I have an author who is a favorite it’s because I’ve read several of their books. Same with Lev Grossman — I love his Magicians series, but I don’t think he’s a favorite author just yet. I am excited to read Rowling’s new book though!

  7. I’m echoing exactly what Sandy Nawrot above said. I love the Harry Potter series for the magical world they live in, but I never cared much about the writing. It was just the little things about the wizarding world that was really fascinating to me. I won’t hesitate to admit that if Rowling were to write more about the same world, the same characters, or even any setting or series similar to Harry Potter, I would one hundred percent surely read it.

    But, with this novel for adults, without the world I want to visit, I have to first place her alongside all other non-fantasy authors. Meaning, I won’t choose to read her book just because she’s JK Rowling. I will choose her book if it garners my interest the same way other books have to garner my interest first before I choose to read them.

    I choose my books if the synopsis interests me and most especially if the first sentences evoke a voice or writing style that I like. If the writing from the first page doesn’t gel with me, I usually don’t bother. Based on these, The Casual Vacancy just does not cut it for me. The blurbs and the first sentences do not interest me at all.

    Sooo, while I have nothing against Rowling as a non-fantasy author, I don’t see why I’m obligated to read her book over all the other ones I’m so much more excited to read, those other ones I’m really, truly interested in.

    An aside, with regards to loving Harry Potter but not considering Rowling a favourite author, it’s because what I love about HP is the world and the characters and the story only. With Tolkien, for example, I consider him a very favourite because not only do I love his world and characters and stories, I am impressed by the sheer beauty and excellence of them. In short, while I find HP truly enjoyable, I find LOTR overwhelmingly great and beautiful, besides being enjoyable. Also I consider Tolkien’s writing really wonderful. Biased rant here. Sorry! I got carried away. :D

  8. J.K. Rowling is very tied to the Harry Potter books for me, because part of the experience all along was reading interviews with her where she would tell information in dribs and drabs. But I felt semi-apathetic about this release too, mainly because I didn’t want to get my hopes all up. Not liking A Casual Vacancy hasn’t affected the way I feel about JK Rowling; I just know that I like her better in one mode than another. It’s just more information for me to bear in mind, like how I like Eva Ibbotson better when she’s using an Austrian setting than a British one.

  9. I felt the same way about The Casual Vacancy…I just wasn’t too excited about it’s release. I think part of my problem is that I know when books are this hyped, they’re usually a let-down. I think J.K. Rowling is a fantastic writer of YA fantasy, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to being a good adult realism writer. She MIGHT be good. But I’m not going to assume she’s good just because she wrote one good series. If they had advertised it less, I might be more curious, though….

  10. I’ll read it… eventually. Not much in a hurry. Have the feeling it’s not a bad book but that we should have had the opportunity to discover it instead of having it shoved down our throats.

  11. You’ve raised some really interesting points. I wonder how much of this could have to do with the fact that many of us have been schooled to think that it doesn’t take as much talent/effort to write for children as it takes to produce a literary work for an adult audience. You know how it goes, when writers are introduced as having written “x” works for fiction and each is discussed in detail and then, as an after-thought, it’s announced that “they have also written “x” works for children. I remember hearing Penelope Lively speak to this matter some years ago, and it’s stuck with me since. So that maybe, if Rowling’d written a series of fantastical works for adults, we might have been more inclined to have evaluated her as a creator of serious literary works by now (and admired, or not) and to have an opinion as to how we think we’d respond to this oh-so-anticipated-talked-about-hyped standalone work. I’m off to think some more on this…thanks for the nudge!

  12. Pingback: Review: A Casual Vacancy, J. K. Rowling « Jenny's Books

  13. Since I read a lot of children’s and YA literature, I’m pretty sure that I don’t dismiss the authors of children’s books as in any way less than any other authors. But I do associate them with the worlds less. When I think about Middle-Earth or Narnia or Hogwarts I don’t think about the person who created them. This is less true for worlds that are satirized like Atwood’s Gilead in The Handmaid’s Tale or Swift’s Lilliput, Brobdingnag, etc. in Gulliver’s Travels, and way less true for the meta-fictional world of Fforde’s The Eyre Affair or the entirely fictional world of Kingsolver’s Animal Dreams.

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