The Casual Vacancy

It is with much anticipation that I go out onto the front porch and pick up the cardboard box with the smile on the side. My latest Amazon order is here! It is JK Rowling’s adult book, The Casual Vacancy. There are no expectations here — other than a nice book to read throughout the forecasted next three days of rain. I figure Rowling should be able to tell an adult story with some finesse. It won’t take a lot to impress me as I am looking to be entertained. The novel was not purchased with the expectation of it being The Best Book I Ever Read.

The Box. I zip it open. When I pull out the book — AHHHH! The Experience. First — a nice high quality book cover. Thick paper. It has a rich feel to it. I can smell the paper, both the cover and the inside pages. Remember grade school blue mimeographed handouts? No, it’s not that exact smell — it’s the idea of smell, of odor  to the paper, to a book. Ahhh, that most sublime tint of ink, a hint of trees and forest, combining to create The Odor of Paper. The feel of paper. This is what brought me to Amazon to purchase what I call the “real” book. I could have downloaded a copy for my Kindle Fire or the iPad but I wanted to hold this particular book in my hand. Same as I did when I ordered *Daniel Wallace’s books last week. I wanted to quite literally hold Big Fish and Ray in Reverse while I read them. The feel of paper.

I will always love books, the real kind. Piles of such books exist throughout my house and line at least five bookshelves in copious amounts. Antiques, avant garde, present day — books. Hold in your hand books.

I will always love ebooks. I am thrilled to hold my entire library in my hand. I can go from Ann Patchett to Joseph Finder and back again, from Kurt Vonnegut, Jr to Joseph Heller and compare their styles just by tapping my finger on a glass screen.

I am a modern reader.

I embrace all technologies — from the Gutenberg printing press to the Gutenberg Project. Some books need to be held and sniffed — like an aged brandy or a gourmet cheese. Other books need a flip of a finger, a tap of a stylus.

For JK Rowling’s first adult novel — I will hold it in my hand and literally turn the pages. For her next? Probably not. It will be a Kindle or an ebook format. As I peruse the initial reviews of The Casual Vacancy, I can’t help but wonder why the vitriol? It’s easy to see many reviewers went into the novel wanting to hate it because it’s easy to do. It’s easy to hate a book, to pick on it and trash it. I know, I was the Books Editor for Popmatters.com for a couple years, early 2000s. Writing positive reviews are difficult. Rowling is well established in literary circles, she doesn’t have to prove herself. And yet, she takes this chance, she sends us into an adult world (and listen, ya’ll, who says Harry Potter was for 9 year olds only, we ALL read it — she quite literally made CHILDREN’S FICTION into the powerhouse multi-million dollar cash cow it is today. If you don’t believe me, come to my house and check out the 45 books I’ve been sent since Aug 1 of teen and children’s fiction by publishers hoping to get a leg up on the Christmas market.)

So it’s too easy to pick on Rowling. It’s also unnecessary. She’s got nothing to prove. Good for her for writing an adult novel. Leave her alone and just enjoy the book. Remember the old rules I made my 75+ reviewers (yes, I had that many writers that I sent books to, edited and formatted/published on Popmatters.com)

1.) Read the book. You are not allowed to comment unless you read the ENTIRE book and not the covers and the reviews of others.

2.) Read the book again for style, content, and quotes.

3.) Research the author. In this case, 3.) is too easy, research someone who is ubiquitous? You can skip 3.) this time. I challenge the reviewers who hurried to publish every so hastily — to get their two quid in first online — to now go and read the book. I don’t think very many of you did. When reading it, take off the Harry Potter glasses and just read.

Tune in on Tuesday for a critique of the book itself. For now, as I hold it in my hand, quite literally hold it in my hand, I am pleased. It feels right. It smells right. It is paper. It has both volume (ha) and weight.

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*I met Daniel Wallace at East Carolina University’s Literary Homecoming last week. He hosted a workshop I attended and graciously allowed us to read one of his short stories and then critique the screenplay, the adaptation of the story. That event will be featured soon on here, I want to watch Big Fish again and reread some of Daniel’s other work before commenting on the most excellent day spent in his company (and the company of some very swell others!)

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