Meaghan: The Pelican Brief! I remember there was a movie, and it was funny to me because ‘brief’ meant underwear. That’s really my only context for John Grisham.
There were two types of Hogwarts students: the “well-adjusted” ones, who came rushing out of the Second Wizarding War with blood on their hands and smiles on their faces, ready to start their new lives, and the others.
So… how do you think they’re going to resolve the strike?
A quick summary of where we stand so far:
Margaret Hale, our heroine who is whip-smart but suffers under the classic trope of being “not pretty except for the part where her subtle beauty outshines all of the other girls” (see: Anne Shirley, Elizabeth Bennet, Sara Crewe, most smart young women in classic literature), moves with her family from the south to the north (get it?) after her father gives up his position as pastor because he cannot stand the corruption in the Church of England. (Insert your own joke about King Henry VIII here.)
Mr. Hale needs a job, and takes on the role of tutor to one Mr. Thornton, a self-made man who, with the help of his budget-conscious mother, pulled his family out of poverty and now owns Marlborough Mills, one of the largest factories in town. Milton is, by its nature, a factory town, and Margaret quickly learns that people who work in factories have a hard life, befriending a young woman named Bessy Higgins who is dying of a respiratory illness from “the fluff” that mill workers breathe all day.
The question at the core of this book is whether Mr. Thornton treats his factory workers well enough and compensates them adequately. This is where the book gets interesting.
It’s been a while since we last had a Billfold Book Club meeting, so I wanted to remind everyone that we’re discussing chapters 1-25 of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South tomorrow.
Stan Shunpike’s mum always told him that when he grew up, he could be anything he wanted.
When he was a very young wizard, he went to the library with the other young wizards who weren’t old enough for Hogwarts yet, and the librarians handed around paper and asked everyone to draw pictures of what they wanted to be when they grew up.
“I want to be the Minister of Magic,” Stan said. He drew a picture of himself grown up: a big circle of a face with a huge smile.
“Of course you will,” his mum said. “Anyone can grow up to be Minister of Magic these days.”
Stan went to Hogwarts, where tuition was free, and muddled along with his set of hand-me-down robes, secondhand supplies, and a used wand. At first, he didn’t notice the difference between himself and his classmates—yes, their robes weren’t stained, and yes, they had pocket money for chocolate frogs—but he didn’t realize that his cast-iron cauldron was frustrated at having to endure another generation of badly-cast spells, and he had no idea that his used wand was actively fighting against him.
If he had thought to mention to one of his professors that holding his wand felt like putting two magnets together the wrong way, he might have gotten help. But even at eleven years old, young Stan was already mastering the art of politics—which is to say, diplomacy and misdirection.
“I don’t eat chocolate frogs ‘cause I’ve got allergies,” he said proudly.
“You ate your chocolate cake just fine,” his classmate protested.
“It’s the frog bit I’m allergic to,” Stan said.
Have you ordered your free Pizza Hut Book It! Alumni nostalgia pizza yet?
I ordered mine last night, and will provide a thoughtful and nuanced review of the experience.
“They don’t want us to play the Yule Ball this year,” Myron Wagtail (lead singer) told the band.
It wasn’t quite a surprise, but it was a blow; The Weird Sisters had been part of the Hogwarts Yule Ball for not quite two decades, ever since they played their first gig as sixth-year students. They moved from the opening band into the headlining space, and then moved out of it, getting pushed further and further down the lineup until they were the band playing as everybody went home.
Donaghan Tremlett (bass) shrugged and continued to poke at his iPhone, no doubt texting his wife about their grotty sprog or some nonsense. “Getting a bit old for it, eh?”
“Well, we’ve got to book ourselves another gig,” Myron said, “because the band needs money.”
“I still think we should try to book the Fringe,” Gideon Crumb (bagpipes) piped up, but Myron had stopped paying attention to Gideon long ago, fecking squib, only in the band because bagpipe players were extraordinarily hard to come by. And Kirley McCormack (lead guitar, songwriter) had insisted on bagpipes, because of his vision.
Well, Kirley wasn’t even there anymore. He’d left the band a decade earlier, with a new vision. He worked for the Ministry now, doing cultural initiatives. His voice came over the radio every Saturday. He had a house and a husband and fecking corgis and never invited Myron over.
This is the week that we would normally have a Billfold Book Club meetup, but we aren’t going to be looking at Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South until Thursday, October 16 (chapters 1-25 only, with chapters 26-52 for Thursday, Nov 20).
So I wanted to remind y’all that North and South was still happening, and that we are going to judge these fictional characters on how they manage their money.
I’ve started reading N&S, and I am just tickled that this 159-year-old book hits so many familiar tropes:
—Margaret, our heroine, is not pretty. —Well, she’s not as pretty as her cousin Edith, anyway. —She’s actually secretly pretty. —Way prettier than Edith, if you catch her in the right light. —The world just doesn’t appreciate how pretty Margaret is. —They don’t appreciate her intelligence, either. —Except this one guy. —He totally does. —He’s not pretty either. —Just kidding, he’s smolderingly hot if you catch him in the right light.
And that’s all in the first few pages.
This Longreads interview of Caitlin Moran is hilarious and great. She talks about the hell of writing a book (hint: do not drink 12 cups of espresso before noon) and teen fantasies and masturbation and all that good stuff. She also has some interesting insight into what it’s like finding success and being ‘absorbed into the middle class’:
Hermione sat calmly in front of the Ministry interviewer. Her legs were firmly hooked at the ankles and her hands were perfectly folded, one on top of the other.
“Actually,” she said, “I was hoping I could start my own department.”
Her interviewer was not so perfectly folded. He visibly goggled and his glasses slipped down his nose, but he pushed them right back up again as if it had never happened. She was Hermione Granger, after all. What else had he expected her to say?
“All right, we can discuss that,” he said carefully, knowing that he had been assigned to recruit Ms. Granger, recent graduate and smartest witch of her year, to the Ministry no matter what. “What type of department would you like to start?”
“The Ministry’s Elvish Rights Department,” Hermione said.
“M.E.R.D.” the interviewer replied, writing it down with quivering fingers.
“No, don’t pronounce it the French way,” Hermione said quickly.
The best thing about going to Hogwarts was that her mother could no longer worry at her to stop slouching.
“You are so beautiful,” Parvati could hear, the over-emphasis disproving its own words. “Why are you hiding your own beauty?”
The truth was Parvati didn’t care. She was never into shoes, or dresses, or cosmetics. She loved the Gryffindor uniform because she didn’t have to make choices about all of that anymore. She could get up, plait her hair, and be ready to go.
When Dean Thomas whispered that Parvati was one of the best-looking girls in her year, Parvati glared at him and slouched harder. She went off to Hogsmeade with the Beauxbatons student later that night because he hadn’t said that to her; he’d actually said something that was interesting. Parvati found him to be less interesting as the night went on, so she checked off “dating” from her list of curiosities and stopped worrying about brushing her hair.
Later her mother would ask “but aren’t you meeting any nice boys?” and Parvati would reply “I’m learning advanced defensive fighting skills so I can be in a wizard army, I don’t have time to meet boys.”
Because of this, Parvati was spared the crush of weddings that all seemed to take place immediately after the Second Wizarding War. Hermione and Ron, Neville and Hannah, Harry and Ginny—that boy could lead an army, maybe, but he was a right git—her classmates paired off and she and Padma were left standing alone.
Then Padma immediately got hired by the Ministry, and Parvati was left alone. Her mother and father both began asking “don’t you want to get a job?”
The answer was no, but Parvati knew that wasn’t a good answer.