I’ve read all the books. I've seen all the movies. (And yes, you might have seen me at a number of midnight showings.) I've also been known to spend time with equally fanatic friends debating whether butterbeer actually has alcohol in it and trying to remember the name of Ginny’s Weasley's Pygmy Puff. (It’s Arnold). So it’s probably a given that I’d be predisposed to love the Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park.
But guess what – I'm just back from a four-day trip to Orlando and I have to tell you that it's even better than I thought.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened as part of the Islands of Adventure theme park located at Universal Studios Florida. First opening its Hogsmeade gates in 2010, it’s been mostly well-received by travel writers and Potter fans alike. A California equivalent, located at Universal Studios Hollywood, is scheduled to open sometime between 2014 and 2016.
The park itself is created to look like the village of Hogsmeade, a small area located near Harry’s school, Hogwarts, where magic students can go on the weekends to shop and socialize once they’ve reached their third year. Some of the most memorable scenes in the village take place during the winter, and this Florida version of Hogsmeade is built as if you stumbled upon it in January, with snow-covered roofs that glisten in the sunlight and smoke streaming from chimneys as if the building’s inhabitants were huddled around a fire.
Visitors to the Wizarding World walk through tall gray gates to enter the village of Hogsmeade and are greeted by the Hogwarts Express, the red train students use to get to school. To the left, there's a row of shops. Memorable locations from the books include Zonko’s Joke Shop and Honeydukes, a candy shop, with products fans will recognize from the books, items like Fanged Frisbees. (These were forbidden to Hogwarts students, of course, by crotchety caretaker Argus Filch).
Other Hogsmeade stores include Gladrags Wizardwear and Dervish and Banges, which, among other things, sells Quidditch equipment. The window shops are all enticing. In one, a replica of Hermione’s beautiful dress that she wears to the school formal, the Yule Ball, is on display. Another features a shrieking mandrake, a plant that resembles a crying baby that Harry and his friends are forced to tend in Harry Potter Book No. 2. There are also portraits of Gilderoy Lockhart (as he is in the second movie, played by Kenneth Branagh) in another window, looking self-satisfied as always.
A welcome open area on the right is shaded by a large overhang and supplied with benches so younger kids, the elderly or anyone who just needs a break from the Florida heat can take a seat for a breather. While sitting, you can admire the Owl Post area, where you can actually send letters if you want to gloat to friends back home. If you stand outside, you can hear angry parents berating their children, including a dad who’s angry about a low grade on an exam, in a nod to the Howler letters Hogwarts children receive in the books when a parent is especially angry. The bright red envelopes, when opened, release the loud voice of a parent shouting at a child, loud enough for the entire school to hear.
Before long, you’re bound to notice two lines. The one stretching down the middle of the Hogsmeade avenue, leading towards a small wooden cart, is for butterbeer, the Potter drink described in the books as indescribably delicious. The park equivalent comes in two varieties, regular, which is likened by those in the know to cream soda, and frozen. However, if you head over to the Three Broomsticks restaurant, the main eating establishment in the Potter park, you can get both butterbeer and pumpkin juice, another popular beverage with visitors.
For me, the line was a little long for the butterbeer and timing didn’t work out for a meal at the Three Broomsticks, but the restaurant has traditional British fare in keeping with Harry Potter’s origins. Some may love it, while others may be a little leery. However, one of my favorite landmarks was located right near the restaurant – an animated "Have you seen this wizard?" poster, which was hung in Hogsmeade in Harry Potter Book No. 3. Like the fictional version, the Universal poster features then-fugitive criminal Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) laughing maniacally just above instructions to notify Ministry of Magic officials if you happen to spot him.
The other line – besides the one for butterbeer – is people waiting for the privilege of entering Ollivanders Wand Shop, and unless the line is prohibitively long and you really can’t take the time, it’s worth the wait. (Yes, die-hards, in the books, Ollivanders isn’t located in Hogsmeade. According to park lore, this is a separate shop, a spin-off within the Ollivanders franchise.) The line moves slowly because inside the shop, which sells wands to Hogwarts students, a wandkeeper performs a show for 20 visitors at a time, picking a lucky visitor to try out wands just as Harry does during his visit. While I can’t speak for any substitutes, the wandkeeper I saw was phenomenal, with dramatic pauses and a kindly smile that invited the rest of the audience to share in the magic.
Are you a ride daredevil? Then you have three to choose from within the Wizarding World, the tamest of which is Flight of the Hippogriff, a smaller roller coaster based on a winged creature that Harry rides during the course of the novels. A plus with this one is that you get to see the cabin that serves as the home of Hagrid, the school’s gamekeeper. Flight of the Hippogriff is the tamest of the Potter attractions, but it does take some dips so beware if you really can’t stand any sort of roller coaster motions.
If you’re ready for a step up, the big roller coaster on the premises is the Dragon Challenge, modeled after a challenge Harry and other students must complete in Book No. 4, when they each have to retrieve an egg from beneath a very protective mother dragon. The ride consists of two coasters named after two of the dragons in the book, the Chinese Fireball and the Hungarian Horntail, and the path leading up to the coasters sports cool details like signs with slogans supporting Harry and his fellow contestants. Near the end, coaster riders actually walk through a tent designed to look like the one in which Harry and the other three participants wait before facing their dragon. The Chinese Fireball and the Hungarian Horntail are both good, but for my money, if you only have time for one, go for the Horntail – it has more twists and upside-down loops (if you like that sort of thing).
The flagship attraction is Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, located inside Hogwarts Castle – and yes, you get to go in. Hogwarts looms above Hogsmeade as you walk through the village towards the school, and the line for the Forbidden Journey ride begins outside the school gates, winding through a separate queue area before going through the gates, up through greenhouses (used in the books for Herbology classes), and finally into the castle. The wait for this ride can stretch to hours, but if you’re a Potter fan, you’re apt to forget it once you’re inside the castle.
The line takes you through rooms such as a hallway where talking portraits of the four Hogwarts founders debate recent events; Harry’s dorm, Gryffindor Tower, complete with the talking portrait that lets students inside; and Dumbledore’s office, where the head wizard himself (played by Michael Gambon) has a message for you. A highlight is the History of Magic classroom, where the heroes Harry, Ron, and Hermione arrive to bust you out of a boring lesson. Try not to catch your breath when Ron, who sometimes has trouble with spells, accidentally makes it snow and flakes appear in front of you.
The premise of the Forbidden Journey ride is that you, a very special group of Muggles (non-magic users), have been invited into the castle to experience Hogwarts life firsthand, and Harry, Ron, and Hermione are determined to show you a good time. But the usual menaces lurk, including Dementors, ghostly hooded apparitions who menace Harry and feed on bad memories, and a dragon which Hagrid seems to have misplaced.
The ride is spectacular, using a combination of screens and actual props to convey the feeling to riders that what they’re experiencing is completely real – you’d swear your feet are about to skim the surface of the lake over which you’re flying. In the ride, you sit four to a vehicle in chairs facing forward that swing wildly in various directions to take you in and out of scenes and convey you through adventures, from the fun – flying with Harry through a Quidditch game – to the scary. I mentioned those Dementors, right?
Riders must be 48 inches tall, and maybe I’m just a wimp about this kind of thing, but if you’re a parent, check the ride out before going on with your child. I saw kids who just made the four-foot cut who loved the ride and appeared completely unfazed, but a scary section in the middle of the ride takes you from a face-to-face encounter with the dragon – who’s big and breathes fire at you – to a trip into the lair of the giant spiders from “Chamber of Secrets” to an up-close meeting with those dementors, who breathe creepily and appear determined to make you their latest victim – until Harry arrives, of course.
Molly Driscoll is a Monitor contributor.
You’re a teenager writing a novella or poem. You dot that last "i," cross the final "t" – and then what?
Some middle and high schools have creative writing classes, but not all of them. And as any writer knows, feedback is key to improving a manuscript.
So writer Dana Goodyear and Jeff Lewis, managing editor of former business magazine Portfolio, founded Figment, a writing site for teens and young adults to post their writing and receive feedback. Created in December 2010, it’s been skyrocketing in popularity, with more than 200,000 users currently registered. Last December, the site published its first print book, titled “Dream School” by Blake Nelson.
Most users are between 13 and 17, according to site data, but some skew a little older. Users can form groups on the website, and some are apparently created at the behest of teachers for a class, with titles like “Mrs. Klopp’s Second Period Poets.” Other groups have specific interests, like one created for those who want to participate in an online role-playing wolf game.
There are also contests on the site. One, for instance, asks users to write a chapter (based on the book “Grave Mercy” by Robin LaFevers) about a character who is lying about his or her identity. And of course there are forums which are divided into sections like “Fanfiction,” “Writing scraps” (for works which have a plot but no characters), and “Full-length stories.” Other forums aren’t strictly about writing but more for general discussion, like “From Gaga to Godfather,” which encourages users to talk about pop culture. And then there's also an aptly named “General/random” forum.
Molly Driscoll is a Monitor contributor.
Lauren Oliver, bestselling author of the young adult "Delirium" series, will publish a book for adults in the fall of 2014.
Oliver’s "Delirium" trilogy centers on a futuristic society where the government “cures” people when they turn 18 so they don’t fall in love. In the series, two teenagers, Lena and Alex, find themselves unexpectedly defying society’s rules. The third and final novel in the series, “Requiem,” is due to be released in 2013.
Oliver's adult book is titled “Rooms,” according to the publisher Ecco, which is an imprint of HarperCollins.
“[It was] as instantly gripping as it was elegantly written,” the book’s editor, Lee Boudreaux, told the New York Times of reading “Rooms” for the first time.
Molly Driscoll is a Monitor contributor.
There were 326 instances of books challenges that were sent to the American Library Association in 2011, according to the ALA. The association releases a list each year of the books that received the most objections over the past year, and while there are some newcomers to this year's list, many of the top 10 for 2011 are frequent offenders.
The “ttyl” series by Lauren Myracle, author of “Shine,” earned the number one spot on the list for 2011. While it escaped the top ten rankings entirely for the 2010 list, the series, which follows three high school girls via their online instant messages, snagged the number one spot in 2009 and was number three in 2008. The books were challenged for sexually explicit content and offensive language, among other charges.
The second most frequently banned books, however, were "The Color of Earth" series by Kim Dong Hwa, a newcomer to the ALA top ten list. “Color” is the story of the daughter of a single mother living in Korea who runs a tavern. The books ran afoul of parents and teachers because of nudity (the books are graphic novels) and sex education depicted in the series as well as other complaints.
Another familiar title in the 2011 list was the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, which was number three this year and came in at number five last year. It was challenged for violence and sexual content. “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie, which was number two last year and was cited for offensive language, racism, and its religious views, was ranked number five in 2011. “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley, which landed the seventh spot this year and was number three in 2010, was challenged due to nudity, racism, and sexually explicit content, among other charges.
A newcomer was “My Mom’s Having A Baby!” by Dori Hillestad Butler, which came in at number four for the 2011 most-challenged list but had not made the rankings before, despite being published in 2005. The book is written for younger children who have a parent who is expecting a child, but according to the ALA, teachers and parents complained about the book’s nudity and sexual content.
Other titles that made the 2011 top ten list included the "Alice" series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, which follow the adventures of a young girl through her senior year of high school. The books were challenged due to nudity and offensive language, among other problems. The "Alice" books last made the list in 2006. “What My Mother Doesn’t Know,” by Sonya Sones, a novel about a female high school freshman told through poetry, was also number seven on the list last year. The "Gossip Girl" series by Cecily Von Ziegesar, which has also made the list in past years, was ranked number nine for 2011, and “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, which was ranked number four in 2009, came in at number ten for this year.
This was the first year the illustrated book “And Tango Makes Three” by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, a children’s book about two male penguins who raise a baby, did not make the ALA list since its publication in 2005. Last year, “Tango” ranked as the number one most challenged book, and it was the second-most challenged in 2009.
Molly Driscoll is a Monitor contributor.
It’s a sad day for indie bookstores and a sign of more consolidation in the publishing world.
Reports emerged this week that Google contacted the American Booksellers Association and Powell’s Books to announce that it is ending its Google eBooks reseller program as of January 31, 2013. The program gave independent bookstores a leg up by allowing them to sell e-books through Google’s platform. With the cancellation of that program, lauded by indie supporters across the world, Google Play will be the only platform through which consumers can buy e-books through Google.
Google explained its decision in a post on its blog: “With the launch of Google eBooks in 2010, we introduced a multi-faceted approach to selling ebooks: online, on devices, through affiliates and through resellers. One part of that effort – the reseller program – has not gained the traction that we hoped it would, so we have made the difficult decision to discontinue it by the end of January next year.”
CEO of the ABA Oren Teicher sent a letter to members Thursday morning notifying them of the cancellation. “To the say the least, we are very disappointed in Google’s decision,” he wrote, “but we have every confidence that long before Google’s reseller program is discontinued, ABA will be able to offer IndieCommerce users a new alternative e-book product, or choice of products.”
“Google Play seems to be Google’s bid at centralizing all of their services into one place to better compete with Apple’s iTunes marketplace. Providing eBooks from one location, instead of many, would help to decrease confusion over eBook sources,” writes WebProNews writer Zach Walton.
The move certainly makes sense for Google, but it leaves consumers with fewer choices and indie bookstores with less leverage. Of course, Google must tread carefully as it tries to compete with the likes of Amazon and Apple as it moves into this market lest it lose goodwill. What it needs to avoid are comments like these, posted on Publisher’s Weekly, in response to Thursday’s news:
“Google is becoming just as overbearing as Amazon. This is a real disappointment to those of us who like to support independent bookstores when buying e-books.”
“What I find sad about this is that I remember when Google started and they were positioning themselves as cool, hip, and independent. They have definitely lost that and become just another fat cat like Microsoft and Amazon.”
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
Nearly a year after a 60 Minutes investigation charged “Three Cups of Tea” author Greg Mortenson fabricated some of the accounts in his beloved bestseller and that his charity mishandled donations, news emerged this week that a Montana Attorney General’s office investigation found significant mismanagement of funds at the author’s nonprofit and ordered Mr. Mortenson to reimburse his charity more than $1 million.
According to the investigative report, Mortenson spent millions of dollars in charity money on personal items, family vacations, and charter flights. His charity, the Central Asia Institute, was founded to build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Mortenson “had significant lapses in judgment resulting in money donated to CAI being spent on personal items such as charter flights for family vacations, clothing, and internet downloads,” Montana State Attorney General Steve Bullock said in an announcement Thursday, as reported by CBS News.
Mortenson’s haphazard control of the charity went largely unchallenged by CAI’s board of directors, which consisted of Mortenson and two people loyal to him, according to the investigative report.
“The result was a lack of financial accountability in which large amounts of cash sent overseas were never accounted for,” reports the AP. “Itemized expenses listed as program-related were missing supporting receipts and documentation. Employees and family members charged items such as health club dues and gifts to CAI credit cards.”
Among the financial mismanagement: Mortenson bought thousands of copies of his books, “Three Cups of Tea,” and “Stones into Schools,” from $3.96 million worth of charity money, reaping royalties that he kept for himself.
The report also found the CAI spent $4.93 million on advertising and promoting Mortenson’s books, a figure that was supposed to be split between the CAI and Mortenson, but never was.
The CAI also paid $2 million in charter flights for Mortenson’s speaking engagements until 2011. The report stated that Mortenson and his family charged $75,276 worth of personal items to the CAI between 2009 and 2010, including “LL Bean clothing, iTunes, luggage, luxurious accommodations and even vacations.”
Thanks to an April 2011 “60 Minutes” report that alleged Mortenson fabricated parts of his memoir and benefited financially from the charity, Montana’s attorney general began a yearlong probe into the CAI. The investigation found Mortenson’s oversight of the CAI grossly negligent and ordered a series of changes.
According to the CAI – which has published a response "respectfully disagree[ing] with some of the analysis and conclusions in the OAG’s report" – Mortenson voluntarily resigned from his position as the CAI’s executive director in November. [This article originally stated that the OAG removed Mortenson from the office.] He will also be barred from voting on the CAI’s board or holding any position of financial oversight, though he may remain an employee there, according to the terms of the settlement.
Mortenson must also reimburse the CAI $1.05 million, nearly half of which (some $495,000) has already been paid, according to the AP.
It’s a big fall for the bestselling author and until recently, respected philanthropist, whose account of his unsuccessful attempt to climb K2 in South Asia and subsequent experience with an impoverished village in Pakistan inspired him to build schools and other projects in the region.
Though the news is likely to upset Mortenson’s fans and disappoint his investors, they can take some comfort in this statement by Attorney General Bullock.
"Mortenson's pursuits are noble and his achievements are important. However, serious internal problems in the management of CAI surfaced," Attorney General Steve Bullock said in the report. "Despite the severity of their errors, CAI is worth saving."
We hope the CAI can be rehabilitated because far more than the reputation of one man is at stake.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
If you read an e-book in the past year – or suspected your holiday gift of an e-reader has led you to read more – you’re not alone.
Some 21 percent of adults have read an e-book in the past year, according to a new study by the Pew Internet Project. What’s more, readers of e-books read an average of 10 books more per year than readers of print books.
According to the Pew report, the average reader of e-books had read an average of 24 books in the past 12 months compared to 15 books for non e-book consumers.
In effect, the digital revolution really is transforming our reading habits and the publishing industry as a whole – and this is just the beginning.
“Every institution connected to the creation of knowledge and storytelling is experiencing a revolution in the way information is packaged and disseminated,” said Lee Rainie, one of the authors of the Pew Internet Project report, in a statement. “It’s now clear that readers are embracing a new format for books and a significant number are reading more because books can be plucked out of the air.”
In fact, some 30 percent of those who read e-content say they spend more time reading, a figure many e-reader owners can attest to. (Of course, you don’t need an e-reader like a Nook or Kindle, to read e-content. According to the study, among those who reported reading an e-book in the past 12 months, 42 percent had read it on a computer, 41 percent on an e-reading device, 29 percent on a cell phone, and 23 percent on a tablet computer.)
And good news for publishers: e-readers also buy more. Those who own e-book reading devices not only read more books, but prefer to buy, rather than borrow, books. (That explains why Amazon is selling Kindles like hotcakes, at a loss – to sell more content.)
As bibliophiles, we have to admit we were relieved to learn that the e-reading revolution hasn’t left print books, those lovely bastions of literature, in the dust. Those who read e-books are not abandoning print books. On the contrary, some 88 percent of those who read e-books in the past year also read print books, according to the Pew report.
Print books continue to have a place in our hearts (How do you stock your shelves with e-books?), and we’re not alone. In a head-to-head competition, people prefer e-books to printed books when they want speedy access and portability, but print wins out when people are reading to children and sharing books with others.
“E-book readers and tablet computers are finding their place in the rhythms of readers’ lives,” said Kathryn Zickuhr, an author of the Pew report, in a statement. “But printed books still serve as the physical currency when people want to share the stories they love.”
We’re glad there’s room for both.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
TIME Magazine canonized him with the corny halo of Great American Novelist. He loathes Twitter and Facebook and spits on e-books. Is childless by choice. Waxes passionate about endangered species (songbirds like the Cerulean Warbler). Was devastated by the loss of a beloved friend and fellow writer to suicide. Has strong if owlishly unfashionable opinions on the way we live now. (“It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction”). And was scathing about literary taste-makers who didn’t get his work. (“Michiko Kakutani is a national embarrassment.”)
TIME Magazine has nominated her to its list of most-influential persons. She finds Twitter distasteful and hasn’t watched television in years. Is childless by choice. Waxes passionate about a different endangered species (independent bookstores in Nashville, Tenn.). Was devastated by the loss of her closest friend and fellow writer to a heroin overdose. Has firm opinions on the way we live now, whether it is the sexual revolution (“You can have my birth-control pills when you pry them out of my cold, dead hands”) or children playing Angry Birds on iPads (“a terrible idea”). And was scathing about sub-literate suburbanites who didn't get her work. ("If stories about girls who are disfigured by cancer, humiliated by strangers, and turn to sex and drugs to escape from their enormous pain are too disgusting, too pornographic, then I have to tell you, friends, the Holocaust is off-limits. The Russian Revolution, the killing fields of Cambodia, the war in Vietnam, the Crusades.”)
Crucially, both are envied purveyors of literary "masstige" – a marketing mash-up of “mass” and “prestige” to tag gourmet but fast-moving consumer goods, or in this case, serious literary novels that are thumping best-sellers. Success – the operatic, breakthrough sort of success that they now command – came late in their writing lives, and, co-incidentally, in the same year, 2001. His first two novels – "The Twenty-Seventh City" and "Strong Motion" – had no foretaste of the electrical blitz that was to be unleashed by "The Corrections." And her first three – "The Patron Saint of Liars," "Taft," and "The Magician’s Assistant," and – got only a drizzle of attention compared to the sensational "Bel Canto." “Before Bel Canto,” wrote John Updike in the New Yorker, “she had been admired but obscure, a veteran of academic postings and the grant wars.”
And – we’ll stop now, but this is important – both admire Henry Green, the now forgotten but once acclaimed English novelist referred to as “the writer’s writer’s writer,” whose "Loving," an Irish upstairs/English downstairs story, was featured by TIME on its list of the “100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005.”
Also – we can’t possibly leave this out – for years now, each has had to deal with a quasi-comic albatross. His is called Oprah, hers is called being childless by choice. Being constantly chivvied for not reproducing can be infuriating, but it’s a minor irritant compared to “the tsunami of hydrochloric acid” that washed over him for belittling Oprah as low church of literary taste. (Not that TIME, with its arbitrary lists and cover stories is exactly high church, but we’ll leave that battle for later). Their respective albatrosses, however, are non-transferable. She has no problem writing for Oprah's magazine, and he, though occasionally asked about not having kids, gets off lightly. He once related how he told his editor at the New Yorker that he was seriously thinking about adopting some Iraqi war orphans. Horrified, the editor, “took two toothpicks from the bar and made the sign of the cross and waved it slowly in front of me as if warding off an evil spirit. And he sensibly pointed out that there are more people in the world who can make good parents than can write good books.” Imagine any woman getting away with that.
As the unflinching and anxious diarist of the American un-Pastoral, Franzen carefully builds enormous Midwestern family novels around a solidly neurotic moral center. More than any other novelist today, he hears clearly the alarm bells of unease jangling over tree-shaded, stucco-clad Americana. Like Walt Whitman, his pen covers continents of subjects – the environment, the family, America’s role in the world, phony liberal pieties, the consumer economy, Capitalism, pharmaceutical skullduggery, social pathology, and love. Like Whitman, he speaks at every hazard.
As someone who is Catholic, believes deeply in the fundamental goodness of the human race and the ties of community, and whose roles models are “childless nuns with their vocations,” Patchett explores emotionally complex human relationships with depth, wit, and beauty. Lyrical, and with a profoundly moral core, her novels view the darkling world through the healing optic of optimism. It’s not that the battered environment or the fertility-industrial complex or corporate empires are absent from her works. They are there as the background against which intensely challenging power relationships – between captors and captives, teacher and student, father and sons – play out.
If the word ‘dysfunctional’ crops up in every Franzen review, "redemptive" is the word that Patchett is stuck with. To caricature them, he is Cassandra to her Pollyanna. Quite appropriate, for the assured new owner of the Parnassus bookstore who said, “I may be opening an ice-shop at the dawn of Frigidaire, but that’s not going to stop me.”
Nina Martyris is a freelance journalist.
Eager Harry Potter fans got another peek at the Pottermore website – scheduled to open early this month – through a video released by the site.
Pottermore is the official website of Harry Potter and will be the only venue at which Potter e-books will be sold. The website will also have many interactive components, through which users can be "Sorted" into Hogwarts houses, fight duels with other users, create potions, and access never-before-seen backstories about the Harry Potter universe written by author J.K. Rowling.
The promotional video released by Pottermore shows the screen on which the Sorting into a Hogwarts house would take place, a screen depicting Platform 9 ¾, various challenges, including catching a Snitch and brewing a potion that will cure boils, and the “explore chapter feature,” which allows users to click on various features of a scene.
In a section called “The Cupboard Under the Stairs” (the title of one of the chapters in the first Harry Potter book “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”), new content appeared in the video titled “Vernon and Petunia Dursley” which gave new insight into the relationship between Harry Potter's profoundly Muggle aunt and uncle. “He had a perfectly correct car, and wanted to do completely ordinary things,” the excerpt reads. “And by the time he had taken her on a series of dull dates, during which he talked mainly about himself and his predictable ideas on the world, Petunia was dreaming of the moment when he would place a ring on her finger.”
Check out the new video below:
Molly Driscoll is a Monitor contributor.
In the 1880s and 1890s, vice never slept in New York City.
Gamblers gambled, prostitutes prostituted, and thieves thieved, all under the not-so-careful watch of police on the take. Then an aristocratic little man named Theodore Roosevelt decided to make a big difference.
Cocky and sure of himself, Roosevelt became an unyielding force. He stalked the streets of the city in search of corrupt cops and made a stink about a police department that barely seemed to police anything.
The ultimate fate of Roosevelt's efforts can be found in the title of historian Richard Zacks' new book, Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt's Doomed Quest to Clean Up Sin-Loving New York. Never mind the giveaway of the ending. "Island of Vice" is a rollicking tale of hedonism and hypocrisy, crime and corruption, and one man's refusal to accept any of it.
In an interview from his home in New York City, Zacks – who previously made a splash with his book "The Pirate Hunter" – describes the sinful world of the Big Apple, Roosevelt's remarkable nighttime excursions and the guts of a man who refused to take get-lost for an answer.
Q: Just how bad was vice in New York City before the turn of the century?
A: It was extraordinarily full of vice. About 40,000 prostitutes were working in the city at the time, and there were many brothels, casinos and bookie joints. As for alcohol, clubs, and bars were supposed to close at one in the morning. But some couldn't remember being closed since the Civil War. All of these activities were illegal, so somebody had to pay off the police to make it happen.
Q: A few years ago, I interviewed Karen Abbott, the author of "Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys and the Battle for America's Soul." She told me that some upstanding people at that time thought it was a good idea to isolate vice into specific neighborhoods so they wouldn't corrupt the good people. Was this an issue in New York City?
A: There was a debate about having regulated red-light districts, which they had in most of the European countries. But the purest reformers rejected it. In New York City, a police official testified in 1885 that there should be red-light districts in the city. Cynical types thought he wanted to bring in one-stop shopping so he could collect money more easily.
Q: How rampant was prostitution at that time?
A: Emma Goldman, the labor radical, thought about 100 percent of single men and about 50 percent of married men went to prostitutes in that era. It gives you a sense of how widespread it was. The thing that most people now don’t realize about prostitution was that almost no respectable women went to the bars at that time. If a woman was in a bar at night, she tended to be a prostitute.
Q: As your book showed, one of the top anti-vice activists was an incredible hypocrite. Hypocrisy, of course, is common in many do-gooder movements, as is self-righteousness. But Roosevelt, several years from becoming president, doesn't come across as either a hypocrite or a prig. Is that your sense too?
A: He wasn't a hypocrite. He was a happily married man who wasn't sneaking off to the brothels. And he was by no means as self-righteous as some of the more church- and temperance-oriented reformers. But he did irritate people.
Q: Why did he think the city needed to be cleaned up?
A: He was a student of how corrupt the municipal governments of America were, how they’d been taken over by corrupt political organizations. He thought if he cleaned up New York, the Sodom of the country, it would have a snowball effect. If you could do it here, you could clean up any city.
Q: On some nights, he'd wander the streets of the city incognito and confront cops who weren't doing their jobs. What would happen?
A: The cops would say "I'm going to beat you!" or "I'm going to fan you!" with their nightstick. That’s when he was really popular. Nobody had so blatantly stood up to the cops like that. This 5-foot-8, 5-foot-9 little aristocrat confronting big Irish guys and lecturing them! I really don't think he did it as a publicity stunt, but it worked out to be one of the greatest publicity stunts. The city loved it at first, and the country loved it.
Q: What turned the city against him?
A: The crackdown on saloons being open on Sundays. When the city realized that this passionate man was actually going to really go through with it and never back down, he became despised in some quarters, and 30,000 people got in the streets to protest his policy. The immigrant cauldron of New York refused to be sober on Sundays. It was going to find a way around this crackdown, and it did, but not in a way anyone expected. They found a loophole, and suddenly everything backfired.
Q: What happened in the long term to Roosevelt's anti-vice and anti-crime efforts?
A: A lot of the things that Roosevelt cracked down on are now legal. He wanted to reinforce laws about not serving alcohol on Sundays; now bars can serve it on Sundays. He was cracking on off-track betting parlors, and now we have those. We have casinos not too far away, and the lottery. Society has just changed its opinions about a lot of the things that Roosevelt was cracking down on.
Q: What about the Wild West nature of New York City?
A: It has definitely gotten tamer. Here's an ultimate example: My teenage son called me. He said, "Don’t worry about me, I'm in Times Square." It's like a mall now. He doesn't know any better.
Q: What can we learn about Roosevelt in this whole story?
A: The big thing that still astounds me is that he did not back down even though he ultimately had a vast majority of the city and police department opposing him. When he took a poll, he took a poll of one: he asked himself what was the best thing to do. They don’t make politicians like that any more.
Randy Dotinga is a Monitor contributor.