Archive for ‘Thoughts’

August 2nd, 2013


by Madeleine Rex

So, What Did J.K. Rowling Do?

Until July 14th, I, and most people I know, had never heard of The Cuckoo’s Calling. Now, most of us own a copy and are reading it as quickly as we can. The revelation that J.K. Rowling is the author behind the pseudonym Robert Galbraith certainly shook up the world of books.

The reviews on the back of the book, written before the leak, are hilarious. It seems some of the reviewers were psychic. Mark Billingham says, “Cormoran Strike is an amazing creation and I can’t wait for his next outing. Strike is so instantly compelling that it’s hard to believe this is a debut novel…” Mike Cooper couldn’t have known how true his last sentence is, “Robert Galbraith’s debut is as hardbitten and hard-driving as its battered hero. CUCKOO’S CALLING scales the glittering heights of society even as it plumbs the dark depths of the human heart. A riveting read from an author to watch.”

For those of you who haven’t been keeping up with all the news, the leak was the friend of the wife of Rowling’s lawyer. The woman, Judith Callegari, posted the author’s true identity on Twitter. In a statement, Rowling expressed her anger at having been outed as The Cuckoo’s Calling‘s real author:

“To say that I am disappointed is an understatement. I had assumed that I could expect total confidentiality from Russells, a reputable professional firm, and I feel very angry that my trust turned out to be misplaced.”

Needless to say, I’m glad I’m not Judith Callegari or Rowling’s (former) lawyer. How could you ever live down betraying the woman who created Harry Potter? Talk about shame. And public humiliation. You can read more about Rowling’s statement, as well as the law firm’s pathetic attempt to save-face, here.

But I think the real question is: Why the charade? Publishing under the pseudonym resulted in sales that were microscopic in comparison to what Rowling could have gotten. Approximately 1500 copies of the book sold between April and mid-July. Since then, it’s risen to the top of every best-sellers list I’ve looked at.

Rowling insists that she was enjoying the anonymity, and it doesn’t seem as though she ever intended to announce her authorship, which is what fascinates me most. The pseudonym allowed her to prove that she could receive critical acclaim without her name slapped onto the front of her book. Though The Cuckoo’s Calling wasn’t selling all that well, the reviewers liked it. No one can say Robert Galbraith wouldn’t have found his way to best-seller-dom with book two or three or four. Maybe Rowling didn’t mind the idea of biding her time – after all, she doesn’t need the money.

The Guardian article, “JK Rowling tells story of alter ego Robert Galbraith,” goes into detail regarding Rowling’s motivations. I can’t help but wonder how long she thought she could keep it up. Beyond the first book, no doubt, but she’s so well known that I can’t believe her secret could have remained a secret forever.

All the same, it’s a shame she didn’t get to reveal her identity on her own terms.

Even more shameful is what this whole scenario says about first-time authors. Despite solid reviews, The Cuckoo’s Calling wasn’t flying off the shelves. I’d never heard of it before, and I work in a book store. What does this say, then, about readers? What does it take for us to open a book and take a chance on something? I wish I could say I’d bought The Cuckoo’s Calling before I’d known who the author was. I wish I was a fan of Robert Galbraith’s and J.K. Rowling’s. Considering I haven’t read much crime fiction, there’s a good chance I’d have never picked up this book without knowing the truth of its authorship.

This saddens me. I’m reading the book now, and though I’m at the beginning, I can see that it is a great piece of fiction. Its tone is dry yet detailed. The characterization is remarkable and the premise unusual. The humor is clever and often grim (yes, grim humor). I would not know any of this if Judith Callegari hadn’t tweeted J.K. Rowling’s secret. Yet another Guardian article highlights the negative repercussions of Rowling’s “ruse” and the skewed views of the book world, which you can read here.

Whatever Rowling’s motivations and expectations, one thing is undeniable: We’ll be seeing a lot of Robert Galbraith in the future. And I, personally, am happy about that. If you’re as interested as I am in this whole pseudonym thing, check out this post on Barnes and Noble’s Book Blog, “5 Authors Who Used Pseudonyms.” It quite cleverly points out that J.K. Rowling has always used pseudonyms, her real name being Joanne Rowling.

Whatever you think of all this drama, I heartily recommend The Cuckoo’s Calling. If you’ve read it, what did you think of it?

June 1st, 2013

I Haven’t Died

by Madeleine Rex

Hello from the great beyond!

“The great beyond” being beneath the heaping pile of schoolwork that I’ve been under for the last couple of years. Yesterday, May 31st, was my last day of high school. Shoving four years of school into three, taking AP classes, and participating in my community theatre group – it’s been two years of “Well, at least I got five hours of sleep last night…”

This has meant putting many of the things I love on standby. I haven’t read more than a book a month (if that) in almost a year. Unless you count school-required reading, but I doubt you want a review of my AP US History textbook. Of course, this blog relies on a robust reading habit, and I’ve been starved of fun books for so long. My hope is that I can get the most out of this summer and spend as much time as possible reading.

And writing. Yes, writing. I’m afraid I’ve almost forgotten how to write fiction. My goal is to revitalize my imagination, my writing, and my blog. To those of you who haven’t entirely forgotten about this little blog of mine, I hope you’ll give it a second chance and help me pull it out of the gutter and get my online presence back on its feet. And the best way to do that is simply to read some of my nonsense here.

My first step toward a healthy literary diet is a bookish job – I’ve just been hired as a seasonal bookseller at Barnes and Noble. I’m so thrilled (and amazingly fortunate) to have this opportunity, and I’m determined to take advantage of it! I also have some reviews on file to help me get Wordbird up and running again.

So, I guess I’m saying: Welcome back to Wordbird!

December 14th, 2012

Literature Revealed: Symbol

by Madeleine Rex

“You want weapons? We’re in a library! Books! The best weapons in the world! This room’s the greatest arsenal we could have—arm yourselves!”

This year, in AP Literature and Composition, I’ve been assigned a remarkably difficult weekly task. I must turn in two analyses of literary terms within literature we are reading for class, explaining the context, affect, and relation to the story as a whole. Because these are taking up the time I would otherwise spend blogging, I figure I can post them here in case anyone finds them remotely interesting. Personally, I love this assignment. It’s ridiculously tedious and never-ending, but the critical thinking involved is so much fun.

Most of my terms are from William Shakepeare’s Hamlet and E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View. However, this term is from Edgar Allan Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado.



Symbol: A symbol represents an object or idea. It is usually commonly associated with the thing it represents. When symbols are used, it is called symbolism.


“A huge foot d’or, in a field of azure; the foot crushes a serpent rampant whose fangs are imbedded in the heel” (Poe 111).

Function: In Edgar Allen Poe’s short story, The Cask of Amontillado, the main character, Montresor, is endeavoring to lure Fortunato, against whom he has a grudge, to his death. Montresor intends to do so by promising Fortunato, a drunk, that he will be one of the first to taste a rare drink (Amontillado) that Montresor has in the cavernous vault beneath his home. As they walk through the vault, an oblivious and very drunk Fortunato says, “I forget your arms,” referring to the Montresor family’s coat of arms. Montresor describes the coat of arms as quoted above.

The Montresor coat of arms can be considered ironic, symbolic, or both. It portrays a heavy, golden foot crushing a snake after it has bitten the foot’s heel, an image of merciless retribution. The “foot of the Montresors,” as it may be called, is brutal and quick in its punishments of those who have harmed or spited it. The fact that the foot is gold cannot go unnoticed, as gold traditionally symbolizes justice and balance, which coincides with the idea of vengeance, which rewards one act with another, the balancing of two evils.

The reader, though unaware of what Fortunato did to incur Montresor’s wrath, knows that, “when [Fortunato] ventured upon insult [Montresor] vowed revenge.” The reader also knows that Montresor, though cautious, wastes no time in exacting his revenge. Such a vengeful reaction and spirit is mirrored symbolically in Montresor’s arms. Just as he is determined to have vengeance, so was the bitten foot that crushed the mad snake.

This theory is further supported by the Montresor’s motto, which translated reads, “No one provokes me without impunity.” This oath, combined with the image of the arms, solidifies Montresor’s character as a man who indignantly crushes those who have done him wrong. Understanding that this mentality has presumably been nurtured by his family for generations illuminates an aspect of Montresor’s motivation to seek revenge. He has been raised to admire such heartless “justice,” which explains the apparent clean conscience with which he lures Fortunato to his death. Our sense of right and wrong depends heavily on what we are raised to believe, so, to Montresor, seeking revenge is likely the only course of action available to him – it is his right and his duty.

The irony of the arms lies in the fact that Montresor is aware of the symbolism of its image and of who plays which part. Fortunato has no idea that he is the serpent who has – possibly in a fit of madness (or drunkenness, considering his tendencies), as the serpent is described as “rampant” – insulted and provoked the heavy foot of a Montresor, who is now determined to crush him.