Salon recommends

The books that taught Harry Potter about Quidditch and fantastic beasts, a deliciously literate novel set in Johannes Vermeer's household and more.

Published March 19, 2001 8:00PM (EST)

What we're reading, what we're liking

Quidditch Through the Ages by "Kennilworthy Whisp"
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by "Newt Scamander"
The real author of these two booklet-size volumes is J.K. Rowling, creator of Harry Potter, and both provide ample servings of Potter lore despite their brevity. Each book is designed to look like a well-worn Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry schoolbook, complete with (in the case of the Scamander tome) cheeky marginalia from Harry and his pals, and almost all of the proceeds from their sale go to the international children's charity, British Comic Relief. Naturally, any Pottermaniac will find them essential reading.

I prefer the deliciously droll bestiary myself, though I also love the mock-solemn sports history in the Quidditch book, which explains that the earliest mention of the game can be found in the diaries of a cranky old witch so ignorant she only knew the name of one day of the week so she labeled every entry "Tuesday." From the estimable Mr. Scamander (a retired official from the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures), I've learned the thorny bureaucratic saga behind the taxonomy of "beasts" and "beings" (in which category do trolls, when not being coached by goblins, belong?) and the ways of the repellent Bundimen, which "resembles a patch of greenish fungus with eyes," among other beasts of varying degrees of ferocity -- all information that will no doubt prove invaluable at some future date.

-- Laura Miller

Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
Fifteen of the 40 known paintings by Johannes Vermeer just went on display in New York at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I haven't managed to see the exhibit yet, but I've been getting into the mood by reading "Girl With a Pearl Earring," Tracy Chevalier's novel (just out in paperback) about a 16-year-old girl named Griet who becomes a servant in Vermeer's household. Slim and sparely written, the novel matter-of-factly conveys everyday 17th century life in the Dutch city. The world Chevalier creates is harsh in some ways, but also logical and serene, and everyone has his or her place. Griet herself starts out on the lowest tier of the household hierarchy, until her acute powers of perception come to Vermeer's attention. This is one of those books that's perennially on the independent bookstore bestseller lists, and you can see why -- it's a delicious piece of arty, escapist candy.

-- Maria Russo

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