Why Aren't We Talking About JK Rowling's Actual Writing?

Remember when this site was about books? Those were the days. Remember my New York Times project? We shared some laughs. Book laughs.

Then I sold out for the bright lights of TV and film and the dozens — literally dozens — of readers clamoring for more unnecessarily vicious book reviews were left out in the cold.

As with so much of my life, my shallow descent into glitzy news coverage mirrors JK Rowling's summer of struggle. She publishes a brand new book under a pseudonym (which, now that she's been unmasked is mostly for show anyhow) and people mildly shrug in response. But if she writes a quick pretend news story giving Harry Potter fans an update on the famous trio, people go crazy. And then, of course, accuse her of beating a dead horse for publicity.

JK, I feel you.

Now in fairness, Rowling's post-Potter writing career has been odd. First there was The Casual Vacancy which was under-hyped when it came out and, two years later, remains very under-read. Most of the Goodreads reviews I've seen admit that it's a hard book to get into, and nearly impossible to finish. I reluctantly agree. Every now and then I'll pick it up, trudge through 5 or 10 pages and then set it down again. But it's being made into a mini-series, so maybe it'll come alive on screen. Here's to hoping.

Then the Robert Galbraith insanity happened. One of the world's most successful authors publishes a book under a pen name and — to our secret, malicious delight — it sells poorly until Rowling is revealed to be its author. "Lightning doesn't strike twice — eh, Rowling?" internet dwellers wondered aloud. And people were so wrapped up in the circumstances of her unmasking (was it all a ploy?) that very few articles were written about the actual book. Which was, one presumes, the central figure in all of this.

It's a shame, because Cuckoo's Calling was perfectly good; a serviceable, engaging, fun mystery story with a handful of solid characters. The title was a bit lame, as was the name of the central victim (even typing out "Lula Landry" causes an involuntary eye roll), but otherwise it was an entertaining train/plane read. And that's not an insult — it's what it was intended to be.

Now the second book has come out and again there isn't much discussion about it. Last week it was #25 on the New York Times bestseller list, and it was released in June. I know, I know — let's not spill tears for the incredibly rich author. Fine. But let's at least talk about her new work. Instead, she's endlessly asked what's going on with the Potter universe as a whole and then we get to sneeringly wonder why she can't "let it go." The short answer is: because we're not letting her.

I was never the biggest JK Rowling fangirl. I liked Harry Potter but managed to miss out on the enormous drama that its fandom created. With that said, I think a little praise is due to a woman who made an enormous fortune on a series of children's books and is now pursuing another route — and doing so competently.

Are the Cormoran Strike books life-changing? No. But if you need a good mystery that goes along at a tight pace with characters you'll enjoy, you could do a lot worse than The Silkworm. It's definitely a stronger book than the first, with a better collection of periphery characters. It still focuses on fame in a way that suggests it's a role that Rowling still has a very difficult time contending with, but at the same time offers you a peek inside exclusive or elite worlds you'll likely never be invited into.

If it sounds like I'm damning with faint praise, then I'm sorry. But I think we get into a bad habit of expecting everything to be "the worst" or "the best," particularly online. Sometimes we need to allow for things to just be good, or to serve their purpose. That's what her writing does and — let's be honest with ourselves — what it's always done.

I won't convince you to pick up The Casual Vacancy (though I do have my eye out for the premiere of the show), but I do want to urge you gently and with realistic praise to check out her new mystery novels. They're fun! And stop trying to make The Marauders happen. It's not going to happen.

Originally posted at my blog, which gives context to the first few lines.