With Harry Potter finished,
here's what to read now

By John Orr
October 2007

"Harry Potter and the Seven Delightful Books" are finally finished, after ten years of thrills and fun, and now it is time to go on to something else.

Really, Magical People. Even my friend Suzi in Mississippi, who has read nothing but Harry Potter for the last few years -- she would finish the series, then start back at Book One and read through them all again.

It's time to open our minds and imaginations to other wonderful books.

You can always go back to Harry Potter later, with perhaps an enlarged appreciation of them.

Here I recommend some books that have what I consider emotional magic to them, if not the stuff of waved wands and sparkling potions. They touch emotions and intellect and feature people who do the right thing for others, just as did Harry Potter and his friends.


"The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" by Mark Twain

These books have been subject of a lot of fuss over the years for a number of reasons, including the fact that the characters use a word starting with "n" to refer to black people. Really, get over it. In the 1800s in the American South, that was the word of choice, and Tom and Huck especially have no unkindness in their hearts when they use the word.

Remember that Tom and Huck risk their own freedom and their lives to protect and lead to freedom a man they love, a black man named Jim, and they refer to him using that "n" word.

Focus instead on the joys of these two books. "Tom Sawyer" is as great a celebration of American boyhood as has ever been written, full of the promise life holds for a clever person, and the fun that can be had by the inventive. "Huck Finn" is a deeper book, with more significant messages about family, friendship and social responsibility, but it's still a full-on blast as the two boys have an adventure rafting on the great Mississippi river.

Buy at

"Frek and the Elixir" by Rudy Rucker

In its sci-fi way, this delightful novel by a mathematician and San Jose State professor of computer science, is almost as magical as the Harry Potter stories. Frek is a 12-year-old boy in the year 3003 who wants to restore Earth's lost species. Gov, a worm that began as a science project gone awry, runs the world and has reduced the number of living species to only 256.

Helped by a large, speaking cuttlefish, a mutant and various others, Frek sets off all around the universe in an attempt, as it turns out, to save humanity as well as to restore Earth's biome.

There are messages here about friendship and family, and an amazing amount of creativity, as Rucker - one of the early cyberpunk authors - imagines a world where computerized cartoon characters can become real, and Gov the worm can spy easily on everything everyone does.

It takes a brave little boy named Frek to save us all.

Buy at

"Cannery Row" by John Steinbeck

Some adults won't want their children reading this, because it is inhabited, among others, by eccentrics, prostitutes and winos.

But I actually spent one summer reading this book to my daughter when she was young, and then took her to Cannery Row afterward to show her some of the places we'd read about.

Steinbeck remains among the greatest prose writers of American English in history, and he fills this book with love of humanity, regardless of what low circumstances in which his characters might be living. This book takes place during the Great Depression, in a Monterey that is not the tourist trap of today, but a failed fishing town.

It is a great prose poem of possibility, a tale of the town genius, Doc the marine biologist, and the enthusiastic but ill-educated people who want to throw a big party in his honor. It takes a lot of love on both parts to make it all happen and to survive it. The beauty of how it all ends always brings tears to my eyes.

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"Lonesome Dove" by Larry McMurty

This is McMurty's greatest work, and like the Harry Potter story, is an epic, with old heroes and young. It is another book that some parents might find objectionable, because the lady fair is a prostitute, and the heroes are straight-shooting Rangers who have wandered into cattle ranching after they have already killed most of the Indians in their part of Texas.

It is a great odyssey across the plains of the late 1800s, a bit of poetry about America and the people who came to it when it was still wild and fought to make it livable. As the greatest of America's wild promise is tamed, the greatest of the heroes dies.

It is a deep and romantic tale of the West, written by one of the most brilliant minds to ever approach the topic. And it is a lot of fun.

Buy at

"The Winds of War" and "War and Remembrance" by Herman Wouk

Wouk uses a fictional family, the Henrys, as his focus to combine history and romance in this enormous, globe-spanning, two-book tale of the years just before and during World War II.

U.S. Navy officer "Pug" Henry operates at a high level, bumping elbows with admirals and world leaders including Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin, all the while hoping to get command of a battleship. American battleships, of course, reached the end of their primary military function on Dec. 7, 1941, when most of them were sunk at Pearl Harbor. It is Henry's two sons who take over the modern war chores for the family, in naval aviation and submarines.

Meanwhile, one of the sons, Byron, has fallen in love with an American woman of Jewish heritage who is stuck in Europe by her foolish uncle as the Nazis close the continent and begin their rampage of killing.

There is no more engaging or romantic or as fully historical a novel I know of that tells the story of World War II so well. Its lessons of human folly and of human heroics are worthy reading for us all.

"Winds of War" at   "War and Remembrance" at


In addition ...

Here are some books that some librarians and children's book experts have recommended, or that have been popular of late. But I don't have much to say about the following books, other than "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, which are the only books among these that I have read. Still, many friends have recommended most of these. And as far as "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy ... personally ... I liked the Peter Jackson films more than the books, which is rare for me and certain to earn me the wrath of some of my friends. Ah well.


"The Chronicles of Narnia" by C.S. Lewis, notably "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe."

Roald Dahl's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and "James and the Giant Peach"

Madeline L'Engle's "A Wrinkle in Time"

"Archer's Goon," "Castle in the Air" and "Howl's Moving Castle" by Diana Wynne Jones

"The Secret Garden" by Frances Hodgson Burnett

target="_blank""Mary Poppins" by P.L. Travers

"The Borrowers" by Mary Norton

target="_blank""The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien

"The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 1)" by Lemony Snicket

"Eragon" by Christopher Paolini

"Twilight (The Twilight Saga, Book 1)" by Stephenie Meyer