Wednesday, July 11, 2007


Blogging from the's what I had to say two years ago when the 6th harry potter book came out. It seems relevant.

J.K. Rowling and the Overrated Series

I love reading, particularly books. I have always love reading and I will continue to love reading. What I don't understand is the Harry Potter phenomenon. Having actually read all of the books, I think I should be able to say what I'm going to say without fourteen year old kids telling me how ignorant I am about everything. If that's you, just don't bother commenting.

The Harry Potter books are pretty good stories, but I don't think they're the paragon of fiction that almost everyone else seems to think they are. In browsing xanga-land lately, I've noticed that there are a lot of kids out there who are simply devoted to Harry Potter and his gang. So much so that i's in their screen name, and is the main subject matter of the blog. And then there's the man who killed himself upon learning the spoiler for the most recent installment of everybody's favorite fictional wizard. What is wrong with people? I mean, people lived and loved and died before Harry Potter. What makes this the greatest thing since the printing press (or sliced cheese, depending on how you look at things)?

My Introduction to Potter

I think I was eleven (or twelve, around there) when my step-sister came back from London and gave my little sister a copy of the first HP book for Christmas. I read it and didn’t think it was any better than A Wrinkle in Time. Of course, I love A Wrinkle in Time, so maybe that's not the best analogy, but anyway it didn't immediately go to the number one spot on my bookself, okay? It's a nice kids' story and that's kind of where it ends for me. It's entertaining, but not cult classic material.

The De-popularization of Reading and Being Cool

Having worked at Barnes and Noble, I've learned a few stats on bookshelf. Most notably, book sales are kind of down, especially kids books and teen books. And apparently it's especially difficulty to get the boys to read. I guess reading isn't a manly activity like football or beating things, but it's more okay for girls to idle the time away reading or cross-stitching or whatever girls do. The managers keep asking us (the booksellers) to recommend titles to the kids. Now, if most teenagers are anything like my sister, which I'm inclined to think that they are, they want to spend as much time as possible watching VH1 and drinking cherry vanilla Dr Pepper (your soda preference may be different) and not moving. Apparently, it's also not cool to read because your friends are going to want to talk about the new Kayne West CD, not "Hey, I was reading The Republic last night, and oh man, i's sooo good!"

Thus, with the advent of MTV and Survivor and the rest of it, reading sort of faded into the shadows, becoming merely something that you have to do for school or that your parents make you do sometimes. Mind you, this is for most average people. Kind of like average people won't do more than skim this essay, but that's okay, I feel better writing it.

Harry Potter just arrived in the national consciousness one day, I don't know how it happened. Once every adolescent in the group wants to read Harry Potter on the day it comes out, it lets kids use their latent reading skills, if only for the weekend. Then it becomes about who read it. It becomes exclusive to read Potter and to be done with it the fastest so you can hold it over your friends as knowing what happens and able to spoil the plot. This does not happen with music. You don't hear kids saying, I'm going to spoil the new Black Eyed Peas by singing it for you!” and then laugh manically as they start belting out "My Humps."

Then Why Adults?

That's a good question. I mean, there is a degree of wanting to be exclusive, but when not as many adults are reading it. My theory is this: the kids come home reading Harry Potter, and it gets the annoying brats to shut up for two days. So the parents say to each other, "What is this that it quiets our obnoxious children?" Then the parents read it. Let's remember, these parents have an average of 2.3 kids and work a lot, so when they finally sit down to read, they're too tired for War and Peace or Othello or something, they want popcorn fiction: tasty and easy to eat. Some of them, no doubt, begin to see Harry Potter as a family activity because the whole family enjoys it. It turns into something that all the kids can enjoy, and the parents can deal with, kind of like AYSO or Disney movies.

What this does not explain are the weird adults who come to Barnes and Noble at midnight on the release date and are elaborately costumed. My original conclusion was that they were pedophiles. To give them the benefit of the doubt, they might just be rich old people with nothing better to do. They might have always been uncool youngsters and now they can feel like they're in the club again. I don't really know, I'm not one of them.

In Other Words

Mostly, I think everyone has fallen for mob mentality. I mean, they've released a box set of hardcovers of only the first five books and people buy it. How stupid is that? The point of a box set is that it has all of the books, not some. That's what makes it a set. Harry Potter will not be the end of all reading. Find something else to read! Some recommended series from me are Dune by Frank Herbert, Foundation by Isaac Asimov, Otherland by Tad Williams, The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, and other ones I can't think of right now. But please, expand your horizons. Get over Harry Potter, it's not as cool as you think it is.

1 comment:

  1. I think you hit the nail on the head but still managed to find something to gripe about - it's not a paragon of fiction, I don't know if anybody has ever claimed it, but it IS a nice story. That's why people like to read it.

    And any time you have lots of people liking something, there is a collective excitement over the lowering of bounds, of the familiarity of strangers. The books are great, but what gets people going crazy is the fact that its general appeal gives us a Shared Experience.

    On the day I read the 7th book - the day it came out of course - I was en route to a place and reading it in a restaurant eating lunch. I had cute waitress chicks talking to me about HP and lamenting they had to wait til the end of their shifts to get it. Nice.