Harry Potter and a Challenge to Reading

I finished reading the last Harry Potter book a few days ago and I must say, I was very impressed with the way Ms. Rowlings decided to end the series. I was truly pleased with the “Deathly Hallows” as well as with the rest of the series.

I have, since the beginning, been a fan of Harry Potter, reading each book as it came out. Though I am not a “fanatic” about Potter, since I do not own any of the books, nor have I read any of them more than once. Once is enough I think, and the enjoyment I gained from them has been monumental. Generally, they are such engaging stories that I’ve finished them each in a day or two, occasionally in one or two sittings, especially number three.

I would say that I don’t consider J.K. Rowlings an especially solid writer if we consider the craft of writing, if we compare her to the classics, or even some of the current “serious” writers of fiction. She doesn’t have a sharp wit in her narrative, nor does is she especially clever with the turn of the phrase. Still, if we see the quality of the writer solely based on whether her stories are entertaining, than Ms. Rowlings is tremendously successful. No one can disagree that she built a world many of us would love to reside in and characters we’d like to think we know personally. The Harry Potter series reminds me of why I love reading so much; I heard someone mention this recently, and it applies perfectly to the Harry Potter books…I both want them to end, and never want them to end. It’s a paradox that’s very simple and generally felt by a listener or a reader any time a good story is told. The suspense is so desirable, but the pay-off is just as grand, and one can’t live without the other.

Yet, as I was thinking about the greatness of the Harry Potter series, celebrating and lamenting its end I began to generalize my thoughts to reading itself. The true value of it and it’s state in our world and my life. For my whole life I have considered reading to be a step above other forms of entertainment. To read a book has always been more commendable than watching TV or playing on the computer; it’s always been a step above somehow. But now that seems a bit strange; after all, what is reading a book like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows other than entertainment. It’s just so delightful, but what benefit other than enjoyment does it provide in my life; Do I learn anything from it? Do I encounter many new words? To put it bluntly, why is reading thought of as better than consuming any other form of media?

I know many people who use there lack of television watching as a badge of honor, claiming things like “Oh, I don’t have time to watch TV,” “It rots your brain,” There’s nothing good on there anyway,” or whatever. And I’ll say it on my own behalf as well, I probably watch less then half an hour of TV a day, plus or minus. I just don’t. Not because I don’t like it, mostly just because I’m either reading, or sitting on the computer, or not at home, any variety of activities. One might think that this makes me more of an intellectual than a couch potato who vegetates in front of the TV all evening watching Lost, or 24 or whatever’s the big show these days. It doesn’t!

A lot of the popular shows on TV these days get a lot of attention because they are truly entertaining. I watched an episode of Lost with my brother on DVD today and it was captivating (..what are the odds of so many gorgeous people landing on one island? Must’ve been a plane full of models…Boy those people are GOOD lookin’! Whew!). I try to keep up with Entourage by utilizing the On-Demand feature on my TV(very convenient) because I really like the show. Well, I don’t feel like that stuff is any different from sitting at home all day reading the latest Harry Potter, or Stephen King, or Michael Connelly. It’s all just entertainment. Likewise, watching a documentary on PBS or a nature show on Discovery Channel is not any less intellectually stimulating then reading, say, Hemingway.

Now, many fussbudgets are complaining about the dumbing down of our society, constantly harping about how people are reading less. They blame these terrible developments on the flash-bang new mediums TV, cinema, computers etc. If only people read more, they say…

I think these people are wrong. Not in assuming that the act of sitting down with a book is being replaced by other activities, that *might* be happening, though I haven’t seen any hard evidence of it . I think they’re wrong in assuming there’s something wrong with it. As a library employee, and future librarian, I am always observing what is going out at my library. Clearly DVDs are a huge portion of the check-outs. Common is the exclamation condemning this situation (we’re not a video store!) but what’s really the difference between a person grabbing three movies to take home for the weekend, or a few mystery stories (in book form)? In both cases they’re both simply ways of passing the time. I think that rather than looking down at people for not reading, we may say choose your poison…Though even that is ridiculous.

Never in my review of history, has the majority of the population been turned on by highly intellectual fiction, or philosophy, or science, or even history. Most people just aren’t entertained by that stuff. Poetry has gone in that direction too, with much modern poetry missing the relevance that once made poetry so popular with the masses(that’s fodder for another post).

In conclusion, let people do what they want for entertainment. Readers, librarians, do not mourn teens who enjoy movies or computer games. Do not look down on people who do not read. In our lifetimes, the book will remain in it’s proper limelight. I still feel that anyone can be turned on by the right book, but I try not to force the issue. If you love to read, as I do, simply keep doing it and authors will write. Remember, no matter what the medium, there are always ways to turn its content into mindless entertainment, and/or intellectual gratification.

There need not be a challenge to reading…As long as we read.

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3 Responses to Harry Potter and a Challenge to Reading

  1. sulz says:

    i feel the same way about harry potter, where i couldn’t wait to finish the book and when i did i wished i didn’t… even though some may dismiss her craft in comparison with other classic fiction, rowling’s harry potter, in my opinion, will be a classic too in times to come.

    i’m just glad i’ve given myself the chance to read such a wonderful tale, unlike some who refused to read harry potter because of the hype or simply because they’re not interested.

  2. OLEG says:

    “even though some may dismiss her craft in comparison with other classic fiction, rowling’s harry potter, in my opinion, will be a classic too in times to come.”

    True, it will be a classic (maybe already is). But she’ll not be held as an example masterful prose in high-falutin writing workshops.

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