Sunday, July 17, 2005

Harry Potter, you're 15 years too late for me

Unless you've been living in a cave, the biggest news this weekend was the release of the latest "Harry Potter" book. By the way, why is that phrase about living in a cave even used when our ancestors from a long, long, long, time ago probably lived in a cave and were well aware of current news events and pop culture? Yet now, we use it as a negative phrase and dishonor the people who really had a large impact in who we are today. But I digress.

The latest episode in the series has already set all sorts of publishing records from largest pre-publishing (10.8 million) to largest weekend, and on and on as the weeks and months finish. If it has sold almost 7 million copies in its first 24 hours, how many people are left to purchase the book? As the linked article says, the book will generate more money this weekend than two newly-released movies!

The fact that there were millions of pre-ordered books is what astounds me with this entire series of wizardry. There are so many children actually excited about reading, which is certainly a great thing, but it's something that I never experienced growing-up. Amongst my friends, only a small minority really enjoyed reading books. It's safe to say we never got overly-excited for the latest "Hardy Boys" book to be published. I don't think I've even read any of the "Hardy Boys" books.

Despite my love of writing, I really don't read any books, though I know I probably should. I certainly make it a point to read my weekly "Sports Illustrated" (one of the best magazines in the country), but it's obviously not the same as a novel, be it "Harry Potter" or otherwise. From elementary school through 12th grade, I saw books as required unenjoyable readings about which we'd have to write reports. This is not to say that I didn't learn from the books I read, but there was and forever will be, no joy from reading a book you're forced to, instead of a book you're reading for pleasure.

Certainly, as an esteemed member of society, I can read any book I want and not write a report to discuss the author's statement on society or how the main character's use of the third person represented the discord he has with his own life. I know there are many enjoyable books out there, like "Harry Potter" (and plenty of adults enjoy the series as well), but I tend to fall asleep reading books. Maybe it's the lack of pictures, or maybe it's because I'm already tired and lying on my bed while reading doesn't equate to helping me stay awake. Perhaps I don't want to read someone else's story so I take it upon myself to write my own - yet another reason why I always took great enjoyment in my creative writing classes in middle school. If you don't like how someone is doing something, just do it yourself.

I admit there were a few books in college that I was interested in so I actually read every word, but the majority didn't fall into that category so I skimmed the text, picking up the key phrases that moved the story along. If the book interests me, I give it my full attention, otherwise, my mind goes elsewhere. My whole take on books is ironic since my father has always had at least 2 or 3 books borrowed from the library (while my mom always read a book at the beach) and he has said I should try books again now that there's no pressure on me. I know he'll be correct, just as he is with any advice for life I've received from him, but I won't get there for a few more years.

Basically, I'm writing to say that had "Harry Potter" come along back when I was around 10, I would have enjoyed reading books (yes, I said I'd like to read a book with words and no pictures) more than I do today. My sister enjoyed "The Babysitter's Club" series, but books just never worked for me. I know for a fact that if reading "Harry Potter" books was the cool thing to do because everyone was doing it, well then I would have just had to do my own reading so I could participate in the conversation. Just like seeing the big movie of the season, not so much because it's a great flick, but because you want to be able to talk about it. Though the "Harry Potter" books are as small as 300, the later editions reach 600-800 pages - I find these totals overwhelming and would never have read them all the way through.

Nevertheless, I am pleased to see this generation of kids going out of their way to read books, even ones over 600 pages long (while I was always a big fan of picture books not longer than 20 pages like "The Berenstein Bears"). Some critics have complained (since it's what they do) that J.K. Rowling's writing doesn't do enough to help improve vocabulary, etc., but that's nonsense when the bigger issue is the great job the books have done to get kids to read in the first place and turn off the TV, videogames, and Internet.

The next move for publishers is finding the next series of books to fill the void once Rowling is finished and keep this generation of kids reading. My next move is to actually try a book that I want to read now that I won't have to write a report. Suggestions are welcome.

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