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July 17, 2007


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Alison Croggon

Thanks for the vote, Isaac, although at the moment I'm a frantic freelancer and can accept no more engagements. Yes, literary snobbery with genre fiction is time honoured...but HP, a "niche" product? I thought that status was reserved for poetry, not for the best selling books of all time. Kids do bounce on to other books if they like those ones and, to be honest, I don't think it really matters what kids are reading, as long as they are reading - all mine started on Garfield. I can go on about reading patterns, but kids stop reading in high school - according to an in-depth survey done here - because they are not given time to read for pleasure.

For my part, I didn't get through Book 6 (I devoured the first four, struggled a bit with No 5 - see the movie instead, it's much better. I think Rowling went off the boil a bit but hey, who can blame her). And I agree with the Washington Post guy - I had exactly the same experience. I was reading the books to my youngest son, who was breathless through for of them, and by page 200 in Book 5, when nothing had STILL happened, we mutually decided to move on to something else.

Oddly enough, recently I wrote something about Philip Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy, for an anthology of essays aimed at young people which will be put out by Borders to coincide with the movie later this year. I wrote about the poetry Pullman used in the books (Blake and Milton in particular, but Rilke and Keats get mentions). It was great fun to write and if even a couple of kids take a look at these poets as a result, it will have been worth it.

George Hunka

Hm ... the Times ran a story a few weeks ago reporting on new figures from the National Endowment for the Arts which indicate that, despite the Harry Potter books, "the percentage of youngsters who read for fun continues to drop significantly as children get older, at almost exactly the same rate as before Harry Potter came along." Apart from the length of some of the later Potter books, these children just haven't moved on to read anything else. The NEA's chairman Dana Gioia said, "The Harry Potter craze was a very positive thing for kids. It got millions of kids to read a long and reasonably complex series of books. The trouble is that one Harry Potter novel every few years is not enough to reverse the decline in reading." And, there's this on one 12-year-old tyke interviewed for the article: "He had read the first three Harry Potter books, but said he had no particular interest in reading more. 'I don’t like to read that much,' he said. 'I think there are better things to do.'"

I'd just watch out for the hype, that's all.

Full story here:


Brian Silliman

I'm sorry....she went off the boil with book 5? See the movie instead? NO, no, no.

The movie is fantastic, but read the book. It's genius. It takes patience and focus and if you have those things, you will be VERY well rewarded. I'm sick of people saying the 5th book was bad. It's not. At all. The only Potter book that surpasses it is the 6th one, which to truly appreciate you have to, you know, finish all of book 5.

The movies are good, the 5th one is great....but they should never be watched in place of actually reading one of the books. Never ever ever ever.

Abe Goldfarb

Yeah, I kind of have to sit on the Silliman side of the fence on this one. I absolutely adored Book 5, because it completed the process Crowling had begun with Book 3: turning Potter from a really wonderful adventure series for young readers into an epic, ambitious work capable of exploring action, inaction, emotion and mood equally. Order of the Phoenix and Half Blood Prince are long, dense, rich and endlessly entertaining.

I, mind you, LOVED the 5th film, best in the series, but the book absolutely hypnotised me. I wasn't bored for a second. I was enthralled.


It looks like Lindsay (my globe-trotting reporter gf) is going to do a blogging event for the Houston Chronicle--buying her book at midnight, start reading it right then and blogging chapter by chapter. She's thinking of doing it in her capacity as a former English major capacity and a serious lover of classic kid-lit. I'm going to try to be the moral and coffee support. I'll let you know the link, but you can look out for it on chron.com on the 21st...


And for the record, I'm in the Goldfarb/Silliman camp on no. 5.

Alison Croggon

I did finish Book 5 (I just didn't get through the read-aloud stage with my son - it's a great test of a book, actually). My personal faves are 3 and 4. Somebody needed to go through the later books with a big red pen, imho.

But, yes, I should finish book 6, and I don't expect we won't be buying book 7. The Potter franchise has done well out of us. Meanwhile, I stick by my recommendation - I reckon Order of the Pheonix is the best film so far, and beats the book.

Alison Croggon

PS: George, the Centre for Youth Literature here did a very in-depth survey on children's reading patterns, which was quite fascinating. Given the same gloom-and-doom stories about reading patterns declining in secondary school, they had the novel idea of asking young people what they actually read. And why.

Their main conclusions were (a) that children and young people do read, a quite surprising amount, and more variously than assumed - the bulk is fantasy (which of course pleases me) but other favourites are Shakespeare -w ho is brilliant for teens - and Jane Austen. And (b) that the main problem in secondary school is that children are no longer encouraged by school to read for pleasure. In fact, sometimes it's frowned on, as the books kids actually read and like are often frowned on as trash. It was the major complaint: no time in the curriculum for reading, as in primary school, and all spare reading time spent on the prescribed books. Voracious readers will just read anyway, but those who struggle can easily get out of the habit. Their recommendation was that secondary schools give more time to kids to read for pleasure. Fat chance, unfortunately.

George Hunka

Fat chance, indeed.

Interesting facts and figures; and I also wonder about the importance and effect of what we read, as well as whether we read at all. The linguistic experience of reading is far different than the visual experience of exposing oneself to an image, a movie, or to music; it's a different imaginative and symbolic construct. I've written more about this at my blog today, if anyone cares to follow:


Scott Walters

I was at a conference where an NEA flak did a presentation on the decline of arts consumption in the young. It was a community-based, theatre for social change sort of conference, and this guy -- who probably thought this was going to be a slam dunk -- just about got lynched? Why? Because the way the NEA had defined what "counted" as the arts was elitist, ideological, conservative BS, that's why! Allison's right -- young people are so busy doing their NCLB homework and padding their HS "resume" for college admissions (i.e., filling it with a laundry list of extra-curricular activities that they don't really give two shits about but that they've been told will make them look attractive to "selective" [i.e., elitist] colleges that they've barely got time to have supper with the family. And this idea that reading popular literature,or seeing popular films, is valuable because it might lead to "better" material in the future is classist BS, too. It sets up a hierarchy of reading that valorizes certain aesthetic values as "universal," when in fact they are class-based, exclusionary, and ideological. Nobody need to write about Harry Potter -- Rowling writes well enough that he books speak for themselves without being explained by highbrow critics. Unlike Harold Pinter. And I think that's great.


Well, actually, Scott, according to NPR this morning, there is a problem of kids reading Harry Potter and then not really getting attached to reading beyond those books. So writing that would help people discover new books (of whatever kind of brow: high, low, mid, knit) would be a good thing.

I'm with ya on the extra curriculars thing. APs are also a problem, I'd argue.

George Hunka

Nonsense, Scott. Pinter speaks for himself as well (as do many other playwrights who may or may not have been taken up by academic writers) and doesn't need to be explained by highbrow critics any more than Rowling does. That's a pointless, kneejerk, self-serving attack -- and anti-intellectual besides. It does your otherwise valid argument a gross disservice.

I was once in high-school myself and prepared for as many tests as anyone else, and participated in extracurricular activities ... I had enough to do, but I kept reading because it was important to me. Now, I'll argue that I didn't have as many options with my leisure time as teenagers do today; that may well be the case. But the fact remains that readers must be self-motivated and sacrifice some other leisure-time activities to make time for it.

Alison Croggon

You know Scott, if you look at the HP fan sites you'll find that readers write an awful lot themselves about Harry Potter (even if it's mostly squeeing) and read voraciously about it. Their hunger for more is insatiable. They want to think what it all means. Isn't that a natural reaction to something that interests you? It's not about "explaining", it's about responding. I don't get what you're saying about Pinter: he needs no more explaining than Rowling. Ask my 12 year old son, who found The Homecoming more interesting - and no more baffling - than the book of Harry Potter 5. And this is a boy who has struggled with literacy.

That NY Times article is pretty fluffy, it claims "some" surveys claims this and "some" that, and then hoiks out a couple of readers who say different things. And the subtext seems to be more that teaching is bad in US schools, which is hardly something Rowling can solve. Contemporary kids are multiply literate, but it's by no means either/or: they'll play games, they'll go to the movies, they'll read books. That seems fine to me.

What gives me chills is this: "Some reading experts say that urging kids to read fiction in general might be a misplaced goal. “If you look at what most people need to read for their occupation, it’s zero narrative,” said Michael L. Kamil, a professor of education at Stanford University. “I don’t want to deny that you should be reading stories and literature. But we’ve overemphasized it,” he said. Instead, children need to learn to read for information, Mr. Kamil said, something they can practice while reading on the Internet, for example."

Who is this man? He is the Enemy...

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