Sunday, July 15, 2007


Reading Harry

On Friday's Morning Edition, NPR tells us about the Chinese industry of fake books, including Harry Potter books. And we're not talking, here, about unauthorized editions — we're talking about completely fake books, where the story is entirely different from the one in the real book. They knock out a fake version, with a made-up story, in far less time than it takes to do a proper translation, and they sell them and make big money. They even did a fake version of Bill Clinton's biography.

But now, as the fifth movie is out and the seventh book is imminent, the New York times tell us that the conventional wisdom that Harry Potter is getting kids to read is wrong, at least on the whole:

Of all the magical powers wielded by Harry Potter, perhaps none has cast a stronger spell than his supposed ability to transform the reading habits of young people. In what has become near mythology about the wildly popular series by J. K. Rowling, many parents, teachers, librarians and booksellers have credited it with inspiring a generation of kids to read for pleasure in a world dominated by instant messaging and music downloads.

And so it has, for many children. But in keeping with the intricately plotted novels themselves, the truth about Harry Potter and reading is not quite so straightforward a success story. Indeed, as the series draws to a much-lamented close, federal statistics show that 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.


Young people are less inclined to read for pleasure as they move into their teenage years for a variety of reasons, educators say. Some of these are trends of long standing (older children inevitably become more socially active, spend more time on reading-for-school or simply find other sources of entertainment other than books), and some are of more recent vintage (the multiplying menagerie of high-tech gizmos that compete for their attention, from iPods to Wii consoles). What parents and others hoped was that the phenomenal success of the Potter books would blunt these trends, perhaps even creating a generation of lifelong readers in their wake.

All that said, the key to me is in the first sentence of the second paragraph: “And so it has, for many children.” We have a tendency to look for universal or unqualified success, and then to devalue lesser levels of success. As I see it, striving for perfection is fine, but rejecting anything less than perfection hurts us. If the Harry Potter books — or any others — are getting even a few kids to read more, well, that's a good thing, worthy of praise and of news stories.

Now, when am I going to get to the cinema for movie #5?

1 comment:

Miss Profe said...

Despited the fanaticism over the Harry Potter franchise, I am just not feeling Harry Potter at all.
If they had to rely on me, they wouldn't sell any. LOL!