Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Rome Fell While Nero Read The Deathly Hollows

Since the subtitle of my blog is “Cultural Procrastination,” I figured I had better write something about the cultural phenom that is HARRY POTTER, rather than degrading myself and my readers by posting about my campy celebrity sightings and hot coworkers.

While waiting to see a doctor on Thursday I finished Letters to a Young Contrarian by Christopher Hitchens and found myself with nothing to read. The office was disgustingly balmly, and I fanned myself briefly, pondering how the adorable gay man next to me managed to stay so cool in his gladiator sandals and white jeans. A torn, dilapidated copy of Business Week lie on the floor next to my chair. Luckily, there was an article about something I was interested in: Harry Potter.

Full disclosure: I have never read any of the Harry Potter books, nor have I seen any of the movies all the way through. I have, however, seen enough of them to know that cute boys are Britain’s greatest untapped resource. Tom Riddle, you might be evil, but da-ham, slap my ass and call me Slytherin.

The article on Potter said that surprisingly enough, Harry Potter has actually done damage to the publishing world and readership in general. Although Harry is lauded by some intellectuals as a “great thing” because it gets kids reading, it actually doesn’t. The NYT ran a similar piece in which they polled children to see if they would keep reading after Potter. Most of them responded with a glib, “probably not.” Of course, as a reader, writer, editor’s assistant, and aspiring Ph.D. candidate this is troublesome to me. What is it about Harry Potter that gets kids reading but can’t keep them reading?

Since The Deathly Hollows made its debut Friday at midnight, everyone in New York is reading it. I’ve seen people walking down the street, into traffic, endangering their lives reading this behemoth of a book. Parties were thrown in HP’s honor, the streets were nearly deserted on Saturday—I walked into my favorite bookstore in Park Slope and it looked as if a tornado had blown through the store. “Is this the aftermath of Potter?” I asked the girl sweeping the floor nearby. “Oh, yeah,” she answered, as if she were licking her wounds.

J.K. Rowling is probably one of the richest women in the world. Three Cheers to her, I say. For someone to go from “struggling single mother,” (as it says in her author bio) to the Queen of Young Adult Fiction, and quite possibly, THE WORLD, in ten years, is not a simple feat. Three Cheers, Jo. You’ve come a long way.

So what is it about Harry that makes people totally insane? I have no idea. I have a feeling it might just simply be that fact that it’s a great story, and a great story will get people (of all ages) reading. There’s something about reading those books that can’t be found in the movies. I think that’s fantastic. Also, anything that gets people to queue up outside in the elements dressed in costumes is okay by me. In fact, it’s better than okay. It’s fucking awesome. Because goddammit, I really do think there should be more camp, performance, and fun in our lives. New Yorkers are so glum. I mean, fuck, we’re tired, but we’re also glum. I saw a girl on the subway this morning whose face was literally frozen into a frown. A full-on frown. The kind you have to make a serious muscular effort to achieve.

A coworker of mine just said she was in a coffee shop over the weekend, and a girl, about twenty, plopped down on the couch next to her and creaked open The Deathly Hollows .. “I don’t know why, but it made me really happy,” said my coworker. And you know, I understand. I think there’s a sense of community with these cultural zeitgeists that doesn’t really occur very often—even if you think the whole thing is ridiculous, you have to admit that it’s endlessly fascinating.

So there’s my two cents on the whole debacle; and friends, I have a confession to make: I am sixty-five pages into The Sorcerer’s Stone. So far, I feel like I’m reading a children’s book, and I am. But I have faith that my socks will be knocked off. When that happens, I really do hope that I’ll have to say, “Why have I waited so long?”


Michelle said...

Sorcerer's Stone is definitely a children's book, but part of the beauty of Jo's writing is that the books mature as her characters do likewise... when I go back now and read book 1 again, I am completely surprised at how far she's come. And, as for representing, she's also a French major. :)

I'll be interested to hear what you think.

Oh, and a tip-- don't stop after book 2, as it's definitely the weak link in the series, but the poignant and crafty book 3 more than makes up for it, and leads the segue into the much-darker second half of the series. :)

Emily said...

hi j,

i am also reading the potters for the first time (i read 1 and 2 while in england a few summers ago, and never felt the need to read the rest.) when deathly hallows came out, i suddenly had an intense desire to know what happens at the end, to find out by myself (and not have it spoiled by anyone), and as i am a little obsessive, to have read the previous six to get the full backstory.

this is emily chovanec, by the way.

kat said...

I'm with the first commenter on this one -- the writing definitely matures alongside the characters. And I blame this effect for my ridiculously inappropriate crush on Cedric Diggory. It wasn't my fault, yo.

Snobber said...


i finished the entire series about a week ago, and i have to say "shazam."

the six book is definitely my favorite. i was pleasantly surprised with how dark and creepy the books get, especially after 3.

would it be weird to name a baby snape?

i am a convert.

in potter,

biblio-tica said...

Ahh I'm so glad you're a Potter convert!! I knew you'd love them :)

And no, it's not weird at all. I've already been contemplating how much ribbing my kids will get if I call them Hermione and Severus. I kind of like Snape better though. Ah, wonderful. :)

Also, I think six might be my favorite too.

"And now, Harry, let us step out into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure."


Emily said...

ok, back for more. i finished 7 last night, at 5 am, with tears streaming at first and then dried on my cheeks. i think the story arc was simply incredible, and i agree that 6 is an excellent book. i also really loved 5. i think, however, that 6 was particularly good for me because it was the first book i read without seeing the movie first--i had no preconceived notions, no image was already in my brain as i read, which made it a much more satisfying reading experience.

also, stephen and i pretty much talk about potter non-stop now, so if you ever want to discuss, give me a ring.