Monday, July 16, 2007

book snobs

I'm climbing on the old soap box this morning. Took the kids to see the new Harry Potter movie yesterday. Good movie, the kids all enjoyed it and the hubby and I had a nice time chatting about the movie's tone.

However, a bit of conversation floated over to me as we were filing out of the theater and heading for the bathrooms. I overheard someone complaining about the lack of literary value in the books. If I'd been able to determine who was spouting off that way, I would have been tempted to spout right back at them.

The value of a book doesn't reside in whether or not it is on a required reading list. The value of a book isn't determined by whether or not it has been reviewed by The New Yorker. The value of a book doesn't lie in how many literary symbols or devices the author used.

JK Rowling's Harry Potter stories have encouraged kids to read. And because kids have read her books, they've moved on to read other books. This is her enduring legacy. This is where the true value lies in her books.


astairesteps said...

i don't consider myself a book snob but i don't think your opinion of Rowling's legacy is shared by all. the NEA chairman and other "experts" were quoted recently in a newspaper article about Potter as saying that in fact the kids do NOT continue to read after growing past the middleschool age to whom the books are aimed.

i wish teachers would teach the classics in such a way to inspire love of books rather than relying on a trendy "easy read" to capture attention. reason being, once the trend passes or a student is faced with a more difficult book, the student loses interest and does not become a reader for life. just my opinion.

Dwight's Writing Manifesto said...

Well, then I find myself the contrarian to Astaire.

My reference point is completely existential. An ex-cousin-in-law gave my son the first two Harry Potters when he was seven. At that point, nobody had heard of Harry Potter. My son went as Harry Potter for halloween that year and EVERY house was the same thing: "Oh look. A little... uh... boy nerd witch. What's that on your forehead, honey? Lipstick?"

Something inside that kid sparked and sparked HARD as a result of those two books. He turned into a reading force of nature. Before he was thirteen he was reading classics on his own and asking me for recommendations. By fifteen he stopped asking me for recomendations because he had surpassed my entire lexicon of "real" literature.

Next year he leaves for college. He's applying to schools with good publishing programs and active literary magazines.

There is not a doubt in my mind: Harry Potter cast a spell on my son, and I don't think there's enough dark magic in the world to break it.

Dwight's Writing Manifesto said...

Oh, and by the way Liz,

Our family has the "three-step rule." After leaving a movie theater, no one can comment on the movie until we're outside and have taken three steps past the curb.

This is to teach the kids not to be one of the pretentious douchebags who hold court upon a trapped audience with their impromptu movie review while we're cattle-shuffling out the theater exit.

Even the eight year old is on board. On the way out of Shrek 3, some kid was prattling on about how it wasn't as good as the last Shrek. My little girl's eyebrows arched and she looked up at me and said, "Somebody should tell him about the three-step rule."

Liz said...

Astairesteps, Thanks for your comment. I'm sure many experts are out 'there' who don't see the value in any genre fiction. My experience in public libraries provides the basis for my opinion.

My point is, for some young readers, and I ran into hundreds of them in my library position, Harry Potter was their first taste of reading for fun. After they finished the latest offering, they'd venture over with and without parents to pick our brains on what to read next.

Kids, like adults, will have their favorite genres. Some will move on to appreciate different types of books and others will stagnate.

I too enjoy the classics, but I also enjoy reading for the pure fun of it. I liken it to eating. I try and eat my fruits and veggies like a good girl, but I also like a good piece of red velvet cake now and again.

Liz said...

Dwight, I LOVE the three step rule. Perhaps I may encourage this among my own offspring.

How wonderful to have a child so enamored with books and the written word.

My oldest became an avid reader due to Louise Renninson and has morphed into a paranormal fan. My youngest reads mostly nonfiction science texts. The middle one, my fashionista, reads The Clique books and other YA chick lit.

So, I have the gamut, but the main thing is they read. Mission accomplished.

Dwight said...

Middle Daughter (12) spent her babysitting money on Clique books.

I was almost misty.

astairesteps said...


Red velvet cake is my favorite. I guess my point is, why must the classics be viewed as "fruits and veggies"? IMO (and for example), The Narnia Chronicles are more literary than HP books, yet also contain the delicious appeal that would turn kids to readers. Same with Twain. LM Montgomery. I guess it's all in one's perspective...and experience, as Dwight pointed out.

Liz said...

Astairesteps, of course, I'm now craving red velvet cake:) LOL.

I wish classics weren't considered fruits and veggies, but for many they are. Perhaps because they are assigned reading materials it becomes a pyschological thing. I had some fabulous teachers who did an amazing job presenting the classics. Unfortunately, that just isn't enough for some folks.

I'd rather kids read than not. If that means they read fluff than so be it.

I adored the Narnia books and thought I was Anne Shirley reincarnated in the cornfields of Indiana, but those weren't the books my teachers considered classics or literature.

Perhaps the discussion needs to be about how to broaden the classic label.

I have my girls reading The Secret Life of Bees this summer. I'd consider that book a classic in the making.

By the way, popped over to your blog. I love TS Eliot and had an amazing teacher, a Holy Cross Brother, present a section on him and Gerard Manley Hopkins. Just awesome stuff.