Monday, June 9, 2014
Was the Popularity of Harry Potter Just a Passing Fad?
Okay, so I had to come up with some attention getting title. So why not use the Harry Potter phenomena? I've never read any of J.K. Rowling's books and I'm in no big hurry read them, so I guess I can't make any sound judgment as to how good they are. Perhaps you've read some or all of the Potter series and are an avid fan. Or maybe you hated them.
Let's go back a ways and think about William Shakespeare. Is his work great from more of a scholarly or historical perspective? Is he a sentimental favorite just because? Or do you often read his plays and poetry? Did he even write all or any of them?
I rather enjoyed some of the more recent filmed versions of Shakespeare such as Romeo + Juliet, Coriolanus, and Titus. I've read one of those plays but not two of the others. But I have read a number of Shakespeare's plays and while I can say there was much I appreciated about the writing and the stories are good, I can't say that I derive great pleasure out of reading those plays.
Same goes for Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. I understand there is the significance in regard to literary history, but it is seriously doubtful that something written today in that style would get more than a handful of readers and I doubt whether any of those would say that they liked what they read if they actually read it.
The complexity of style and lack of lucidity in the writing is undoubtedly a deterrent in the ability for many to enjoy deeper works. However, no intellectual investment on behalf of the reader may make much escapist literature highly forgetful. If a book or story is merely enjoyable entertainment that does not make us dwell on any significant message, is the work of any value besides a temporary escape?
Why do we like to read what we read and why do we think certain written works are "good"?
Part of this undoubtedly begins in childhood. If we grow up in a storytelling culture, have an environment that includes the written word, and are encouraged to read, then I think there is a likelihood that we will enjoy reading and pursue reading as we grow older. What we read is to a great extent determined by what we have been exposed to in the home and in our educational setting. The influence of our peers can have a great deal to do with the reading that we choose.
This is an oversimplification of course and I am probably stating the obvious, but I think that this mostly holds true. If we read regularly then we become better readers. If we challenge ourselves with deeper reading materials with more complex writing, more diverse vocabulary, and more profound ideas then our reading will probably inclinate in search of more materials of a similar nature--that is if we enjoy reading those books.
Many of us probably avoid reading what we don't enjoy unless we're doing it for school or some lofty personal reason. I've found that many books that I've found to be difficult to struggle through were rewarding in the end and after having studied about the book to where I understood more about the writer and the times in which the book was written I often appreciated the book all the more. Other books were so tedious to me that I never made it through them.
Another important aspect of reading preference relates to whether a book is relevant to one's thinking, worldview, and ideologies. Flannery O'Connor is one of my favorite writers not only because she writes with eloquent simplicity, but because she delves into the subject matter of spirituality, grace, redemption, and the corruption of the human soul. She writes what I want to read about in a style that entertains me.
On the other hand I think about Herman Melville's Billy Budd, written in a more complex nineteenth century style and yet telling such a compelling story that it has stuck with me even though I read it only once and that was forty years ago.
Then there is one of my favorite short stories Descending by science fiction author Thomas Disch. I read this when I was in high school and it immediately became a favorite then and remains so now. The story of a guy trapped on a department store escalator that is eternally descending is a story too philosophically delicious for me to ever give up on. This is my kind of story.
Coming to any absolute conclusion in one blog post is not something that I am going to achieve. Not in this blog post at least. There is still so much for me to ponder on the subject. Can I say I like to read books that are relatively easy to read? I do, but then again I've read some books that are considered difficult that I liked very much. I avoid romance books so I haven't read many, but I enjoyed Pride and Prejudice a great deal.
But I still probably will never read any Harry Potter books because it just doesn't sound like a concept that would interest me. Sure, you might call me stubborn, but that might be another aspect of why we have preferences--sometimes we're just so hardheaded about something that we resist liking it and we never give it a chance.
What are the main reasons for your not liking certain kinds of literature? Do you challenge yourself to read literature that you have perceived to be difficult? Do you like the Harry Potter books? Have you read any of the Harry Potter books? Do you think the Harry Potter series will have lasting literary value?
Posted by Arlee Bird at 2:00 AM