...all around me, I see adults reading J.K. Rowling's books to themselves: perfectly intelligent, mature people, poring over "Harry Potter" with nary a child in sight. Waterstone's, a British book chain, predicts that the seventh and (supposedly) final volume, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," may be read by more adults than children. Rowling's U.K. publisher has even been releasing "adult editions." That has an alarmingly illicit sound to it, but don't worry. They're the same books dressed up with more sophisticated dust jackets -- Cap'n Crunch in a Gucci bag.
...before I can suggest what one might learn from reading a good novel, they pop the question about The Boy Who Lived: "How do you like 'Harry Potter'?"
Of course, it's not really a question anymore, is it? In the current state of Potter mania, it's an invitation to recite the loyalty oath. And you'd better answer correctly. Start carrying on like Moaning Myrtle about the repetitive plots, the static characters, the pedestrian prose, the wit-free tone, the derivative themes, and you'll wish you had your invisibility cloak handy. Besides, from anyone who hasn't sold the 325 million copies that Rowling has, such complaints smack of Bertie Bott's beans, sour-grapes flavor.
I think Ron Charles, editor of the Washington Post's "Book World" section, knows he sounds a little fussy. But his column isn't really an attack on the Harry Potter phenomenon. His opening salvo against Harry Potter turns into a lamentation of the fact that many Americans don't read anymore, and when they do read, it's unchallenging, uncritical works that are essentially the book equivalent of TV. Of course, lamentations by books critics of the reading habits of the masses have probably been around as long as the printing press, but it's true that most of us are as lazy about reading as we are about anything else that's difficult and rewarding(except for Wise Man Nat-Wu, who has a whole blog about books here.) Most of my childhood was spent wrapped up in books, and once I got older and discovered science fiction it wasn't uncommon for me to read a book a week, or more. Now I'm lucky to finish a book once every couple of months or so (if that) and I have to admit that since I get to read so little, I tend to gravitate towards books that will keep me entertained, not books that will challenge and enlighten me. I hope to reverse that trend towards less and less reading eventually, but it's unlikely to happen soon.
Of course, I do spend a significant amount of time online reading, something that I think is a necessity for anyone who blogs about any current affairs topic. Unfortunately most of that reading is of short articles, the sort of reading that only encourges the short attention span that makes it difficult to engage in longer and more substantial works. There's really only one cure for that, and it's to simply pick up a book and force yourself to forge through it. But then, that sounds like work, not pleasure, doesn't it?
Oh and for what it's worth, I really don't get the whole Harry Potter phenomenon either.