Pottermania cloaks other good books

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The publishing industry is a not-so-distant cousin of librarianship: as a general rule, librarians like to read, but this isn’t the only reason why they’re relatives. A big part of a librarian’s job is shrewdly acquiring the best deals on books that suit their user community. Thus, librarians pay close attention to the publishing industry, and hope that it prospers, for without a publishing industry, there are no libraries.

Which brings us to the biggest publishing phenomenon of the day: Harry Potter. I should immediately say I haven’t read any of J.K. Rowling’s books. I saw the first movie, and, from what I remember, it was entertaining and it abided by the rules of the fantasy/magic genre: young man discovers his incredible powers, learns how to harness those powers, defeats evil.

As with anything famous, there are two ridiculous extremes with Harry Potter. There is Pottermania, which has gotten so out of control that there’s actually going to be a theme park built in Harry’s honour in 2010.

On the other end are people who want everyone to stop reading Harry Potter books, either because they’re not high literature, or because they’re filled with black magic. But if we used either of these metrics to purge the written word, we would be culturally poor indeed: we wouldn’t have Elmore Leonard, J.R.R. Tolkien, Goethe, and most of Shakespeare.

One of the biggest arguments for Harry Potter is that Ms. Rowling’s books have actually gotten kids to read. Really? Kids didn’t read before Harry? When I was a kid, I fell in love with the language of Dr. Seuss and adored Norton Juster’s imaginative The Phantom Tollbooth. And I wasn’t alone: between conversations about girls and playing in the guck and mud, most of my childhood friends read books. Yes, we watched TV and played video games, but we also found the time to crack a book and get lost in a story.

I think, with Harry Potter, people celebrate the wrong thing. Rowling’s books are written by a British author, mass-marketed for an Atlanticist audience. Why, then, should people go ape over Harry? Shouldn’t we instead celebrate our own literary accomplishments? Enjoy lots of good books. Try new subjects, authors and titles. Ask questions, learn the answers and spread the word. Find out whats going on in your local literary scene

So, Harry Potter fans, buy the book series, enjoy it and pass it on to your friends and, eventually, your children. But remember, other books out there are just as good, if not better, than Potter, and many of them may have been published in the place where you live.

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