Monday, July 16, 2007

Has Harry Potter cast a curse?

Rebutting the conventional wisdom that the Harry Potter phenomenon is good for reading, writing and publishing in general, Washington Post book editor Ron Charles has written a provocative essay entitled "Harry Potter and the Death of Reading." In it, he cites a few facts to buttress his case that millions of people reading the same book does not quite portend a renaissance for the written word:

  • More than half the adults in this country won't pick up a novel this year, according to the National Endowment for the Arts.
  • The same data point to a dramatic and accelerating decline in the number of young people reading fiction.
  • In 1994, over 70 percent of total fiction sales were accounted for by a mere five authors.
There's much more, and the essay is worth reading in its entirety. This line will get some attention: "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."

Also: "Like the basilisk that terrorized students at Hogwarts in Book II, 'Harry Potter' and a few other much-hyped books devour everyone's attention, leaving most readers paralyzed in praise, apparently incapable of reading much else."

I don't know. Valid points, I suppose. But if the problem is that not enough people are reading books, it seems churlish to bemoan those who still do -- whatever the quality of the volume in question, or its mass-market appeal.

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