Sunday, July 22, 2007

Confessions of a Reader Who Never Fell Under Harry Potter’s Spell

JK Rowling is without a doubt one of the most influential authors in the world. Despite whatever critics say about her work, twenty years from now parents will read Harry Potter to their children and remember it as a book they loved from their childhood, something to share and pass on, the way people have passed on Lord of the Rings, Narnia, and Anne of Green Gables. If I had children, it would be the first two, not the third (which I’ve never read), The Great Brain series, the works of Jack London and Gordon Korman’s Bruno and Boots series, which he wrote the first book for when he was in grade 7.

Those books we read and loved as children stay with us over the years. Perhaps it’s because we read them at an age where it was still possible to believe a magic world was waiting on the other side of a wardrobe. Perhaps it’s because the greatest thing about being a child is having the ability to escape from the harsh realities of the real world without having the same experience of those realities that most adults have had to face, and returning to those books is like returning to a gentler time in our lives, when things weren’t so complicated.

Whatever the reasons, things we grow to love as children do stay with us. And for this reason alone, I admire JK Rowling.

Okay, so I haven’t read the books. I have read a few reviews, so I’m aware of the criticisms. I’m an author, so I’m aware of the jealousy factor. I didn’t read the books for a variety of reasons. One is that I have a bit of an aversion to anything too popular. I tend to catch on to things in syndication. Northern Exposure, for example. I’ve seen more of Seinfeld and Friends as repeats than I ever did when they were actually on air.

Another reason is that, limited as my reading time is, I’ve chosen to focus on the genre I write in with most of my reading. This was necessary over the past few years as I covered a lot of ground and explored the genre.

And then there’s the part of you that gets sick of hearing about it. Much the same reason I never read Dan Brown.

I do think it’s fair to say that deep down, every author wants some recognition for their work, and they’d like to be successful. And so it’s fair to say that some of the most popular best-selling authors out there – John Grisham, Michael Crichton, James Patterson, Dan Brown, JK Rowling – find themselves often on the outside, alienated from their peers to some degree. (I haven’t read any of them, btw.)

There’s a really interesting opinion piece in the Scotsman on the topic of Rowling resentment. It got me thinking, not so much about JK Rowling, but about why it is we’re suspicious of success. We seem to have this idea that anyone too successful must have sold their soul to Satan, be involved in witchcraft, have slept their way up the ladder, or have good access to blackmail material. We seldom trust success.

I think this is especially true when success comes quickly. We hear the stories, how Grisham couldn’t get a publisher so sold his first book out of the trunk of his car then got a movie deal, thus doing an end-run around the publishing business. Boom, instant success, right? Only in our eyes, because we heard of him after he had a movie deal and then got scooped up by a publisher. Hardly instant for him.

But it’s enough to persuade some to try self-publishing, vanity presses, anything, to get out there… Because perhaps they’ll catch on the same way. And if they don’t, then it’s easy to look at the ones who did make it and resent them.

A great thing I heard from another author: No other author’s success diminishes my own.

I’m not in competition with JK Rowling. If anything, I owe her my thanks. She has encouraged children to be passionate about books. My niece and nephew were at a midnight costume party for the book launch. Children going to book launches. That’s fantastic, because years from now a lot of those children are going to be adult readers. They’ve experienced the magic of the written word, what it is to be caught up in a story, and that will stay with them.

So, although I’ve read the spoilers, and then read a few of the reviews, Harry Potter mania isn’t much of an event for me, personally, but I do appreciate what she’s done for the book industry.

And I hope the reports of her potential new writing project are correct. Whatever she does, all the best to her. Whether you like it or not, JK Rowling has left her mark on the literary world.

Although I think my niece now admits to liking Eragon a bit better… Of course, that may be a defense mechanism, to be less upset by the end of HP.

But if you want a different view on the brouhaha, read the July 20 entry here. (No direct links to posts on this blog, so you may have to scroll down.) Just don’t drink anything before you read.


Steve Allan said...

The trouble I have with the Potter books is that they all seem to be the same story. I read through the first two rather quickly, but by the time I finished the third and became bogged down in the fourth I realized that it was the same set up, the same act structure and the same resolution. I've resigned to see the movies (which my wife would have dragged me to anyway).

As for the success, I guess if it weren't for the initial success I would never have picked up the first four books. I don't resent Rowling any more than I resent Stephen King (plus with the millions King makes and gives to the city of Bangor; he's keeping my property taxes down). Yes, Potter has given millions of people a reason to read (fantastic), however we don't know how many will stick around for whatever else is on the shelf.

As for reading outside the genre, you must. If only to take a vacation away from crime fiction so you don't burn out on it.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I understand what you're saying Steve. Well, I can't comment on the books and your observations on the storylines, because I haven't read them. But certainly it's fair for anyone to say they don't read a series because it isn't for them or they find it repetitive.

I'm not particularly interested in hearing about Harry Potter... but at the same time, I have nothing against JK Rowling, and do think she deserves her due.

As for the long-term impact, I have to believe there's a greater chance of adults returning to books and passing that on to their children if they loved a series as a child themselves than if they never enjoyed reading at all. From the stats on sales, I'd say JK has given us a reason to be optimistic about future readers.

Randy Johnson said...

I understand your using your reading time in the crime genre. Myself, being disabled and retired, I have plenty of time and read in a wide selection of genres. In the recent past, besides yourself, I've read books by Steve Mosby, Simon Kernick, John Scalzi, Lee Goldberg, James Reasoner, Norvell Page, A.E. Van Vogt, Stephen King, Kevin J. Anderson, and am currently working on the new Harry Potter. I have the time. To each his own.

Sandra Ruttan said...

"I have the time. To each his own."

Indeed. In reality, what will likely happen with me is I'll read them in a few years, then nobody will want to talk about them. That always happens to me with TV shows.

I hope the Mosby you read was The 50/50 Killer - fantastic. And which Kernick? In the past few years I've read amateur sleuth/cozies, hardboiled, thrillers, procedurals... pretty much all over the spectrum, more to learn the genre than anything, and catch up on all the great authors I'd never read.

I still haven't read anything by Ruth Rendell, PD James, Sue Grafton, John Harvey (and that I simply must correct) and there are tons of others. So many books...

Randy Johnson said...

The 50/59 Killer, yes, and The Business of Dying. I don't watch a great deal of television(probably still more than I should). Seinfeld I caught on reruns, I can't stand Friends.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Not too big on Friends myself.

The Business of Dying leads into one of my favourite books, A Good Day To Die.

Anonymous said...

Ah The Great Brain. One of my favorites as a kid. I still remember some of the stories.

What I like about Harry Potter is that Rowling has created this world where the kids are the heroes. I guess I'm still childish enough that I like the idea that kids could save the world. As for the similarities in the structure of the books, well, they are kids books-I'm not sure it's fair to hold them up to the same standards as books for adults. One of the reasons so many cartoons and kid's shows are so repetitive and similar is that kids like knowing and being able to work out how things are going to be. The Harry Potter books make them think, but kids know in the end that Harry will win, and the bad guys will get what's coming to them.

There's nothing wrong with reading outside the genre-why does everyone act like it's a sin? If a person truly loves reading, then it's appropriate to read anything that catches your interest.

Sandra Ruttan said...

It isn't a sin to read outside the genre. I think the reason some people get upset about it is when people go outside the genre just for books with a lot of hype around them. But for myself, my reading habits will likely shift again in the next few years. My reading has been part of my education on the genre I write in. The main deterrent to moving between genres depends on what you read for and what you get out of reading, but I'll be reading Eileen's book when it comes out, to name one pick. And I want to get Patricia Wood's book.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I don't mean to be cranky, but I'm just really getting tired of people being so critical of someone reading just for the sake of reading. It just seems anymore that I keep reading comments from people that think that you have stay loyal to mystery novels or to a particular author or to newer writers or the underdogs or whoever their particular favorite is. I like to read, if a book catches my eye, then I'm going to read it, I don't give a shit who wrote it (unless I have some personal reason not to).

Yeah, I'm in a bitchy mood this week, well, this month. Sorry.

Sandra Ruttan said...

It's not a problem Norby. If I gave the impression it was wrong to read outside the genre I apologize - that wasn't my intent.

I'd actually like to able to read for pleasure. It isn't something I have much time for at all, not with the reviewing.

Anonymous said...

I think a person can read too much. I was checking out the ingredients of a product I had already eaten and I did not like how that went.

It kept me awake in fear...

Sandra Ruttan said...

And I finally read the fine print on the marriage license...

Mindy Tarquini said...

HAHA! You can direct link. You have to click on the comments, then click on the orange title of the post from the comments page. I don't know why I have to do that. Probably because the blog is hardcoded by moi.

Sandra Ruttan said...

You just like making us work for it Mindy!