Lagging Pottermania


In Hawaii I read the first two Harry Potter books, and now I'm barreling into the third, finally tossing aside my long-standing opposition to getting involved in this particular cultural phenomenon. I'm enjoying the books. I'm not loving them. I don't think they're the greatest thing to happen to the world since chocolate donuts. I don't think they're revolutionizing the literary universe forever. There's much in the books, from what I've seen so far, that is derivative and/or formulaic. I still like Chuck Palahniuk better. I do, however, hope that J.K. Rowling ends up richer than Oprah. We had dinner with some friends last night (I ate sushi!) and I think one of them put it best: "I like Harry Potter books. They make me feel smart."


But the real point of this post isn't to come out as a nascent Harry Potter fan. The real point is this shirt, a relatively recent offering from perhaps my favorite online merchant that I've never actually purchased anything from. When I first saw that the shirt was for sale I thought it was a dumb idea, since anyone who would really be upset about learning that information from a t-shirt probably read the whole book the day it came out anyway. But the T-Shirt Hell newsletter still contains vicious and distraught e-mails from people whose lives have been ruined by visiting the site, and that's comedy.

A similar phenomenon unfolded at Something Awful, where the mercurial title of the FYAD forum was changed to "FYADumbledore Dies Because Snape Kills Him" the day the book came out. Very quickly the forum began to fill with threats of murder and suicide.

These are the little bits if inconsequential assholery that make my bellybutton tingle.


It makes me sad when I see adults reading Harry Potter. Perhaps it makes them feel smart, perhaps they read heavy, depressing stuff all day and need a break when riding Muni... but it still makes me sad to think how little Americans read as it is and when they do, it's an English children's book. However, I'm glad you're enjoying them. After I finish with law school I think I might read the C.S. Lewis collection again, just for fun.

In my own defense, I'm interspersing the HP series with Chuck Palahniuk and John Irving, so I've got that going.

surely excessive harry-reading is no sadder than excessive blog-reading. it sort of *is* an ongoing blog, actually.

"September 3, Book 3: Potions class sucked today. Everyone hated me for a while and now everyone loves me again. Hermione and Ron still not snogging. Ponce ponce ponce, I am British. Quidditch quidditch. Boys like sports."

but really i love those books.

You know, you're absolutely right. I should be ashamed of the way I waste my mental energy reading Harry Potter books. I'll put the books down and go watch some TV right now.

You have nothing to be ashamed of... considering how wildly popular the books are with adults, I'm the one who should be ashamed for still thinking of them as children's books.

There's nothing more magical than magic...except the magic of getting pubes.

magical pubes...alert J.K. I smell an 8th book. actually using the verb smell and the noun pubes in the same stream of conciousness is horribly wrong when you think about it. Anyway, I read and enjoy the books as well. I am by no means a fanatic but they appeal to the inner child in all of us and while aren't exactly the most intellectual tomes one could read, they're a little better than most children's books these days (i.e. Madonna's little red riding hood meets Kabbalah B.S.).

is it that difficult to comprehend the difference between a book for children and a young adult novel? children's books include time-honored classics like "everybody poops" (no, really, everybody!) and "pat the bunny" (there's tactile surfaces!). harry potter has themes involving death, love, revenge, and heroism. the 6th book's moral ending message is that no matter how much adult parent-figures might want to protect you, they can't. you're going to die, they're going to die, everybody's going to die and there's not a damn thing anyone can do to save you. harry potter does not classify as a "children's book".

Young adult is a ridiculous label. These books are geared towards (or at the very least wildly popular amongst) kids aged 8-14. Those people are children, not adults, young or otherwise. If you want to sell me Catcher in the Rye as young adult I might buy that, but Harry Potter is a children's book that adults happen to read.

These books are also "wildly popular amongst" adults. Even if one accepts the arbitrary 8-14 figure, people in that age range when the first book came out are now 16-22. What exactly is wrong with the term "young adult novel", when applied to boks aimed at teenagers? No one thinks it refers to books for young legal adults, unless they are being ridiculously semantic.

I am fine with calling Harry Potter books "children's books" as long as we are agreed it's not a disparaging term. Who cares what the commercial target audience is? That a creative work is easy to digest, for adults or children, doesn't make it less worthwhile. The Iron Giant is one of my favorite movies and I'm absolutely not embarassed about that. It's digestable by children, simple and clear, and no less appropriate for adults. If there's one thing I dislike about Pottermania, it's fans who feel they have to distance themselves from the books even as they rave about them.

Palahniuk or Rowling, these are all just made-up stories anyhow. If we were weighing Harry Potter versus a physics textbook or even a cookbook, maybe I could muster some elitist scorn.

I don't think "children's books" is a disparaging term; it's just a fact. I don't think adults who read Harry Potter are actually any less intelligent, cultured or whatever... I just see sooooo many adults reading them (even in France) on public transit that it makes me wonder about the state of adult reading in general these days. Although I have absolutely no problem with Harry Potter or adults enjoying material primarily aimed at children, it's hard to deny that there's more out there than J.K. Rowling.

"If we were weighing Harry Potter versus a physics textbook or even a cookbook, maybe I could muster some elitist scorn." Damn straight. (Sorry, I just love reading cookbooks.)

Once again, you're absolutely right. Reading popular new books that everyone else is reading too is a terrible faux pas no matter who the target audience is. I will throw out every bestseller I own and read nothing unless it's both elevated and obscure.

The problem with the label young adult is that under your definition or really any other, it doesn't have much meaning. Despite the possible arbitrariness of my 8-14 categorization, it seems clear to me that a significant part of the target audience for Harry Potter is under age 10. Calling the book young adult masks its appropriateness for those who aren't yet teenagers (in your definition) or adults (under my overly semantic but nonetheless descriptive definition). I prefer a label that is accurate (children's book) to one that masquerades as a meaningful phrase but is instead a vague catchall.

The term "young adult" only lacks meaning if you refuse to learn (or accept) what it means.

Young adult wiki.

Protip: You might enjoy a CTRL-F search for Rowling!

Children's lit wiki.

A Harry Potter book is, if we are addicted to labels, both a young adult book and a children's book. It is also, to round things out, simply a book, and a pretty good one.

If you aren't a child or a parent, "children's book" is an utterly useless label, whether used as an excuse to select or avoid a book. "Young adult" is only useful if you want to focus on or filter out stories about growing up.

As a kid I loved cheddar cheese, hamburgers, toffee, oatmeal with brown sugar, and turkey sandwiches. Should I stop eating them now that I am an adult? Should I take pains to refer to them as "children's food" or something? I don't eat Handi-Snacks anymore, but that's because I think they're nasty, not because I ate them as a kid.

So you finally gave into Potter-mania huh? I feel like I am one of the last adult hold-outs (if Harry Potter-mania was like virginity, then I would be happy to not be getting any)...and I intend to stay that way. But I mainly just wanted to say that I would rather read "Fight Club" over "Harry Potter and the Whatever's Whatever" any day. :)

Okay. This has gone on long enough. When you start invoking wiki the (almost) librarian will jump in and break up the fight. Although, I will admit it doesn't do a bad job with the YA article. I am not a librarian, but this is library advice.

The MAIN difference between YA and kids is where the physical book is shelved. This makes a difference in book stores and libraries only.

YA is a designation for books that should generally be kept out of the hands of the very young based on content (sex, graphic drug use, graphic violence etc) or language. It is also usually put books that teens would enjoy that younger kids generally wouldn't, even if they don't need parental warning stickers (boring relationship crap, super self-centered main characters...). Most YA books are written at a level for people who haven't COMPLETELY developed their reading skills. But many tend to be more complex than the Baby-Sitters Club. It's not entirely uncommon to have books that are god-awful-stream-of-conciousness, or non-linear in other ways etc.

I haven't read the latest Harry Potter, but I've followed the library blogs. And this is what they say. The librarians are correct in shelving it in the kids section because 1. it's written at a level for children. The offical reading level is ages 9-12 (i imagine it would skew a little lower if they didn't have all those tough made up words) 2. The making out is mentioned, not described. It doesn't make you uncomfortable to read in a public place. 3. Children love the darn thing, and skip over and forget the relationship parts they're not interested in and get to the magic!

While we're consulting wiki on the subject of Harry Potter...

I have a dollar that says Dumbledore comes back before the series is over... or in Matt's case a chocolate donut.

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This page contains a single entry by hb published on August 20, 2005 11:26 AM.

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