I know I'm late to the Harry Potter discussion but for Book People it's a debate that never really goes away. It raises its head again nowadays with the gobsmackingly popular Twilight series. I haven't read it myself - I don't do vampire romance (or Kills & Wound as I like to refer to it) but my daughter is a bookaholic who has to try every new book she sees and she tells me that Twilight sucks like a Hoover on crystal meth. We don't actually sell the series in The Incidental Bookshop but if only we had a dollar for every starry eyed tweenage girl who comes in asking for this tale of unrequited blood lust... Well, even a cent would do; we could still buy a small island and a lifetime supply of garlic to keep all those smoulderingly angsty vampires away from us.
So, does the fact that the Harry books and now the Twilight series are generally not considered great writing negate the fact that they have made avid readers out of millions of kids who have never before willingly picked up a book for pleasure?
My own opinion is that great writing is in the mind of the reader. If fifty seven and a half million people want to read the latest installment of Harry Potter so badly that they can't wait till nine a.m for the shops to open and start queuing hours before dawn like crazy people in order to make sure they get a copy, then it's good writing. It might not be MY kind of good writing but it's certainly doing something right in the communications arena.
Let me tell you what Harry Potter fever was like at my house. I've never had even the tiniest smidge of interest in Harry Potter and neither did my older daughter the bookaholic.
But my younger daughter did. Well, she's not all that young really; she's going on nineteen now and is reading the series from start to finish again, as she rides the train, day in, day out, to her boring job.
She has never been interested in books. When she was a child she was always on the move, up and down trees, on and off bicycles, and when she was a teenager, she was always on the phone, always on the lookout for action, except for the week after the latest Harry Potter came out. Then she was a different kid, in her room with her head in the book till she finished it. Six months before the final Harry book was released, she told me she was buying it the moment it came out and straight away locking herself in her room . She vowed she would not answer her phone or read a paper or the surf the net till she had finished it in order to avoid spoilers.
I remember one day when she was seventeen and the latest Harry movie had just come out, she said to me at about lunch time, 'Let's go see Harry Potter.'
I looked at her like she was mad and said, 'I hate Harry and besides I have work to do.'
She stuck her lip out like she used to when she was three and went off to her room.
The next night, she came out of her room and said, 'Let's go see Harry Potter.' This time I laughed in her face. She stuck her lip out like she used to when she was three and went back to her room.
I sat there trying to work - but then I got to wondering how long it was since she and I last went to the movies together. And how long it had been since I had made that common parental sacrifice of going to a movie I loathed just because one of my kids wanted to see it.
It had been a while.
Somehow I found myself at the web site of the local cinema and found there was a
9 pm session that we could make if we hurried.
So I knocked on her door. I went in and said, 'Let's go see Harry Potter.'
'Really?' Her face lit up and she literally jumped up and down for joy just like she used to when she was three.
I remember it was just coming on winter and I am such a sook - I don't like to go out in the cold. I said to her, 'Hey, do you think it would be okay if I wore my moccasins?'
She said, 'Your what?'
I said, 'My moccasins.'
She said, 'Those black furry things?'
I said, 'Yeah.'
She said, 'They're slippers, mum. Stop fooling yourself.'
So away we went. As I remember, I changed my shoes and the movie was tolerable. It didn't turn me into a fan but what a great night it was - to be walking into a cinema on a cold night with my girl smiling by my side.
On the morning the last Harry Potter book came out, she was there, as threatened, at the bookshop at the crack of sparrowfart to pick it up. She cuddled and kissed the book on the way home in the car, taunting herself by flipping it open to the last page but stopping herself from reading what was there.
Then she got this really wistful look on her face and said, 'Oh, mum - why can't I be a wizard? ... Everybody who's anybody is a wizard nowadays. A wizard or vampire slayer. I am so boring!'
I said, 'Yeah, I know what you mean. I'm just a vampire wizard slayer myself and jeez, I can hardly keep my eyes open, it's so dull.'
She said, 'Don't be ridiculous, mum - there's no such thing as a vampire wizard slayer. Everybody knows that.'
I looked at her like I imagine CIA agents look at people when they talk about their jobs. 'Yeah, well, that's what we want you think.'