Wednesday, September 14, 2005

BOOKS: Don't hate me because I'm beautiful. Hate me because I'm only "meh" about Harry Potter.

Hey! I just finished the latest Harry Potter book! And it was... well, you know... it was all right.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling (#28)
Like a lot of people who love to read, I have mixed feelings about books that become popular. On one hand, I follow the bestseller lists, and they definitely inform some of my reading decisions. But on the other hand, if a book gets Oprah-fied or if it becomes a runaway cult bestseller, I get irrationally ermy about it and refuse to touch it.

So, a few years ago, when a kids' book called Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone started getting all kinds of attention -- and allegedly encouraging thousands of kids of kids to read who wouldn't otherwise pick up a book, while at the same time drawing the wrath of fundamentalist Christians -- I won't lie. I was curious. But there was that darned bandwagon-phobia to overcome...

The decision was made for me when I was visiting my sister and her kids for a few days. I ran out of my own reading material and -- Hey! What's this here? That Harry Potter book? Why, don't mind if I do, thanks.

As kids' fare, I thought it was okay. Good enough for me to read the next three (my sister had bought the first four as a box set) and not consider my time wasted.

But...

(You knew there had to be a "but" coming, didn't you?)

But...

(Stop reading if you feel this passionately about the Harry Potter series.)

They're not that great.

Sorry, they're just not. I love kids' books, I really do. And I'm not one of those people who thinks there's a firm line in the sand between children's fiction and adult fiction. I have shelves of kids books that I re-read with great regularity. Books that I've loved since I was a young 'un and which -- at no small expense and effort -- I've sought out and re-acquired as an adult. But I have to tell you that if I'd read the Harry Potter books as a kid, I doubt they'd be on my shelf now.

Now, if you want some fabulous books about kids and magic, I can point you in the right direction. You've got your E. Nesbit over here, who was rocking the whole magic thing at the turn of the century (the 19th, that is) with a style and wit that remains unmatched.

And over here you've got your Edward Eager, a self-proclaimed E. Nesbit fan himself, whose Tales of Magic series, written in the 1950s, is still so fresh and funny and charming it takes my breath away.

And while it's a one-off rather than a series, Willo Davis Roberts's YA novel The Girl with the Silver Eyes -- about a young girl who realizes she has psychic powers -- somehow speaks to me more than Harry Potter does.

Harry... he's okay. And having read -- what? seven? eight? eleventeen? -- of the books in the series, I'm obviously in it for the long haul. I'll keep reading along. But I've read better, is all I'm saying.

If you've read this far without getting entirely pissed off, you might get a chuckle at what Mighty Girl has to say about her partner's HP obsession. Heh.

30 comments:

Genny said...

I'm glad you said that.

Because?

I completely agree.

I think they're very readable. They have their moments. I'm partial to the 3rd book, and the last book surprised me quality wise. But... not that fantastic. I'm still favoring "Abarat" and the "His Dark Materials" trilogy.

Just so you know, you are not alone in the "meh".

Anonymous said...

While I don't agree on Harry Potter, I completely agree on the Edward Eager books. My copies were my mom's when she was a kid, and the covers are worn to falling off. Love them.

Moira said...

And, may I suggest The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis starting with The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. They're still great.

Anonymous said...

Thank you! I am so sick of talking to grown ups talking about Harry Potter like it's the best series of books out there. I'm happy that it is a series that kids enjoy enough to move away from the television for a while, but with adults it seems almost cultish.

Anonymous said...

I feel the same way. And I was in middle school when they came out, so I was more or less in the target age range. I read the first three, liked them well enough and just... stopped. I've never particularly wanted to continue.

emjaybee said...

You are the only person I've ever met who read The Girl With the Silver Eyes! I fucking loved that book. I need to buy it again.

Harry Potter left me cold; I agreed with A.S. Byatt's editorial on it, that it was more a school story than about true magic in any sense. A perfectly good school story, but that's all.

His Dark Materials probably had less actual magic in it, but was far spookier and stuck with me far longer.

J.Bro said...

My sense is that adults who rave about them haven't read anything else for years.

Anonymous said...

I also agree completely. I didn't see how the Harry Potter books could possibly live up to the hype but there were so many people going on and on about them that I broke down and read the first four books a little after the fourth book came out. (As an anti-best-seller reader-type, I figured they probably weren't that great but I couldn't legitimately complain about them without reading them.) Anyway, I was seriously underwhelmed and pissed at the inordinate amount of attention they were getting. I don't hate them; I just think they're mediocre. And kids are just learning to expect a marketing extravaganza instead of a book.

I usually cite Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series as an example of a much superior series. Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea books are probably a good choice, too. (Despite the fact that it's not in the same genre, I have to add that I absolutely adore Le Guin's Very Far Away from Anywhere Else.)

Anonymous said...

The Dealing with Dragons series by Patricia C. Wrede was always my favorite as a young un' because it mixed feminisim with fantasy. But I haven't read any of the books in years, so maybe now I would think they suck.

Karen said...

It's true. I mean, I like them, but there is a lot of AMAZING YA literature, and JK Rowling has not broke into the top tier. I too loved the Girl With The Silver Eyes, Edward Eager, The Dark is Rising series, and Patricia C Wrede love. I have to admit that I had heard a lot of hype for His Dark Materials, and was really disappointed in it, so to some my judgement may be suspect.

eninnej said...

I was inordinately excited that you mentioned The Girl With the Silver Eyes. I loved that book when I was about 10, and absolutely no one I know has ever even heard of it.

If you haven't already read it, you might like The Changeover by Margaret Mahy. The protagonist strikes me as being similar in spirit - a smart, unusually mature girl who's less fazed than fascinated with the discovery that she's a bit different from most people.

Diana Wynne Jones is a great grown-up kid author, too: I've read A Tale of Time City and Howl's Moving Castle more times than I can recall. The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley are a couple other perennial favorites of mine.

And yes, they're all better than Harry Potter, and I can say that quite comfortably as someone who has read all the HP books more than once. HP has its charms, but there's unquestionably plenty of books out there that are better written and feature more original plots.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone remember a YA book about a girl who is accepted to an exclusive boarding school for the musically inclined but she isn't that talented, then she finds out all the girls have psychic powers and they are channeling music for dead composers? It's driving me crazy! I probably read it in the late 70's or so.

Dave said...

I rarely have marathon reads anymore, except for Harry Potter. Not because I can't put it down (though I do like the series quite a lot), but because my wife tears through them in a day and a half and then demands I get through it ASAP so she has someone to talk to about it. The rushing has made me enjoy the last few books a bit less than I would otherwise.

Alison E. said...

I adored The Girl With the Silver Eyes.

Thanks for posting the author, now I can track down a copy of that, too.

Jennifer said...

The Girl With The Silver Eyes was my favorite book as a kid! Wow, I didn't know other people had read it.

Amazingly enough, my ex's dad was childhood friends with WDR's husband. Too bad I never got to meet her *sigh* Stupid exes.

Holly said...

Oh, wow. I wore my copy of Silver Eyes to tatters when I was a kid. You just reminded me of another: The Silver Crown by Robert O'Brien.

Wing Chun said...

Read the first one as part of some deal I made with my sister. It's fine, but it's definitely for kids. (Snob Alert: I feel a tiny bit sorry for adults who really think they're the greatest, because I suspect they haven't read enough grown-up books -- or other kids' books, for that matter -- to know better.)

Jagosaurus said...

Yes, the HP books are not great literature although I admit I plowed through the first four in three days. But I just couldn't get into the fifth one. Somehow, between the ages of 30 and 35 I outgrew them I suppose. Part of the problem (in my estimation) is that they don't make me want to read them again and again like, say, A Wrinkle in Time.

Meredith said...

Okay, wait, I have to reply to Wing on this one. I have a Harvard degree, I love "literature" okay, Roth, Saramago, and Murakami are the three authors I 've been reading the most of lately. I've even read all goddamn seven volumes of Proust. And I love Harry Potter. Have read them all 5 or 6 times. have read #6 three times already. Obviously people will disagree with my opinion, which is fine with me - just don't insult my intelligence becasue I disagree with your dislike.

tuckova said...

precisely right. thank you for saying so, and so clearly.

tara said...

Anonymous, the book about the boarding school might be Down A Dark Hall by Lois Duncan.

I loved The Girl With The Silver Eyes. I've recently found my old copy, but haven't reread it as an "adult" yet.

Anonymous said...

tara, thank you so much, that's the one!

I just hope all the kids who got into reading through the HP books KEEP reading.

Doppelganger said...

"I just hope all the kids who got into reading through the HP books KEEP reading."

EXACTLY. I would have absolutely zero problem with Harry Potter if I thought the books were actually renewing kids' interest in books. It depresses me to no end to think of millions of kids jumping on this craze... and then starting and ending their love of reading with a single series.

Anonymous said...

I'm right there with you, Meredith. The HP books are perfectly good reading, better than some so-called literature praised to the rafters. Um, Wing? Don't feel sorry for me or anyone else that likes the series for what they are. I've read plenty of "grown up" books. Many that sucked out loud. So, yeah, I do know "better". Am I going to go out and write fanfic on the HP series? Um, No. But that doesn't mean they aren't perfectly fine reading for kids and adults alike.

Doppelganger said...

Oh, no! Has it come to this? Are we prefacing our points with "Um" now?

Remember, folks, after all, it's just a book.

Jeremy Irons said...

I have a ball. Perhaps you'd like to bounce it?

Doppelganger said...

Dang, I don't have any balls! Heehee.

Lil said...

Well... I'm with Meredith on this.
I love all kinds of books, and I adore Harry Potter.
I think it works on our immagination, OK I was only 19 when I read it for the first time, but it was like being 10 again and that's what I like about that book.
The #5 rather disappointed me, but the #6 is OK again.
And btw, I think His dark materials are "meh"... I mean, they're kinda scary and all, but the story, especially in the third book, doesn't evolve well. I got the feeling he just made something up because he had to finish.

sportsgoddess said...

My daughter, who is not much of a reader, loves HP. My son, who loves to read, thought the books were terribly dull and refuses to read them anymore.

Em said...

I'm a teensy bit pissed at Mr. Potter right now because all I've gotten out of forcing my ass to read up until book four was a lousy grade in my writing class. I used some very general references to the series because my main character was a raving mad fangirl. My professor is all "I've never read past the first few chapters of book one, so I'm not a fan, so I'm not the best person to mark this!" *insert tinkly laugh* I felt like telling her "guess what? I'm not that much of a fan either. I bought a Dumbledore Dies t-shirt more as a cruel prank on those who do care deeply about it rather than a statement of my undying love for a magical boy." The way I see it, if they were a true fan, they would have read HBP by now and it's their own fault that I was forced to inform them. :)