This weekend, with the final movie of the Harry Potter series out in theaters, it got me to thinking about what effect Harry Potter has had with reading, especially with our younger generation. When Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was originally published in 1997, I had no idea. I was well into my undergraduate program at GW, and really didn’t have much time to follow much of anything except my scholastic studies.
However, before the end of my time at GW, I had begun seeing people riding the Metro reading a couple of different Harry Potter books. Based on the cover art, they very much looked like children’s books. I would usually pay attention to what people were reading on the Metro for ideas of what to read during my summer breaks from school, that’s how I ended up reading Memoirs of a Geisha.
Needless to say, I really started to notice these books after I graduated from GW and began the first job of my career. One of the interns in our office was reading one of the books, I can’t recall which one, and asked her about it. I told her I had seen them before, but they looked like kids books to me. She went on to tell me how wonderful they are, and how all her friends were reading them.
I really didn’t ask her about them again. And since I didn’t have any exposure to kids, at the time, I really didn’t give the books too much thought. Sure, I read about them on the various book websites of the day, and I believe I even read a featured section in The Washington Post about them and how the Harry Potter books were encouraging and growing reading with the youngest members of our society, and how hopefully they would turn them on to other authors, such as Tolkien.
Then the first movie came out in 2001. I didn’t see that movie, nor any of the other movies until The Order of the Phoenix was getting ready to come out in theaters in 2007. I had just gotten engaged to my wife, and she wanted me to take her to see the movie. Well, I hadn’t seen any of the previous movies, nor read any of the books. So for a period of about 6 weeks, I bought the books, and read them, and after each installment I watched the movie, and finished just in time as The Order of the Phoenix came out in theatres.
I definitely enjoyed reading them, but I can’t help but think if I read them after the climax of their effect on younger people. Sure, I’ve noticed some increased reading levels in kids, but I continue to ask myself, did it have a large affect on them, encouraging increased levels of book reading?
With the number of kids at these movies, you would think so. But I ask myself all the time, how many of them have actually read the books? I know one family who’s oldest daughter has read the books several times. As a matter of fact, every time I see them, she has one of the books with her, so I know she’s read them frequently. My wife’s cousins have tried to read them to without finishing them. My sister, who was 12 when the first books came out, hasn’t read them. My sister is the exception to the rule, as she reads about 20 books a week it seems like.
On a related note, I ask myself the same questions about the Twilight saga phenomena. I’ll confess, that I’ve taken my wife to see New Moon and Eclipse in the theaters. I’ve seen mostly teenaged girls in the audience. I also ask myself if they’ve read the books, or are they just followers seeing popular age-related flicks. I know I haven’t read them, but my wife has.
Essentially, I’m not convinced that hugely popular book series, targeted toward younger audiences, has an overly great effect on those audiences with increasing their number of books read. Perhaps I’m just not exposed enough to children, since I don’t have any yet, to realize any differently. Maybe, just maybe, other distractions, as I’ve written about before are just too much of a lure these days. Or maybe, I’m off my kilter… Either way, please chime in below!