Friday, July 20, 2007

Startling True Confession

When I see college students or people at work carrying around a Harry Potter book, I become almost apoplectic.

The truth is that I have never read a Harry Potter book and do not care to. I have no resentments against J.K. Rowling and wish her every success in the world--which she seems to have had. I simply think that adults should read adult books (so many great books, so little time), unless they are reading children's books aloud to children. Yes, I have seen the movies because I watched them with my kids. Yes, we have the books so that the boys can read them, when they get around to them. But for adults? With so many good books to read, so much great poetry? Please. There aren't enough hours to read all of Tolstoy. Don't waste what time there is reading Harry Potter.


Blogger Talia said...

I sort of agree with you. I haven't read any Harry Potter, but mostly because I don't care for the genre. However, my husband who has really only read J.R.R. Tolkien has gobbled them all up. He is not a reader (unless Motor Trend counts, which it doesn't)so when I brought a copy of the first HP home (I was considering reading it for my Adolescent Lit class, but never did in the end) he read it. Really quickly. Then he went straight to the library for the next one and when they didn't have it he went straight to the bookstore and bought his own copy. He read the whole series in a month or two. I'm thrilled that he is reading. He'll never read Tolstoy, so at least he's reading something.

Also, from that adolescent literature class I learned that there is quite a bit of really good literature that is written for adolescents. Did you realize that Joyce Carol Oates has written some of this? And Catcher In the Rye might even be considered adolescent lit. And The Outsiders. So I think there are literary qulaities of the same level with literature for all ages. Plus, your kids will some day be will you know what you need push on them?

But I feel this way about reading new books. I rarely read anything new. Unless it is written by someone like Oates, or it makes a big controversey like The DaVinci code (or maybe Harry Potter). You're right. There is just too much good stuff to read before one dies.

7:39 AM  
Blogger Nick said...

You've got my vote. I've seen the movies with the kids but they have not inspired me to read the books. As a CEGEP student I remember getting a list of clasic novels off of the jacket of a hardcover book. In the course of the years that ensued I've tried to read the books on the list. Agreed there isn't enough time to read the classics - why waste time on a series as uninspiring - IMHO - as the Harry Potter series.

11:16 AM  
Blogger garylmcdowell said...

Amen, Amen, Amen!!

I read the first HP book and thought it atrocious, absolutely terribly written. Garbage. Give me Joyce, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Proust, and all the great poets anyday!

But I do love the fact that HP has given kids a renewed love of reading. Just because I don't like the books doesn't mean I don't LOVE the fact that kids all around the world are enjoying reading again!

3:14 PM  
Blogger Leslie said...

I disagree!
I've read and loved all the Harry books out so far. I've also loved Ursula LeGuin's Earthsea books--considered adolescent lit, as well as Philip Pullman's Golden Compass trilogy--another YA series which I read for the first time a few years ago. The Outsiders, Catcher, Tolkien, Richard Wilbur's alphabet book, Dr. Seuss, Goodnight Moon. I dunno--the list is long. I actually discovered Robert Frost from reading the Outsiders (I still have Nothing Gold Can Stay memorized courtesy of my encounter with this book in 6th grade).

I read Tolstoy in junior high and frankly didn't think much of him. I liked him better doing Russian Lit in college, but still feel like he is overrated. Blasphemy, I know. I loved a lot of Hemingway (also a junior high discovery) and am waiting to reread Faulkner.

I feel like there are, in fact, not so many great books and some that people think are great aren't.

I love to be entertained and watch exactly zero TV so books entertain me. I read about a dozen different mystery writers, some popular fiction, some quote unquote literary fiction, bucketloads of poetry, good and bad. Books of all sorts feed my mind.

Harry included.

And I bless J.K. Rowling every single day for turning an entire generation into readers. Those kids are going to be buying your books one day.

8:54 PM  
Blogger Laurel said...

I have to disagree with you on this. I loooooove children's literature, and reread (on a yearly basis) CS Lewis, Lewis Carroll, E Nesbit, Edward Eager, Roald Dahl, Norton Juster, James Thurber, etc, etc, etc.

I even blog about it here:

And yeah, I dig HP.

8:55 PM  
Blogger greg rappleye said...


This is something of an omnibus response:

1. I don't dislike children's literature. My point is that children's literature is for children.

2. Yes, I have also read "Good Night Moon" (about a zillion times, actually) and the Olivia books (three zillion) and everything in between.

3. Children's lit. is written by adults, of course, and if it is your business to write it, then I agree; one has an obligation to know that field and to keep up (slavishly) on what is being written in the field.

Yes, I think this is serious and important work.

4. I don't think of the Narnia series, or Tolkien, or Lewis Carroll, et. al., as necessarily being "children's literature."

5. Although I (admittedly) have not read her books, it is also my sense that however successful J. K. Rowling is, she is not Lewis Carroll or C.S. Lewis or Tolkien or Oates or Dahl or Salinger in terms of the quality of her work. Has anyone made a serious critical argument that she is the equal of these writers? If so, I haven't seen it.

6. The research suggests that reading Harry Potter novels does NOT have a great effect upon the long-term reading habits of young people (NYT, July 11, 2007, p. A. 1).

7. With that said, you are right of course; and I have embarrassed myself by overstating my case. Read whatever you like and spend your time as you wish. But keep in mind, you are all smart, well-read people. And you are also professional, well-published writers. You will read both Rowling AND Yeats.

My concern, I suppose, is with college students and other adults who read Harry Potter and little more. And worse, with those who thereafter think they have had an encounter with great literature.

Though why I would be concerned about them, at the moment, eludes me.

10:42 PM  
Blogger Adam Deutsch said...

I read them to take a bit of a breather from heavier stuff. I used to end every semester of Undergrad with a Bukowski novel; it's kinda like that. Let the head air out. (besides, they only take a day or two to read)

But here's to keeping a wary eye on the mainstream.

12:28 AM  
Blogger greg rappleye said...


Yes, in response to my own #5, I do understand that Michiko Kakutani called the resolution of this latest Harry Potter book "worthy of Dickens."

7:16 AM  
Blogger greg rappleye said...

Here's what Ursula LeGuin (who I agree is a great writer) had to say about the Harry Potter books, in an interview in the Manchester Guardian on February 9, 2004:

Q: Nicholas Lezard has written 'Rowling can type, but Le Guin can write.' What do you make of this comment in the light of the phenomenal success of the Potter books? I'd like to hear your opinion of JK Rowling's writing style

UKL: I have no great opinion of it. When so many adult critics were carrying on about the "incredible originality" of the first Harry Potter book, I read it to find out what the fuss was about, and remained somewhat puzzled; it seemed a lively kid's fantasy crossed with a "school novel", good fare for its age group, but stylistically ordinary, imaginatively derivative, and ethically rather mean-spirited.

7:24 AM  
Blogger greg rappleye said...


A Bukowski novel DOES seem the perfect antidote to a long semester!

7:32 AM  
Blogger Brian Campbell said...


I think you're being a stuffy old drudge -- but can't help but agree with you.

I at least read the first page of #1, and found the writing potboily purple.

I have so many good books to read!



12:15 AM  
Blogger rams said...

What's interesting is the level of sanctimony combined with the level of condemnation. Under what other circumstances would you condemn writing you haven't read?

Thank God it's the last book and this ridiculous non-criticism may peter off and leave me to the pleasure of discovering the Rushdie allusions and Dickens in-jokes.

Bukowski. Lord.

1:46 AM  
Blogger greg rappleye said...

Hey, Susan:

Read again.

I haven't condemned J.K Rowling or her books. I have simply noted that they have an audience and (in my opinion) adults might profit intellectually by NOT being that audience; more specifically, by not confining their reading list to the perusal of children's books. If I have somehow "condemned" her writing, it is a rather ineffectual form of "condemnation" based upon what I saw at the local Meijer's store on Saturday morning--adult after adult (most of them seemingly childless)--all buying the new Harry Potter book.

In other words, no one in Grand Haven--or anywhere else--seems to be paying attention to my sanctimonious, ridiculous, condemnatory little blog.

And I thought I had such power!

As I also noted, I have actually purchased every Harry Potter book (save this last one) FOR MY CHILDREN, who wanted the books after seeing the first three movies, which I also purchased, FOR MY CHILDREN--in two formats (VHS and DVD) for the first two films. It is an odd form of "sanctimonious, ridiculous condemnation" for me to repeatedly line the pocket of J.K. Rowling (whom I understand is now among the richest people in the world--bless her), if I am "condemning her writing before reading it."

In fact, I expect that I will buy her latest book, FOR MY CHILDREN, when it comes out in paperback. Please note that I have also actually tried to read Rowling's books TO MY CHILDREN but they were too young to follow along without pictures and became bored. I'm sure that won't be the case for long. As a parent, I will not be sneering at my CHILDREN when they gush on at dinner about the finer plot points in Rowling's work.

Please also note, I am talking about my two youngest children here, currently ages 5 and 3. If my 20 year-old daughter (who read the first of the HP books when she was an adolescent) comes home next week from NYC toting the new Harry Potter book, I will still love her madly, but I will wonder where three years' worth of college tuition went.

To directly answer your question, there are vast, well-stacked aisles within any bookstore that (were I asked) I might steer a curious adult away from (romance novels, books on automatic firearms, pseudo-Christian books on being "raptured away," etc.) I have not read any of those books, and I do not intend to waste what little time I have reading them. But I still have an educated person's opinion about those books, and about what an adult might most profitably spend their time reading.

I suspect that as a poet and a person who spent years working in a bookstore, you would, if pressed, agree with me on this. We might simply disagree about the margins of our reading lists.

With all that said, Bukowski, yes. Now go on with your bad self.

Drudgingly Yours,


5:34 AM  
Blogger Laurel said...

See now... I'm taking issue with #4. I'll argue that Tolkien *is* kiddie lit. That most everything else being done is shit. And that the problem is that kiddie writers need to raise the bar. We should all be shooting for "art". In any genre, there's a LOT of shit. In kiddie lit, that has come to be the expected norm. I'll judge every genre by both the top and bottom of the heap.

3:46 PM  
Blogger greg rappleye said...


I suspect you are right on this.

Though it takes a bright kid to read and appreciate the Trilogy.

7:11 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

To each their own, of course. I certainly have no issue with you never reading a Harry Potter book. But you are making reading into a kind of work, an intellectual labor based on accumulation of a certain class of knowledge that isn't always the case. If one enjoys the book(s), if they are a diversion or an insight into what turns a lot of readers (not all kids on) or research for a paper or who knows what... who cares where they are shelved?

2:56 PM  
Blogger greg rappleye said...


Thank you for stopping by.

I guess I don't much care where the books are shelved--though I think they are shelved with children's or adolescent fiction, and those seem like appropriate places for Harry Potter. I don't care (much) who reads them. My concern is that if it is ALL the literature an American adult of average to above-average intelligence reads, then he or she is missing a great deal.

To be honest, reading for me is a kind of work, because I am a writer. It doesn't have to be work for everyone, of course.

6:48 PM  

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