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And like that… he was gone…

July 21, 2007

It’s hard to believe that a book could elicit cheers, but that’s exactly what has been happening across the world last night as millions of fans ended their wait to buy the final(?) Harry Potter novel. The BBC, The New York Times, The Times of India, and even my own local paper, the Perthshire Advertiser, are carrying stories about the launch of the final book, and you will be hard pushed to avoid mention of the launch this weekend… and I for one am delighted.

I am completely overwhelmed that such a substantial book (607 pages) should become the iPod of the literary world (or is it vice-versa?). My family decanted to Borders in Dundee for the midnight buying spree, and we had a ball. There were magicians, a Sorting Hat, competitions (Gnome Tossing was a favourite) for ‘House Points’ and a fantastic buzz about the whole place… in short… HP7 had become an event. But for me, Harry Potter is more than just a story about a teenage wizard, it is a vivid reminder of the importance of reading for all of us. At a time where the conversation seems to be trying to formulate a ‘literacy policy’ for the 21st Century (see Warlick/Richardson et al) it is heartening to see that good old paper and print are still important to people.

Kids get started...As Ewan Mcintosh recently pointed out, we’re reading more than ever, and Harry Potter is not the only reason why. Maybe it is just a side-effect of having more time thanks to computers and the like, but I like to think that it’s slightly more profound than that. You see, I’m beginning to think that the rise in social software like Bebo, Facebook, YouTube and the like could be encouraging us to be more interested in narratives in general. We are constructing narratives out of our own lives – often with an iPod providing the soundtrack – and this is spilling into our desire to read more… because the narrative in a novel is not as messy as our own. I also think that the rise in sales for non-fiction books (books like The Long Tail and Everything Is Miscellaneous) has got something to do with being a direct spin-off from the act of self-reflection that regular blogging engenders… and if you look at the numbers (which I can’t because I’ve forgotten where to find the number of blogs Technorati is tracking since they moved it off the front page!)… then I wonder if there is a correlation between the rise in blogging and the number of book sales… and if there is a rise, does it have any statistical validity…

These are questions for someone else, but I do think there is a need for educators to learn from the Harry Potter phenomenon. To look at the queues in Borders last night was to look at many of the people schools can all too easily write off because “…they just don’t read!” And yet there they were in their hundreds, and in a scene replicated across bookstores and towns and cities across the world. Perhaps it is time to acknowledge that how schools teach reading has to change? I wonder how we tap into that excitement and enthusiasm for reading? I just wish I had more answers than questions…

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. July 21, 2007 3:55 pm

    Much craziness in Boston last night: http://www.flickr.com/photos/edublogger/sets/72157600937594799/

  2. July 21, 2007 4:34 pm

    I’m overwhelmed by all the attention for a ‘book’… Irrespective of the book’s merits as ‘literature’ it is turning a whole generation into readers in a way that just wasn’t possible before… Stunning!

    Of course, now the publishers are going to be desperately waiting the next JK…

  3. July 22, 2007 3:36 pm

    I read a little bit of it from the transcribed copy that was floating about a few days ago.

    I suppose the Harry Potter culture is no different to the Star Trek culture, except more people would call Star Trek fans nerds than would about Harry Potter.

    :O

  4. Eva Forbes permalink
    July 24, 2007 6:23 am

    It was certainly Harry Potter that got my daughter reading. She would read the hefty tome in under 2 days having been a not too keen reader before. Statistics at the time however claimed kids were not reading more, just reading more HP.

    EF

  5. July 24, 2007 7:25 am

    @z3rb: Oh rats… I like HP and ST… I’m doomed!

    @Eva: I know what you mean… fortunately ‘junior’ fiction seems to be going through a real renaissance at the moment. When I was growing up it was Enid Blyton and that was about it. Now we’ve got JK, Garth Nix, Eoin Colfer, Jonathan Stroud, as well as a lot of the books I grew up with.

    It’s just going to be interesting to see if the HP phenomenon will be repeated in our lifetime… I somehow doubt it.

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