The bookstores are sure to be crowded tomorrow night. The latest (and last) installment of the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling will finally fall into the hands of millions of Muggles around the globe. This event has been highly anticipated and wildly celebrated by some. Surely this kind of enthusiasm bodes well for the book industry. Surely the fact that adult editions of the book are being printed right alongside the versions intended for kids is a good sign that Hogwarts has cast a spell on heretofore TV, MySpace, and Wii-entranced souls--and that can only be a good thing for civilization, life, the universe, and everything. Right?
Well, not so fast, says Washington Post book reviewer Ron Charles. His Post Editorial this past weekend--part rant, part lament, part personal testimony--tries to make the connection between Rowling's $4 Billion publishing cottage industry and all things literarily perverse: illiteracy, aliteracy, and what for him may be worst of all, infantilism (he makes no mention of any taint of occultism though, quite interestingly).
Charles pretty clearly has his cause-and-effect line of reasoning a bit out of whack. And his swipes at the quality Rowling's work are probably unwarranted. But, don't chalk up his entire argument as one more evidence of intellectual snobbery at the big-city, dinosaur-dailies. He has a point--it just may be that he could have chosen a better way to make it.
As Charles points out, federal statistics do indeed show that the percentage of youngsters who read for pleasure continues to drop significantly as children get older, at almost exactly same rate as before arrival of Harry Potter book series. That's a given. My question is: should we blame Harry and Hogwarts for this dismal turn of events or should we point the finger at our multi-gajillion dollar public education designer disaster?