Monday, July 23, 2007

Why We Keep Reading...

Posted by Lisa

You haven't heard enough about Harry Potter. Really, you haven't. You may not be a fan. Perhaps you've never cracked open a book. Or you read the first and second books, then lost track, somehow, along the way. You might want to check back in; this phenomenon is worth studying.

The top reasons why Potter fans keep on reading:

1- We care about Harry. Who wouldn't? He's kind, orphaned, cute (bordering on Hollywood Hunk post puberty).

2- The setting is well woven and complete. Hogwarts, the school, is so real I close my eyes and I am there. Why? Details like the photograph of a wizard who demands a password from students entering their dorm rooms

3- It's unpredictable. Plain and simple. Readers love that.

4- It's unbelievably creative and unique. The author created the ideas of an invisibility cloak and a mirror that reflects your innermost desires - you mean those things don't really exist?

5- There is conflict and stakes. You-Know-Who. Oh, how that is lacking in some works of fiction (present company sadly included at times, I confess).

The writing has been criticized, but what IS good writing? Frankly, I don't know. It's not literary. But, nonetheless, the prose engages me; I turn page after page, letting minutes slip by unnoticed. I read Harry Potter as a reader. How can I not? But, I read Harry Potter as a writer as well.

As a writer of middle grade and YA to date, I look to Sarah Dessen, Lois Lowry, Jerry Spinelli, and Jack Gantos with awe; I learn from each of these writers each time I sit with one of their novels. They, too, keep readers reading. Isn't that our ultimate goal?


Ghost Girl (aka, Mary Ann) said...

Absolutely, Lisa!

I finished HP last night--satisfied. I mentioned this is an earlier post, but it is a different experience reading it as a mom. When you talk about caring, kids care because he's an amazing but complex kid in which they can find real emotion, confusion, courage...humanity. For a mom, we see a child who has been abandoned in many ways, but whose heart is so true and unjaded. I can't bare to see my own kids hurt in any way.

J.K. Rowling has captured so many essential elements and done it so well. I stand in awe as a writer and in love as a reader.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

This post brought to mind Lynne's of a few weeks ago on literary lingo, and on how many points Rowling delivers. Any writer who can get millions of people of all ages not merely to wade but to fling themselves into a single story of several thousand pages delivers the goods and deserves a "brava."


Lisa Marnell said...

Ghost Girl - I'm still only partway through so I read your comment with one eye closed (figuratively speaking, of course).
I think you summed it up beatifully how we can appreciate Potter differently from perspectives of a child and a parent.

Hannah - It is amazing, isn't it? And, truly, Rowling delivers on all levels.


Lisa said...

Recognizing what makes us keep turning those pages is a skill I'm ready to turn the heat up on. I was able to participate in four book discussions this week and I will be leaving my comfort zone as a reader from now on by defacing my books. OK, it isn't really defacing them if I take a highlighter or pen to the pages of my own books, but I've always treated them with such reverence it's going to be a little tough! Studying the nuances of how some authors achieve certain end results is one of the most valuable learning tools we have.

Therese said...

YES! Keeping people reading IS the ultimate goal--and it doesn't take a prose artiste to do it.

I'm reading HP VI right now, and am amazed at how compelling a read it is (it's been a while since I read books 1-5). How does she do it? With clean, straightforward, old fashioned storytelling. Emphasis on "story."

"Good" writing is effective writing. No fancy stuff required.

Larramie said...

While observing the "Harry" phenomenon as someone who has never even held a volume, I'm still fascinated by the real magic that has gone into this writing. And, from what I can glean, the magic touches readers through the simple and universal spell of caring.

Lisa Marnell said...

Larramie...Am I going to have to follow your example (Santa sending secret presents) and send YOU copies of each of the Harry Potter books as you haven't read them? Help - I can't afford all 7 books!

You must read them, though. I highly recommend it.