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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Boy Who Read Part Two

Part Two
In part one I gave you a preface to my disdain of reading. Part Two specifically tackles a renewed interest thanks to a phenomenon in the popular fiction realm of literature.

In 1999, I worked as a Banquet Captain for a hotel. I worked with a variety of people ranging from high school seniors to senior citizens. It was at this time that I really took notice of the Harry Potter phenomenon. The book series was already a critical success and the third book, The Prisoner of Azkaban had been released with much fanfare. By this time in my life, I had already felt the grumpiness of adulthood settling into my soul. I was living on my own after graduating college. I was in the infancy of a new relationship after suffering an emotional setback in another, the previous August. I was working a job that found me gravitating towards the AARP group of coworkers instead of TRL generation and I generally hated people, especially teens, at this point.

My usual shift saw me working the mornings to mid afternoon. I would usually get to leave and hour or so after the changing of shifts. At that time teeny boppers came flooding in with their bags and belongings cluttering up the department office which had become my imaginary base of operations. Usually, I would get there, set up the morning meetings, making coffee, putting out beverages, and then I would relax behind the big wooden desk for a half hour filling in the USA Today crossword puzzle and reading the Life section. When the afternoon crew had come in, they overtook my serenity along with the available desk space in the office. Between the two, a link was found, Harry Potter. In the mornings as I read the paper, stories, reviews, and graphs charting millions of money made by the books bombarded me as I sifted through the entertainment section of the paper. By the afternoon, the conversations among the kids were about the newest book and even a few copies littered the area.

Within here lies the problem. Was I grumpy because I felt some sort of social detachment from everyone else that shared in this pop cultural saturation or because I inherently felt that this kids book was just that, silly children’s literature? It’s not that I was some kind of literary snob, far from it. It’s just that I couldn’t understand how a fantasy novel about a school for witches and wizards could capture an entire world’s attention. I pushed the thoughts of even becoming slightly intrigued out of my head and went back to my, “Get off my lawn” attitude.

Moving along to 2001. I had changed jobs and was now working with adults my age or older. I was further into my relationship which had progressed towards my engagement in 2003. Also, the first Harry Potter novel, The Philosopher’s Stone just debuted as a movie, directed by Christopher Columbus. My girlfriend had a job that kept her busy on the weekends leaving me with some free time to go to the theater. Having absolutely nothing better to do, I decided to take in a matinee performance of The Sorcerer’s Stone, as it was now called, and had mixed feelings about it.

Ok, I admit, I allowed myself to get caught up in the magic and grandeur of this medieval looking modern day world of wizards and dragons and giants. The acting was pretty good and I was delighted if not surprised at the number of established and well regarded cast members, which for the most part are all British, mind you. What I found a little hard to swallow was the circumstances by which the characters resolve their problems. It’s a sort of convention by which in a novel or story, with children as protagonists, the adults play the fool or refuse to believe the impending danger that is set to besiege them. The kids, feeling abandoned or rebuffed, decide to take on the conflict themselves because only they can complete the task leaving the adults to either still not believe them or feel bewilderment as to how they could have beaten such a foe being only children. I found it a little contrived that all the time the answers would magically appear and only Harry and his friends were able to see the truth and tackle it. In the real world, these dangers would have been near fatal for kids their age, magical or not.

Still, I praised the film for its delivery, not knowing that it had taken some liberties with the arrangement of action in the book as well as some geography of Hogwarts landmarks. However, I wasn’t about to give the series my full attention and relied on letting the films serve as an acceptable version of the novels. While I allowed myself to see the first movie in the theater, I waited until they came to DVD or even cable to watch them.

By 2007 I was married, had a child, and had seen each of the Harry Potter films numerous times on television. ABC Family’s continual airing of all the films over weekends detracts from my getting anything else done around the house. Even worse was when I had HBO for a year and The Order of the Phoenix aired every other day. It had become my favorite, to date, although I did hold a spot for Azkaban in my heart because of the cooler color palate used in the cinematography and the antique style of fade outs used in Harry’s Dementor attacks. My only sticking point with the film was that I had already established a connection with Richard Harris playing the role of Dumbledore. With his passing and the role being recast with Michael Gambon, I initially found it hard to accept him in my mind as the character but I think it plays a lot better as Dumbledore’s role increased with the later books. Not every wise old character can fight like Yoda, CGI or not.

It was at this time I made a conscious decision to try and read the books. Another reason became the ability to read them as pdf versions instead of reading the actual book. Finding some websites that offered them as free downloads; I pilfered the first few books and began reading in what spare time I had. Like The Da Vinci Code the year before, I breezed through the first book and actually enjoyed it. Once again, I already had the voices, looks, and environment added from the films so it was easy to read. When I would sit at night in my room and read, I tried to read at least 20 pages and that was pushing it as far as my attention span was concerned. Now, I could churn through a hundred pages in my lunch hour. Yes, the conversion from book to electronic copy left me with a few misspelled words and head scratching. Was that word supposed to be like that because of the writer or was it a bad translation? After finishing the first book, I allowed myself to realize that reading wasn’t so bad.

I was still a long way from ever picking up Moby Dick or War and Peace, though. Over the next year I read another book, The Zombie Survival Guide. This was actually a really good book and I highly suggest reading it. It's a sort of metaphor for post 9/11 survival tactics during a breakdown of society from zombie outbreaks. I am just about ready to get eyeballs deep into World War Z because the movie is about to be made. However, reading once more took a back seat to other distractions. Playstation 3 and Wii gaming along with creating designs for my CafePress store occupied my free time and I couldn’t push myself to read more books. That was until the release of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince movie.

Now, remember in the last post how I mentioned that my love of films prompted me to read both this book and the last one before seeing The Half Blood Prince film? Really, you don’t? Well, click here…I’ll wait. Finished? OK, moving on. I made the decision to read the last two books because I felt I owed it to myself to at least see what I was missing from watching just the films, especially now that the stakes had been raised. I knew that this penultimate Potter book was going to be important to the overall series. It sort of jumps the shark…but in a good way. Until this book, primarily all of the action either happens at Hogwarts, or The Dursley's. In Half Blood Prince we see more of the "muggle" world and a few new locations. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but unless you live in a Utah religious compound, you probably know how it ends. Someone important dies. Someone betrays Hogwarts. This is why I felt the need to read the book first. Now, it is probably a fact that I will be disappointed in the movie. After all, I’ve seen all of the previous films before I read the books. The extra scenes and dialogue, that were left out of the films serve as a sort of director’s cut with deleted scenes for me. I even know how the last book ends, but I didn’t care. I wanted to read this book before the movie came out, even though it was already over two years old. I just didn't look forward to reading over 600 pages.

I read it in two days. Between lunches, and every spare moment I could muster, I read 652 pages in two days. I have never read that many pages in that little time. I immediately downloaded a faithfully converted copy of Deathly Hallows and read that in three. That’s how addictive it became to me. Now, my wife has eclipsed me by reading three of the four Twilight books in less time. She has probably read three books in her life and they were all pregnancy related while she carried our daughter. One of her piano students recommended reading Twilight and she is hooked. She keeps trying to sway me, but I still won’t touch that series. We even borrowed the film to watch it and I protested over watching it Sunday night. We had taken our daughter to the zoo and she was hell bent on wanting to watch it. I told her I would not stay up until 2:00 AM watching that film on a Sunday night.* She agreed to wait.

Reading popular fiction has become a sort of heroin to us this last week. We’ve certainly neglected our daughter’s needs. Even though we are in the same room with her, we have our noses buried in these books as she is left to fend for herself. Although, I will say the effect has rubbed off on her. She has brought me the same ten books every day, asking me to read them to her. Sometimes, we read them twice in one day. We’ve gotten to the point where we have become so engrossed in our own reading that we told her to read her books herself. She’s only two and the other day she sat on the couch, reciting almost word for word, Goodnight Moon. As she turned the pages, she recited the words on them. While it is probable that she has memorized the story, it was still a sight to behold. Perhaps she will be a reader early on and make her old man proud.

*By the way, I stayed up until 1:30 AM Monday morning to finish it, getting only four hours of sleep before work. Hey, a half hour is a half hour.

Next up Part Three.

1 comment:

Diane T said...

Ooo, so lucky, about to read World War Z for the first time ... it's awesome!

Since you're a dude, I wouldn't recommend Twilight unless you really want to get into the psyche of a teenaged girl. Instead, check out Scott Westerfeld's Peeps, a much more interesting (and male-centered) take on the vampire legend-as-infectious plague.

Congrats on converting yourself to a reader. Setting that example and reading to your little girl is probably the best thing you can do for her education. I look forward to more book reports!

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