The enduring joy of reading
In a digital era when people of all ages are glued to electronic devices, and books are often seen as relics of the past, it’s refreshing and encouraging to witness the enthusiasm around the release of the latest instalment of the Harry Potter book series.
Many bookstores, including some in Burlington and Hamilton, are making an event of the release this weekend of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a book written as a two-part stage play by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, and a continuation of the original series.
As some may recall, Rowling may have single-handedly ushered in a renaissance of reading two decades ago when her books became famous and children — as well as adults — who had given up on reading flocked to stores to pick them up.
Movies and merchandise followed, of course, but at its core the Harry Potter phenomenon is about a good story well told in ink on paper, and about the enduring joy of reading.
Events at bookstores this week, timed to the midnight release of the book, encourage fans of all ages to come dressed appropriately — and to bring their wands and celebrate anew the wonderful world of words. In today’s electronic society, bookstores are not often equated with such activities. Frenzies for the latest electronic toy, movie-inspired toys or electronic games like Pokemon Go are more likely to capture popular imagination.
But Rowling and “Harry” continue to inspire hope that reading is not being swept away completely by the tsunami of electronic inventions. Rowling is rightly credited with improving literacy around the world, motivating children to read more and even making books less daunting for adults.
Many critics argue that the social effects of the Harry Potter books are overblown and that readers in fact do not graduate from Harry Potter to explore other works. But we continue to hope that any book is a good start, and that reading, especially when the books are as well written as Rowling’s, is an addiction that can’t be shaken off over a lifetime.
Reading, after all, has the added benefit of leading to a more informed citizenry, and likely a happier one.
Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that Harry Potter is not unique. There are other recent publishing phenomena, specifically the Hunger Games Trilogy.
Again, never mind the subject matter: reading for reading’s sake is good for society.
Reading habits and tastes continue to change even for the most traditional among us, and fortunately school reading lists are forever in flux.
Yesterday’s Melville, Dickinson, Bronte, Donne and Shakespeare will give way to a new set of tomorrow’s literary magicians.