The en­dur­ing joy of read­ing

The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION - Paul Ber­ton

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.

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