Harry Potter and the American Holiday

I just finished reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I am satisfied with how it turned out.

But this is not a review -- that may come later. And there are no spoilers here.

The realease of the final book in the series was greeted with midnight launch parties, wizard celebrations, special events, and long lines. In many ways it was like the iPhone, PS3, or Phantom Menace introduction.

But this was different. It was for a book. And one often called a kids book at that. And yet somehow it has transcended the publicity to become a part of our cultural identity.

A few years ago, the local library began a program called "If all of Seattle read the same book" to promote book groups, public discussion, and reading in general. Now the program is called simply "Seattle Reads".

But now it seems all of America is reading the same book. One each flight I've taken in the past couple weeks, at least a dozen people were reading Harry Potter or had it in their bag. I saw one woman reading it in the gate area, get up to board the plane, hand her boarding pass to the gate agent, and walk down the jetway without ever taking her head out of the book.

Saturday night at Starbucks while I was reading it, I saw three other people all so reading it. Someone else was reading the first book of the series.

Harry Potter is something people are devoting hours to. Millions of people around the country and around the world are pouring tens of millions of hours into this book.

It has become a cultural touchstone on a par with other great american traditions like American Idol or the Superbowl.

But Harry Potter requires more of its readers than most American cultural events do. It wants people to have invested their time in the other six books. It demands they suspend their disbelief and not only accept, but also immerse themselves in a world of magic. It demands the shut out the din of mass media -- give up on the idea of the remote control -- and give themselves over to the text.

And millions of citizens of the country that gave the world the sound bite, the 3 minute pop song, and the short attention span theater of modern media, have gladly accepted JK Rowling's demands and read the book.

And istead of asking each other if any one saw the farting horse beer commercial, people around the country can turn to one another and share their hopes and fears over what will befall Harry, Hermione, Ron.

The new American cultural touchstone is a book. That people actually read.

I never thought I would see it happend here. And it makes me smile.

1 comment:

Jon Clarke said...

We did it for George Lucas. We can do it for J.K. Rowling.

I am amazed that people are STILL reading the books, though. With 5 blockbuster films, you'd think people would just wait for teh other movies. Glad they're not.