Manny's Reviews > Harry Potter Series Box Set

Harry Potter Series Box Set by J.K. Rowling
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May 22, 2010

it was ok
bookshelves: children, science-fiction, mentions-twilight, pooh-dante, the-goodreads-experience

I had removed this review, which violates Article 2 of the Terms of Use:
You agree not to post User Content that: (i) may create a risk of harm, loss, physical or mental injury, emotional distress, death, disability, disfigurement, or physical or mental illness to you, to any other person, or to any animal.
Looking at the comment thread, it is abundantly clear that the review not only may, but indeed has caused emotional distress to several Potter fans. I would like to offer my apologies to these unfortunate people, who had every right to expect better service from Goodreads.

But, despite the above, I have decided on mature consideration that I will attempt an experiment: I am reinstating the original review, hiding the dangerous and inflammatory content inside a spoiler tag. If you are a person easily offended by negative comments about Harry Potter and still decide to click it, then you have only yourself to blame. You have been warned.

(view spoiler)
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
January 1, 2008 – Finished Reading
May 22, 2010 – Shelved
May 22, 2010 – Shelved as: children
May 22, 2010 – Shelved as: science-fiction
May 22, 2010 – Shelved as: mentions-twilight
March 29, 2013 – Shelved as: pooh-dante
September 27, 2013 – Shelved as: the-goodreads-experience

Comments (showing 1-50 of 466) (466 new)


message 1: by Krok Zero (new)

Krok Zero I often think about that joke on The Simpsons, when they're inside the Flanders' house for the first time. Noting the drastic differences between the two families' domiciles, Lisa exclaims, "They read Newsweek instead of nothing!" Those grown-up people you see on the bus are reading Twilight instead of nothing. And I'm not convinced it's a step up.


Manny Ha! That's funny. I think Twilight is better than nothing - at least you're developing some basic skills. But after you've developed them, you probably don't have to read all the way to the end of the series.


notgettingenough I'm sorry, but it seems obvious to me why adults are reading books for teenagers and didn't before.

(1) Correct me if this is way off base, but. There didn't used to be books for teenagers. We had children's books and we had adult books. By definition if one read a book that wasn't an adult book it was a children's book. I was a compulsive reader since the age of five or so and I have no conception whatsoever of what a 'teenager's' book is. As someone who has been involved in selling books for a long time I also say this. We have no involvement in modern books, so books of the generation of Potter or Twilight don't come into our world, and I feel quite comfortable in saying there used to be no such thing as teenager's books. We might evaluate a book as being for an older child (aka teenager) than a younger one, but they are all still children's books. This notion means something.

Note that apparently, now that I have worked out what 'YA' means, we used to have old children and now we have young adults. These are fundamentally different creatures.

(2) This is because there wasn't the great divide now that exists between the notion of a child and the notion of a teenager. Now the moment kids enters highschool, although they are still children, they take drugs, fuck, etc. It's this amazing transition at the speed of light that in general adults seem to support as being appropriate to children's development.

(3) I guess it follows from this, that these children who are all of a sudden doing adult things will need something different to read. Whereas teenagers once read the sort of thing they read as children, now it has to be radically different. No wonder adults read it.


notgettingenough As usual I also object to the elitist idea that people are dumb and being tricked into reading things. Marketing isn't some magic evil thing that holds mysterious control over people.

Have you been manipulated into reading Twilight?


message 5: by Jason (new)

Jason I'd chime in with the obligatory (and always-deserved) "great review, Manny." And regarding popularity...

Undoubtedly publishers, with both sets of books, aggressively sought to turn intial fandom into phenom. Without sidestepping the impact of such marketing, I would snipe about the final claim about manipulation. In both of these cases, fandom never goes away -- particularly among the ostensible intended market (younger readers), these sets of books aren't merely consumed, along with merchandise. They're read, with intense energies and passion.

I recall seeing the first Potter movie, surrounded by young fans. The kid in front of me kept up a running critical commentary about the film's changes, particularly its failures. The kid was a critic. These books are making not just readers--not just putting something rather than nothing in the booksack--they're making many, many, many readers intensely concerned with interpretation, value/worth, and debate about such. That's pretty damned amazing, and I will take it.

(Even if the outcome is, initially or beyond, a tendency to love this passion and criticize others we might prefer. As Manny has so brilliantly displayed on this site, tastes evolve. Bashing Bovary isn't the final outcome, I don't think.)

I'd go even further--these two series have produced thousands upon thousands of texts devoted to the books, to extrapolations and critical debate, to fan fictions. Many of the readers aren't just becoming critics, they're becoming writers. I mean this in the broadest sense -- the books have gotten people to invest not just in consuming but in producing text.

These accomplishments are no small potatoes, and they run perhaps parallel to but are not wholly reducible to marketing manipulation. I'm not really answering "why these books and not some other?" And Manny's arguments probably make sense if you only consider that question. I just think it's equally important to imagine, whatever the motives, to ask what impact they have.


notgettingenough Mike wrote: "I'd chime in with the obligatory (and always-deserved) "great review, Manny." And regarding popularity...

Undoubtedly publishers, with both sets of books, aggressively sought to turn intial fand..."


Nicely put.

And yes, okay, of course, Manny, the usual kudos for the review, but I'm always struggling with that. What are the votes for?


message 7: by Gullet (new)

Gullet notgettingenough wrote: "I'm sorry, but it seems obvious to me why adults are reading books for teenagers and didn't before.

(1) Correct me if this is way off base, but. There didn't used to be books for teenagers. We ha..."


That is a nice review Manny.

As someone who has spent a lot of time reading my whole life I must point out that books for teenager has existed for a long time, think for example of "Anne of Green Gables".
During the 60s and 70s this market exploded. The reason was simple. You used to go from childhood and directly into the adult world of work.
Now during the 60s and 70s when lots of young people in the western world could go to school until thy were 16 and a lot of them went on in school until they wee 18 the stage of being a teenager was indeed a long and important one.
The market was flooded with books for these people. I read loads and they helped me enormously during this tricky time in my developement. If you haven't read these books, start now. It's never too late.


notgettingenough PS. I meant to say something about the lack of reality to which you object.

Most strikingly, there is no sex; in Harry Potter, which is supposed to be about fairly normal teens, no one masturbates, no girls get pregnant, none of them are labelled sluts because they've had sex with more than one boy (sometimes one is enough, for that matter), no one gets their heart broken and drops out of school or starts taking drugs as a result, no one is stuck in a dead-end relationship that they wish they could escape from, but can't.


I do beg your pardon, why on earth should books for (teenage) children be pitched that way????

I think you will find historically that this is not the case. It is true we happen to live in a moment in historical time where there is nothing taboo, but that doesn't mean these, or any books have to follow the modern trend towards compulsory sex in books, does it?

When you reviewed Just William did you complain about the lack of sex??? That it didn't deal with William's existential dilemmas? Goes to check...


message 9: by Jennifer (aka EM) (last edited May 22, 2010 06:57AM) (new)

Jennifer (aka EM) I think there is something else at play here that has contributed to the exponential popularity of Twilight and HP compared to anything of the past. It is the Internet. In addition to multi-platform marketing extending the reach of these books far beyond what could be justified by their literary quality, they've also gone viral via online communities, chatrooms, forums, official and fan sites in a way that simply wasn't possible for any book published prior to the late 90s. In fact, if I cared enough to research it, I imagine the first Potter was pretty much a contemporary of the birth of the Internet, was it not?

I remember being a teen and being swept up in fandom--in my day (she says, adjusting her bifocals) it was about music. We didn't have this here newfangled information superhighway, did we? But boy if we did, I can well see how the obsessive-compulsive, hormone-driven desire to express one's emerging identity would play out and what kind of sales that would drive for the object of one's obsession. Team Edward, Team whatever ... it's all just group affiliation and identity development magnified exponentially through the combined forces of intentional, official marketing and grassroots-based viral marketing made possible by the Internet.

I make myself feel better with that explanation for their disproportionate popularity vis-a-vis their literary quality, and what Mike says: that kids are at least engaging with these books as critics, readers and writers. Funny, though, that last rationalization doesn't take me too far. I'm not convinced that that kid in the movie theatre doing the book-to-movie comparison wouldn't be naturally inclined towards that behaviour anyway. Had there not been Potter for him, wouldn't he have found something else (suffering the castigation that only a teen peer group can provide and that we all, ahem, experienced as reading geeks of a certain type)?

Is it really a case of something being better than nothing, or is there still too large a proportion of this audience that is reading thoughtlessly, won't read anything else, and won't transpose the critical thinking skills that are inspired, if they are inspired, by Potter or Twilight to anything else (the former being more likely to nurture these skills than the latter, I think).

Here's a slightly off-topic but alarming fact: The Ontario Science Centre -- that's *SCIENCE* Centre -- is hosting a Harry Potter exhibit. Directly from the marketing materials is the tagline: "Immerse yourself in a world of magic."

We can probably all agree that the critical analysis of even so-called 'bad' fiction incontrovertibly contributes to the development of reading and writing skills, and even enhances appreciation of and the ability to discern good from bad going forward. But confusing science with magic? This, my friends, is the slipperiest of slippery slopes if we're rationalizing these books as so-called gateway drugs of the literary world. The argument that at least this exhibit of costumes and objects from the HP movies will be getting kids (and their parents) into a museum/science education setting falls flat when I think that that the vast proportion of this sheeplike crowd (and yes, call me elitist if you like) will be absolutely unable to distinguish between magic and science. I'll have to see the exhibit simply to know how fuzzy that line is allowed to be.

Be interested in your thoughts....


message 10: by notgettingenough (last edited May 22, 2010 07:09AM) (new)

notgettingenough Eccentric Muse wrote: "when I think that that the vast proportion of this sheeplike crowd (and yes, call me elitist if you like) will be absolutely unable to distinguish between magic and science."
I haven't read HP and have not the teensiest bit of interest in magic. Still, I can imagine a scientist who was interdisciplinary enough getting something from the idea of magic. Making, discovering, deducing, getting an idea from...No?


message 11: by Jason (new)

Jason Yeah, I think I'm with notgettingenough on that last point. I was quite comfortable combining a love of Erich von Daniken *and* Isaac Asimov, of science and supernatural horror, at age 10. I guess I think of Potter/Twilight as gateway drugs.

EM is probably right that the kid in the movie theater might have found some other outlet, regardless. Two points on that, 'though I think it's a fair rebuttal. One, boys after a certain age in America fall far away from books, and I wonder how Potter might have pushed (or might even still be pushing) against that tendency. Two, I found my own fandom as a kid (hello, Stephen King and Close Encounters!), but I was terribly alone. Sure, it's not a crude either/or--Potter or alienated loner fan--and there are many subcultural niches long around, and worth exploring. But there's something *potentially* wonderful in how these books create social experiences, too--make reading and criticism a social interaction. (I agree with EM about the role of the 'net here. Its impact on literacies will be pretty damned interesting to track over the next couple generations.)


message 12: by [deleted user] (last edited May 22, 2010 07:33AM) (new)

So, I'm going to riff a little on Mike's comment, because it's so groovy.

See, I remember being in the 7th grade and my friend Kris passing around a story she'd written that she was immensely pleased with. It was about an older Kris, who became a nurse. David Coverdale from "Whitesnake" (the hair band - I'm dating the crap out of myself here) and his then wife, Tawny Kitain, of rolling around on the hoods of cars fame, were in a horrible car accident. Tawny was killed, and David needed some serious Flo Nightengalin', which Kris dispensed with aplomb. It wasn't dirty - actually, the whole thing was quite chaste, other than the coded aggression in totally mutilating & lighting afire your romantic rivals. No David Coverdale of my imaginings would ever talk about his feelings that much, is all. They found love, he got over his hurt, and reader, she married him. I'd never heard of the term fan fic; that wouldn't be until college. We didn't have teh Internets back then. (And I date myself again. It was the 80s okay?!) But still Kris took it upon herself to write this fairly enormous story - I think it had chapters and everything - obviously cribbed from romance novels or similar about her teenage obsessions.

I'm kind of making fun of it, but I know I wrote my own "Teh Hobbytz, yo" - which was total shite and embarrasses me to think of - just because reading can make you write sometimes when you can't believe that there's not more to read of something you love. So, I don't really think that the Twilight or Potter books changed anything in the way kids (sometimes) engage with the things they read (or experience) - what has changed is that they - they being an amorphous subsection of reading teens - have a, for lack of a better word, cannon, and a critical community. Kris wrote about David; I wrote about Tolkien. But if we were teens today, I betcha we'd both be addressing Twilight or HP, and we wouldn't be doing it alone, we'd be doing it in a much larger critical community.

I've never really ascribed to the "gateway drug" theory of reading - that reading anything at all will inevitably lead to consuming the harder stuff, until one day you find yourself in a smoky cafe mainlining Proust. Part of the reason I reject that is that I'd deeply suspicious of the idea that reading - the simple act of reading - has moral worth. I certainly love it, and I'm sure Harold Bloom just shivered somewhere and made the hex against the evil eye, but I'm not sure I get to be better than people who don't read simply because I do. Not that you were saying that, Manny, I'm just kind of talking around why we think it's important that kids read, and what they read, is all.

And re: sexlessness - Elizabeth had a big thing about this in her The Dark is Rising review:

http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...

I'm still not sure I entirely agree - HP is not intended to be social realism, after all, and I think the sexuality is coded, not absent, but that's just me.

Um, epic post! Sorry. This is a super interesting discussion.


message 13: by notgettingenough (last edited May 22, 2010 07:33AM) (new)

notgettingenough Mike wrote: "Yeah, I think I'm with notgettingenough on that last point. I was quite comfortable combining a love of Erich von Daniken *and* Isaac Asimov, of science and supernatural horror, at age 10. I gues..."

Re boys falling away from reading. And yet those same boys, who read Biggles as a kid, will avidly collect and read it as an adult while possibly never reading another thing. They aren't braindead, they aren't sheep. Ditto these books.

Half the reason why males stop reading is that it is expected that reading has to be hard. If you read something that is instantly readily enjoyable, so that you want to read it even if you are half asleep that is scorned. I don't understand this. Nothing could give me greater pleasure as a writer than to write something which both 'poorly skilled' readers and elitist 'we are only looking at this to see what the commoner is up to' readers would get something from.

I only heard of Twilight a few months ago, but since being made aware of its existence, I discover a high-powered lawyer friend plus others in that group reading it. Maybe high-powered lawyers are dumb sheep and maybe they aren't.

And nobody who has read this and gone with the 'sheep being manipulated' line has answered my question: have you been manipulated into reading it???

I think the whole issue here isn't marketing, it's peer-group pressure, that most powerful of influences. The internet has obviously turned peer-group pressure of the group that has always been most affected by it - ie teenagers - into something phenomenal that has taken over adult life as well. It isn't that marketing has turned the teenage head, it's that teenage peer-group pressure has turned 'ours'. Inverted commas because it hasn't and won't turn mine...


message 14: by [deleted user] (new)

And I see my post is a serious cross-post with, like 8 comments.


message 15: by Jennifer (aka EM) (last edited May 22, 2010 07:35AM) (new)

Jennifer (aka EM) notgettingenough wrote: I haven't read HP and have not the teensiest bit of interest in magic. Still, I can imagine a scientist who was interdisciplinary enough getting something from the idea of magic. Making, discovering, deducing, getting an idea from...No?

Oh, absolutely. But it's not crowds of scientists who will be pulled in to this underfunded, undervisited institution by the HP theme. It's crowds of HP-reading teens and their parents who are notoriously under- and mis-educated when it comes to science and math. It's my fervent hope that there is some bridge between the wonder and awe-inspiring "magic" of HP and the same that is to be found in the natural world. But the marketing materials aren't demonstrating even a whiff of it.


notgettingenough Eccentric Muse wrote: "notgettingenough wrote: I haven't read HP and have not the teensiest bit of interest in magic. Still, I can imagine a scientist who was interdisciplinary enough getting something from the idea of m..."

Ah. So what you are saying (implying) is that scientists are not open-minded. Now why doesn't that surprise me.


message 17: by [deleted user] (new)

And I hadn't read your gateway drug comment either, Mike, so it's weird that it came up twice.


message 18: by Jason (new)

Jason Good discussion. I won't blather on much, except to agree with Ceridwen that I'm skeptical about the moral worth of reading. That's why I *like* thinking about it via gateway drugs. It's drugs, man!

(I'm a little bit more sold on the cognitive worth of reading. But I don't think reading Proust, rather than Potter, is more cognitively enhancing. Reading critically, whatever you read, will do.)


message 19: by Jason (new)

Jason Let's all post together--count of 30.... and, go!

This is interesting stuff.


message 20: by [deleted user] (last edited May 22, 2010 07:52AM) (new)

Post!

Mike wrote: "Good discussion. I won't blather on much, except to agree with Ceridwen that I'm skeptical about the moral worth of reading. That's why I *like* thinking about it via gateway drugs. It's drugs, ..."

I guess that's why I'm kind of pumped about the fan communities surrounding these books - it's not just about reading, it's about engagement. The public library in town hosted the band "Harry & the Potters" - who rock like all tomorrow - when book 7 came out - and I was just happy as a clam that all these great dorky kids came out with their scarves and wands. I'm kind of biased towards fan communities in general, because they get this rap for being uncritical - and sure, there's always the few vocal maniacs who have identified too strongly with Harry or whatever - but have you talked to a Glen Becker recently? not a pretty sight. I think "uncritical" is bollocks. But then I'm a sf nerd, and fan culture has always been a part of that reading experience. In some ways, HP and Bella have just mainstreamed that sf culture, and I don't think it's an accident that those books are sff, in many ways.


Jennifer (aka EM) notgettingenough wrote: Ah. So what you are saying (implying) is that scientists are not open-minded. Now why doesn't that surprise me.

That's not what I'm saying at all. I'm saying that scientists are not the target market of the exhibit.


message 22: by Manny (last edited May 22, 2010 08:26AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Manny I go away for a couple of hours, and there are all these interesting posts when I come back. Thank you everyone! So, trying to catch up:

- Not, I'm not saying that children's books need to have sex in them. I'm rather saying there's something odd about books which give you such an extraordinarily narrow and sanitised view of the world being this popular with adults too.

- Gullet, I agree that there were teen books way before Potter. They just didn't get marketed this hard.

- Muse, I also wondered about the Internet. I'm sure you're correct in saying that that's been a part of the story. Some of it is bottom-up and fan-driven, and I think that's a good thing. But I'm also pretty sure that some of it is aggressive, cynical viral marketing.

- Gateway drugs. Yes, I am sure some people start with Potter/Twilight and end with Proust or whatever. But I don't like this loss of biodiversity in the literary ecosphere. Okay, for some readers Potter or Twilight will be the perfect place to start. But why everyone?

- Manipulation. Yes, I do feel I've been manipulated into reading Twilight. Everyone talks about it constantly, and I felt I had to read it as well, just to know what they were referring to. The marketers have figured out that they can get this snowball rolling if they push it in the right way.

The specific place this started was my comments about Deathly Hallows. I was revolted by the pre-release campaign, which involved all sorts of ruses to get the public to start obsessing about which characters were going to die in the last volume. There were absurd levels of security around the warehouses with the books, and an elaborate con with a claimed stolen copy, which was supposed (I think) to have Hermione and Hagrid getting killed. I am almost sure this was set up by the publishers or their agents.

I honestly couldn't give a damn about which of these paper-thin stereotypes had got arbitrarily killed - none of the deaths had much to do with the plot, and I felt about as involved as I would done if an NPC in a video game had been knocked off. I resented the marketers' attempts to get me to care. As soon as the book was released, I just logged into Wikipedia and found out. I don't like being manipulated so as to increase the already obscene profits of giant multinational corporations.


message 23: by Jason (last edited May 22, 2010 08:58AM) (new)

Jason One quick point: in some ways, the marketers are trying to manipulate people like you (or me), not interested in the book. In some other ways, the massive existing fanbase is delighted in the ways the marketers are amplifying existing pleasures and (in some fashion) communicating with the fans. I think that relationship between "selling" and "owning" is a lot trickier and more complicated than you're making it out to be, Manny.

And since I feel like I'm just channeling the critic Henry Jenkins, let me send folks to one of his (many) great essays: http://www.henryjenkins.org/2007/05/e...


notgettingenough Manny wrote: "- Not, I'm not saying that children's books need to have sex in them. I'm rather saying there's something odd about books which give you such an extraordinarily narrow and sanitised view of the world being this popular with adults too..."

Not odd, but I think this aspect of the conversation is now being carried on elsewhere.


message 25: by [deleted user] (new)

OMG MIKE I ALMOST TOTALLY LINKED TO JENKINS. I LUUUURVE HIM.

There's a book too: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/21...


message 26: by notgettingenough (last edited May 22, 2010 08:56AM) (new)

notgettingenough By the way, Manny. I did not say that there were no books written for teenage children before Twilight or HP. I said they were different sorts of books for what were then different sorts of children and that they weren't called 'books for teenagers' or 'books for young adults'. Well, I don't THINK they were. Maybe they were called 'juvenile'??? Certainly when I read as a kid, I saw books as either 'children's' or 'adult's'. I'm looking at my first post and thinking, as usual, I could have phrased it more carefully.

Obviously there always have been books written for 3 year olds, 5 year olds, 7 year olds....13 year olds, 15 year olds. I should have mentioned that I have spent my life compulsively reading and also quite a few years selling children's books (rereads...Oh, I did mention that).

I was prepared to concede that perhaps adults were especially reading HP and Twilight because the new books were for a different type of child, but I now doubt that, having looked around some more and finding it is quite clear that adults do typically read popular children's books, such as Biggles and William. So now I'm not so sure that there is anything special about now.


Madeline I realize that I'm running the risk of opening up a whole new debate here, but I'm going to say it anyway: I will go to my grave insisting that Harry Potter, flawed as it is, is still infinitely better than Twilight and to compare the two works as if they are of equal literary merit is absurd and almost insulting.

*dramatic huffy exit. possibly with some cape-swinging*


Manny Oh, but Madeline, I'm not comparing the books so much as the marketing strategies. You surely must admit that there are strong similarities in that department?


Madeline Granted, the marketing for the two series is very similar - but it seemed like this discussion was starting to head in the "lets compare the two works like they're the same level of Utter Crap" direction, which I simply will not stand for.


message 30: by notgettingenough (last edited May 22, 2010 12:06PM) (new)

notgettingenough Madeline wrote: "Granted, the marketing for the two series is very similar - but it seemed like this discussion was starting to head in the "lets compare the two works like they're the same level of Utter Crap" direction, which I simply will not stand for. ..."

Completely different levels of Utter Crap, to be sure.

PS: written by somebody who has read neither but couldn't resist...


message 31: by A.J. (new)

A.J. As much as I liked the straightforward manner of this review, I think its premise is just dead wrong: "So why is everyone reading it, and why, before that, was everyone reading Potter? As I said, I think it's primarily about the marketing..."

Take Hollywood as a comparison. I can't count the number of films, especially since the birth of the superhero craze, that had a marketing empire slogging their product: McDonalds Happy meals, toys, video games, island getaway sweepstakes, celebrity endorsements, television tie-ins, commercials, and of course trailers. By Manny's estimation, all of these films will be successful simply because there was a collusion of marketing forces. Add on the fact that Hollywood operates in an incestuous quazi-monopoly involving a conspiracy to release films so as to divvy up the pie among major studios during the summer blockbuster season, how could any of these films fail?

Yet they do. Predictably. They do because no matter how many mountebanks you hire, no matter how many TV slots you run, no matter how coordinated your advertising blitz is, when it comes to the showdown, paying customers still have to slap a wad of cash on the counter. People still have to pick up your product. And they can and do also choose not to.

So, why Potter? No artificial selection from academia, that's for sure. No intellectual book of the month club deciding for everyone what's worthwhile fiction. Potter succeeds because it's a wonderful and imaginative story. True, the ending failed just about as miserably as it is possible to fail. Book six was even worse. But for awhile there Rowling created an escapist yet strangely plausible universe, and her Hogwarts landscapes became a world that the reader wished could be true. Stick figure characters? Some yes, some I think not. Some, like Voldemort, didn't need anything more. The central cast grew and changed, and had the final few laps been as successful as the first several, part of me thinks we wouldn't be having this discussion.

Finally, a word about Twilight. A deceptively easy as the comparison seems, I'm not sold that we're talking apples and apples. Twilight looks to me more like pornography or fetishism than fiction. I only read book one, but it was enough to detect a strange sort of vibe coming from the author. I'd love to see the demographic comparisons broken down; I have a portrait of George Washington that says Twilight is––er––slightly more female heavy than Potter.

My two cents.


notgettingenough A.J. wrote: "As much as I liked the straightforward manner of this review, I think its premise is just dead wrong: "So why is everyone reading it, and why, before that, was everyone reading Potter? As I said, I..."

Great comment, AJ.


La pointe de la sauce Ha! Great comment A.J. I have read the Potter books recently and trust me, I tried as much as possible not to like it, despite the 'marketing'.

I don't see myself ever reading 'Twilight' for the exact reasons you've mentioned but there is also another reason why Manny and others may not like Potter/Twilight and I think it has more to do with all the hype created by it's fan base of 10 to 16 year olds than any real dislike for the book.

You can imagine Manny's reluctance to associate himself with these young upstarts and their almost religious fervour when it comes to Potter/Twilight. I think I wouldve been shocked if Manny had anything good to say about the series

(Manny steps in now and does say something 'nice' about the book, we all breathe a sigh of relief, the world goes round.)


message 34: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell Gullet wrote: "I must point out that books for teenager has existed for a long time, think for example of "Anne of Green Gables"."

Oh man you _seriously_ can't be comparing L.M. Montgomery and Twilight.

For one thing, a lot of books written before the YA-marketing boom in the 1970s (led mostly by Dell paeprbacks, ushered in by Scholastic, which often sold books at club rates to schools) weren't aimed at children, even if they were specifically written from the POV of a child. Lots of books now marketed as YA - My Friend Flicka, Black Beauty, the Anne series - weren't originally published that way. By the same token 'adult' novels were often read by families and children; novels saw a huge boom in sales when people checked out books from lending libraries and read them aloud in the evenings. Teenagers weren't a really huge money market until the sixties, with the infamous Boomer surge in population.

So yes, it's not like there weren't books about teenagers before (like Anne), and it's not like there weren't books aimed specifically at teenagers (the Dell series, or even stuff like Nancy Drew) but I think part of what Manny is getting at is that Twilight is like Avatar, or the dreadful Episode One movie. It is everywhere. Everyone is reading it, or at the very least has heard about it ad nauseam. That's marketing.


message 35: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell Ceridwen wrote: "I've never really ascribed to the "gateway drug" theory of reading - that reading anything at all will inevitably lead to consuming the harder stuff, until one day you find yourself in a smoky cafe mainlining Proust.

I think there was A Study Somewhere on The Internet which of course I can't dig up now which showed that, contrary to what people were hoping, kids did not in fact go on from Harry Potter to read other books. It was a pretty singular phenomenon (I'd guess the same is true of Twilight). I did see kids in the audience and various public places reading the first volume of Lord of the Rings when those movies came out, but a lot of them seemed to be struggling with it (can't blame them).

Part of the reason I reject that is that I'd deeply suspicious of the idea that reading - the simple act of reading - has moral worth"

Heh, well, I disagree there, but I agree that a lot of adults were trying to justify the popularity of HP by saying that it was good kids were reading something (ha, don't think anyone's making that argument with Twilight). I don't see how much different HP and Twilight are from comic books (horrifyingly, Twilight is being turned _into_ a graphic novel).


message 36: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell Mike wrote: "But I don't think reading Proust, rather than Potter, is more cognitively enhancing. Reading critically, whatever you read, will do"

That reminds me of the old stories about how Marilyn Monroe lugged Proust and Joyce all over Hollywood (even to auditions) because she was uneducated and wanted to learn, and people made fun of her. (I think David Denby? wrote about this in one of his New Yorker articles - is it what you know, i.e. that you have read Proust, or a way of thinking, that makes you smart? Sparked off by that Dictionary of Cultural Literacy thing IIRC.)


Manny A.J. and King, I am not really disagreeing with you as much as you might think! Bear in mind that my original comments were directed towards Deathly Hallows, which A.J. also seems to dislike. Books 6 and 7 are indeed the weakest ones, but they're also the ones that got most seriously overhyped. In contrast, I've already said that the early books are good.

So yes, of course I'm not saying it was just hype. She started off writing two or three fun, imaginative YA books, and then the project got taken over by the marketing people. I think the comparison with Hollywood is entirely apropos. Agreed, they can't get the public to buy just any kind of crap by using their promotion skills, but they certainly can fool some of the people some of the time.

For example, I see on boxofficemojo.com that Iron Man 2 has now grossed nearly half a billion dollars. I was one of many people taken in by the advertising. Iron Man was an excellent superhero film: sharp script, great performances from Robert Downey Jr and Gwynneth Paltrow and great chemistry between them, plot-driven use of CGI. But the sequel was a huge disappointment: the script was mediocre, it was at least half an hour too long, they pretty much wasted Scarlett Johansson, and there was way too much pointless SFX. But it still made a ton of money. I think the people who marketed the later Potter and Twilight books learned a lot from this kind of thing, and applied the same methods.


message 38: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell Henry Jenkins, whoo!

Start from the fact that this is a children's book, after all, and a fantasy, two genres which historically have attracted only niche readerships

Wow, uh, no. Swing and a miss there, Henry (Le Guin, Tolkien, Lewis, E. Nesbit, Diana Wynne Jones, a lot of Pratchett, &c &c....).

I also think what people are forgetting in discussing the Phenomenon is that it took a while - it wasn't until at least the third or fourth book that you had stuff like people lining up for miles at midnight and Wizard Rock and so on. It did build quickly, but it wasn't instant. The same thing happened with Twilight - people talked about going to readings when the first or even second book had just come out and seeing much smaller groups. But when you have a cultural phenomenon like what Jenkins talks about, everyone from children to waitresses to taxi drivers to professors, I do think that has a lot more to do with marketing and people responding to a big viral force than getting interested in books per se. Usually in our culture it happens with movies (Avatar, Titanic) or television shows (Lost, Survivor), sometimes books (Twilight, Harry Potter).

I read both HP and Twilight and while I wouldn't equate them - I thought HP was really cardboard, written in a very simple plain style and almost more like a comic book or movie script. The plot was streamlined and there was very little focus on setting and characterization. Twilight was the oppposite - there was nothing but. It was basically hundreds and hundreds of pages about emotions. We can divide those into gender camps if we like, even tho there were lots of boys who went to see Titanic and girls who enjoyed Potter (one thing that does squick me about the Twilight backlash is some of it seems to be anti-female, especially in the case of the much-mocked TwiMoms).

(Going to quit posting now. No, seriously.)


message 39: by Devin (new)

Devin I dunno to be honoured that I'm "articulate" or patronised because of my questioning of your "nasty review" - but anyway, lot's to discuss.
(and before you Americans spell-check me on 'patronised', or any other 's' that I use before an 'ed', I'm on Aussie spelling here)

From what I can see, you are more concerned by the elaborate marketing campaign preceding the release of these young adult novels (that "YA" term took me a minute or two to crack..I though it was "Yahoo Answers" at first!) than the prose itself - which is a worry. Now I'm not going to argue for Twilight, because I have an innate hatred for any book that challenges Harry Potter, especially if it's more on the side of soft-core porn that literature (and I haven't read it, but anyway)

"Oh, but Devin, Harry Potter isn't literature, it's a child's book with child's concepts written in simplistic childish language without any character development or complex backgrounds to the characters - plus, she completely missed out on describing water and shrubbery for pages on end like every great writer should."

Well, exaggerated version of people arguing against Harry Potter above, I respectfully disagree!
While I concede that the first Harry Potter books were quite obviously written and fashioned for 9-10 year olds, the later books certainly age with the audience to form a much more complex series of novels.

What I think AJ was referring to when s/he said "stick figure characters" was that they were quite simple. AJ used Voldemort as an example, saying that "he didn't need any more". This suggests to me that AJ, along with anyone who agreed with AJ, did not closely read or understand the series in the way that it was intended -
Voldemort's life was largely built as a juxtaposition to Harry's. This was done in order to produce the concept of being able to choose how one lives their life, regardless of their backgrounds. ("It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities") Both grew up as orphans oblivious to the magical world, both grew up in unfriendly environments where they were picked on and alienated, both saw Hogwarts as more of a home than their orphanage/Dursley's house - and yet one fought for good, the other for evil (or, as Voldemort would say, power). Then, Half-Blood Prince is practically dedicated to building on Voldemort as a character, from his ancestry to his youth, teenage-hood, etc, none of which I will talk about here for fear of using up the word limit. So not so much of a stick character, I wouldn't say.
So if AJ misunderstood just the element of the series about which he expressed concerns, I'd say there's a lot more he didn't understand, which in my mind elevates the complexity of the series greatly.

Eccentric Muse talked about the internet, and how it has contributes to the hype surrounding Harry Potter. I can tell you that up until I was about 14/15, I never went near the internet to research and conspire about Harry Potter (because I remember the day that I did). And I'd like to think that even without the rest of the world doing it, I would have gone to the bookstore at 9am (release time in Australia) to collect my copy of Deathly Hallows the day that it came out anyway.
Recently, I have been using the internet more and more to express my love for the series (this being an example) largely because the series is over, and I need to find a way to stay in touch with Harry Potter (so I read about JK Rowling, the theme park, the movies, the encyclopaedia, etc.) But the internet plays no part whatsoever in my purchase and re-reading of Harry Potter.
Maybe I'm just one example, but this is a subjective discussion.

Manny, you talk about Harry Potter being popular because it offers some form of escape. If you have ever read John Keats' poem "Ode to a Nightingale", you'd realise that Rowling wasn't the first person to use fiction as a form of escape - Keats wrote about just that. Or in McEwan's Atonement, the whole book is based around fiction being an escape. I don't see what is wrong with that.
As for HP being easy to read, I agree with you, but AJ over here just demonstrated that the series is by no means easy to understand.
I can't really argue with the whole thing about market campaign, I don't remember it being so big over here and I probably lapped up any murmur of Harry Potter in the months leading up to DH's release that I can't think of anything negative to say about it. I'm not sure why it bothers you so much, really.

As for your prediction that Madam Bovary will continue as a literary masterpiece longer than HP, I'm not sure I agree. Sure Flaubert will be read and studied for generations on end, but in such a progressively fast moving culture of society where instant gratification is expected, Flaubert's writing will never be able to compete with wide-reaching, top of their league action-packed adventure fantasy novels.
I assure you, I would never have read Madame Bovary if not for my feminist literature teacher last year who saw it fit to assign Bronte, Flaubert and Woolf to a class of teenagers, mainly boys. Then again, pull out the age card, and I can't argue with that because I don't know how I'll feel about the novel in however many years.

Sorry for this disjointed response where I talked about a mere fraction of what I wanted to when reading through everyone's responses, and it's all out of order, but I haven't got time to proof-read or restructure! Or continue! Sorry!
Homework to do. :(


message 40: by Manny (last edited May 23, 2010 01:34AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Manny I dunno to be honoured that I'm "articulate" or patronised because of my questioning of your "nasty review"

Um... I'm sorry if it came across as patronising. I thought you argued sensibly for your views on the Potter books, rather than just inarticulately repeating your belief that they were masterpieces. Maybe I chose the wrong way to say that.

As for your prediction that Madam Bovary will continue as a literary masterpiece longer than HP, I'm not sure I agree. Sure Flaubert will be read and studied for generations on end, but in such a progressively fast moving culture of society where instant gratification is expected, Flaubert's writing will never be able to compete with wide-reaching, top of their league action-packed adventure fantasy novels.

Well... at any given moment in history, there will no doubt be something of that kind which is more popular than Madame Bovary. But we've now had several generations of those since Flaubert published his book, and most of them are already safely forgotten. For example, are you a big fan of Beau Geste?


Manny Moira wrote: "I read both HP and Twilight and while I wouldn't equate them - I thought HP was really cardboard, written in a very simple plain style and almost more like a comic book or movie script. The plot was streamlined and there was very little focus on setting and characterization. Twilight was the oppposite - there was nothing but. It was basically hundreds and hundreds of pages about emotions. We can divide those into gender camps if we like, even tho there were lots of boys who went to see Titanic and girls who enjoyed Potter (one thing that does squick me about the Twilight backlash is some of it seems to be anti-female, especially in the case of the much-mocked TwiMoms)."

That's a nice summary! And I totally agree about the anti-female criticisms of Twilight. There are plenty of things to dislike about the series without having to play the sexist card.


La pointe de la sauce And Let the Potter fans read Potter
And Let the Twilight fans read Twilight
And Let Manny be Manny
And Let the world go round
Let the world go round.…

Dedicated to Manny, a man who refused to be drawn into the social epedemic of 'Book Hype'.
Good on you Manny, great weather in London, I'm off to feed the ducks.


message 43: by A.J. (new)

A.J. @Devin: The juxtaposition you were talking about was fairly obvious throughout the series, and was reinforced a dozen times and by a dozen symbols (the twin wands, for example). The characters themselves communicate about it. That doesn't change the fact that for the majority of the books the villain is a caricature whose defining characteristic isn't his complex and multi-layered psychology; rather it's his ethereal role as the boogeyman who resides mostly off screen. Later on more effort is given to shaping a backstory, yes, but Voldemort's one defining characteristic is a dictatorial lust for unlimited power which consumes everything around him, with little reason given as to why he needs it or what he intends to do with it once he has it.

I did not say the books held no complexity at all, or that all of the characters in them were stick figures. Some were, and some are in all fiction out of sheer necessity. Even if a novel were to lack symbolic complexity and ogres-are-like-onions layered characters, so what? A good story is a good story.

But save the patronizing, please.

@Manny: Iron Man 2 is a good comparison but also a tough one. We have to remember the built-in fanbase that existed thanks to the first movie, which I'd argue was more important than advertising when it came to putting asses in seats. My point being, I think advertising NEEDS more than just itself to create the kind of fandom you're talking about with a Harry Potter. There has to be something coming out of the books that resonate with people, or else you'll be spitting into the wind with a lot of cash.

Sorry, gotta cut this short––I'm late!


Manny Iron Man 2 is a good comparison but also a tough one. We have to remember the built-in fanbase that existed thanks to the first movie, which I'd argue was more important than advertising when it came to putting asses in seats. My point being, I think advertising NEEDS more than just itself to create the kind of fandom you're talking about with a Harry Potter.

A.J: well yes, it's all about the fanbase the first movie created. The advertising successfully managed to convince a lot of suckers (including me) that the second movie would be like the first one. The trailer certainly made it look that way. But, in fact, it was quite different. All the magic was gone.

So, I am arguing that related techniques were used to market the later Potter books, which were also not much like the early ones and pretty damn disappointing.


message 45: by A.J. (new)

A.J. Manny wrote: "Iron Man 2 is a good comparison but also a tough one. We have to remember the built-in fanbase that existed thanks to the first movie, which I'd argue was more important than advertising when it ca..."

Right. I was hoodwinked by the second movie also, but it was more thanks to how good the first movie was than how well the second was marketed. But that's the point I'm trying to make, which is that marketing alone is insufficient to explain the Harry Potter phenomenon or other phenoms like it. Marketing can enlarge a phenomenon, or extend a phenomenon, but if the core product that the marketing is geared towards is absolute garbage––and Potter isn't––you find time and again that big budget products can crash and burn as badly as anything else.

By the time Potter got to the sixth and seventh volumes, the damage had been done. Rowling could have taken a dump on a photocopier and I'd have still finished the story (and I think I can prove that resolve––I read every word of Half-Blood Prince). While I'm sure every literary-marketing canon was brought out for the barrage (and let's be honest with ourselves, how does that even compare to other entertainment mediums?), yet I still wonder and would actually argue about how much that had to do with the sales of books six and seven. I wold be fascinated to see some stats on how all the books were plugged and how the sales did for each.

I still maintain, though, that marketing can't force someone to purchase a product. And if the thing in question is crappy enough, even Hollywood blockbusters can divebomb with with week 2 sales.


message 46: by Michael (new)

Michael This is a fascinating discussion, and I wish I'd discovered it sooner. Lots of good points all around. I sincerely hope I'm not duplicating any of them...I read through everything, but it was a lot to take in.

Manny, I think your point about marketing is an important one. I do think there is a cultural saturation with both these series that is impossible to not notice unless you never go shopping anywhere. I'm not even going to talk about the quality of the books because that's not the important part of what you're saying. (But Potter is 1001 times better. Moving on.)

I think the amount of money these series have made is a negative thing for book addicts, and I think it's even worse for most writers.

I'll start with the writers: the real issue here is that SO MUCH MONEY is being invested in promoting one series, and so much money can be made from a mediocre book like Twilight, that publishers have less of a reason to spread their promotion money around and more of a need to find the next big thing. A highly fun yet non-mind-blowing urban fantasy series I read by Tim Pratt, for instance, had four books that all sold fairly well, but the publisher didn't pick up a fifth. They'd figured out it wasn't going to be the Next Big Thing, so they stopped supporting it.

As far as readers go, publishers want to ride the coattails of Twilight with similar books. This has made bookshelves in the SFF section a whole lot less interesting. So many urban-fantasy-fetish-romance books, and I can't even find a copy of a book nominated for a Hugo two years ago. As a reader, I find that sad.

The new phenomenon is for books to catch like wildfire and infiltrate every form of media. A huge proportion (almost all, in fact) of the successful big-budget movies in the last decade have been films based on books or comic books. In a way, that's awesome.

But if that means publishers are going to be thinking more about how to sell books to those who usually don't read, the book addicts like us are going to find ourselves more and more ambivalent to the books that are getting a lot of attention.


Manny Michael, I think that's a very good summary of the problem. The disproportionate success these two series have enjoyed is now warping the whole field of book publishing. Though it's far from obvious what to do about it.


message 48: by Manny (last edited May 24, 2010 04:39AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Manny A thought that occurred to me this morning in the shower. Nearly everyone seems to agree that Potter is better-written than Twilight. But, oddly enough, it's much harder to find things to say about Potter.

Dare I suggest that it's because Twilight is psychologically more interesting? It's not really what I want to conclude, but the evidence does rather point in that direction.


message 49: by [deleted user] (new)

I think you have an idea there. The Harry Potter books have just too well behaved children. They above all always follow the honesty code of society.

For example NGE just pointed out in another review that there are things which we all prescribe to as a society but we don't talk about them.

"This never had to be discussed, it was simply obvious. Like not opening other people’s mail, and I’m sure there must be others permanently unstated."

I feel the same. Some things are just obvious.

Not touching other peoples messy piles, not open other people’s mail, not cheating with other people’s
partners.

I think that it's what makes the Harry Potter world so saniticed. People are too nice. They don't break the silent code which would make their world awful but more interesting.


Manny Elisabeth wrote: "I think you have an idea there. The Harry Potter books have just too well behaved children. They above all always follow the honesty code of society."

Well, I'm not sure that's true. The evil people in the series are indeed quite evil. For example, I wouldn't say that kidnapping someone and keeping them imprisoned for months while you impersonated them was "following the honesty code of society". Or, for that matter, horribly torturing people to death, or forcing them to do your will by threatening to.

It's more that the evil people are evil in such a dull way that you can hardly get very excited about it. Though I think I do make an exception for Dolores Umbridge. She's genuinely nasty.


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