Positively potted

Positively potted
: This is what I was talking about, below, when I complained about people giving too much credit to Harry Potter. From the Washington Post:

Harry Potter has changed the world.

You just can’t say that about many books. You’ve got the Bible, the Iliad and the Odyssey. Copernicus wrote something or other. So did Newton and Malthus, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Charles Darwin.

But we live in different times: the UltraMaxiMedia-Age. We are slaves to the Next, ruled by videocracy. Taught by image; motivated by movement. Books are so old school. Reading is downright irrelevant. The world doesn’t really change these days, anyway. It fractures and reassembles and moves from abnormality to new normality to post-whatever-was-in-fashion-as-this-sentence-was-being-written.

That said: J.K. Rowling’s record-setting books — number five, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” goes on sale today — are altering our landscape. With more than 200 million copies in print worldwide, the books have been translated into 55 languages and are available in 200 countries. The literary influence is global.

Changed the world? Come now. It had far more of an impact on marketing than on literature, literacy, and culture. [via IWantMedia]

  • That’s embarrassing. Then again — are you sure it isn’t meant to be some sort of satire, maybe of pompous literary reviews that claim this or that book is so important that reading it will cause the human race to evolve to the next level?

  • balbulican

    It’s June, things are slow, it’s an easy story, and journalists are lazy.
    As for the books themselves…I was drawn into reading by Tom Swift, the Hardy Boys, Boys Own annuals, and similar wretched fare. You want leaden prose? Paper thin characters? Dei ex machinae and ridiculous coincidence? De gustibus non est disputandum, and J.K. Rowling isn’t James Joyce, but she’s head and shoulders above the popular children’s authors of my youth.

  • Mike G

    Although I defended the Rowling-has-changed-reading-habits notion below, by this point I kind of think it’s like the hype that surrounded Howard Stern’s book and movie, both of which were greeted as major cultural milestones, both of which quickly proved to be very minor manifestations of the New York-based media’s fascination with itself. (Not that Rowling is New York-based media, just that it’s another example of how media hysteria feeds itself.)
    That Rowling has changed book marketing, however, is surely true. Note that this is the second book (after Hillary’s) for which we’re hearing the first-week sales figures widely quoted. The release of a book is becoming like the opening week of a movie.
    And I saw an item today that said that certain ballparks are having Harry Potter days later this summer to attract young fans. Let’s back up and take that one in slowly, shall we– BASEBALL is trying to attract young fans by piggybacking on the popularity of a BOOK. That’s a jawdropper, no?

  • Okay, here I’ll concede. Even a HP fan like me must admit that hyperbole like this is over the top.

  • John

    I agree that the hyperbole from reviewers and those that proclaim its the second coming of the enlightenment are a bit overdone.
    But don’t discount the underlying fact that reading is a major component of a healthy respect and thirst for knowledge, and people don’t start on Tolstoy, they start with things like harry potter. I had books I was drawn to as a kid, this is just another example of a repeat cycle, only its got a bit wider of an audience.

  • Anne

    This is just a reflection of the media’s persistent need to build something up, to create to or add to some frenzy in its midst — until they begin the tearing-down process they so love.
    They just haven’t been able to tear down Rowling yet. But you know they’re hanging to do it.