A Valuable Lesson

By Austin Walters

Categories: Women's Voices,

I’ve always loved to read. Cracking open a book is one of the greatest joys in my life, and talking to others about books comes in a very close second. But somewhere around the time when I started taking literature classes in college, I became a snob about books. I didn’t  really realize it was happening, and I wasn’t extremely open about it. I didn’t scoff or chide people about their choices or recommendations, I just developed a strong opposition to the most talked about bestsellers, popular book club picks, and any book printed with a movie poster cover. I thought that these books were a waste of my precious reading time.

Then a small, misfit British boy came along and changed everything.

Actually, a charming, wildly creative woman came along and decided to write down one of the most epic childhood adventure stories of all time.

But at first, I was a jerk. I resisted the Harry Potter craze at the beginning. I listened with a silent smirk as friends and strangers rejoiced in the magic or fretted about the looming danger swirling around  Harry and his “nerd herd” crew.   I just figured it was a passing blip on the never-ending cycle of peanut-butter-smeared books about boys and dragons.

The third book in the series was already on the shelves when a good friend, and respected fellow reader asked me if I had read any of the Harry Potter books. Since we were close, I let her see my distaste as I muttered “No thanks, I don’t have any interest in reading kids books, I think they are a silly waste of time.” She should have stopped speaking to me on the spot but instead she posed an interesting question; “Aren’t you curious to know what has inspired so many people to read?” She went on to suggest that many of these people may never have opened a book to read for fun in their entire lives and now they were so mesmerized by the story they were willing to wait in a long line through the wee hours of the night to have the privilege of starting the new book as soon as it was released. She also asked me if I had ever seen so many people reading in public spaces and wasn’t I a little bit curious about the story that inspired all this excitement?

Of course I was. I think I went out and bought the first book on my way home that day.

It didn’t take long for me to get sucked in. I started waking up earlier just so I could get in a few extra minutes of reading; I missed appointments and canceled dates with friends so I could keep going. I loved Harry and his quirky friends, and I admired the chillingly sinister bad guys and all the complicated characters in between. And I loved finally being able to join the conversations happening around me; from a small boy waiting for a table at a restaurant with his parents, to a group of women at an elder care facility—all of us eagerly talking about reading and books!

More than anything I am glad that J.K Rowling decided to pick up her pen and share a corner of her vast imagination with the world. I learned a valuable lesson about the power of a story, and this experience helped me to become less of a snob about books. It doesn’t matter what people read as long as they are reading and honoring the writers who are brave enough to commit their thoughts to paper.

I am delighted to be a board member for an organization that provides space and support for women writers, who in turn inspire the reader in all of us.

4 Comments

  • Patricia Blomeley-Maddigan
    7:47 PM - 19 June, 2011

    As I sheepishly wind my way through the nearest bookstore, not yet convinced of the rating of the new book I will buy, I think….. well….. quite frankly… I think I am crazy!!

    Austin, your post read so close to home for me, that by the time I was halfway through, I was actually shrinking and hiding behind my computer screen!!

    Not that I scoff at reading all children’s, or young adult books. In fact my favourite book is a young adult book: “Mary Jane” by Dorothy Sterling. I bought it when I was in grade 5, and just read it again, last month.

    But Harry Potter!!!??? Please spare me from all that thought invokes!

    However, as I confidently straighten my shoulders as I key this, I think I should give Harry a chance!

    Thank you, Austin!

    Choose Joy!
    Patricia
    http://thejoyofthewrittenword.blogspot.com/

  • Lesley McClurg
    6:50 PM - 20 June, 2011

    I agree… I have scoffed for years. You may have encouraged me to blindly follow the crowd.

  • Shimi Rahim
    7:44 PM - 20 June, 2011

    Interesting to get your perspective, Austin. The Harry Potter books are no less engaging than Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea series, the Chronicles of Narnia, or the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Their vast popularity doesn’t make them cheap or poor literature. On the contrary: the mainstream public got it right. What Rowling excels in is her characters and her storytelling. She weaves a wickedly good plot. Each book gets better and better, attesting to Rowling’s growth as a writer as she churned out the thousands of pages that make up this series. Do I count Rowling among my favorite literary writers, in the category of Atwood, Kingsolver, Tan, Lahiri, Morrison, Patchett, Egan? Nope. But are the Harry Potter books some of my favorite books of all time? You betcha! Enjoy your journey through the series.

  • H.
    1:08 AM - 21 June, 2011

    I love your heart-felt post. I have been such a snob in the past about all kinds of reading material or produced content. In my 20s I was a snarky high-falutin’ thing and once, when talking to two film producers who were very curious to learn I was a writer, a complete snobbish brat. Focused on writing “literature” at the time, I said, “Oh, not that kind of writing”, (emphasis on “that”) when they mentioned movie scripts. But over the years, several synchronicities occurred and I was led down a new writing path. Some decade plus later I am reading and writing all kinds of things, including feature films scripts. I have to laugh at my former judging self; she so very much wanted to write something truly wonderful and meaningful. In my desire to shine in writing, I was truly belittling of other mediums, genres and creative work. So, thanks for writing this. Ps. I love the Harry Potter series and much YA fiction.

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