July 24, 2007

Darned Obsessed Muggles Delayed My Detergent Purchase

Category: Literature — Cranky @

At 1:00 a.m. this past Friday I went to a drug store to pick up a few things. Imagine my surprise when I got there, and there was a long, meandering line at the till that looped back on itself, and then went right out the door and down the street. Now these late night trips are nothing new for me. I’m a night owl, and I don’t usually get to bed before 3:00 a.m. on weekends. So I knew that this line was unusual.

Suddenly I knew what had happened – the new Harry Potter book was out.

You know, a lot of people suffer under the delusion that print is dead, and that kids don’t read. Well, this new book sold 5000 copies per minute for the first day, not so much breaking records as vaporizing them. Kids (and adults) have devoured each volume of the series, and the size of some of those books is prodigious indeed. 800 page volumes are not normal for “children’s” books, and yet these kids (who “don’t read”, after all) weren’t turned off in the slightest.

So what’s the point? Children like to read. You only have to write something they want to read.

Anybody who has read the series knows that these books do not read like they are written for children. There are complex social interactions, serious themes, and, dare I say it, big words, but Rowling knows that if you treat kids seriously, they respond well. One of her biggest regrets was dumbing down the title of the first book for American audiences. She bent to the will of Scholastic, the publisher, who believed that the word “Philosopher” would turn off U.S. children.

Like Tolkien before her, she knows the secret. Write fantasy like it’s real, and deadly serious, and people will buy it. Kids will read it. I suspect she’s done far more for literacy than “hooked on phonics” ever did, and we can only hope she continues to write, or that other authors make that elusive connection to today’s youth. 


June 8, 2007

That Romantic Bard!

Category: Literature — Cranky @

When Shakespeare set out to make a little lighthearted fun by mocking the airheaded rhetoric of poets, he wrote what I consider one of the most honest love poems every written.

My Mistress’ Eyes are Nothing Like the Sun

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grown on her head.
I have seen roses damask’d, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.

At first glance, this poem seems almost harsh. After all, he’s essentially saying, “All those sweet romantic platitudes? Complete crap.” The object of his ardour doesn’t have perfect skin, or limpid pools for eyes, and doesn’t inhabit a gloriously high pedestal. She has bad breath occasionally, and gets rosy cheeks with blush. Her voice isn’t angelic – it’s just a voice. What makes it sweet is the conclusion. She’s simply human, and there’s no need to shower her with false compliments for her to be wonderful.

Yet even the bard couldn’t resist the call of the overdone comparison. After all, he also penned one of the great romantic expressions.

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? 

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest;
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Personally I like the first one better. It’s clever, witty, and still very sweet.