July 14th, 2005

fat pony like thunder

the saga continues

I woke up at half past six to find Bubbles sitting on the bed, beaming at me (or so it seemed). And when I finally bundled him out the window, I went out to the loo and found Ju Ju sitting in front of my door, glowering in a terrifying way. What on earth will happen next?
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books, reading, ardizzone, library

reading without prejudice

Poll #532219 Taking Reviews Seriously?

Are you turned off an unread (by you, natch) book if the positive reviews quoted on the cover are all or mostly taken from papers you don't like (particularly right-wing ones like the Torygraph)?

Kind of
I don't notice/care about reviews
I hate books. Go away, you speccy swot

I say this because I review a lot of popular/social history books, and I am always turned off ones whose author has been previously praised by the likes of the Mail, even before I start reading them. Am I mad?
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    blah blah

pottering around

Much as I enjoy the Harry Potter books, I don't think they're great literature. I don't think they're the best children's books ever written or anything like it, and the claims that they're original and groundbreaking work have always annoyed me. And I think Harry himself is a very flat character. But I do really like the books, and I think Rowling has a great gift for creating surprisingly complex supporting characters (if anything truly dreadful ever happens to Neville I might have to stop reading the books, and I really, really hope that he'll turn out to be the true hero). So this inane "why I don't like the Potter books" piece on the BBC website annoyed me a lot.

First of all, the commercialism has nothing to do with the quality of the books. Sure, it's annoying. But if you're going to dismiss something for being popular, and hijacked by commercial interests, well, say goodbye to Dickens. Not a good argument. But it gets worse.

Harry Potter, I think, also represents this long-forgotten Britain of the 1950s in many ways.

Living at a boarding school, he inhabits a world of duelling practice, of house-masters, of pet rats and harmless games.

It is a world where good and evil are clearly defined and not one with the many grey areas and dangers familiar to children and young adults today.

My Harry Potter would certainly not be a part of this world. He'd be more of an urban Harry for 2005.

He might hang round bus-stops late at night wearing a baseball cap and drinking cider.

He might harass the neighbours with his magic powers and end up with an Asbo.

My Harry Potter would probably sell about three copies, though.

Ooooooh, cider and Asbos! How "urban" and real. Sadly, Mr Winder, your Harry Potter would also be a tired cliche that would sell about three copies because it would be boring as fuck and far too reminiscent of one of those dreary "gritty" kids' books so popular in the '70s and so prevalent in school libraries for the following decade and a half, some of which were genuinely brilliant but most of which were just laboured, tokenistic shite. While I think diversity of backgrounds is hugely important in children's books, especially with regard to race and class, the idea that books are only relevant to child readers if they literally depict those children's lives just doesn't work for me. I didn't read a single book set in my own fucking country when I was growing up, and while I would have loved to read a decent Irish children's book set in modern Dublin if such things had existed, I still found things in English kidlit with which I could identify. I'd rather have read a good book about English kids than a crappy book about Irish kids. Also, if he'd actually read one of the books as opposed to sitting through one film and leaving one actual book unread (something which basically makes the entire piece redundant), he might have noticed that for all Rowling's failings, her world isn't black and white at all. Snape is a bastard and a bully but he's not actually evil. Collapse ) Even Harry himself was almost a Slytherin. And let's not even begin on the inaccuracy "harmless games" reference.

But this was the most patronising bit of all:
Author AS Byatt said that adult Potter fans are actually "reverting to their inner child" when they read Potter, and that they were "for people whose interests are confined to the worlds of soaps, reality TV and celebrity gossip".

One of the BBC News website's very own readers has the perfect response to that one, though - "I've never heard of AS Byatt," he said in a recent Have Your Say on the issue.

Because all Harry Potter fans are ignorant fools! Apart from the chance that that reader could have been being sarcastic, one contributor to a BBC website is hardly representative. And then there's that revoltingly snobbish Byatt piece itself, which was based on the premise that anyone who reads children's literature is some sort of emotionally retarded freak - the idea that there are adults who read the Harry Potter books AND OTHER BOOKS TOO, including some of La Byatt's own offerings, doesn't seem to cross her mind. Nor does the fact that in dismissing children's lit in general she's just dismissed an entire literary genre that includes everything from Richmal Crompton to Antonia Forest. Wasn't it Auden who said that while there were good adult books that weren't really suitable for children, there were no good children's books that weren't suitable for adults? I'm paraphrasing here, but whatever his exact words were, they were spot on. Unlike Byatt, the pompous, pretentious cow. Saints preserve us from soaps and celebrity gossip! I loathe people who automatically dismiss entire genres, whether those genres are televisual, musical or literary, as I don't believe there's a genre (besides, maybe, Christian apocalyptic fiction) that doesn't have at least one good thing in it. Even the South Bank show gave Corrie its drama award this year. I'd rather watch Coronation Street, with its exquisite writing and gloriously surreal humour, than ever read another book by Byatt's increasingly boring sister or indeed Antonia herself.

Anyway, maybe one day Mr Winder will write his own "urban" Harry Potter book. But why anyone would want to read a children's book by a writer who sneers at children's literature and its readers is beyond me.