The Harry Potter Effect On Reading

This weekend, with the final movie of the Harry Potter series out in theaters, it got me to thinking about what effect Harry Potter has had with reading, especially with our younger generation.  When Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was originally published in 1997, I had no idea.  I was well into my undergraduate program at GW, and really didn’t have much time to follow much of anything except my scholastic studies.

However, before the end of my time at GW, I had begun seeing people riding the Metro reading a couple of different Harry Potter books.  Based on the cover art, they very much looked like children’s books.  I would usually pay attention to what people were reading on the Metro for ideas of what to read during my summer breaks from school, that’s how I ended up reading Memoirs of a Geisha.

Needless to say, I really started to notice these books after I graduated from GW and began the first job of my career.  One of the interns in our office was reading one of the books, I can’t recall which one, and asked her about it.  I told her I had seen them before, but they looked like kids books to me.  She went on to tell me how wonderful they are, and how all her friends were reading them.

I really didn’t ask her about them again.  And since I didn’t have any exposure to kids, at the time, I really didn’t give the books too much thought.  Sure, I read about them on the various book websites of the day, and I believe I even read a featured section in The Washington Post about them and how the Harry Potter books were encouraging and growing reading with the youngest members of our society, and how hopefully they would turn them on to other authors, such as Tolkien.

Then the first movie came out in 2001.  I didn’t see that movie, nor any of the other movies until The Order of the Phoenix was getting ready to come out in theaters in 2007.  I had just gotten engaged to my wife, and she wanted me to take her to see the movie.  Well, I hadn’t seen any of the previous movies, nor read any of the books.  So for a period of about 6 weeks, I bought the books, and read them, and after each installment I watched the movie, and finished just in time as The Order of the Phoenix came out in theatres.

I definitely enjoyed reading them, but I can’t help but think if I read them after the climax of their effect on younger people.  Sure, I’ve noticed some increased reading levels in kids, but I continue to ask myself, did it have a large affect on them, encouraging increased levels of book reading?

With the number of kids at these movies, you would think so.  But I ask myself all the time, how many of them have actually read the books?  I know one family who’s oldest daughter has read the books several times.  As a matter of fact, every time I see them, she has one of the books with her, so I know she’s read them frequently.  My wife’s cousins have tried to read them to without finishing them.  My sister, who was 12 when the first books came out, hasn’t read them.  My sister is the exception to the rule, as she reads about 20 books a week it seems like.

On a related note, I ask myself the same questions about the Twilight saga phenomena.  I’ll confess, that I’ve taken my wife to see New Moon and Eclipse in the theaters.  I’ve seen mostly teenaged girls in the audience.  I also ask myself if they’ve read the books, or are they just followers seeing popular age-related flicks.  I know I haven’t read them, but my wife has.

Essentially, I’m not convinced that hugely popular book series, targeted toward younger audiences, has an overly great effect on those audiences with increasing their number of books read.  Perhaps I’m just not exposed enough to children, since I don’t have any yet, to realize any differently.  Maybe, just maybe, other distractions, as I’ve written about before are just too much of a lure these days.  Or maybe, I’m off my kilter…  Either way, please chime in below!


About Jeremy

Husband, book lover, Civil War Buff. If I could read for a living I would, but unfortunately, it doesn't pay the bills!

7 Responses to “The Harry Potter Effect On Reading”

  1. I know that my granddaughter has read the Harry Potter books and loved the movies, too. But she was already a big reader. And she won’t read the Twilight books…they’re not up to her standards. I haven’t read either the Potter books or Twilight, but have seen three Potter movies and one Twilight one…and I would have to agree that Potter wins, hands down.

    I guess I’m glad that some kids are reading because of these books. But I don’t have the answers about the numbers either. Good question, though.


  2. I read the first book when my son read it, back when he was in elementary school. And I stopped there. At least, that was my plan. But I kept getting pressure by parents and teachers and students; as a children’s librarian, I felt obligated to read the entire series. So I did. And they were fantastic, just as fantastic as I’d been told they’d be.

    Here’s my Sunday Salon: In Which I Travel to Bhutan and the North Pole, with a Stop at a Convenience Store in Brooklyn. I hope you will stop by. Also, don’t forget to enter my July Giveaway.

  3. I think it has had a positive effect on young adult readers as not only have they matured, but so has the genre as a whole. I remember the only thing that one really could read as a teenager was stuff like Sweet Valley High, R.L. Stine, adult fiction or young adult fiction that was geared towards what now would be considered to be tween readers. There was basically nothing for a reader to read as a young adult. In order to keep reading, I was reading sappy Christian romance books. I now see the young adult books that are coming out as a result of the popularity of the Harry Potter books or at least that is my impression.

  4. Personally, I think anything that can get kids reading is good. Like you, though, I was a late-comer to the series…I read the first one years ago, but then finally read all of the rest just this year, in anticipation of the final movie. I only had seen two of the movies and parts of the others on TV over the years until this year. I took all of them out at our local library, and while I enjoyed them, the books were far better than the movies, as is the case with most adaptations. Since working at the library, I’ve seen kids come in even with the last few weeks and days to get the books…and either read or reread them. From my standpoint, good for them.

  5. Well, this series got my mom into reading. I’m not really sure of the effect on kids though.

  6. I haven’t read the books myself (lack of time rather than lack of interest) but I think what I observed about their effect on kids reading was that it made reading less dorky. It was OK to be seen with a book in your hand. When I was younger, this was significantly less cool. However, has this generalised to other books? Or have the popular books been read and that’s it? I have no idea. Good question to ponder though…

  7. I read all seven of the Harry Potter books, listened to them on tape as well, saw all the movies and went to many of the midnight book parties, with my four girls. I was an elementary school librarian when the first book was released. We had book fairs and parties as well and many children’s parties were HP themed. I will say that I saw a revival of reading like no other with those books. It encouraged children to reach above in their reading level so they could discuss it with their circle of friends. That was part of the reason I bought the books on tape for the library collection, for those kids who were not at that reading level and did not have someone to read to them. They came back looking for other books and have become life long readers. The theme of the HP books is one of love, friendship and good over evil. Nothing wrong with those messages in my book.

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