Lynn and I had to promise Marian that we wouldn't discuss Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows without her. So when Lynn and I finished our copies early in the afternoon on Sunday, we didn't say much more than to agree that it was very satisfying and an excellent finish to the series. By Monday afternoon, Marian called to say that she'd be finishing it that evening, so could she and Josie come over for dinner the next night so we could talk.
They were at the house when I got home and Lynn was right behind me. L & M immediately plunged into business talk (the opening is just two weeks away), while Josie "helped" me get dinner on. I confess that I was getting a little worried that Marian was forgetting why we were getting together in the first place, but once we all sat down she said, with a big grin on her face, "And now... Harry Potter!!"
Overall, our responses were generally in line with each other. There were a couple of puzzles one or the other of us was still a little confused about, and we had to go back to the ending of the previous book to work out the wand thing. Marian and I had slightly different feelings for the last chapter, but there were no significant differences of opinion. We were all quite satisfied, a little sad that it was finally over, and looking forward to rereading the whole series again sometime.
In recent weeks, I've seen a couple of essays bemoaning the fact of adults spending time on the Harry Potter novels when, I suppose, we're supposed to be reading more "serious" books. I don't begrudge anybody's opinion on the matter, but it seems like an awfully narrow view of the pleasures and profit of reading to me.
A couple of years ago, in advance of my first trip to Ireland, I blocked out a long weekend to reread Joyce's Ulysses (for the 4th time), because I think it's a great fun book and I wanted it to be fresh in my mind when I first walked the streets of Dublin. In the last couple of months I've read (among other things) the new novels by Chabon & Lethem, The Education of Henry Adams (for the 2nd time) -- arguably the best book to come out of the US in the 20th century, Weinberger's Everything Is Miscellaneous (which I found to be a little too facile & glib, although it has some good points), a couple of De Botton's amazing excursions into literature, philosophy and art, Nitobe's Bushido (on the flight to Tokyo) and, oh yeah, the sixth Harry Potter (for the 2nd time) so that I'd be primed for the new one. So what does that say about my approach to reading?
What I don't do is make much time to watch television. It struck me when the Emmy nominations were announced that, except for The Daily Show & Colbert (which we put on when we go to bed at night), I haven't seen a single episode of a single series that's been nominated, and I haven't seen a single one of the various specials or one-shot shows that are up for awards.
This is not a matter of snobbery. There's a tremendous amount of really good stuff on TV that I know I would enjoy and it pains me that I don't make the time to see it. On Friday & Saturday nights, Lynn and I will watch a movie or two, or episodes of the new Dr. Who series on DVD (or, sometimes, Xena or X-Files), but that's a special thing that we do together. Occasionally, I'll then stay up late and watch DVDs of music performances -- David Gilmour, Dylan, U2, the Old Grey Whistle Test, Tom Petty... But on any given evening, when I've finally got an hour or two to myself, reading always takes precedence.
Do I bemoan the fact that reading for pleasure seems to be declining among adults? No, actually. When I was growing up, I didn't have many peers who read much. My mother reads all the time, but my dad read hardly ever, and my siblings' habits are all over the place. The fact that we live in a culture where there is such a vast array of media available to stimulate and entertain is marvelous, and I don't know why reading, in and of itself, should get some sort of pride of place.
I wish that people were more thoughtful about the world than they typically are, that they would challenge received wisdom more, that they would question their own motivations and actions and strive constantly to be better people more than they seem to. Reading widely has helped me to do that, but so will any activity that exposes one to new ideas and different cultures. Sticking with the familiar, and seeking out only those opinions and ideas that confirm what one already feels -- that's the dangerous route, no matter what the medium is.