Sunday, November 21, 2010

Must We Be Smug?


Pardon me while I get my whine on for a moment.

There are times when I almost regret being part of the literary culture, simply because so many of us seem to find such great pleasure in self-satisfied dismissal of others who are not like us, as if there is something inherently virtuous about our own particular pursuit of the written word.

You can see this attitude in a whole lot of different ways, but I'll leave the big picture smugness for another today.  What I want to to whine about right now is the insufferable self-importance of so dang many Harry Potter readers.

If you haven't read the books, so many HP fans dismiss your interest in the franchise as not only invalid but somehow incriminating.

I can't even count the number of (frankly) snotty comments I've seen this weekend from writers and readers towards people who've only seen the HP movies, as if they are somehow inferior people.  Many are tagged with such bold signatures as, "Sincerely, People Who Know How to Read," or "Yours Truly, People Who Like BOOKS."

Good golly.

I have enjoyed the Harry Potter movie franchise.  (Haven't seen the most recent one yet.)  I read a lot.  I'm a writer.  But I have no interest in reading the HP books.  I'm sure they're great.  My wife and most of my family love them.  Several friends who are writers love them.  Several friends who have little other literary connection love those books.  I have nothing against them.

But they are the sort of material I don't really have any interest in reading. 

Just my personal taste.

I can enjoy movies without enjoying related books.

The assertion that somehow that means I don't really like Harry Potter, or worse yet that I'm illiterate and uncultured is shocking to me.

Let's sit down and talk about Antigone, Frogs, Beowulf, and Candide.  Sir Thomas Moore, Leon Uris, and Jack Higgins.  How about pre-columbian art?  Existentialist philosophers?

I just don't feel like reading Harry Potter.  Please stop extrapolating my human nature from that one fact.

And, while you're at it, please sit back and think if there are other matters upon which you position yourself in the judgment seat of literary virtue.

We all like different things.  We all do different things.  Why do so many of us seem hell-bent on investing our particulars with exclusive value?



  1. GOOD post, Nevets and well said. I can't stand the view that says if you're not of the same opinion as me then you are somehow lacking.

    It's a big enough world for us to agree to differ, no? And for the record I read a lot of fantasy and HP is not to my taste, but I'll defend anyone else's right to enjoy it.

  2. Self confession: I read the Harry Potter books through the sixth installment, where I got so frustrated with their vebosity (and the obvious unwillingness of Rowling's editors to, you know, edit) that I gave up on the series entirely. Bring out the feathers and the tar.

  3. I agree that there's no need to be smug about reading a book and the movie, as opposed to just watching the movie; hey, if someone wants to watch a movie without reading the book it's fine with me. It's a personal decision, not something mandated.

  4. I read a lot of books - in multiple genre's - and watch a variety of movies. I get different things out of both. I consider myself "eclectic".

    I agree that not reading a book while enjoying the movie isn't a fair representation of a persons nature.

    I've watched ALL the Star Wars and Star Trekk movies, spinoffs, and series, but have never been able to read the books, even though I enjoy sci-fi novels. Same with the Bourne series, and The Hunt For Red October. A lot of technical writing in the novels that my mind won't wrap around the written word; but I enjoy the end results on the screen.

    Michael Crichton and Robin Cook are two other authors that I cannot get through the novels, but let me see their name associated with the movie and I'll be practically first in line to buy my ticket.

    Thanks for the "whinning" Nevets. You see you're not alone with this sentiment.


  5. I'll take existential philosphers for $800-, Alex.

    I read one Harry Potter book, I can't even tell you which one, and I saw the movie. The special effects in the movie was so much better than what I ever could have dreamed, I never bothered to read any of the other books.

    I haven't read any of the shiny, sparkly vampire books either. Or zombie. Just not my thing.

    Thanks Nevets.

  6. I'm a prefered if they made a movie, I'm not reading the book. Usually because I get frustrated if a part is left out, I'd rather do one or the other. LOL But I do agree that just because someone hasn't read the book doesn't mean they don't enjoy reading and such...

    I read the golen compass and saw the movie, I'll admit I liked both and the movie lacked things I saw as essential for the story- they were in the book so my mind instantly noticed they were not in the movie.
    anywho thats when I decided I had to go one way or the other.

  7. Here's where I confess, Father Nevets...

    I have never read a Harry Potter book.

    Nor have I seen a Harry Potter movie.

    When I saw John Williams conduct the Boston Pops back in 2002 for a return birthday engagement, I couldn't wait for the Potter music to end so we could get back to stuff like the Indiana Jones theme.

    Why? Simple. I. Don't. Care. Period.

    Boy wizard, not my thing and I'm not going to waste a moment of my precious eyesight on a story I have zero interest in no matter how many people love it. I'd rather reread Hitchhiker's again.

    Judge me, some might. (Talking like Yoda, now I am, up with that, what is?) As you can guess I really don't care about that either *laugh*.

    Hope you've had a good weekend!


  8. @Michael - Exactly! How boring if we all liked the same stuff? If we admit that, than why do we always want to compare and rank the stuff we like versus the stuff "they" like? Don't get it.

    @Loren - I'll admit to a little bit of fear of that non-editing as part of what has dissuaded me from the attempt, but my interest was slight enough to start with it. For the record, I'm also not reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid or The Wheel of Time.

    @G'Eagle - Apparently, there's a law somewhere that says if there's a book it's not only better but everyone is required to read and enjoy it. I'm not sure I've scene that codified, so perhaps it's case law built on judicial precedent.

    @Donna - Thank you! There are plenty of things for me that go in each direction. I read different kinds of things than I watch. They're different media. Also, there are some things I prefer hearing in audio book. I've been yelled at for that too, because apparently even if it's unabridged, it's "not the same thing" as reading. I get that on a technical level, but... come on... lol

    @Anne - I've thought about sitting back and trying a, "What if Camus and Sartre had collaborated on a trendy paranormal?" fiction. :)

    @Summer - See, for me, I treat them pretty much as different things. For instance, I really like Hunt for Red October, both the movie and the book. They're a whole lot different. Sometimes, I like the movies better (Contact, Dirty Dozen). Sometimes, I like the books better (Where Eagles Dare, anything by Shakespeare). I just look at them as different.

    @Bru - haha The force is strong in this one. :)

    It's been busy but good -- hope you've had a good weekend yourself!


  9. I'm with February Grace. Never read one, never saw one. But I do confess I did read all four Twilight books and have seen all three movies. Never thought I would do either. Loved Franzen's The Corrections. Gave up on Freedom half way through. There's no accounting for taste, and one shouldn't have to justify one's taste to others. However, I know there are people to whom I would not admit having read the Twilight series. Literary snobs of another kind (the kind that also wouldn't think too much of grown-ups who read Harry Potter). Thanks for "whining," Nevets. We'ver all thought this. Good to have you say it.

  10. We create such funny dichotomies, don't we? Your parents weren't supposed to like the Beatles if they liked the Stones; and your grandpa couldn't like Count Basie if he could appreciate the raw cool of Coltrane. And great-grandma was offended if somebody praised Dick Powell since she liked William Powell (True story in my family.)

    Sometimes a film is better than the book, like Gone with the Wind. Sometimes not, like when Kevin Spacey played the black guy in Pay it Forward.

    But mostly it's apples and oranges. Different art forms. Life is a fruit salad.

  11. I'm able to reflect on the interesting experience of seeing the first four films before reading any of the books, then reading all seven books, then catching up with the films again.

    Undoubtedly the films stand on their own merits (unlike the books, which steadily increase in quality, the films are pretty consistent) but my experience of watching the last two films seems richer for having read the books. But had my first experience of Harry Potter been reading the first novel, I doubt I would have taken the acquaintance any further.

    For all the criticism Rowling attracts, her stories are powerful enough to work on the page and the screen. The books gain from being able to layer sub-plots much more effectively, while the films' strong suit is the exceptional visual realisation.

    I'm glad to have seen the films and read the books, but I wouldn't say that one is a more valid "artistic experience" than the other.

  12. I love Harry Potter! The books are wonderfully well written, so much fun. Going to see the movie today.


  13. I readily admit I haven't read the books--I read the first one and really enjoyed it. The second one, not so much. Then had back to back babies and my writing went on major hiatus... now I've seen the movies, and the suspense is gone.

    Still we have them all and hubs rereads them periodically. Still, he's not a snob about it. Just keeps coming at me w/Goblet of Fire... :D

    I'm w/you re: snobs. And I can't wait to see the movie this weekend! :D

  14. I have neither read the HP books nor seen the films - the subject matter isn't my kind of thing - but I have huge admiration for the dedication, sheer hard work and success of Rowling (and for her very private modus vivendi - she could so easily have joined the celebrity circus). Anyone who makes people - especially children - read is fine by me (and I'm beginning to regret all the rude things I've said about Dan Brown. After all, he's a success and I am not!)

  15. I do want to state again for the record, that I have nothing against the HP books; they just don't interest me that much.

    @Belle - There's no accounting for taste, and there's shouldn't have to be.

    @Anne - Your examples crack me up, because it's true. For the record, my mom was a neither all that much and my dad was a both. In terms of Beatles and Stones. So I figure they got married to balance the scale.

    @Tim - I know that a lot of hardcore types will cringe, and I can't believe I'm saying this, but honestly I think the same is true of Tolkien's LOTR. The books create a tremendously rich world. The movies, on the other hand, aren't boring.

    @Marilyn - My wife is a big fan of the books, too! We're both excited to see the movie, hopefully over Thanksgiving (USA) weekend.

    @Leigh - hahahaha I just had this great series of images of your husband walking up to you at various points during the day, dangling GoF under your nose and saying, "You know you want to read it..."

    @Frances - No kidding on all counts. I respect Rowling's approach to the business of writing in a lot of ways. I may not be a Dan Brown fan, but I can't deny that he's more successful with his stuff than I have been so far. lol

  16. I know I'm late on this, but . . . here's my take on HP. First of all - they were written for children. If you take that into account, they were written well. I started reading them because I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Any book that can capture the hearts and minds of so many children and cause a practical upheavel in the children's literary world must be special. Because of HP, children began to read again - reading became cool. For that fact - I say "Thank you JK Rowling".

    I also think HP proved that children's books don't need to be dumbed down. The story line becomes quite complex at times and with all the world building involved - the stories themselves are quite impressive and challenging to the age group they were meant for.

    As far as movies vs. books are concerned, I'll hit on two that come to mind. One: Forrest Gump - worst book I've ever read. Whether you liked the movie or not - It won the Oscar and was much better than the book.

    Two: Lord of the Rings - top of my book list (and I'm not a fan of high fantasy) - brilliant story - brilliant writer. But in my opinion (humble), the movies are better. They brought to life what my mind could never imagine while reading the words. As an avid reader and a writer, I often tell people, if you don't read the book see the movies - appreciate the story.

    Nevets, same with HP - see the movies. You're right - boy wizards aren't for everyone, but they sure are entertaining for a couple of hours.

    p.s. saw the movie yesterday - thought it was a bit rushed, but overall pretty good.

  17. The books are fantastic, but I'd never look down on someone for not reading them. Yikes. I think this attitude comes from having the upper hand on things, just like anything else. I enjoy food better because I'm a chef kind of attitude. It can pop up anywhere, especially the Literary Snobs like me. Over the years I'm learning that I do not enjoy literature necessarily any better than others who don't read Shakespeare or Proust.

  18. Wow! I admit I love the books, and the movies. I've read them, and read them aloud to my husband who doesn't read much. No, he's not illiterate - he just reads technical books like "Music Technology in Worship," "MedaStudoPro," "VBS Script" plus his Bible, Engineering reference books, and British car magazines.
    Maybe it's because of my husband, but I just don't get the whole snobby, "I've read the book so I'm better than you" kind of thing either. Books are awesome, movies are too. Sometimes they stand alone better than together - ever read "Fried Green Tomatoes"? I don't recommend the book, but I like the movie.
    Then there are Shakespeare's plays . . . I've read them all, but I have to say that I recommend seeing them over reading them.
    Anyway, sorry for the ramble, but I get the gripe. I really, really do.

  19. @Lori - I love your perspective on all that. I really do appreciate the HP books, even having not read them. And I think you're dead on with LOTR. I've never seen or read Forrest Gump, believe it or not. lol

    @Michelle - Yeah, I guess I've just never really understood that attitude. Even on things where I get all cocky and full of myself, I'm more inclined to try and just make other people come along with me for the ride, which never happens by talking nasty about them.

    @Tyrean - haha I've gone through phases much like your husband's reading tastes actually. My relationship with reading fiction has been torried and it has been frigid. I think it's somewhere healthier now.

  20. Awesome post! This reminds me of so many literary event I've been to where the opinions about particular religious or political topics are homogeneous, and anyone who disagrees is considered "unenlightened."

  21. Looks like I'm late to the discussion, but I agree wholeheartedly with this post. The smugness is rooted in something dark in the human heart, and this HP book fan smugness is just one manifestation. I suppose many of your critics would not even realize that when you said "Frogs" you were referring to an ancient Greek play, and not just to, you know, frogs.

    I'd be in the category of those who appreciate both the HP books and movies. I've read all the books, once. They aren't enough of a priority to me to reread or even to own; I have other things that I own and reread. I've seen three of the movies and enjoyed them, would like to see the others, but again I have other higher priorities. Since you haven't read the books, does that mean that you don't know the ending? Rowlings ties the threads up in the end in a truly masterful, stunning way. I can't think of a single "unplugged leak" in the way the plot threads and mysteries were finally resolved.

    Someone mentioned "funny dichotomies." People need to learn about basic logical fallacies such as false dichotomy. I could go and and on about that, but many people's working definition of an "unenlightened" person is "anyone who doesn't see things my way," and of course among other things that's a false dichotomy.

  22. @Dan - It's true. We are our own measure of enlightenment, and in literary circles that common human perception gains the extra weight of our self-satisfaction in our education and worldliness.

    @Michael - Thanks for knowing what I was talking about when I referenced Frogs. Bonus points for that! And extra bonus points for bringing up logical fallacies. My father was a logic professor for many years, and while I am no master logician myself, the basic grounding in fallacies and systematic thought has been invaluable to me.


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