once, long ago, someone was reporting on “The House of Spirits” in my M.A. class, and she started it off with the line: this has as audience the professional as well as the non-professional reader, but their appreciation of it is different.
i don’t remember much of what else she said, but i do remember that a classmate and i could barely let her finish, because her premises were unacceptable. my mother who reads for leisure (as opposed to reading for academic purposes) does not deserve to be called an unprofessional reader, not only because of the fact that it’s derogatory, but too, because it limits her appreciation of books to the kind of market she’s part of. nor was it acceptable to even presume that all people who read for academic purposes, and are therefore professional readers, will have intelligent and informed appreciation of texts. hello, if you’ve been in the academe long enough, you’d know that this is so not true.
and then there’s harry potter. one of those bestselling “children’s” series that’s more often than not scorned by teachers of literature. and then there’s me, who gets why female students will say “hermione” to the first question i ask them in the beginning of the sem: if you were a fictional character, who would you be? i get that none of the boys want to be ron, except for those who admit to being just the funny guy in their already stable barkada. i get the fascination with this world, and the fact that students can relate to it more than they can to Middle Earth – which of course is more acceptable given LOTR and its found place in the “accepted” literary canon. meanwhile, i’m just really happy enough getting hermione or ron as answers, than having to deal with sydney (from alias) and summer (of the OC). at least the former responses will tell me: ah, they read after all. and they read novels at that.
i got into harry through my brother who lives in holland and who brought home the first of the series. mama and i read through all the harry books voraciously and quickly (because these are easy reads after all, much like those Grisham novels which we love too), even buying the super expensive hardboundversions of numbers 5 and 6 because we couldn’t resist. but for the 7th installment, we actually thought it would be fine to wait for the paperback. in fact, we waited for the PDF file, and am finally done with harry.
and now i realize that a reader is really always imagined. i doubt that rowling can even imagine the possibility that a 30-year old teacher in the Philippines would spend two of her (sudden) vacation nights reading through a PDF version of her last installment. i doubt she can imagine that this 30 year old’s 58 year old mother would be reading it a week before, nor that both daughter’s and mother’s appreciation of it is really summarized in one line they both often repeat: magaling siya.
her world’s consistently surprising and familiar at the same time. her characters evolved as (un)expected through all of seven installments. their lives are stereotypical (yeah, yeah the orphan boy looking for his identity), yet absolutely new (alternate reality as opposed to a fantasy versus reality). her writing’s pretty consistent – despite some of those long explanations and descriptions she does in 5 and 6 – as she makes me smile and laugh as much as i am wont to sympathize and empathize, cry and cry and cry (even when it’s just an elf who dies). i love how it mirrors struggles and the power of resistance; how it always highlights the possibility of change, and the need to be aware of oppression and fight it. but also, i appreciate that it’s classic soap opera material some of the time, with issues of love, death and dying, the search and the lack of identity, the need to sustain the familiar and let go of it at the same time.
i can imagine harry getting stuck in the limitations of the label that is the “bestseller” and a theory such as that which divides books according to professional and non-professional readers/markets. but too, i’d like to think that not all readers, professional and otherwise, will be able to ignore that it actually functions as something in the context of a young generation that barely reads, and gets stressed with just the thought of reading fiction (never mind that they watch movies and television, and read comic books). difficult as it is to pin down, it remains important to understand what this story has that has allowed it to gain a market beyond theory and across countries, languages (imagine harry in afrikaans, hindi, khmer, urdu!), and given this, beyond race.
and it is here that we prove, that all readers matter.