Harry Potter inspires new readers

    By Rhiannon Meyers
    The Daily News

    Published July 8, 2007

    J.K. Rowling might call him “The Boy Who Read.” Xan Stanley was nearly the same age as Rowling’s now-famous boy wizard when his librarian mother brought home “Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone.”

    Though he comes from a family of readers, Stanley never found pleasure in the pages of a book. Stories rarely kept his interest. Diagnosed with dyslexia, he frequently skipped over words he couldn’t understand.

    After a while, no story seemed worth the struggle.

    Until Harry Potter, that is.

    In Rowling’s tale of an orphaned 11-year-old wizard fated to fight his parents’ killer, Stanley found a story he liked — A story he liked so much he couldn’t wait another night for his mother to read a chapter aloud to him. While she was at work, Stanley started reading Harry Potter on his own.

    In Potter, Stanley found a kindred spirit — a boy his age who faced struggles too, Stanley said. Now 17, Stanley is awaiting Rowling’s final installment of the series due out July 21. It’s a book he plans to devour as soon as his mom, the children’s librarian at Rosenberg Library, can snag a copy.

    Forget the hype, the movies, the theme park and the marketing schemes — some say the Harry Potter series has enchanted a new generation of youngsters to read.

    Up A Notch

    Bookseller Jay Clements said he has never seen anything like the Harry Potter phenomenon.

    Clements opened Midsummer Books in Galveston a year after Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was published. With every new installment, Midsummer Books would be inundated with calls. Clements heard from locals who paid oversees shipping costs to snag an English version of the book before it was available in America.

    “I’d never heard of people doing that before,” he said. “It reminded me of Charles Dickens … People would go to the dock in America, waiting for the first shipment of the next Dickens novel and shout to people on the boat, ‘Does little Nell die?’”

    The Harry Potter series marked the first time Clements — a former teacher — had seen so many children, especially boys, excited about reading.

    “Kids would come in and buy it on a Saturday, then come back on Monday and tell me how wonderful it was,” he said. “I had one kid come in at midnight and read until 1 a.m. the following morning — 25 straight hours reading that book.”

    Stephen F. Austin State University professor Anne Collins Smith teaches a generation of college students raised on Harry Potter.

    University students from all backgrounds tackled the books at a young age and are now eagerly awaiting “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” Smith said.

    Smith’s students who started reading young — in large part because of Harry Potter — read and write better than their peers, she said.

    Students from economically disadvantaged families who tackled the Harry Potter series as youngsters have reading and writing skills in college that are above expectations, Smith said.

    “Potter helped them to enjoy reading in general when they were youngsters, and not just any reading, but substantial reading,” she said.

    It was pretty amazing to see young children reading such thick books, said Sharon Zwick at Galveston Bookshop.

    Tackling large tomes young has opened a whole new world of books to today’s video-game generation, Clements said. Between Potter books, American youngsters are picking up C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, he said.

    Dancie Ware’s twin teenage sons, for example, started with Potter, but now read the “Lord of the Rings” and the New York Times.

    “I think Harry Potter definitely took reading up a notch with its extensive vocabulary and sheer magnitude,” she said.

    Potter To Faulkner

    Harry Potter may not be heavy reading ripe with philosophy and nuance, but that doesn’t mean Rowling’s writing isn’t intellectually stimulating, Clements said.

    Children who grow up reading fantasy could one day pick up the classics.

    “I read science fiction as a kid and discovered Faulkner in high school,” he said.

    Smith — who will be teaching a Philosophy of Harry Potter class in the fall — argues that Rowling’s is a classic story. The English author who started writing the first book on cocktail napkins delves into such deep philosophical problems as the nature of good and evil, Smith said. In the Potter books, Smith finds references to the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle.

    “Children reading Harry Potter are looking for depth and richness,” she said. “In general, students who read Harry Potter are going to have more interest in digging beyond the surface appearances of text. More will read not to take things at face value, but to look for deeper meaning.”

    Thousands of Potter fans chat online daily at Web sites like about the books’ hidden clues, possible meanings and the future of Rowling’s beloved teenage wizards.

    “Kids not only read the books, they want to talk about them, too,” Clements said.

    Librarian Karen Stanley — Xan Stanley’s mother — likens Potter to once-popular children’s reading such as the Hardy Boys or comic books.

    “You cut your teeth on those kinds of books, but then you go way beyond that,” she said. “Reading is reading, and readers read almost anything. If it’s Harry Potter that does it, then so be it.”

    Cultural Icon

    As the seventh book nears release and Potter fanatics fret about whether Rowling will kill off “The Boy Who Lived,” others wonder what will happen to Potter’s role in the cultural landscape.

    Clements predicts scholars will one day consider Potter a children’s classic, while Zwick said Potter will be passed on from generation to generation.

    Potter has brought local families together for almost a decade. Members of the Stanley family read the books together, sharing one copy until everyone had read it.

    “There was some yelling,” Xan Stanley said. “I’m not going to lie.”

    Members of the Ware family — with their own copy of the books — have fond memories of family book chats and Harry Potter parties.

    “In days of hurried dinners and lots of school activities, it’s a nice change to take a break and share a good book and Harry Potter has provided that for our family,” Ware said.

    The popularity of the series, coupled with its ability to span generations, prompted Smith to predict that Potter will be popular for quite some time.

    “I envy kids 10 years from now, because they’ll be able to sit down and read them all, while we had to wait,” she said. “The level of excitement may go from a rolling boil to a simmer, but it will keep simmering for a long time.”

    Dallas teenager Ben Buchanan — who authored a book about reading Potter while struggling with dyslexia — said he doesn’t see the series fading in popularity in his lifetime.

    “I know that when I have a family, that’s one of the books I’ll try to share with my children,” he said.

    Copyright © 2007 The Galveston County Daily News