Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Once Harry Retires

Our family is gearing up for the summer trip across North Superior to Winnipeg. My wife and I think it's a spectacular journey, and even the girls have internalized the rhythm of two long days' worth of driving. There was a time when playing DVDs for them was a must; now they wouldn't think of it.

The biggest trial will be deciding what we listen to ... or rather, how often the parents can endure listening to the Flushed Away soundtrack. Last year the soundtrack was Joseph & The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. But things worked out rather well because we borrowed the first two Harry Potter books on CD from the library.

It may be that driving across the Canadian landscape while possessed by a desperate desire to avoid hearing Donny Osmond crow, "Anyone from anywhere can make it if they get a lucky break!!" is the ideal environment for a guy like me get wild about Harry. Certainly performance artist Jim Dale deserves an Emmy for his reading. And I've been informed that as the books get longer, Harry's adolescent indecisiveness becomes a bit tedious. But I've gotta admit: Rowling knows how to hook a reader.

This was something I'd been told back when the books were still fresh. My sister in law said (with some concern) that Harry Potter was the only fiction her son was interested in. It's a common chorus, especially when it comes to boys. Harry Potter is cleanly-written escapist prose, well-designed to deliver harrowing thrills. But with Harry retiring, where can young (and aging) readers turn to ease their Potter jones?

Toronto's national newspaper cobbled together a panel to answer this question, and they came up with this. Some interesting titles are suggested, and every seller's urge seems to be fantasy, fantasy, fantasy. This strikes me as slightly wrong-headed, as does the suggestion that older Harry readers pick up The World According To Garp. Were I to approach my (now young adult) nephew with a copy of Garp, he'd be as likely to read it as he would Portnoy's Complaint, or any other musty chestnut from the 70s.

Not that the 70s aren't fertile ground for literary thrill-seekers. My first post-Potter recommendation would be William Goldman's Marathon Man. It's breathless fantasy built to deliver a maximum surprise factor. And its narrative arc isn't dissimilar to Harry's: orphaned Thomas Levy plugs away as a history geek, unaware that his older brother is a deadly secret agent who is about to awaken Thomas' own capacity for subterfuge and death-dealing. Well, alright: there are some differences in scale. Three pages of "Is it safe?" before Szell pulls out the drill and gets to work on a fresh nerve is a level of sadism that Dudley Dursley only dreams of. But it's a tough book for a guy in late adolescence to put down, which is what we're after. It's even got a sequel (a strange one, to be sure, but still entertaining). Now if Goldman could just be persuaded to write a few more books and make it a series, we'd be talking about a genuine literary marathon.


ジョエル said...

I know the Harry Potter series entirely through the audio books. I borrowed them from a friend initially because I wanted to see what the hype was about, but didn't want to spend a lot of time reading a Children's series. Like you I got hooked quickly. Jim Dale is amazing. Now I can't wait for the last book to come oui

DarkoV said...

I was stunned when I looked at the linked Globe & Mail list. I re-read the list to make sure I could make this comment without seeming to be blind or illiterate.

Not one mention of Tolkien?!!?! I thought 13-14 was the best time to go through your first reading of "The Hobbit", if not the full trilogy. Wonder why/how it was left off?

I think I'd suggest some books by Philip Dick, since his influence, especially in films, has been so dramatic in the last 10-15 years. His books are also fairly thin and fast reads, two musts for boys with out-of-control testosterone bullet-training through their limbs.

Rob In Victoria said...

Hey! Easy on the Garp!

Yahmdallah said...

While I love Garp, it's about the last thing I'd want anyone under the age of 18 to read.

Remember how it starts? (Garp's dad is lobotomized and can only masturbate.) Remember the short story Garp writes of a vicious rape that ends with the woman being disemboweled? Gosh, there's so much in there that would give young kids, especially boys, nightmares. I'd say wait 'til you're in your mid-twenties for the Garp.

Follow up for Potter? Even though it's sci-fi, I'd recommend Asimov's
Robot series (from wikipedia):

* The Caves of Steel (1954), ISBN 0-553-29340-0 (first Elijah Baley SF-crime novel)
* The Naked Sun (1957), ISBN 0-553-29339-7 (second Elijah Baley SF-crime novel)
* The Robots of Dawn (1983), ISBN 0-553-29949-2 (third Elijah Baley SF-crime novel)

Whisky Prajer said...

JS - I'm keen on catching up with the series, preferably with Mr. Dale's help.

DV - I, too, had to hoist my jaw off the floor at the absence of Tolkien. I'm wondering if this isn't a classic case of Canadian Presumption: "Obviously everyone has already seen the movies, played the video games and read the books, so let's just move along to a few suggestions out of left field." The next presumption to follow is that no-one's heard of Philip Pullman, when the more likely scenario is the kid's already done his best to eat Pullman's spinach and didn't like it.

riv and y-man: although I have considerable admiration for Irving and a few of his books, Garp is not my favorite. But I'll leave it at that (for now).

The Asimov titles are all quite appropriate, I think. The man was unflaggingly cheerful, even when he was being grouchy. It'd be nice if he'd been cloned.

Yahmdallah said...

Oh, and have fun on your trip! Are you gonna be posting?

dan h. said...

I suggest a pictorial of the trip. But do enjoy. Someday those younguns won't want to go at all.

Whisky Prajer said...

I should have said, "SLOWLY gearing up" - we don't leave until the first week in August. I do expect to be posting pictures. Beth and I are hoping to take a little more time through the Canadian Shield; with a little diligence we should digitally capture a few scenes beyond the usual Giant Novelty Statues.

Rob In Victoria said...

But back to the Garp -
I know it's not everybody's cup of poison, but it may just be the most important book I ever read. I stole my first copy the summer I was twelve, inspired by the tv commercials for the upcoming film. I devoured it that summer (and I've re-read it every summer since - hmm, seems it's about that time again).

I can't say it was the book that inspired me to become a writer, because I knew from early on that that was what I wanted to be. It was the book, though, that showed me it was possible to live as a writer. And not just that, but to live as a loser, an outcast, something of a freak. It was the book that told me that families aren't perfect (timely, considering my parents were divorcing at the time -- I stole the book while at my dad's for his visitation that summer), and that life is what you make it.

Yes, it's obscene, and misogynistic, and offensive on a number of levels. So be it...

Books that inspire, books that include, aren't books we should be "protecting" our young ones from...

Yahmdallah said...

My point is that it's a better read, and more understandable, when you're a little older. There's nothing in there that will harm someone young, but I think it would be more resonant when someone's older. And I love that book, btw.

Whisky Prajer said...

riv - if I read y-man correctly I don't think he's recommending withholding Garp from the young 'uns (besides, the bastards'd just steal it from you anyway!).

Curious how both of you still enjoy the book all these years later. Books that hold up like that are quite rare, I find. I can recall reading a really trashy pulp novel that spoke directly to my heart when I read it on the bus to my high school. It was a futuristic yarn about a guy who enters a championship where the contestants walk and walk and walk. If you stop, you get shot. Last man walking wins fame and fortune.

As these young men walked, they talked about eeeeeeverything, almost all of it in a linguistic blue haze. The conversation touched on everything an insecure late-adolescent male was insecure about, and I thought the book was brilliant.

Five years ago, the book came to mind and I did a little research. Couldn't remember the author's name, but the title was a snap: The Long Walk. One Amazon search later and, hey! it's Richard Bachman, aka Stephen King!!

So, how does it read now? Couldn't tell you. The book has sat on my shelf for the last five years, unopened. I'm not sure I could handle the disappointment of finding out it wasn't all that great after all.

Rob In Victoria said...

I think it stands up, for me, because it's been a near-constant companion. Every time I read it, I'm at a slightly different stage, and I get slightly different things out of it. (Cue obligatory 12 Monkeys quote: "The movie never changes...")

Unlike, say, Tom Robbins (while I still enjoy Even Cowgirls..., the impression that he's a stoner twit increasingly grows), Kerouac and -- gasp -- Salinger.

(Oh, and sorry if I came across heavy-handed, Y -- I think I was responding to your "it's about the last thing I'd want anyone under the age of 18 to read" -- Whisky's right: when they're ready, they'll just steal it.