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.