As I explained two posts ago, I have been very busy editing a collective volume which gathers together my students’ essays on their experience of reading the Harry Potter series: it’s called Addictive and Wonderful. The .pdf file of the volume (132 pages!!) is now available online, from the UAB’s repository, at https://ddd.uab.cat/record/118225. I am now in the process of publicising it among anyone who will listen and I’ll ask you, please, to help me. I’m neither on Facebook nor on Twitter… Thanks.
As I explain in the ‘Preface’, I gathered together the essays thinking of writing an article which would contradict Harold Bloom’s famous attack in The Wall Street Journal (November 2000). This is a review of the first volume in the series in which he called Rowling’s young readers ‘non-readers’ and in which he basically came to the snobbish conclusion that ‘oh, well, at least turning pages is better than using screens.’ The 56 persons who have contributed to the volume (mostly BA students in my class, but also some MA students who showed an interest, my colleague Bela Clúa and myself), offer quite a different impression of the process of reading the series. Most, whether they were already readers or not, make the claim that reading Harry Potter confirmed their passion for reading –indeed beyond the series, and into the university.
The volume contributors were asked to write personal, informal essays (not academic) about their experience. I provided them with my own essay as a sample, which was written very much in the same chatty but earnest tone I use here. Logically, since I started reading Rowling’s series at 38, my experience had to be different from theirs. Where I am flippant, they’re candid, where I try to conceal my overreactions, they show pure emotion. After all, they’re dealing with their own childhood. I must confess that some of the essays brought tears to my eyes, as the authors described difficult childhoods, marred by abandonment or divorce, and how they found comfort in reading Harry Potter. You will see, however, very easily why other essays moved me to tears for more positive reasons: for the happiness, enjoyment, pleasure the good memories transmit (often shared with mothers, fathers, siblings, cousins, aunts, friends…)
I invited my students to present orally to their classmates what they’d written and the three sessions we’ve used confirmed an unexpected find: the experience is quite homogeneous despite the cultural (and personal) differences. Students from Canada, Bulgaria, China, the United States and the United Kingdom narrated essentially the same process as my own Catalan and Spanish students (I make the distinction here because the language of their original contact with the series did matter). Many teachers of English Studies might be surprised to learn that impatience to know how the characters would fare led many of our students to attempt to read the books in English quite young (around 13), whether they were ready or not. They not only grew up with Harry, but learnt English with him. And here they are, reading more Literature in English with us.
Many aspects of the essays and of the situation I have stumbled into surprise me very much: as I write in the ‘Preface’ I have quite accidentally become a catalyser for an experience which, I think, is shared by many, many more students than we might think. I’ve had students bringing friends to class, another came from the Universitat de Barcelona last week as soon as I told him about my subject. Next week I’ll be publicising the online volume in my school, we’ll see what happens… I know that many are not only indifferent but also disdainful (not really hostile), but I myself have learnt plenty about my own approach to reading, and this is what matters in the end.
The email messages I have got from my colleagues mostly congratulate me on the initiative of working with the students (sorry, I feel very smug today!!). What I need to say here is that I firmly believe that the work I’ve carried out has application beyond the specific topic that occupies me. The good contacts with the staff that runs the DDD (the repository) at UAB are allowing me to self-publish not only my own academic work (strictly speaking, as this volume is also academic work) but also to test out new ideas as regards my teaching. In July I hope to publish a second volume on Harry Potter, this time with the best papers by the students. And next year, when I teach ‘Gender Studies’ I’ll publish a volume with the students’ own view of how gender issues affect them today. As a teacher told me, Addictive and Wonderful had allowed her to get an insight into who the students are and I think we need to learn that – at least as an ageing teacher, I need to find a way to learn who these young people are!
Send me comments or email me, please, if you happen to enjoy Addictive and Wonderful, as I hope you will. As I have. I must confess that when I finished the volume I burst out crying – I could only explain to my sympathetic husband that I was already nostalgic of a teaching experience I may never have again, not with the same emotional intensity. As we agreed in class, neither Literary Theory nor Literary Studies have quite managed to deal with emotion (not even in reader-response theory). Much less with our very deep need for the people whom we meet in the pages of the books we love best.
Harold Bloom and company… really…
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