Last week, friends, a couple of announcements from the world of “literature” left me with steam hissing out of my ears. But getting me ticked off about books is nothing new. Let’s travel back to Oct. 26, 2002, when an interesting tidbit of news caught my attention and directed me to the two young men who starred in the most successful books of all time…
October 26, 2002
Harry Potter and Jesus: Together again
It’s an unlikely pairing, folks, like Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie, Liza Minnelli and David Gest, the Anna Nicole Smith show and ratings, but high-placed folks in the publishing industry say their businesses are being kept afloat just now by a pair of brave young lads credited with miraculous events. I am speaking, of course, of Siegfried and Roy.
No, wait, that’s not it. No, according to Dr. Hubertus Schenkel, chairman of the supervisory board of the world-famous Frankfurt Book Fair, publishing in the year 2002 is mainly supported by Mr. Harry Potter and Mr. Jesus Christ. It’s not hard to see why. Both of these individuals have, over the years, garnered incalculable legions of followers, spread a message of the power of good over evil, spawned and outlasted dozens of imitators and, in Harry’s case, even got a Lego set. Which is just cool.
Not only do both Harry and Jesus have enormously best-selling books out there, (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, for instance, or The Bible, which you may have heard of), but books upon books have been written about the books in which they star. The only way they could possibly be selling more copies is if someone released a book called Harry Potter and the Shroud of Turin.
Sooner or later somebody’s going to think about making a movie about at least one of these guys, mark my words.
While I’m glad that both Harry and Jesus are enjoying such success in the publishing industry, though, I have to admit, I’m kind of disturbed by the indication that without them book publishers would be spiraling down the toilet just now. Schenkel logically argues that faith-based books are very popular these days (evidently there’s some turbulence somewhere in the world, I wish someone would tell me about these things), and of course Harry Potter is credited with being the first fictional character since 1975 to achieve international superstardom without a video game or a political campaign.
Which is great, don’t get me wrong, anything that gets people to read any book is a good thing as far as I’m concerned.
But… well… darn it, why aren’t other books doing better?
And don’t give me any of that “there’s nothing worth reading” garbage, because that’s just not true. You’re just not looking hard enough. Schenkel says that at the big publishers, 20 percent of the titles make up 80 percent of the sales. So for the sake of this discussion, let’s throw out guys like Stephen King and John Grisham, either of whom could purchase an NFL franchise or, in smaller states, a Senator with the money they’ve got by now. Let’s look at the guys who probably aren’t household names just now, but dang it, are a heck of a lot more deserving of it than — oh — Alec Baldwin, for example.
• Michael Chabon. Wrote the novel Wonder Boys, won a Pulitzer Prize for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, just came out with his first book for young readers, Summerland. An incredibly thoughtful, layered writer whom I have a special appreciation for because, as Kavalier and Clay reveals, he is a comic book geek at heart.
• Peter David. Has actually landed on the New York Times bestseller list for some of the novels he’s written playing with other people’s toys like Star Trek and Babylon 5, but he’s also a sharp, funny fantasy writer with books like the King Arthur-in-New-York satire Knight Life or the medieval yarn Sir Apropos of Nothing.
• Greg Rucka. Mystery writer whose credits include Finder, Smoker and Shooting at Midnight among others. His Atticus Kodiak series is about a bodyguard who often finds himself playing detective to help keep his clients alive.
• Orson Scott Card. Prolific guy with great skill at science fiction (Ender’s Game), fantasy (Enchantment), horror (Treasure Box) and even historical fiction (Sarah). And his stuff always comes with a message about courage and responsibility.
And if you have no patience for today’s crop of writers, there are plenty of great writers of the past with entire libraries of work you can sink your teeth into! L. Frank Baum! Isaac Asimov! Mark Twain! Charles Dickens! Victor Hugo! A little fella by the name of Bill Shakespeare!
So while I don’t begrudge you reading Harry Potter or Jesus — I’m a fan of both of ‘em — when you wander into your neighborhood bookstore, remember, there are a lot of sections worthy of exploration.
If you can get your kids out of the video game magazines, that is.
Blake M. Petit, lover of books, is astounded that he got through an entire column about them without plugging his own novel, “Other People’s Heroes.” Aw nuts. Anyway, contact him with comments, suggestions or remarks about the new Neil Gaiman book at BlakeMPetit@gmail.com.