A friend of mine reads Harry Potter.
Maybe more than one, but I don't know. She's in her mid-30's and has five sons, a husband, and a dog. She is an occasional visitor to this blog, so hi if you're reading this! She reads other things besides Harry Potter (kind of has to--she homeschools).
Why, might one ask, does she read them?
She finds the stories interesting. She likes the characters. She thinks they're well-written. But the kicker in my book: her oldest son is reading them.
What does that have to do with anything? Lots. I'll start with some history.
My sister and I would get our book orders from school on the same day. Our mother would have to limit us to three or four books each, or we'd want a dozen. It didn't take us long to combine and find six that we both wanted--it was one of the rare things we could cooperate on. Then, when they would come in (simultaneously again), we'd both have two of the three we'd ordered read by the time the school day ended. It drove my mother nuts.
So we'd take the money we'd earned sorting checks at Dad's accounting business and we'd head to B. Dalton. Or Kmart.
I read some Judy Blume and the assumption was they were all wholesome. She wrote about tough issues that kids dealt with, like sibling rivalry and divorce. Superfudge or Freckle Juice, anyone? Real stuff. Would good ol' Judy write stuff that was inappropriate? Never! Unthinkable! And certainly Norma Klein was right there alongside!
In fourth grade, I read Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great (JB), Blubber (JB), and Tomboy (NK). By fifth, Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. [My fifth grade teacher was going to read it to the class, and one of the girls about hyperventilated. I wasn't sure what the big deal was--didn't boys know about menstruation?] But by middle school, there's only so many Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing you can stand, you know? So we struck out for more mature shores.
There was the library. My sister was expert at finding what she shouldn't have and relying on our parents' naivete and ignorance to let it by, thus she talked her way into the Flowers in the Attic series by V.C. Andrews. Seriously. In eighth grade. Since we read most of each other's books anyway, I read them too. Did my mother have a clue what was in them? Not even a little bit.
So when we came home with Forever, Wifey, (JB), Love is one of the Choices, Breaking Up, or It's Okay if You Don't Love Me (NK), for example, did my parents notice? Did it occur to them to wonder what their daughters might be reading? I don't think so. We were also reading our share of "historical romances" and Jackie Collins, to help you round out the list.
Is this intended to be a condemnation of two ridiculously popular writers who probably made thousands of kids feel identified with over the years? No. Do I think they were deliberately contributing to the normalization of fornication epidemic in our society? Nah; I'm not enough of a conspiracy theorist. Is this a diatribe against my own mother, who never once to my knowledge picked up a paperback her daughters were reading and thumbed through it? Not that either.
It's an open letter of praise to my neighbor, for loving her sons enough to know what they're putting in their minds. And it's a public reminder for me, so that when my kids outgrow Dr. Seuss and their Great Illustrated Classics I am still paying enough attention to see what they're reading.