Cultural Archaeology

I never read the Harry Potter books back when they were first being published. There was too much controversy back in the day and too many other great classics to read. Even now, when you haven’t read anything by Dostoevsky, lesser books don’t work their way up the priority list very easily.

That’s not to say I’m not curious. I have flipped through sections of Deathly Hallows once or twice and looked with disdain at the short, fragmented sentences called prose, but I’ve also had a college freshman with the voice and beard of a tenured-professor and a knack for Plato, Shakespeare, and Medieval astronomy tell me that J.K. Rowling is brilliant. So I’m not exactly sure what to think.

Whether or not they’re actually good, I’ve thought about reading them simply because they are so popular and many people in my generation grew up with this as THE example of a good book. There’s actually a number of books like this that I have tucked away in memory.

We read Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz for rhetorical analysis in one of my high school English classes. It’s a sad testament to that class that I hardly remember anything from the book, but it was still really big in it’s day, and I might enjoy going back and actually paying attention to it. I haven’t heard anyone refer to Francis Schaeffer’s How Should We Then Live recently, but I did at various points through high school, and I’m curious to see what it’s really all about. It’s been seven years since William P. Young’s The Shack came out, and I still have yet to hear someone give a good explanation of what on earth it’s about and why it was so popular.

Some books come and go for good reason, and I don’t expect anything on this B-list of writing to be incredibly life-altering. But as a person interested in understanding the world, my question is whether it’s worth the time to read books that aren’t big any more, but have left ideas tucked away in people’s minds. I imagine it like playing historian for recent decades in the way that we read a cheesy, didactic utopian novel for the history class I took in college on the American Reconstruction Era to WWII.

With so many good things to read out there, is it still worth the time to study the cultural bandwagon once it’s a few blocks down the street? If nothing else, maybe my friends who have shunned me for not reading Harry Potter will let up on their good-natured disapproval if I ever get around to it.

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