Here’s an interesting argument that reading Harry Potter isn’t “real” reading–for adults, and it also debunks the “gateway” metaphor for kids–but simply participation in one more carefully-choreographed, highly-mediated event. I guess the good news is that culturally we appear to have some tolerance ceiling for carefully-choreographed, highly-mediated experiences. Maybe.
Getting past the idea of Harry Potter and his rabid fans being the philistines at the hedgerow of serious literature, this article also touches on the idea of the death of criticism and the ascendancy of the review. The difference is that a review is essentially a piece of marketing material, most often in favor of the piece, only occasionally against (in the context of defusing an over-hyped “project”). Criticism by contrast is comparative, attempting to get at the meaning of a work’s broad relation to other works and cultural memes.
The broader issue here is whether reading is purely escapist entertainment (book reviews perform the function of TV Guide), or whether it has deeper personal importance and meaning (the critical approach). This is an important distinction because in the former case reading is essentially trivial: like most mass media today, a base, simplistic reflection of populism and mediocrity (and what is Harry Potter, a book or movie consumed by millions of people over the same weekend, if not a mass medium?). In the latter case, if reading has personal meaning and importance, then the prevalence and condition of critical, thoughtful readers becomes a culturally vital issue. Harper’s has an extended article on this topic that I highly recommend.