The Broad is Back!

May 9, 2011

An American Strength

One thing Americans are good at–better than any other group I’ve lived with, I think–is raising money for charity in many, many ways.   And since right now I need something to feel good about, I wanted to write about this. And, I confess, I have an ulterior motive.

Over the years I’ve sold raffle tickets, baked countless cookies and brownies for bake sales (and unfortunately bought countless cookies and brownies from bake sales), done walk-a-thons, dance-a-thons, and one memorable year in a college, a diet-a-thon.  They probably wouldn’t be allowed anymore, as they sound like something that’s not encouraging healthy diet. But people sponsored us a set amount per pound. It went from the Friday before Spring break and ran for two weeks. The school nurse did the official weigh-in on her office scale.

My history professor, Dr. Vanderhoof, sponsored me a whopping dollar a pound (every one else was doing 10, maybe 25 cents). To both of our amazement, I lost 14 pounds, a feat I have never repeated in such a short time span, and have never forgotten. Much celery was involved.  Dr. Vanderhoof cheerfully forked over the money that went to the Council for Exceptional Children and became one of my favorite professors (for more than just  the sponsorship, really).

I’m not saying Americans are the most charitable group going, but a large percentage of Americans hand over money to friends for everything from cancer research to school book drives to animal shelter drives. These are the yearly events. Americans are usually pretty good at chipping in to the Red Cross for disaster relief for things like Katrina, Haiti and the new disasters in America’s south right now, as well. 

Checking to see if my hunch about Americans was correct, I found some amazing statistics.  According to the National Parks Service,

According to Giving USA, a report compiled annually by the American Association of Fundraising Counsel, figures on American philanthropy showed that:

  • Americans gave more than $307.75 billion to their favorite causes despite the economic conditions in 2009. Total giving, when adjusted for inflation, was down 3.6 percent, the steepest decline since the Giving USA annual reports started in 1956. It’s important to keep in mind that despite the downturn, giving still totaled $307 billion.
  • The greatest portion of charitable giving, $227.41 billion, was given by individuals or household donors. In 2009, gifts from individuals represented 75 percent of all contributed dollars, similar to 2008 figures.

I think those are pretty cool numbers. 

And in the essay “A Nation of Givers” from the journal The American: the Journal of the American Enterprise Institute, I found this incredible little bit of information:

when we measure monetary giving as a percentage of income in order to ascertain the level of one’s “sacrifice,” we find a surprising result: it is low-income working families that are the most generous group in America, giving away about 4.5 percent of their income on average. This compares to about 2.5 percent among the middle class, and 3 percent among high-income families.

Nice to know I’m helping the numbers of my demographic!

And I know the charity habit starts young. I did my first walk-a-thon, for the March of Dimes, when I was 10. It was 20 miles, people sponsored per mile, and that first year, I only walked 10 miles and was broken-hearted.

It seems that lately there’s a walk-a-thon once or twice a month, and blessedly, they are much shorter.  This coming Sunday is the AIDS WALK NY, and I’m walking in honor of all the friends I’ve lost over the years.  Since I’m not above shilling for charity, if you’d like to sponsor me, you can find the link to my page here.  I’m walking with the Harry Potter Alliance Team because a) you know I’m a Harry Potter geek, and b) “the weapon we have is love”.

November 21, 2010

“The Boy Who Lived” is Back

Three and a half years ago, I wrote about the release of JK Rowling’s final book in her Harry Potter series and how Harry and his friends provided a bonding experience for my students and me. Thursday night, at eleven in the evening, I was sitting in a cinema on Manhattan’s upper west side with hundreds of other Potter fans, awaiting the midnight showing of the first film installment of the final book. It was another bonding experience.

I was there with my soon-to-be 20 year old son and a number of his friends. The multiplex had 11 screens of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, all sold out, so that was pretty cool: sharing the experience with that many people. Many were in costumes; all were Potter fans.

The film was wonderful. Sure, not all of the parts I wanted to see were there. But film adaptation is an art, and the film has to be judged on its own merits. This was an excellent job, and the three young leads have all matured into seasoned professionals who gave moving performances in what is an emotionally draining film. But I don’t want to give a review here.

After the film, I left my son to his friends while I walked down Broadway to catch a subway home. Even though it was three in the morning, it was perfectly safe as I was surrounded by Hogwarts students. Well over a thousand people had poured out of the theater, after all, and they had to get home somehow.

There I was, the lone middle aged woman, not in costume, surrounded by mostly college age people, mostly costumed, passionately discussing books. I can’t tell you how thrilled I was. I eavesdropped shamelessly.

I am someone who lives for books. I read them; I teach them; I haltingly attempt to write them. To hear young people passionate about a book thrilled me. The stories meant something to them, and they were discussing them in great detail, not just plot and character, but meaning and message, as well. If I could only get my literature students that interested!

The next day in class, my students asked about the film. I had warned them I was going so they would take pity on their poor tired professor. Again, I bonded with students over love of a book. Those who had read it, and a majority had, asked about favorite parts: “Is it in the movie?” they asked plaintively. We didn’t spend much time on the film as I had much work planned, but that feeling of being fans together, of sharing a love of something, is a nice one to have.

Today my son and I went to visit my 78-year-old mother and see the film with her. She’s read all of the books, as well, the latter ones with my son. Going to the films together is a tradition since the fifth film, when we moved back to America, and we already have plans for next July.

I love how Harry transcends generations, races, genders, boundaries. Watching the film this week with different groups, discussing the film with diverse people, has show me that I wrote three years ago is still true: where there’s love, there is power, the greatest power imaginable. In this word of divisiveness, we need the power of love to bring us together, to show us our similarities instead of our differences.

Thank you to all those involved in the film for bringing people closer together. And thanks to J.K. Rowling for her creations.

Now, only eight more months till part two!

July 23, 2007

Harry Potter: The Boy Who Transcends Cultures

Filed under: Harry Potter,New Broads,students — by maggiec @ 4:31 pm
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I think the only people in the industrialized world who don’t know that the final installment of the Harry Potter series of books came out this past weekend were those who were on vacation somewhere else in the solar system. It’s the biggest hype I’ve ever seen for a book release, and it reminded me a bit of accounts of the hoopla that surrounded the ending of some of Dickens’s serialized novels. In those days, people thronged the the docks of New York, screaming out plot questions to the passengers on ships coming into port from England, where the ending had already been released.

Thanks to technology, this weekend all I had to do was to log on to the Internet and look at European sites to find out how the saga ended. I didn’t. I was stoic. I knew my book would be arriving Saturday morning, and I was determined to just read it for myself and experience it. So I did. I admit it, I sat and read the book pretty much all in one sitting, with a few breaks to do some light housework when my eyes burned and my tush was sore from sitting too long.

No spoilers, I promise. But as the world has come to the end of the Potter saga (and oddly enough, though I love the series, I found the ending highly satisfying. It is done. Adding more just wouldn’t work), I’d just like to say a few words about a book that has been in my life for the past eight years.

I first met Harry when I lived in Geneva, Switzerland. A friend of mine at the American Library there had been a children’s librarian and still kept up with the new offerings. Ellen Beunderman offered many suggestions to me and my son, most of which we absolutely loved, but none stuck like Harry. In the spring of 1999, we read the English version—Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

When we read the first book, which had been out for about a year—this was right before the outbreak of Pottermania—Harry was ten years old, and my son was eight. The story had resonance for my son, who at the age of eight had just moved to his third country. In his new school, he felt out of place, different, alien almost. We immediately went to the library to pick up the second volume, and from then on, we were hooked. We waited with bated breath for each new volume. Reading them together was a tradition, and we read no matter what. When Goblet of Fire came out, we were in Ireland, and we got our copy there. I remember sitting with my ten-year-old son in the lobby of an Irish hotel, reading aloud to him of Cedric Diggory’s final moments, both of us with tears rolling down our cheeks.

Flourish and Blotts

Harry has always been a bond I share most closely with my son, but Harry bonds me to my students as well. No matter where I’ve taught, there have been droves of students who have read Harry. My Taiwanese students and I still share Potter-related e-mails. When The Half Blood Prince came out, one former student told me that the books had become a measure of one’s English ability. The best test of English comprehension was whether one reads the Potter books in English or in Chinese.

I have bought Swedish versions of Harry, French versions of Harry, and even American versions of Harry and shared Hogwarts lore with people all over the world. Yes, American versions. Of course, the major difference between the books is the name of the first volume. In England, it’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (as it should be). In the US, they changed the title to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, afraid that American children wouldn’t know the legend of the Philosopher’s Stone (like English 10 year olds would?).

Ministry decree

Because I have lived in Europe for all these years, I have always read the English editions published by Bloomsbury. For this book, I read the American edition published by Scholastic. At one point, I had to stop reading, lost and confused. Hermione was discussing the Sorcerer’s Stone! That was just wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. That was the most jarring moment for me in the entire book. I know I’m going to have to read the English edition now, to see the differences.

The Harry Potter series has been a phenomenon, there’s no doubt about it. Is the book a literary classic that I will be reading with my grandchildren or grand-nieces and nephews? I don’t know. Some of the books I loved in my childhood bored my son. Some he loved. Only time will tell, and there is no such thing as an instant classic, in spite of what the marketing people tell us. I suspect that my son’s generation will keep the books alive for the next generation, but who can tell? Although I’m a literary critic by training, I don’t want to analyze the books that way here.

I do want to look at how the books have brought joy and happiness to people in countries all over the world. To date, they have been translated into 65 languages (including Hindi, Bengali and Vietnamese—and the first volume is available in Latin and Ancient Greek in case you’re interested) and 320 million copies of the series are in print. On some levels, the series is a simple tale of good versus evil—no different from many of our classic tales. It’s also the story of a boy growing up—when the final book starts, Harry is a mere seven months older than my son. Throughout, all the growing steps that Harry has gone through have been perfectly timed to coincide with the same things happening with my son. Obviously JK Rowling knows kids.

And not just English kids. Harry speaks to so many different cultures that there must be a lesson for us, no? There must be many similarities between children in much of the industrialized world. No, I would say all the world. Sure, there are differences. No one knows that better than I do. But as much as I write about differences, in my life I like to focus on the similarities. Harry has been a bonding experience for so many kids and adults that it gives me hope in a world where there appears to be so few reasons for hope. This summer, my students are a mixed bag of ethnicities, but Friday morning, many of us were united in our fever pitch curiosity about how it would end. Discussing the book (when we should have been doing something else, I admit) made me feel closer to them than I have all summer. But how can we not be close when we share a love?

And that’s one of the reasons that Harry transcends cultures. We all love him and the world created in the books, and where there’s love, there is power, the greatest power imaginable. That’s one lesson Dumbledore would be very happy that I learned. And Voldemort just doesn’t get it.

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