Off Beat

Not Everybody's Wild About Harry

UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA professor Jack Zipes has attained minor-celebrity status of late, as an antidote to the nation's collective Harry Potter swoon. A member of the U's German department and an expert in children's literature, Zipes tripped the switch on his 15 minutes of fame late last year, when an Entertainment Weekly piece about author J.K. Rowling's immensely popular series of children's books quoted him as saying the Potter novels are simplistic and formulaic. "I've become the villain critic who dares to say the books are questionable," says the prof, who has also publicly contended that the books are sexist. On a recent segment of Minnesota Public Radio's Midmorning, Zipes recounts, he got an earful. "The phones were ringing off the hook. And 95 percent of the callers attacked me," he says. It's not that Zipes has accused Rowling of spawning garbage. "She's a very inventive writer, and a very good craftswoman," he allows. "But the books become very boring after you've read the first one, because they're so predictable." Zipes is also irked by the media's rush to cast the Potter series as a panacea for illiteracy. "You pour a little Harry Potter into their brains and they'll start reading? That's absurd," he scoffs. "There's so much good children's literature out there--stuff that's much better than Harry Potter. I'd love to talk about those books." (Among others, Zipes recommends the works of Philip Pullman.) Zipes, who edited the recently published Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales, has a book of his own slated for release this fall. The title: Sticks and Stones: The Questionable Success of Children's Literature from Slovenly Peter to Harry Potter. "I'll probably have to go into hiding when it comes out," he laughs.

Tell It Like It Is

LAST FRIDAY THE Star Tribune's business section included brief second-quarter earnings reports from various locally significant companies. Nothing remarkable there. The fortunes of CNS Inc. (makers of the Breathe Right nasal strip) were displayed without fanfare, as were those of Cyberstar Computer Corp., Grow Biz International Inc., and Northern Technologies International Corp. In passing along the numbers of its own corporate parent, McClatchy Co., however, the Strib helpfully supplied the following: "The company's second-quarter earnings per share beat analysts' estimates by two cents per share. Strong sales growth in April and May helped offset higher newsprint prices, while the company's policy of paying down debt offset higher interest rates." All true, and mostly identical to a McClatchy press release sent out a day earlier. Except the company's release didn't trumpet the analysts' expectations, and in commenting on the numbers, that document mentioned "improved advertising revenue growth, [ahem] PARTICULARLY AT ITS CALIFORNIA AND CAROLINA NEWSPAPERS." (Throat-clearing and all-caps courtesy of Off Beat.)

Our Own Private Seattle

MINNEAPOLIS OFFICIALS DON'T seem too confident that the state's anti-mask law will be sufficient to stem the tide of protest during the International Society for Animal Genetics conference, which commences Friday at the downtown Hyatt Regency (see Burl Gilyard's June 21 story "Know Your Enemy, and the July 5 installment of Off Beat). "We'd rather be explaining why we're too prepared instead of why we're not prepared," Police Chief Robert Olson told a gaggle of journalists at a city hall briefing session last week. After showing a video of the World Trade Organization conference protests last year in Seattle--"That's just a glimpse of what we don't want to happen in Minneapolis"--the chief said something about "worst-case scenario," then trotted out an officer garbed nose to toes in riot gear. Olson estimated that more than 600 of Minneapolis's finest will be available to tackle any trouble but declined to divulge specific counterprotest tactics. It's clear, however, that counterintelligence measures have been taken. Just ask Warren Thompson. The 28-year-old Ohio resident was arrested early last Friday morning along with a buddy, for reckless bike-riding. Thompson's bleached-blond dreadlocks, out-of-state ID, and Dr. Martens footwear must have aroused the arresting officers' suspicion; he tells Off Beat that he was repeatedly asked whether he was a protester, and whether he had information about "any others." Thompson, who says he came to town earlier this month to help a friend renovate his house and only recently learned of the ISAG doings, fully intends to go down to the Hyatt for a look-see. But he's no longer toying with the idea of relocating to Minneapolis. "After what happened," says he, "I don't know if I can feel comfortable living here."

 
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