Wednesday, July 18, 2007

I bought the first Harry Potter book in the spring of '99 on a trip to buy the kids Easter clothes. I'd just read about Harry Potter in Newsweek and I thought swinging by Borders for the book before venturing across the street to the mall was a stroke of genius: the 10-year-old would be too busy reading his new book to fray my last nerve complaining about how long it was taking to find the perfect dress for his sister.

Of course it didn't work out that way; S. bombarded me instead with questions about the book: Why again did I think he'd like this one? What exactly had the article said to convince me that this book sounded like it was written just for him? Because, really, he wasn't enjoying it and why should he continue if. . .

Ah, those were the days when S. could determine that a book wasn't for him by reading one page, one paragraph, one stinking sentence and then, due to the fact that the book was leaving unanswered all the questions he'd had up to that point, he'd declare continuing a worthless endeavor. I'd long grown tired of saying, "Well, S., if you read one more page/paragraph/sentence you'll see that the author does explain blah blah blah."

So S. and Harry Potter didn't click on the shopping trip. But back at home, without the distraction of clothing racks and dressing rooms, the book quickly obtained written-just-for-him status that I'd somehow promised.

I bought the second for him as soon as it was published that summer and ordered the third from the UK when I realized I could get it months earlier that way. By that time other kids that we knew were beginning to read Rowling as well. When S. took Prisoner of Azkaban--still our favorite-- to school with him, a classmate told him he was reading a fake Harry Potter. A non-reader told him that reading Harry Potter was gay. His older sister became increasingly outraged that her friends were deigning to read the same drivel that her little brother was. (She has yet to read a single one, although she did buy a German translation the year she lived in Westphalia.)

Once Bloomsbury and Scholastic got in sync with publishing, I left it up to S. to decide which he wanted to purchase. Definitely the Bloomsbury, but oh, what agony it would be to wait for delivery while local midnight parties were going on! The solution: buy both. Stay up all night gently reading the Scholastic and then give it to the friend who'd been late to start reading Harry Potter and was still back in Chamber of Secrets.

This year S. and I agreed that we both liked the American cover better than the British (his last two volumes are British adult). He decided that he's much too old for a midnight party and that expedited shipping isn't necessary. He's sanguine to the fact that someone will probably spoil the book for him before he finishes it; he doesn't intend to rush. I myself read so few books for plot that I don't want to be spoiled; I do intend to rush and I will be going on total media blackout come Friday to avoid spoilers.

In the eight years since we began reading Harry Potter, we've read quite a few other books, including all the books later put forth by critics as better alternatives (they are, but that doesn't mean we can't also enjoy Harry Potter). We've also read a lot of silly articles about Harry Potter, both pro and con. Michael Berube's "Harry Potter and the Power of Narrative" is the most sensible that I've seen. And we've dipped a quick toe in and out of the Harry Potter fanfic pool.

What will future generations think of the Harry Potter series? I haven't the foggiest and I don't really care. . . beyond wondering if my daughter will wind up reading the books aloud to her own child or if my son will have a son for whom the books will seem written just for him.


  1. What a nice story. My husband read the first one when it came out before it became the rage and didn't like it. As a consequence book 3 was about to come out when I decided--against my husband's advice--to read the first one. I liked it so much I read it and book two in a week and just a week later the third book was out and I stayed up into the wee hours to finish it. This made my husband rethink his original assessement and now he is just as excited about the final book as I am. We are only buying one book. I have graciously given him Saturday. I get Sunday. After that it's up for grabs. I won't be going on total media blackout but I will definitely be avoiding anyplace that mentions Harry Potter. I don't want it to be spoiled either!

  2. Everyone I work with at the library is already spoiled. I asked if they thought the ending was satisfactory and told them to leave it at that. I hope no one forgets and starts talking about the ending when I'm around!

    I'm glad the Bookman gave the books a second chance. I had to do that with the first Philip Pullman. I started it as a real-aloud and neither S. or I particularly enjoyed it. The next year we both picked it up individually and it clicked.

  3. Oh, how hard to be working with people who have already read it! Your comment about the Pullman books interests me because I read the first one and just thought it so-so. I'll have to give them another try sometime.

  4. I enjoyed the second one--the one about Will--the most. The third's a big mess, but it still had me in tears in a couple of places.

  5. I love your story! Prisoner of Azkaban is the favorite in our house, too. I started reading the books before my now 11-year-old was old enough to enjoy them, but as soon as he was, we started reading them together. I know that it wasn't particularly Harry Potter that sparked my son's joy in reading, but it did coincide with Harry Potter, so I'll always have a special place for Harry in my heart. I don't care what future generations think, either, but I'm happy my kids enjoy the books now.

  6. How excellent that your boy grew up with Harry. My daughter will probably start the series - if she's interested - next year when she's 8, and it probably won't be as magical an experience. Everyone will know the ending by then! Off to read my freshly purchased copy too.


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